The Other Fellow’s Other Films
Ahead of his appearance at Melbourne’s Armageddon Expo, FilmInk speaks to Australian-born actor, George Lazenby, whose finest onscreen moment came as 007.
George Lazenby is best known for one role and one film: James Bond in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. However, over the past three decades he has enjoyed a surprisingly varied acting career which has taken him all over the world, working with talents as diverse as Peter Bogdanovich, John Landis, Brian Trenchard-Smith, Angela Mao and John Stamos.
Perhaps Lazenby’s most interesting and obscure movie is 1971’s Universal Soldier, his first post-Bond outing. The former car salesman plays a mercenary who comes out of retirement to plan the overthrow of an African nation, but has a change of heart and romances a hippy, leading to his death. Despite the plot there is little action, with lots of scenes of Lazenby walking around London while songs play on the soundtrack that spell out all the subtext.
“We did it as we went along,” Lazenby tells FilmInk. “There was a script but we didn’t follow it – we were all smoking wacky tobacco.”
Universal Soldier was the last film from director Cy Endfield, who had made 1963’s Zulu and previously directed Lazenby in the TV ad for Big Fry turkish delight which led to his casting as James Bond. Endfield plays a version of himself in the support cast, which also includes a young Germaine Greer, who had just published The Female Eunuch.
“Germaine, she’s a funny lady,” laughs Lazenby. “I’d never heard of woman’s lib until I met her. She would come down to my flat in the morning in London and rip the blankets off me and my girlfriend and say ‘Get up, get going’, while we were lying there naked.”
Lazenby clashed with Endfield over the film’s ending in which Lazenby’s character is killed by his former employer. “I didn’t want him to die because he’d done the right thing. So I refused to film it. They had to freeze frame it instead.”
The movie was not a hit (“I had a piece of the action and I never got a cent,” says Lazenby. “I’ve only ever seen it once.”) However the star ended up marrying the woman who played his girlfriend in the film, Chrissie Townsend.
Following Universal Soldier Lazenby was unable to get a job in England or Hollywood (he says he was blacklisted because of his experiences on the Bond film) so he made a thriller in Italy in 1972, Who Saw Her Die?. His fee for this gave Lazenby enough money to buy a boat. Although he’d never sailed before. he and Townsend spent the next 15 months sailing around the Mediterranean.
“That was one of the happiest times of my life,” he remembers today. “You’re totally your own man not getting any flack from anyone… it was free. You’re king of the castle – you can even marry people you’re that much in charge. I’ve never had that in my life again.”
This idyllic existence came to an end when Lazenby “ran out of money and the bloody girl got pregnant on me – she told me she could never get pregnant, but she did.”
Lazenby went back to work as an actor, initially in Hong Kong where he was to make a movie with Bruce Lee. That was put on hold due to Lee’s death (Lazenby had lunch with the actor on the day he died) but he went on to appear in several Hong Kong action films, such as 1974’s Stoner and 1976’s A Queen’s Ransom.
“Hong Kong in the seventies was wild and woolly,” Lazenby says. “Hanging out with stuntmen who didn’t speak English – it was hair-raising. Those films had two lines and another fight scene – that’s all they wanted to see in those days. All I can remember is I was super fit – they worked from daylight to dark swinging you like a dancer. I remember my wife saying ‘Geez that’s the best you’ve ever looked. Keep it up.’”
In the mid seventies, Lazenby went to Australia where he made three films, two telemovies and the cult classic, 1975’s The Man from Hong Kong. “I was out of money at the time on all three occasions,” he admits. “I had two kids and I was scratching the bottom of the pan to try and get money to take care of us. It was one of the only times I’ve been broke in my life. I couldn’t get out of Australia.”
The best remembered of these was The Man from Hong Kong, where Lazenby was the villain to Jimmy Wang Yu’s hero. “He was an arsehole,” says Lazenby of Wang Yu. “My main memory of that film is getting burnt because I got set on fire and I rubbed the gel off which stops you from being burnt.”
Lazenby then moved to Hollywood where he has based himself for the past three decades, working steadily in films and TV. He is still acting today. “As an actor, you’re only as good as the writer,” he says.
Melbourne’s Armageddon Expo will take place at the Melbourne Exhibition Centre October 13-14. For more information on the line-up of guests or to purchase tickets, head here.