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How Roger Moore went from shy to celluloid smooth

James Bond star talks about growing up with little confidence and then becoming the cold-hearted seducer in movies

Image Credit: AP
FILE - In this Sept.5, 2015, file photo, actor Roger Moore, left, and his wife Kristina Tholstrup pose on the red carpet as they arrive at the Monaco palace to attend the Princess Grace Foundation gala in Monaco. Moore announced the death of Tholstrup's daughter, Christina Knudsen, on social media and his official website Tuesday, July 26, 2016. (AP Photo/Christian Alminana, File)

As part of a stage tour that sees him sharing anecdotes from his long and eyebrow-raisingly colourful career, Roger Moore, 89, recently landed at the Southbank Centre in London to discuss “Being a Man”. One of the subjects on the agenda is the “pressure of masculine identity in the 21st century”. So I ask the multimillionaire Sir Roger, who played James Bond more than any other actor and seduced more women in the role than Sean Connery, Pierce Brosnan or Daniel Craig, what pressure has he felt on his “masculine identity” in the 21st century. There’s a pause, followed by a laugh, and the words, in his luxuriant baritone: “Well, I’ve never really thought about it.”

Men don’t come much more alpha than Moore. He must have some thoughts about what that’s been like. Has he always felt master of all he surveys? “In my teens I was very insecure,” he says seriously. “And so I invented Roger Moore. I was possibly shy. I don’t know why some people are shy and some aren’t. Some people blush very easily.” Was he confident with girls, or was he also shy of them? “No, no, I was not very self-confident with them. I got lucky occasionally,” he says, a growl of the old roue emerging. “But with a lack of confidence.” He’s talked in the past about his happy upbringing as the single child of a south London policeman and a housewife. Looking back now, can he see what made him insecure growing up? “I was probably a little bit overweight as a child, being passionate about baked beans on toast and Cadbury’s milk chocolate when I could get it. And I remember my father sort of pulling the belt of my blue schoolboy’s raincoat rather tight when we were going out and saying, ‘You are like a sack of bloody potatoes, tied up and ugly in the middle.’ I think the insecurity probably came from that.” He’s written with great humour in his autobiography My Word Is My Bond about how he was told to lose some pounds when cast as Ian Fleming’s spy. Of course, today, teenage boys are obsessed about having six-packs. “They all want a washboard stomach,” he laments. “I never had that obsession. When I went to Hollywood, I had to work out in a gym. The idea was that I should look like Daniel Craig, though they hadn’t even met him at that point.” Still, his physique didn’t seem to harm his career too much. He once said “I was so pretty, actresses didn’t want to work with me”, and from Ivanhoe to The Saint and James Bond, he was the go-to man when directors wanted a smooth-talking hero. By the time Moore took over as Bond in Live and Let Die in 1973, Connery had stamped his mark indelibly on the role, capturing the cold, seductive machismo of Ian Fleming’s original character. How much of Bond, the cold-hearted seducer, is there in Moore’s own character? “Well, he looked like me,” he says deadpan. “My James Bond wasn’t any different to my Saint, or my Persuaders or anything else I’ve done. I’ve just made everything that I play look like me and sound like me.” Would he play Bond differently if he could do it again? “Very differently. I’d be doing it in a wheelchair,” he says, quick as a flash. “I wouldn’t have changed it from the way I played it. 
I played it slightly tongue-in-cheek because I never quite believed that James Bond was a spy because everybody knew him, they all knew what he drank. He’d walk into a bar and it would always be, ‘Ah, Commander Bond, Martini, shaken not stirred.’ Spies are faceless people.” As to the macho violence that went with the role, he says he didn’t buy into that. Directors frequently had to nudge him to show a more violent side, particularly to women. “I remember director Guy Hamilton wanting me to be tougher with Maud Adams in The Man with the Golden Gun where I was trying to get information from her and I start twisting her arm, which I didn’t like doing particularly, and Guy said, ‘You’ve got to do it and she’s going to say, You’re hurting my arm, and you’ve got to say, I’ll break it, and mean it.’ So I bent it for those brief few moments,” he says with absolutely no relish. Indeed, for a man who, as an actor, had to dispose of his enemies with summary and myriad violence, he is surprisingly pacifistic. I ask him if he has ever been involved in a fight. “No, no fights,” he says definitively. “I’m a bit cowardly. Or maybe I looked tough.”

Moore has spoken in the past about how his first wife, Doorn van Steyn, threw a teapot at him and his second wife, Dorothy Squires, broke a guitar over his head. But, he tells me that he hates confrontation. “I’m not argumentative, I loathe tension. I would rather walk away than become involved in a shouting match.” He has, however, had four marriages. How does he square that with his talk of being easy-going? What, if anything, has he learnt about how to behave as a man from his wives? “Well, I don’t think I learnt too much, otherwise I wouldn’t have been married four times,” he says. “What I have learnt, I always jokingly say, is that you should have the last word, which is, ‘Yes, dear’.”

And would his wives agree that he doesn’t like confrontation? “Absolutely,” he gives a hearty laugh. “Absolutely.” He was and remains a great fan of David Cameron. What, I ask, does he make of the world’s current power brokers, Donald Trump (with the accusations of sexism) and Vladimir Putin (not ashamed of sporting his naked stomach for the cameras). Moore is wary of being drawn, but about Trump, he says: “I don’t think [he] comes over as a macho sexist man,” while, of Putin’s tough-guy posing, he says: “I think it’s rather nicer to think that your leaders, or the people in power are healthy, that they’re not going to keel over any second.” Our conversation turns to the high points and regrets of his career. His greatest regret, he says, is not being asked to play Lawrence of Arabia. And the high point? “A film called The Man Who Haunted Himself. The only chance I was given to act, to play something that really wasn’t me,” he says with feeling. As to whom he thinks should be the next Bond, does he have money on Tom Hiddleston or Aidan Turner? “It could be a toss-up between either of them. I don’t know whether Daniel Craig will come back. I would hope he does. I would just like him to come back — and get $100 million (Dh367 million).”