The most crucial requirements in casting a new James Bond have shifted marginally over time. Over the years, we can observe certain qualities that are universal to everyone who has portrayed 007: they are white, male, and (most would say) conventionally attractive. In terms of nationality there has been little variety, with every Bond actor hailing either from Britain or a commonwealth country (George Lazenby is from Australia). So perhaps it would be accurate to say that the most essential attribute for the actor playing Bond to possess is Britishness, or a passable association to the UK (the original character in the novel is Scottish, although according to the novel You Only Live Twice, his mother was Swiss). However, I would argue that the most salient quality possessed by each big screen James Bond is that he is male, as the character’s history is deeply rooted in womanizing and misogyny. Everything else is subject to change. Ultimately, the Bond franchise is at its core a reflection of what moviegoers of the time want to see.
Retroactively, each Bond casting choice seems inevitable, but at the time the introduction of new Bond actors is always met with pushback and skepticism as to whether the actor has what it takes or (more importantly) fits our specific ideas of how Bond should seem and look. Initially Ian Fleming, the author of the original Bond novels, believed that as an actor Connery was too handsome, sexually charming, and perhaps not refined enough to bring his literary character to the screen. Fleming envisioned someone more like Hoagy Carmichael, for his everyman looks, or David Niven, a public school educated, suave and elegant Englishman. (At 56, Niven did star in 1967's Casino Royale -- a film not produced by Eon Productions -- playing a more elderly, civilized Bond who has a daughter by spy Mata Hari and refers to Connery's character as a sort of "other Bond" and a "sexual acrobat who leaves a trail of beautiful dead women behind like blown roses.") However, Fleming was won over by Connery’s charm after his debut in Dr. No (1962) offered a refreshing, straightforward approach that lacked traditional English pretension. Connery’s performance resonated with both British and American moviegoers and was a commercial success. Fleming even began to alter his characterization of novelistic Bond to create a more promiscuous, cold-blooded ladies' man character in the style of Connery.
During Connery's one-film hiatus from the role after You Only Live Twice (1967), Eon Productions began searching for a replacement Bond. During the casting of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), Dutchman Hans de Vries and Australian George Lazenby were considered, with the role eventually going to Lazenby. This showed that the producers didn’t deem it necessary for Bond actors to be British. To Albert Broccoli, longtime Bond producer, Lazenby had the physique and charm necessary to play Bond, although to many critics and fans Lazenby was too "casual" and "dull." Critics for the most part agreed that his performance lacked the subtlety and swagger that Connery was capable of. Others saw his performance as aligned with the changing times; Alexander Walker of the NY Times wrote, "Lazenby's voice is more suave than sexy-sinister and he could pass for the other fellow's (Connery) twin on the shady side of the casino. Bond is now definitely all set for the Seventies." For the most part, the consensus on Lazenby was that, while capable, he didn't have the explosive edge that Connery possessed. Lazenby was convinced by his agent that the Bond franchise would be viewed as archaic in the coming decade, and after just one film Lazenby and Bond parted ways.
After the Lazenby misadventure, United Artists (the distribution company for the Bond movies) sought an American for the role of Bond. Saltzman and Broccoli approached Clint Eastwood, who rebuffed their advances, believing that Bond must be portrayed by a Brit. Broccoli agreed, and he put forward the suave and attractive actor Roger Moore, who assumed the mantle for the subsequent seven films. After the directness of Connery and Lazenby, Moore brought the franchise in a new direction with a more debonaire, tongue-in-cheek approach than his predecessors. The Roger Moore-era Bond takes himself less seriously, cracks more one liners, and revels in self-parody, especially towards the latter end of his run with films like Octopussy (1983). The transition from Connery to Moore affected the structure of Bond films as well; to accommodate Moore's lighthearted approach, screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz included more comedic scenes which drastically altered the overall tone of the Moore-era Bond films. This new style proved as profitable as Connery's Bond, with the seven films grossing over $1 billion cumulatively. Moore continued to play Bond up into his late 50s. In his final film, A View to a Kill (1985), Moore was 57. The Washington Post critic wrote of Moore, "He's not believable anymore in the action sequences, even less so in the romantic scenes," while Moore later agreed the he was "only about 400 years too old for the part."
When Roger Moore retired, Eon productions considered Pierce Brosnan, Sam Niell, and Timothy Dalton, deciding on the latter. Dalton fit the traditional Bond bill of a tall, dark haired Englishman. As a classically trained Shakespearean actor, Dalton did extensive research on the Bond books in order to recapture what he saw as the original spirit of Fleming's character and opted for a Bond who was less womanizing and glib. In the wake of the Roger Moore era, in which self-parody and lightheartedness were hallmarks, Dalton’s performance was too serious and brooding for many critics and moviegoers. Dalton’s films were less commercially successful than previous films, and after only his second outing as Bond in Licence to Kill (1989), Dalton retired from the role.
In response, Eon turned to an actor they felt embodied both the air of sophistication of Roger Moore as well as the grittiness of Connery: Pierce Brosnan. Brosnan’s Bond is in many ways a response to changing opinions on social issues. He is less domineering towards woman than his predecessors, and he drops Bond’s smoking habit entirely. Brosnan's tenure was considered successful by most, largely because of how he combined elements of previous Bond's effectively. Jeremy Black explains that Brosnan's Bond is "closer to the Fleming novels than Moore ... yet he is also lighter and less intense than Dalton." Brosnan starred in four commercially successful films before the compounding issues of loose screenwriting, average CGI and lack of artistic direction led to subpar results and a renewed desire from the producers to find a new actor.
After Brosnan stepped down from the role, Eon went with blonde, blue eyed, 5’10 Daniel Craig. Despite significant fan disapproval in the lead up to Casino Royale (2006), Craig’s interpretation ushered in an entirely new visual and dramatic style, eschewing the campness previously associated with the series in favor of a more gritty, realistic portrayal that fit in with the era of dark franchise reboots such as Christopher Nolan’s Batman series.
With Daniel Craig now distancing himself from the role upon the completion of Spectre (2015), we will likely have a new man in Bond’s shoes. Much coverage in publications and on social media has raised the potential of Idris Elba, although the franchise's producers have made no approach. Elba would be the first black actor to play 007, a detail that has been focused on so heavily to the point that Elba’s actual (impressive) credentials seem secondary in the press. Elba is attractive, suave, and stands at a statuesque 6’3, making him a natural fit. Perhaps the only drawback is his age, seeing as he would be at the youngest 46 at the time of the films release, older even than Roger Moore (45) in his first Bond film. Another standout candidate is Tom Hardy, who’s proven both his capacity for grittiness (The Dark Knight Rises, Mad Max) and sophistication (Inception).
It appears that over time, the concept of Bond has become increasingly flexible and amorphous as each iteration makes subtle but significant changes to the character. As the conversation around what is appropriate for a Bond movie changes over time, suggestions that in the past might have seemed outlandish come into serious consideration in the context of an evolving culture. In the sixties, the idea of a black actor playing Bond would have been seen as impossible, and yet now Idris Elba seems to be a frontrunner for the role. Likewise, the Connery Bond who dismissed a female costar with a smack on the butt and an exclamation of "man talk" in Goldfinger (1964) would be critically crucified by today's landscape of political correctness. However, considering Bond's long reaching cinematic history, the minor changes have come at a glacial pace.
Some have even raised the more radical idea of casting a woman to play Bond. When queried about this suggestion, Daniel Craig responded, "Sure, yeah, definitely. I think it’s a great idea. If it works it works." In terms of the immediate future of the franchise, however, such a progressive decision seems unlikely. Bond has been a white, womanizing male for more than 50 years of films, and even now it seems far-fetched to imagine a woman taking up the 007 mantle. James Bond is in many ways a cinematic realization of masculine fantasies. He's an unrepenting ladies' man capable of extreme violence and feared and admired in equal parts. The Bond franchise has built its image around an exaggeration of masculinity, so to stray from those roots with a female star could alienate the base of viewers that have generated vast revenue for half a century. Every aspect of Bond production is an art of commercial precision, where careful study of the history of the franchise and the state of current culture informs every aspect of the production, especially the casting. At this juncture in Bond's history, it's highly unlikely that Eon Productions will take the risk of gender swapping one of the most reliable moneymakers in the history of film.
However, the Bond franchise has proven that its longevity is based on an ability to reinvent itself in ways that aren't merely superficial. Today's Bond may still be irresistable to women, but his sexist edge has been blunted. He no longer smokes, his casual racism is mostly gone, and he is even permitted to show glimpses of emotional tenderness. The minds behind the Bond franchise are well aware that the commercial success of their films requires a careful gauging of what is considered appropriate at the present. With that in mind, completely ruling out the eventual possibility of a female Bond would be inconsistent with the evolving nature of the franchise.