The speculation regarding whether or not Daniel Craig would continue playing 007 apparently ended at last month’s UK premiere of The Brothers Grimsby. Mark Strong, star of Grimsby and long-time friend of Craig’s (he’s godfather to Strong’s eldest son), confirmed the rumor by letting slip that Craig had, finally, “come to the end of his Bond time.” In the time that’s followed, the pundits have inevitably contributed their respective two cents on who’d make the ideal replacement. They’ve trotted out the usual young, handsome and white suspects: Michael Fassbender, Toms Hardy and Hiddleston, Aidan Turner. So far, so business as usual.
Despite the fact that they were at the premiere of a film in which Strong plays a shit-hot superspy, Strong’s revelation about Craig came about not because the journo conducting the interview thought Strong might make a good 007. It didn’t occur to said reporter to inquire whether the man standing before him would even consider the role. Instead he asked what a number of journalists have asked Strong before: whether this perennial Hollywood bad guy would ever consider playing a future Bond villain. Even the Bond producers appear to have flirted with the idea—at one stage, Strong was rumored to be Spectre’s big bad. It doesn’t seem to have occurred to anybody yet that Strong could, however, be one of the best choices around for the main role.
Let’s back up a little bit. As a bald man in the midst of middle-age, of course Strong doesn’t fit the mould of the classic James Bond type. But after Craig, the mould has changed. Thanks to him, Bond no longer necessarily has to be an immortal constantly regenerating, Doctor Who-like. Previous Bond movies may have acknowledged that Bond was a man out of time, but no Bond film until Skyfall would establish that 007—and the actor playing him—was prone to aging and physical dilapidation. Craig has left Bond an older man, creakier and with a closet full of skeletons. Not in an unintentional, Roger Moore in A View to a Kill way; Bond now looks and acts older because he’s meant to.
In Skyfall and Spectre, this idea that Bond could grow old and rusty like one of us lent proceedings a paradoxical freshness. Craig’s Bond was more grizzled, more vulnerable, more lived. To recast the role now with a younger face would seem like going backwards. It would be like restarting the franchise again, after Casino Royale already rebooted just a decade ago. If producers stick with this new, mature Bond, they rather get to keep exploring the old man Bond angle introduced by Craig and Sam Mendes. And if they do decide to stick with it, they already have a perfect replacement. In Mark Strong, they have an actor who looks like both the classic Bond and Craig’s older, wiser but no less brutal 007.
For Strong, Bond would certainly be a big promotion from the sidelines, where he’s largely been the past ten years, taking so many bit-parts and near-cameos that he’s already made 23 movies this decade. Hollywood would have you think that Strong is a God-given supporting actor, another JK Simmons or Brian Cox. Only Mark Strong doesn’t belong in that position. Where the likes of Simmons and Cox thrive in supporting roles, Strong is unquestionably more interesting the bigger his part gets. His natural place is at the fore. He’s a leading man who’s for too long been stuck in a supporting actor’s career. If it’s good for nothing else, The Brothers Grimsby proves just that.
Of course, Sacha Baron Cohen cast Strong as his co-lead in Grimsby, in the role of a hyper-capable, arse-kicking secret agent. It makes perfect sense. Strong gives off a vibe of authority and unruffled persuasiveness. It’s why Strong appears so frequently as shadowy government figures or spooks, in films like Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Zero Dark Thirty, The Imitation Game, Kingsman, and now Grimsby. Somewhere, in the back of their minds, filmmakers have long recognized Strong as a Bond type.
But it’s more than just a vibe. Strong has the physical traits of classic Bond. He’s athletic, handsome and suave, and he brings a slightly sinister sense of cool that’s located somewhere between the casually sociopathic Connery Bond and Timothy Dalton’s more sadistic 007. Sure Strong’s bald as an egg, but Bond’s been there before, with Connery wearing a syrup during his entire nine-year stretch as the character. If we look at Strong in films like Body of Lies, brooding under a dark wig, he absolutely looks the part.
Even more importantly, Strong’s a terrific actor, one not often pushed to showing off what he’s truly capable of. At the cinema, he’s rarely the star. In some notable television stints, however, Strong has been the centerpiece. Consider Our Friends in the North, Low Winter Sun and The Long Firm, one a small-screen classic, one an admirable failure, and the other somewhere in-between. Thrust into the main role in all, Strong proves he’s a compelling lead when asked to step up. These shows make good use of the actor because they recognize he’s better as the (often womanizing) hero with an edge than he is as the straight-up villain he’s usually cast as for film. They recognize he’s better as the antiheroic Bond type.
In an age where the geri-action movie is a thing, Mark Strong isn’t even an atypical action star anymore. But that’s not the point. The point is that he looks, sounds and acts the part of Bond, regardless of age. The point is there are few actors who could as comfortably fill the shoes of the more world-weary and bluntly dangerous superspy that Daniel Craig has left us with. Strong so sophisticated he manages to make even parts of The Brothers Grimsby look classy. He may not be a 100% traditional choice, but after the blond, stocky, unconventionally attractive Craig made Bond his own, traditional doesn’t seem to matter so much anymore.
Brogan Morris is a UK-based freelance writer, and editor of online film/TV magazine Screen Robot. Opinions on film range from the pretentious to the frankly laughable. Find him on Twitter.