The question of who'll become the next James Bond is a near-constant debate among 007 fans – almost as soon as one actor has strapped on the Walther PPK and inhabited the role of Ian Fleming's suave secret agent, conversation turns to who their replacement might be.
Daniel Craig's announcement in late 2019 that the upcoming 25th film in the series, his fifth – No Time to Die – would be his last has understandably sent the usual rumour mill into overdrive though. A recent RadioTimes.com poll of potential future 007s – the long-list itself made up of reader suggestions – saw Outlander actor Sam Heughan emerge as top pick to replace Craig, while an unsubstantiated rumour suggesting that Tom Hardy had already signed up to become the next Bond achieved widespread media coverage and set the Twittersphere ablaze late last week.
But while the conversation may be seemingly endless, it's often the same names thrown up as contenders – the aforementioned Heughan and Hardy, but also Henry Cavill (who impressed with a Bond-esque performance as Napoleon Solo, another Ian Fleming creation, in the 2015 film version of The Man from UNCLE), Idris Elba and Poldark's Aidan Turner, with a smattering of actors who recently wore a suit in a high-profile TV drama occasionally being thrown into the rotation.
There's a reason why, of course: all of these actors broadly fit the bill of what audiences have come to expect from Bond - aside from their acting talent, they're all good-looking and have a certain physicality that'd mean they could sell the fight scenes – and all would likely make a decent stab at playing the character. But while the names listed above might make a fine 007 today, what we should really be looking for is a 007 for tomorrow.
Originally scheduled for an April 2020 release, Craig's swansong in No Time to Die is now set - barring any further delays caused by the COVID-19 pandemic - to hit cinemas in November. After that, the search will begin in earnest for his replacement, a painstaking process which will mean - coupled with the possibility of further production delays - that in all likelihood the earliest we could expect a 26th Bond film would be 2023-24 (with the Craig era averaging a new film every 2.8 years).
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Tom Hardy is 43 now, meaning he'd be around 46-47 by the time he took up the Bond mantle and - going by that Craig era release average - he'd be pushing 60 after five films. Henry Cavill is 37 – better, but he'd still be 40+ heading into his first 007 film and likely in his early-to-mid 50s if he stuck around for three or four more entries after that. Idris Elba, meanwhile, is 48 now, so the same problem applies – the Luther star has even professed himself that he is "too old" to play Bond... and that was in 2016.
Sean Connery was 32 when he first played Bond in 1962's Dr. No, while George Lazenby, incredibly, was just 29 when he succeeded him. As the oldest actor to play Bond, Roger Moore was a youthful-looking 45 in 1973's Live and Let Die, but arguably his age proved an obstacle later on – seven films in, a 57-year-old Moore struggled to convince as a rough-and-tumble action hero by the time of 1985's A View to a Kill.
Hiring someone in their thirties allows for the longevity that's required of the actor playing James Bond, a part that (usually at least) they'll return to over and again across a period of several years. If we're taking into account a casting search, rigorous audition process and pre-production, then the team behind the Bond films should be looking at actors currently in their late twenties and early thirties as viable candidates.
Kingsman's Taron Egerton (aged 30), Nicholas Hoult (30), Gangs of London star Sope Dirisu (29, below), Dunkirk actor Jack Lowden (30) – these are the types of names that should really be bandied about when looking for the franchise's next leading man.
Casting someone less seasoned also has another advantage, of course – a lack of baggage, at least when it comes to the big screen. Actors previously cast as 007 have ranged from complete unknowns (Lazenby) to actors with a respectable career who hadn't quite made the leap to true stardom (Connery, Craig, Timothy Dalton) to TV stars who'd played roles similar to Bond on the small screen (Moore with The Saint, Pierce Brosnan with the detective series Remington Steele).
Never before has an A-list movie star of the calibre of Hardy or Cavill been cast as Bond – by instead hiring actors who aren't necessarily associated with one particular role or roles, the 007 franchise has allowed its various frontmen to entirely become Bond in the eyes of the moviegoing public.
The rising stars of today are the potential James Bonds of tomorrow – Bond himself might've argued in 2012's Skyfall that "youth is no guarantee of innovation" but when it comes to casting one of the most talked-about roles in cinema, we're siding with Ben Whishaw's Q in suggesting that age is no guarantee of efficiency.