“Quantum of Solace,” the latest in the James Bond 007 franchise, has done well at the box office, so far generating millions in receipts and cementing the actor Daniel Craig in the mind of the public as the buff, brooding, badass incarnation of the celebrated superspy.
“Quantum” is only Craig’s second outing as Bond, so it was a surprise when, earlier this month, Sean (Diddy) Combs, hiphop artist, producer, fashion and fragrances mogul and, oh yes, actor, went public on YouTube with a video meant to promote his new I Am King men’s fragrance, and an “audition tape” to promote himself as … the next James Bond.
“I am best suited to be the next James Bond, OK?” Diddy says in the Dec. 7 video. “We got a black president, you know, it’s time for a black Bond.”
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It’s a good bet that Ian Fleming, creator of the James Bond novels, has been shaken and stirred in his grave, and that the shepherds of the 007 identity, Danjac L.P., may be surprised — and even intrigued by the possibilities.
It’s not so wild a dream, folks. Diddy proved his acting chops on Broadway — Broadway! — when he starred as Walter Lee Younger in “A Raisin in the Sun” in 2004, garnering favorable reviews from the critics, some of whom were probably surprised Combs read the work of Lorraine Hansberry without a trace of the legendary rap swagger that’s made Diddy, well, Diddy.
Before that he turned in a moving performance opposite Halle Berry in “Monster’s Ball,” for which Berry won the best actress Oscar in 2002.
E! Online reported in March that Diddy huddled with Tom Cruise at the Beverly Hills Polo Lounge, and that Diddy was said to be working with Susan Batson, Cruise’s acting coach.
The I Am King promo spot borrows from the Bond mystique with all the customary trappings of derring-do: Diddy on a Ski-doo plying the waters of some foreign capital; Diddy at the casino attracting the attention of a bevy of lovelies (and a horde of sinister types). An air of danger throughout. With all the 007 accouterments on display, it’s not hard to imagine Sean John in the pay of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
And then there’s the current TV ad campaign for Ciroc vodka, part of the Diageo line of spirits. As the Ciroc pitchman, Combs plays to the hilt the role of bon vivant in this homage to Frank Sinatra. The palatial digs. The Rat Pack-style entourage. The Rolls Royce parked in a driveway the width of an interstate on-ramp. Diddy in formal wear, the black bowtie strategically undone. Another bevy of lovelies.
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If anything doesn’t work with all this James Bond speculation, it’s the timing. Years ago, with the 007 franchise in need of a passion transplant after the departure of charter Bond Sean Connery, Danjac was said to have toyed with the idea of casting a black actor as Bond. Nothing came of it, of course; white males continued in the role, from George Lazenby to Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton to Pierce Brosnan.
With Daniel Craig wowing moviegoers as Bond, it’s hard to make the case for a switch right now — and certainly not on the thin premise that, since there’s a black American president, there should ergo be a black James Bond. Loyalists to Bond's current racial identity are likely to kick up a fuss on the basis of that valid rule: If something's not broken, why fix it?
Ironically, something else that works against the idea is the fact of Diddy's own stardom. Throughout the history of the 007 series, we've seen relatively unknown or under-recognized actors anointed as James Bond, a process that's amounted to being as much the actor's invention as the character's reinvention. Sean Connery, largely unknown before Bond, became an icon through that single role. Moore, once the star of NBC's 60's-era spy series "The Saint," similarly made the most of the 007 persona.
The up-from-acting-obscurity rule doesn't always work (George Lazenby, anyone?). But it worked often enough to suggest that a relative anonymity for an actor cast as Bond wasn't altogether a bad thing.
Diddy as James Bond would turn that on its head: One of entertainment's biggest, most recognized stars would assume a persona already recognizable to the public, and for a lot longer. It would make it a challenge to look at the new Bond and not see ... Diddy. You almost can't help it.
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You have to wonder, too, how long Diddy would commit to the Bond role. To have any resonance with the public, to impart the sense of continuity the 007 brand deserves, it couldn’t be a one-and-done situation. With all his irons in the fire of pop culture, would Diddy agree to being locked down for three or four films, and all that that requires? Anyone’s guess.
But Craig won’t do Bond forever; the physical demands of the role are high, and Craig, an acclaimed actor before the 007 role came his way, will no doubt want to pursue other, less taxing opportunities. His contract has him down for two or three more Bond films before he’s a free agent.
Then ... who knows? The world’s a changing place. Anything can happen. Maybe one day we will see a homeboy at the baccarat table in Monte Carlo, purring to the world:
“Bond. James Bond. Wassup?”
Image credit: Diddy: Lisa O’Connor/Zuma Press. George Lazenby: Boston.com.