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Bond ambition

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Posted: Sunday, August 15, 2004 8:22 am | Updated: 5:35 pm, Thu Oct 6, 2011.

August 15, 2004

Now that Pierce Brosnan says he has sipped his last vodka martini ("shaken, not stirred") and bedded his last Bond girl, speculation is raging faster than Miss Moneypenny’s libido: Who will succeed the 50-year-old Irish actor as the centerpiece of moviedom’s longestrunning and most lucrative franchise?

Some of the leading candidates in recent years have fallen out of contention. Welsh actor Christian Bale ("American Psycho"), once the de facto favorite among 007 faithful, has opted for cowl over tuxedo as the caped crusader in Christopher Nolan’s new "Batman" franchise. It’s unlikely that Bale will have the time or inclination to moonlight as the sixth incarnation of 007.

Colin Firth ("Bridget Jones’s Diary"), once frequently mentioned as a possible Brosnan successor, has seen his window open and close. Rumor has it that producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli are looking for a younger, sleeker Bond to compete with the likes of current action stars Matt Damon and Keanu Reeves. Firth is an actor of rare dignity and intellectual contour, but "sleek" hardly fits.

When it comes to debating the merits of prospective Bonds — especially one who can stand up to the likes of Sean Connery and Roger Moore — the same three factors always come into play: Looks (square jaw, piercing eyes), stature (muscular build, commanding height) and that intangible quality known as ‘‘Britishness.’’ Put together, they make for a relatively short list. Here are the leading candidates to wield a Walther PPK when the 21st James Bond movie

rolls before cameras next year.

CLIVE OWEN

On the strength of his suave, coolly detached performance in "Croupier" (1998), English-born Owen drew immediate comparisons to Connery, but his heat tapered off a bit with marginal work in "Beyond Borders" and "King Arthur." Last year, Owen told a London newspaper that rumors linking him to the Bond franchise were "unsubstantial." All the better. His shoulders are too narrow, anyway.

HEATH LEDGER

Now this is pure camp. At 25, Australia’s Ledger ("A Knight’s Tale") is waaaay too callow to play 007, too slender and too delicate in appearance. And not to be cruel or anything, but that pate is looking pretty exposed these days. It’s a simple matter of principle: Bond must have hair.

EWAN MCGREGOR

Endorsed for the role by Moore himself, McGregor has publicly expressed dissatisfaction with the grind of filming George Lucas’ "Star Wars" prequels, so taking on another franchise gig probably doesn’t hold much appeal for the wily Scotsman. One selling point: McGregor’s penchant for fullfrontal nudity ("Young Adam") would give female audiences much to chew on.

GERARD BUTLER

Probably the most Conneryesque of the bunch. Best known for supporting performances in "Lara Croft Tomb Raider: The Cradle of Life" and "Reign of Fire," Butler shares Connery’s Scottish heritage, rugged good looks and obscure pre-Bond origins. But does he clean up well?

HUGH JACKMAN

He’s got the brawn, the mug and the action star pedigree ("X-Men," "Van Helsing"). But Bond fans have to ask themselves: Do they really want a song-and-dance man (Broadway’s "The Boy From Oz") with a license to kill? Jackman’s theatrical pretenses will probably be his undoing, if not his commitment to "X-Men 3."

ORLANDO BLOOM

What sacrilege is this? Bloom ("The Lord of the Rings") is no better suited to play Bond than Mary-Kate Olsen, yet his name keeps surfacing on gossip sites. One plus: Bloom’s androgynous, sexually nonthreatening image could help the producers crack that coveted 8- to-14-year-old female demographic, long immune to Bond’s manly charms. Hilary Duff could be the Bond girl.

ERIC BANA

Last week, Bana ("Troy") testily denied reports that he had accepted the next Bond role, feeding speculation that his demanding reputation (and hefty salary demands) may have given Broccoli and Wilson reason for pause. The erstwhile Aussie comic has the dramatic gifts to play 007, but does he have the look? Weak chin, big ears.

ADRIAN PAUL

Touted by fans of TV’s "Highlander," this native Londoner and B-movie veteran has all the requisite Bond qualities: Charm, charisma and masculine savoir faire. Paul might not fit in with the producers’ long-range plans, however — he turns 45 this year, only slightly younger than the exiting Brosnan.

IOAN GRUFFUDD

Based on his performance in "King Arthur," Welshman Gruffudd would make a much more compelling Bond than co-star Owen; funnier, less stiff, more classically rakish. And he’s got the action chops: He had a bit part in "Black Hawk Down" and was recently cast as Dr. Reed Richards in "Fantastic Four." For our Welsh-impaired readers, it’s pronounced "YO-an GRIFFith."

JULIAN MCMAHON

Known to fans of TV’s "Nip/ Tuck" as the ever-conflicted, ever-randy Christian Troy, this Australian native has emerged as a dark-horse candidate in recent weeks, and why not? He can act a ton, and has a cocky, pitiless quality that could put some edge back into 007's cummerbund.

JUDE LAW

The Bond brain trust would love to get their hands on the British tabloid hunk, but having starred opposite the likes of Nicole Kidman ("Cold Mountain") and Tom Hanks ("Road to Perdition"), Law has probably priced himself out of the role. His prettiness also presents a hitch — perfect for a gigolo sex droid ("A.I."). For a rough-and-tumble secret agent, not so ideal.

OUR CONCLUSION

Owen’s a stiff, McGregor’s an exhibitionist and Bana’s ears make him a flight risk. Go with a relative unknown and tap Butler for the role.

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