Liam Neeson turned down the role as Bond in 1994, then it became Pierce Brosnan

By Jürgen Fritz, Sun 31 Oct 2021, Cover photo:  Movieclips-Screenshot

At the beginning of 1994, Timothy Dalton, who was not well received by the public, announced that he would not make another James Bond film. A year later, Pierce Brosnan took over the role of the British secret agent, who had actually been wanted as Roger Moore’s successor eight years earlier. But in the meantime, the Irishman was no longer the first choice. The producers would have preferred someone else.

Actually, they wanted Pierce Brosnan after Roger Moore, but he was still contractually bound in 1986

During the filming of A View to a Kill, which was released in May 1985, Roger Moore (born 1927), who played James Bond for the seventh time, was already 57 years old. Now it was finally clear, as had already become apparent with Octopussy (1983), that he was clearly too old for the role. So a new 007 actor was needed, just like now after the final exit of Daniel Craig, who is now also 53.

One of the actors they had had their eye on for some time was the Irishman Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan (born 1953) was more than 25 years younger than Roger Moore, looked dazzling and was supposed to be a very good type. He was one of the first to be offered the role in the mid-1980s. There was only one problem: Pierce Brosnan was still under contract for the TV series Remington Steele (1982 to 1987). Therefore he was not available in 1985, 1986 and at that time it was not yet clear that the TV series would be discontinued in 1987. So they had to look for another new Bond.

After Timothy Dalton was not well received by the public, it was clear at the beginning of 1994 that there would be no third Bond with him

The Welshman Timothy Dalton (born 1946) was finally found and a contract was signed for three films. Shooting of The Living Daylights began in September 1986, and the first Dalton Bond was released in June 1987. The second James Bond film with Timothy Dalton in the title role, Licence to Kill, followed in 1989, and now it was clear: Dalton, who was much better than many people thought at the time, was not a hit with the public. The film was not a flop at the box office and easily recouped its production costs, but it attracted even fewer viewers to the cinema than the last Roger Moore Bond, A View to a Kill (1985) and, adjusted for inflation, was the least lucrative Bond film of the entire Eon film series to date.

The third Dalton Bond was actually already planned for 1991, but now there were legal disputes between Eon Productions and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer / United Artist (MGM/UA) and filming was repeatedly postponed. In addition, neither the producers nor Dalton himself had much desire to continue the joint project. Thus the third film, which had already been contractually agreed upon, never came to fruition. In April 1994, Timothy Dalton finally announced that he did not want to make another James Bond film. So now a new Bond actor was needed.

After Schindler’s List, Niam Leeson was the first choice, but he turned it down out of love for his future wife

Various actors were tested in screen tests. Among others, Mel Gibson, Hugh Grant and Ralph Fiennes were considered. But the producers had a favourite: Liam Neeson. The then 41-year-old Northern Irishman (born 1952) had already been in the film business for several years, had played several major supporting roles in very successful productions, for example in The Bounty (1984) alongside Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins, in The Mission (1986) alongside Jeremy Irons and Robert De Niro, in High Spirits (1988) alongside Peter O’Toole and in Husbands and Wives (1992) by and with Woody Allen. His big breakthrough came in 1993 in Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List.

For the role of Oskar Schindler, who saved the lives of about 1200 Jews during the Nazi dictatorship by employing them in his factory, Neeson not only earned great praise from the critics, he was also nominated for the Oscar, the Golden Globe and the BAFTA Award in the category of Best Actor in a Leading Role. From this film on, Neeson played in the top league. And now the Bond producers also became aware of the Northern Irishman. He was now their first choice.

„The phone rang once, twice, again and again.“ The 007 makers wanted him. The one year younger Irishman Pierce Brosnan (born in 1953), who then embodied the agent from 1995, was therefore no longer the first choice at the time. But Neeson turned it down because his partner Natasha Richardson told him, „If you become Bond, we’ll definitely never get married.“

In the early 1980s, Neeson was the partner of the great actress Helen Mirren, whom he met while filming Excalibur (1981). Then in 1993, during the revival of Anna Christie on Broadway, he met Natasha Richardson, the daughter of the great British actress Vanessa Redgrave and director Tony Richardson. The two then appeared together in front of the camera in the film Nell (1994). Neeson decided not to take the 007 role and married Natasha in 1994.

Pierce Brosnan becomes the new Bond, Neeson becomes a world star with many other films and finds his private happiness with Natasha Richardson, but then suffers his greatest loss

Now the producers went back to their former favourite Pierce Brosnan, whom they had actually wanted eight years earlier, but who at the time could not get out of his Remington Steele contract. In June 1994, Pierce Brosnan was officially introduced as the new James Bond. They made a contract with him for three films. The following year, from January 1995, filming began on GoldenEye, the first Bond film with Pierce Brosnan, which was to premiere in November 1995.

Liam Neeson continued to make a career for himself in the following years and decades as a celebrated actor in several films, such as Rob Roy (1995), Les Misérables (1998), Star Wars: Episode I (1999) and Episode II (2002), Love Actually (2003), Kinsey (2004), Kingdom of Heaven (2005), Batman Begins (2005), Taken (2008), The Next Three Days (2010), Unknown (2011), The Grey (2012), Taken 3 (2014) and many more.

Above all, however, Neeson found his private happiness with his wife Natasha. The two had two children together during their marriage, two sons. One of them also became an actor. In March 2009, Natasha, Liam’s great love, died at the age of only 45, two days after a skiing accident from a haemorrhage between her brain and skull. Neeson never remarried afterwards.


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