Who Will Actually Be The Next James Bond? An In-Depth Analysis

Esquire Editors, Tom Nicholson
Photo credit: Getty Images

From Esquire

Who's going to take over from Daniel Craig as James Bond when he swaps his Walther PPK for a P45? Who knows. This far ahead of Bond 25's 2020 release you might as well get the Ouija board out to ask the spirit of Cubby Broccoli what he reckons.

Nonetheless, there are a few orthodoxies to point the way. Traditionally, it’s been a role which elevates actors to the A-list rather than being an A-list vehicle. Look at where past Bonds were in their careers when they got the gig: Sean Connery was an undistinguished jobbing actor best known for fighting leprechauns in Disney’s begorrah-and-blimey Irish tale Darby O’Gill and the Little People; George Lazenby was a car salesman turned chocolate advert mascot who bumped into Broccoli at the barbers; Pierce Brosnan had a perm.

You'll need a history of hefty, critically respected film parts these days too. Daniel Craig had Layer Cake, Munich and a role as Ted Hughes in Sylvia on his showreel before Bond, and the next will need a similarly solid CV as well as having convinced when jumping out of helicopters and the like. Then there’s the general sense of Bond-ishness: Connery "moved like a panther", as Cubby's wife Dana Broccoli put it, and that sense of muscular virility has been an essential part of each Bond actor on screen. These are the 16 frontrunners.

Lashana Lynch

Photo credit: Nicola Dove/MGM

We all know by now that British Captain Marvel star Lashana Lynch will be playing a new ‘00’ agent who butts heads with Bond in No Time To Die. Not much is actually known about the character, named Nomi, beyond her talent for stealth attacks and devastating put-downs. In the trailer, she tells Daniel Craig’s creaky agent that “the world has moved on” since he opted for retirement, trading in his license and guns to grimace by a Jamaican lake. “So stay in your lane. You get in my way, I will put a bullet in your knee. The one that works.”

Which is to say, they’re teaming up to defeat Rami Malek’s (not-so) mysterious villain. This presents two creative opportunities: they could kill Bond off (as has long been speculated) and replace him with Nomi’s character for future films, or they could give Nomi her own spin-off series/film.

It goes without saying that the first option would infuriate all of the worst people in the world. Lashana Lynch has already addressed the embarrassing backlash that arrived with the not-quite-accurate headlines that she would be playing 007 in Cary Fukanaga’s film. “It makes me feel quite sad for some people because their opinions, they’re not even from a mean place – they’re actually from a sad place,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s not about me. People are reacting to an idea, which has nothing to do with my life.”

Ultimately, chances are that Lashana Lynch will not succeed Daniel Craig in the main role. But we’re excited by the possibility that she could offer a new path for a franchise that has become somewhat limited by its legacy. There are new stories to be told, new characters to be crafted, and a spin-off could provide the opportunity to bring them to the screen.

Tom Hardy

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If you’ve got Pierce Brosnan’s backing – the former Bond said he fancied Hardy to "put a bit of wiggle into" Bond last year – you’re halfway there, and Hardy has the brooding look, the magnetism and the maverick streak in spades. That said, Hardy might be a bit too obvious at this stage. As the kind of A-lister who makes other A-listers look like boring nerds, he doesn't need the role to elevate him any further, so Bond might be an odd fit for Hardy. He might also be a bit wary of chucking himself into another big franchise so soon after Venom too, and Bond isn’t the kind of role you can just wander off from to do other things. It is, as Craig once observed, "a big machine". He's still the obvious choice, but Bond producers have seldom gone for the obvious 007.

Idris Elba

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There was a moment in 2018 which summed up where Idris is at with the Bond thing. Good Morning Britain’s Divya Kohli collared him at the premier of Yardie, his directorial debut, presented him with a martini glass and asked if he took it shaken or stirred. Idris looked like he wished it were bleach he could chug back. He's the first to have fun with the idea - see his selfie with Daniel Craig at the Golden Globes - but after the Sony hack in 2014 showed he was in the running, he became so hemmed in by Bond chat that whatever he does now, people always ask about Bond. That’s not to say he doesn’t have everything a great Bond needs but he’s probably sick of the whole thing, and who could blame him? He’s also in his late forties, the same age as Roger Moore was when his era started. By the time Rog got out he looked like he desperately needed an Ovaltine and an early night, so producers are unlikely to go for an older Bond again.

James Norton

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The spate of BBC thrillers in the last few years has raised a certain echelon of British leading man toward the top of the Bond reckoning. Norton’s turn in McMafia shoved him to the head of the pack for a couple of months, and he’s certainly got the 'wearing of a suit' and 'waving of a gun' aspects of the role down. Then again, he’s a bit light on film experience and might have been right to dismiss Bond rumours as "very flattering, very humbling speculation". He seems to be the Clive Owen de nos jours.

But then again, is he? A small part in Greta Gerwig's Oscar-bothering Little Women and a much bigger part in the marquee BBC drama The Trial Of Christine Keeler suggest he's still got the wind behind him as far as those in 'the biz' are concerned.

"It's crazy. It's not real. It's speculative," Norton told the Sunday Times recently. "There is no truth behind it. Unless journalists know something more than I do.”

They might well do. But how does it feel to be even considered in that world? What about beyond that? James? Jimmy?

"It's bizarre and quite flattering to be even considered in that world, but beyond that? Pure speculation."

Come come Mr Norton, you derive just as much pleasure from killing time with pure speculation as we do.

"It's really hard, as whatever I say can become a story," he went on. Very astute. Come on, Jigga-man, stop stalling. Give us an answer. "I don't know how to answer."

That counts as an answer. Norton did at last put away his flat bat and instead nurdle one around the corner for a single when it came to the production team responsible for turning Bond into a 21st century film juggernaut.

"I love the franchise and hope [Bond producer] Barbara Broccoli continues to make it relevant," Norton said. "Going into the heart of Bond's private world, as opposed to one-liners, is already progress.”

Aha! The mask slips. He wants it. Norton is a go. Suspend the betting right this instant. #AnnounceNorton. James Norton Welcome To James Bond | Insane Skills | Goals | Assists HD.

Sam Heughan

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A relatively recent entrant into the Bond race, you'll most likely recognise Heughan from Outlander and possibly from a role in Mila Kunis and Kate McKinnon's comedy The Spy Who Dumped Me as a very Bond-y secret agent. At 39 he's just about the right age, if perhaps half a decade too late for producers to build another 15-year tenure around.

Perhaps as importantly, he's got the Connery factor. Heughan's from Balmaclellan in the Dumfries and Galloway, and he reckons it's time to cast Bond north of Hadrian's Wall again. "I think any actor who says they wouldn’t would be lying, and I think it’s time we have a Scottish Bond again," he told STV News in May last year when asked about playing 007. Then, in January this year, he told Good Morning Britain: "It's not a no."

Friends: that's a yes.

Jack Lowden

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Another new runner, and another one from Scotland, the Borders-raised Lowden is only 29 and in the prime slot for a grooming into the next 007. The problem is, he doesn't really want it. Actually, that's not quite the truth. He just never wants Craig to stop being Bond.

"I’m a massive Daniel Craig fan and I don’t think he should ever stop doing it," Lowden has said to GP. "Bond dealing with age is a brilliant idea and I think we should go the whole way until Daniel’s 85."

Fair enough – Lowden was 15 when Craig was cast, and he probably feels like a small part of his childhood will snap off and wither away when Craig leaves. Lowden, though, might be a dark horse successor.

He's got form in both heavyweight dramas (Denial, '71) and big action-y British films (Dunkirk) and think-y period pieces (Mary Queen of Scots, War & Peace). He knows his way around a suit too. His Bond could well head take his tailoring in a very different direction to Craig's musclebound power-suits. We've been banging the drum for Lowden's suits for a while now, actually. Dismiss him at your peril.

Michael B Jordan

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An outside shot, given he'd be both the first black man to play Bond and the first American to play him, but the Black Panther and Just Mercy star has drawn support from a potentially handy source: No Time To Die's theme song singer Billie Eilish.

"Honestly, Michael B Jordan would kill that shit," she told Capital Breakfast when pressed for her pick to succeed Craig. Then, for the avoidance of doubt: "I think he’d kill it."

Now, this endorsement might not have the same sort of heft that one from, say, Barbara Broccoli might have. But who's to say that Eilish hasn't already been in the same room as Broccoli for a playback of the 'No Time To Die' single, sidled up to her and whispered in her ear: "Michael B Jordan would kill that shit"? Not us.

Richard Madden

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If suddenly staring very hard at something out of frame like a spaniel who's just caught scent of some fox poo two fields away is a key performance indicator for a Bond hopeful, then Bodyguard gave Madden ample opportunity to flaunt his suitability and pick up a Golden Globe while he was at it. The tough but conflicted but fragile but dutiful thing is solid Bond training, and Madden's silence on the subject feels more like a 'something is about to happen' kind of silence than a 'nothing is about to happen' void. Then again though, there’s a lack of big screen heft beyond the underwhelming and possibly cursed CIA drama Bastille Day, which ended up being pulled from French cinemas after it opened following the terrorist attacks on Nice’s Bastille Day celebrations. As Craig's Bond has done the Bond-goes-Bourne thing so long that Bourne-style gritty clobbering has become the norm for most action films, and certainly most spy films, Madden’s blank terseness might represent a step back to 2005 rather than a step forward.

Riz Ahmed

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Everyone likes Riz. He's a brilliant actor, obviously, as you know from Nightcrawler, Four Lions and The Night Of, and on top of that he's very much One Of The Good Guys. Had Ahmed been in the running in 2005, he might have been considered just a bit too interesting and outspoken for the part, but whether it's on Twitter or via his music with Swet Shop Boys or as Riz MC, he's always been an intelligent and considered voice in conversations about representation in TV and film and as such would be exactly the right guy to play the first Bond of colour. If anyone could show that Bond can move with the times and, if necessary, sit down the kind of baby-men who'd freak out at the idea of a Muslim Bond with a combo of grace and righteous force, he can.

Tom Hiddleston

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Much like Madden and Norton, a big budget Beeb production bounced Hiddleston toward the top of the bookies’ lists. Like all Le Carré adaptations, The Night Manager gave Hiddleston a lot of room to practice his brooding in hotel rooms. He might have the time now the Avengers saga is being rounded off too. Then again, even ignoring the odd vibe that lingers from the whole Taylor Swift thing – though really, no Bond should really be wearing a t-shirt with his girlfriend’s initials on, unless ‘I <3 TS’ really proclaimed Hiddleston’s love for Tremendous Spying or The Sesh – Hiddleston’s just a bit too big for the role now. Plus, last we heard he hadn’t been approached: "No one has talked to me about it," he told Graham Norton in 2018.

Daniel Kaluuya

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For some reason, nobody's really talking about Kaluuya as an outside shout for Bond at the minute, but all the ingredients are there. Between Sicario, Black Panther, Widows and Get Out, he's got both critical clout and action chops, as well as being exactly the kind of famous-but-not-mega-mega-famous actor who generally gets the gig. When the idea of being Bond was put to him by the Hollywood Reporter he dodged it admirably: "What are the odds on that? I need to know the odds first, 'cause I need a new kitchen." For the record, Daniel, your odds are sliding between 6-1 and 20-1, but we'd price him a lot shorter than that.

Henry Cavill

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Cavill’s name has been bouncing around Bond for more than a decade: he was Casino Royale director Martin Campbell’s pick to succeed Pierce Brosnan, but he lost out to Daniel Craig as he was considered too young at 23. He's old enough now, but last year's witless contribution to the discussion about how #MeToo has changed dating might bar him. On top of that, prospective Bonds are meant to have a winking, chase-me-chase-me coyness when anyone asks them about being Bond. Cavill hasn’t got that memo. "I would love the opportunity and if they were to ask, I would say yes," he said breathlessly in 2018, sounding more like a slightly anxious Duke of Edinburgh candidate who really needs this Oxfam stock assistant gig than a devil-may-care superspy.

Aidan Turner

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Another BBC-approved hunk, his stint on Poldark has landed him a fair few shoots in tuxedos and he’s got the requisite smoulder down. There’s precedent for an Irish Bond in Brosnan, and of the mooted Irishmen in the running – Cillian Murphy and Michael Fassbender being the others – Turner’s the one with the best shot. Given that nobody really remembers that he was in the Hobbit films, it feels like the right point in his career for him to announce himself on film too. That said, talk around him has cooled since Madden's emergence.

Damian Lewis

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The betting on Lewis has drifted a little since Homeland made him a frontrunner, and as he's approaching 50 he's unlikely to carry the franchise for the decade or so that's come to be expected of a Bond actor. That said, there are still a few things which make him uniquely placed to get the gig: he's read an audiobook of Diamonds Are Forever; he worked with Barbara Broccoli on The Silent Storm in 2014 and she's known to be a fan of his; and, most notably, Lewis was christened as "the next James Bond" by willowy Liverpool midfielder Adam Lallana in 2017 when the two met at the cricket.

John Boyega

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Boyega did a Google Assistant ad which toyed with the idea of him playing Bond - he's in a tux, does the classic pre-credits Bond crouch-and-gun-point pose, and likes what he sees so much he calls his agent - and managed to come across as both a laugh and a real contender to take Bond and make him funny, dashing and buoyant. He did admit in March last year that he was still a bit too young for it, but there's usually a short hiatus after each Bond launches his DB5, Thelma & Louise-style, off the cliff. Boyega could easily be in his mid-thirties before the decision is made, putting him squarely in the frame.

Henry Golding

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It’s been an eventful few years for Henry Golding. Since making his film debut in 2018’s Crazy Rich Asians, the Malaysian-English actor has established himself as the go-to rent-a-hunk for any Hollywood romcom in need of a slick, besuited and largely silent love interest.

It’s no surprise, then, that his name has been thrown into the ring for 007, with his odds currently standing at 8/1. Golding even addressed the rumours himself, telling BBC Radio 1: “It’s a crazy, crazy idea, but stranger things have happened. I’m just excited for Daniel Craig. Y’know, he’s been my Bond.”

That may be true, but the 32-year-old’s take on the character would presumably present a departure from Craig’s war-torn tenure. Golding is a lot of things – handsome, preternaturally good at wearing suits, charming – but gritty he is not. Looking through all the entries on this list, Golding presents the most Brosnan-esque option. That’s no bad thing in our book.

That being said, he’ll have a chance to show off his action man credentials in Guy Richie’s The Gentlemen (out January 2020) alongside Matthew McConaughey, Colin Farrell, Hugh Grant and Charlie Hunnam. It’s not yet been specified what role Golding will play, but the trailer shows him maniacally firing off a machine gun, staring people out and wearing the hell out of a turtleneck, so make of that what you will. The story will follow an American expat who’s decision to sell off his marijuana empire sparks warfare in the London underworld, and you can watch the trailer here.

It's refreshing to see an actor show his excitement at the prospect of playing 007, rather than reacting with a stock answer. Speaking to MTV about a Bond joke that found its way in to Last Christmas, Golding said: "That was my audition. I guess I don’t get [the role]. [My name] it’s been thrown around. What male actor in their right mind would not take on sort of the challenge of being one of the most iconic, cinematic leading men possible?"

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