A gay comedy writer based in London, Mark O'Connell's recently published memoir, Catching Bullets: Memoirs of a Bond Fan, is something a lot of boys (on both sides of the Atlantic) can probably relate to: It's about growing up as a gay 007 fan. Although there are hundreds of books about there about Bond, there's probably not one quite like this, and we're happy to see it come about at last.
The comic coming of age in the shadow of Bond story has a foreword by gay comedy actor/writer Mark Gatiss (Sherlock, Doctor Who) and a prelude by Bond producer Barbara Broccoli. So far, the book has been getting great early reviews in the UK, and you can check out an EXCLUSIVE extract from a chapter here. We caught up with O'Connell to ask the man who has a thing for big shiny guns in pockets why he came out as a 007 fan.
Out: How did your "first date" with James Bond come about?
Mark O'Connell: James Bond 007 was always a backcloth to my childhood. Even before I was born. My grandfather, Jimmy, was Bond producer Albert R 'Cubby' Broccoli's chauffeur for over 30 years. Naturally, my Dad wanted me to see what all that was about and on one of our Divorced Parent Sundays he took me kicking and screaming to see Octopussy on its first weekend.
It was 1983, and I was 7 years old and wanted to see Return of the Jedi. Again. I put on quite a tantrum in the foyer of our local cinema, as I tried to push through the iron turnstiles the wrong way towards the screen full of Ewoks, X-Wings and Luke Skywalker. Fortunately my dad kept his calm and did not relent, and as those white dots danced across the screen and Roger Moore soon emerged from the back end of a [fake] horse in a tiny MI6-funded jet, this Bond fan was utterly hooked.
Catching Bullets details how the Broccolis, my Dad and grandfather would then feed my burgeoning Bond fan predilections so it was an utter joy as well as a moment of familial poignancy when Cubby's daughter and 007 co-producer Barbara Broccoli recently got behind my book and penned a some warm words for its own 'pre-title sequence'.
It does seem to be a film franchise that crosses gender, sexuality--all boundaries. Why do you think that's so?
It is indeed a unique series of films that straddles so many boundaries and creative margins. Original producers Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman were utter showmen of cinema, ringmasters of a great convergence of writers, designers, editors, stuntmen, directors, actors and musicians. They -- like original 007 author Ian Fleming -- were also savvy enough to ensure these films appealed to a wide section of men, women, kids, adults, the man on the street and the university professor. The films did receive a great deal of lazy criticism for being quite anti-women, but were they really? Being sexy is not the same as sexist. And folk sometimes forget how all the actors playing Bond are intentionally good looking men.
The famous story goes that Dana Broccoli, Cubby's wife, supported the original casting of Sean Connery in 1961 when the money men and studio chaps were not convinced. Women have always been involved in the making of 007 -- none more so than Barbara Broccoli co-producing the movies now. One of her greatest moves was to not only cast Daniel Craig as 007, but to make the most of his buff-with-the-smooth "charms." No-one is claiming his chiselled torso in Skyfall is "sexist".
The Bond films have skirted round the presentation of gay characters (1971's Diamonds Are Forever famously features homo-cidal killers Wint and Kidd and Casino Royale's Le Chiffre cannot keep his eyes off Daniel Craig), yet have never done so at the exclusion of gay audiences.
Who is your favorite Bond actor? Do you have them in an ordered list
from most favorite to least?
My favorite is Roger Moore. Controversial, but he was the first actor I saw in the role. He was the earliest face I associated with 007. Like a fledgling chick I emerged from my Bond fan shell to see Sir Moore towering over me like an eyebrow levitating, flared colossus. I am sure my first drink ever was a beaker of Bollinger '69. I was certainly the only child at preschool with a rider declaring "must have correctly chilled Bollinger at break times". That was Roger's fault. And so was my childhood habit of wearing a thrift-store blazer every time I stepped foot in an airport to meet family members off a plane. Roger was my first 007. All the rest were merely my Step-Bonds.
But I am giving myself a split vote. So whilst my favourite is Roger Moore, I think the best should always be who we have right now. By that criteria the best 007 is easily Daniel Craig. He is doing electrifying things with our man James. No Bond actor before has been so wholly dedicated to the fitness, the character, the look, the diplomacy, the presentation and the creativity of 007. For example, it was Craig who first suggested Sam Mendes directs Skyfall. James Bond is a very internal character. It needs an actor like Craig to pursue and present that for audiences. I don't have a Billboard Top 6 of 007s. But -- like ex-boyfriends -- time and hindsight damns and praises in equal measure.
Did you ever make it seem, when you were younger, that you were really
into a Bond Girl so that you could actually have posters/memorabilia
of one of the Bond actors?
As a fan I needed no excuse to have posters and memorabilia of the Bond actors. 007 was the leading man in a series of films I was enjoying immensely. And of course being gay does not put your tastes in men (and women) into exclusive and unchangeable brackets. To use an easy example, did the gay men of yesteryear put up Some Like It Hot posters because they only hungered after Tony Curtis? No, it was the whole Marilyn Monroe, Jack Lemmon, musical comedy, Billy Wilder package. Though when I came out, my uncle did joke that all those Bond girl images and legs strewn across my walls and cupboards were merely a smokescreen - but one he was thankful to have witnessed when staying over (not sure my Aunt was so keen, but she is a 007 fan too so -- again -- everyone was a winner). No wonder I was in the closet though. It was papered shut with the various thighs and bosoms of all those Bond girls.
I never fancied any of the Bond actors. It was too close to fancying an older cousin or the school coach. Less a role model of masculinity, to me Bond was always a template of style and poise. I did not want to be him because he was bedding women. I wanted to be him because he did so with a charm and confidence that is surely attractive to any guy or gal. Although in recent years four words have somewhat shattered my 007 celibacy: 'Daniel', 'Craig', 'swimming,' and 'trunks'.
You seem to have had quite a fascination with Maud Adam in Octopussy?
What is it about her that did it for you?
She was the first woman I had been aware to actually be a woman in the grown-up sense of the word. Until then -- and I was only seven years old when I first saw her in 1983's Octopussy -- women to me were either family members, teachers or the Nuns at school. I loved Maud's poise. Still do. It's very old school cinema. I liken her in the book to Lauren Bacall. She has a timeless grace in Octopussy as she lives the life-aquatic in a period Indian palace wearing nothing much more than a dressing gown with an octopus on it and holding her cigarettes like a Howard Hawks heroine. Plus she had a whole bevy of sari-spinning hench women.
Whilst the straight boys at school were forever recreating the Speeder Bike chases from Return of the Jedi or talking into their digital watches like Michael Knight, I was trying to re-enact the closing lady battle of Octopussy on my stairs with my large plush Snoopys replacing Maud's agile lady-fighters.
I even had John Barry's soundtrack gurgling away on an old cassette player for added impact and would time my hanging off the bannisters in a dressing gown (the nearest I had to a sari) to the crescendos of music and drama. It was probably best I was an only child. And now I have Maud contributing an Afterword to Catching Bullets. I cannot tell you what an honour that is to have my Bond girl flanking the shoulders of my 007 book.
You mentioned that you went to the Skyfall premiere in London. What
was it like seeing Daniel Craig? Very surreal. It is surreal enough walking out onto the red carpet. I hadn't done it before on this scale. As my boyfriend and I emerged onto the very bouncy, plush red carpet we suddenly realized we hadn't a clue what the etiquette is and that half the world's press and fans are looking at you, all dropping their cameras with a shared sort of "that's not Judi Dench" disappointment. We then started to do what all gays do on the red carpet -- take photos of ourselves for Facebook, not noticing that Daniel Craig was inches away from us and we hadn't even clocked him.
So, again, we did what any gay guys would do in that situation... we walked round again and pretended we had just arrived to clock a better look at Mr Craig. And he did look rather dashing with his slicked down matinee idol hair and complete ownership of that Tom Ford tux.
There was a recent question as to whether Bond is bisexual (with that
intimate exchange between Bardem and Craig). Did you ever suspect that
a womanizer like Bond could also be into guys or do you like to see
him as completely straight? Is that tantamount to Bond sacrilege?
Of course Bond is a ladies man. Ian Fleming was himself and wrote his character that way. The difference now is that Daniel Craig is in the role. There is a confidence both to him and about him, as well as in how the times are moving on. Craig is a resourceful, intuitive actor. He has played gay in high profile productions (Love is the Devil, Angels in America) in an era of screen representation where doing so does not ruin careers. Why wouldn't James Bond toy with a guy's affections to move a mission forward? 007 is a resourceful secret agent and Craig is a canny actor. And who people sleep with for work reasons are not indicative of who they sleep with when they are not at work. But these films have forever brushed the adult end of family entertainment.
The Bond movies always trade with all sorts of sexuality and flashes of flesh, but always just in a family friendly context. I cannot see Daniel tying up a bathrobe the morning after as a male agent rolls over in bed with those specially designed PG-13 duvet sets. That would not be true to the character. But his retort to Javier Bardem's villain in Skyfall is a fantastic moment. It doesn't shatter 007's lady-winning credentials, but rather shows him as a realistic man of the modern world.
And it is possibly only Daniel Craig's rich, driven and inclusive take on the role that allows that interpretation and this already famous retort to not be a joke, but an utterly apt moment of Bond achieving one-upmanship against a smug villain.
Why do you think Bond has remained so popular over the decades? And
especially for men of all types?
Fantasy. Escapism. Entertainment. The Bond films always reward their audiences' time and money. They are an event. Possibly barring Peter Jackson's Tolkien trilogies and the odd assembling of Avengers, there are very few films today which are really blockbusters in the queues literally round the block sense of the word. Even the Harry Potter franchise has less reach than 007. But already I am hearing elderly ladies talking Skyfall and builders whistling Adele's theme tune in the grocery store queue. Movie-going is so fragmented by other outlets (cable, DVD, Netflix, multiple channels, cell phone trailers, Blu-Ray etc.). But good tailoring, cars, womanizing, action, weaponry, thrills, music, humour, panache and style never go out of fashion.
One of the earliest icon-making images of cinema is of a gunslinger pointing a gun at the audience in Edwin S Porter's The Great Train Robbery (1903). Skyfall is no different. The Bond series is of course helped by a fifty year back catalogue of 007 movie making. It creates and maintains its own heritage. But its ingredients, sense of entertainment and spectacle is as deep-rooted as cinema itself.