Image Credit: Michael Ansell/NBCTimothy Dalton may be the only actor in cinema history who’s worked with both Mae West and Fran Drescher. In a career that kicked off more than 40 years ago with his standout role as the king of France opposite Katharine Hepburn and Peter O’Toole in The Lion in Winter, Dalton has found success in film, theater, and television. Bond fans, though, will always know him as the two-time 007 whose attempt at bringing a harder-edged but more human sensibility to The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill, though largely unappreciated in the late ’80s, anticipated today’s more character-driven Bond. The long-running franchise is currently back where Dalton left it in 1989 — with no sign of another film being made in the near future — while he’s embracing his comic side, with a hilarious turn as Gregory Tuttle, Linda Hamilton’s benign, tweed-jacketed MI6 handler on NBC’s spy-fi spoof Chuck. He also has a part in Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck’s upcoming thriller The Tourist (out Dec. 10th). We asked Dalton about Chuck, The Tourist, his delightful turn as Mr. Pricklepants in Toy Story 3, and, of course, Bond.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What can you tell us about your character on Chuck?
TIMOTHY DALTON: You’ve got to forgive me, but I’m going to be careful here. I want there to be surprises! Within the framework of what this series is all about, my character, Tuttle, is in the spy world, but he’s not an agent. He’s not a trained spy. He’s not someone who goes out into the field. He’s more of a bureaucrat as it were, but he’s called a handler. You could tell he might have wanted to be a spy, but he never made it. He wasn’t good enough. He might have been a wannabe, though, or still is a wannabe.
I loved it when you played a villain in The Rocketeer. Might we see that side of you on Chuck?
(Laughs) Oh, you are perceptive, aren’t you? I liked The Rocketeer. That was a good film, and I loved doing that part. Well, anything is possible in Chuck. Certainly this character does get swept up into a world that he doesn’t appear to be used to and doesn’t appear to be good at. I had a great deal of fun making it. It’s been a long time since I’ve done TV, and the idea of making an hour-long movie in seven days is terrifying, quite horrifying. I would very rarely say that I’ve liked what I’ve done, but I do like what I’ve done [for Chuck]. I like the character, and I think you’ll like him too.
In how many episodes can we expect to see you?
Certainly a few. I’ll say “a few” at the moment. More than one.
Could you see yourself being a regular on a weekly series in the future?
You never say “no,” do you? But I don’t know. I would probably doubt it, because I’m the type of person who likes to make something and then do something else. I probably would find it difficult to do the same thing year in and year out.
Is shooting for television more strenuous than shooting for film?
On a major movie, you’re doing, what, two hours in twelve weeks? This kind of episodic TV is one week for an hour, because you have to get through six or seven minutes of cut film per day. It is brutal. But, it’s highly adrenalizing. It’s not ideal. We’d all like more time. The directors would like to get more shots, more imaginative set-ups. As actors, we would like to explore our characters more. But as professionals, and as people who are dealing with a good script to begin with, it is exciting. It’s like you having to write for a deadline, I suppose. I’m guessing the stress of having to write for a deadline can be inspiring. Sometimes, pressure is good.
You’ve done a lot of Shakespeare on stage and on film, and it interests me how Shakespearean actors, like Ian McKellen, Patrick Stewart and yourself, gravitate also toward science fiction, spy dramas, fantasy, and comic book films. What do you think is the connection?
The simple answer is I don’t know. If you grow up in Britain, you just do Shakespeare. If you go and work in a theater once or twice or three times in your life, you’re going to end up doing a Shakespeare, because he’s obviously such a brilliant, brilliant writer. It’s horrid to be called a Shakespearean actor because that’s incredibly limiting, and we love acting. We like telling stories, anything that excites us we want to be a part of. Science fiction is fun too! I just did a bit in Doctor Who last year, and I’ve been watching Doctor Who all my life, so it was a joy to be in it. The real link is that we like being a part of stories we like and want to share with others.
I thought it had something to do with certain archetypal characters. Certain characters that are very broad and have certain symbolic connotations that Shakespeare tapped into, and that these more popular forms do, as well. People think of Shakespeare as highbrow, but he wrote for a popular audience…
Exactly! Of course he did. I can’t think of anything worse than calling Shakespeare highbrow, because on the one hand, it’s brilliant writing. But his plays were popular. People went to see them.
Image Credit: Everett CollectionRight now the Bond franchise is pretty much in the same place where you left it back in 1989, with no real prospect of another movie being made in the immediate future. Daniel Craig might turn out to be a two-time Bond, like yourself. What are your thoughts on the state of the franchise?
I’m not speaking as a spokesman for them, of course, but I have to believe that Bond, a big moneymaker for so many years, will get back on its feet. Someone will give it a platform, a foundation on which it can be made again, because it will be in everybody’s interest. It will make money, they do make money, they always make money, and of course, they provide tremendous entertainment for so many people. It’s a horrible situation for everybody, but by the time the lawsuit that stopped the last Bond movie that I was going to make was resolved, five years had passed. [In 1989, Danjaq, the Swiss-based parent company of EON, the production company behind the Bond films, sued MGM/UA and its then parent company Qintex for licensing the television rights to the Bond film catalog without Danjaq’s approval.] I think I was starting what would have been my third Bond film in ’89 or ’90. It had been written, we were talking directors, and then the lawsuit came. It held for five years, and I certainly didn’t want to carry on after having been associated with Bond for almost 10 years at that point. It brings a big hole into that universe. It’s sad that there’s another hiatus, because I thought the first 25 minutes of Daniel’s first movie [Casino Royale] was the best 25 minutes I’ve seen in any Bond movie. I thought it was a fantastic opening.
I don’t know. The opening of your first Bond movie, The Living Daylights, is hard to beat.
How does it go? Remind me.
It’s where you are rappelling up a rock face….
Gibraltar, isn’t it? Oh, my God!
….and then you parachute down onto this boat, and there’s a woman onboard who’s on the phone with one of her friends saying, “If only I could find a real man.”
(Laughs) And that’s so funny, because they put me on the Rock of Gibraltar, on the top of a cliff, a 700-foot sheer, damned cliff, and I hate heights!
I think your films hold up so well because your Bond has a bit of a harder edge. He’s a little bit tougher than what Bond had been before. And I’m not certain if audiences in the ’80s were ready for that, especially coming after Roger Moore’s tongue-in-cheek approach. Now everybody loves that Daniel Craig is so brooding and haunted. Do you find it funny how tastes change?
I agree with you. Cubby Broccoli, who was producing the movies, said to me then that that’s what he wanted, and I agreed wholeheartedly. Roger Moore was marvelous at what he did, and his films were successful, so you can’t say a word against him. But Connery was shocking. And his movies were shocking. You had never seen women in bikinis in films in those days, and heroes did not shoot unarmed people. But Connery did, and he was tough. The fight in the train with Robert Shaw [in From Russia With Love] was one of the great Bond sequences. Incidentally, those two sequences, the fight in the train and the shooting of the unarmed man, were reprised in the opening of Casino Royale. The fight in the toilet downstairs was vicious and mean and really tough, and of course, Daniel shoots a man who’s run out of bullets. But Connery was very tough. And I think Moore, when he first took it over was tough, as well, but then he moved into that area that he was probably most comfortable with, having done The Saint. We wanted to take it back to that earlier toughness. But, of course, it’s got to be funny. It should be funny. Out of great danger often comes great humor. But when we made The Living Daylights and Licence to Kill, everybody by then was so used to something else. I think people like to stay with what they’re comfortable. So I think Cubby and I were fairly lonely voices!
I love your films because they’re tough, and Bond has more of a vengeful spirit, but there was humor too. Quantum of Solace disappointed me because it was just so unrelentingly bleak. How did you find that balance between taking Bond seriously and, you know, not taking him too seriously?
I don’t think being serious and being comedic are separate from each other. The biggest laughs come out of the most serious situations. Think how funny Chuck is. It is based on real heart and putting an innocent hero in very dangerous situations.
Image Credit: Disney/PixarHow was your experience voicing Mr. Pricklepants in Toy Story 3?
I loved it. Lee Unkrich who directed it spent maybe five or six years from starting that film to getting it on the screen. That’s an enormous amount of time out of someone’s life. It’s a shockingly good film. I had no idea how moving the film was really going to be, with such great characters, including some wonderful new characters. If anyone liked what I did, I truly give credit to them. I came in and spent a couple of hours with Lee having a lot of fun with a microphone in between us. Then he sort of figured out the character. I’m just thrilled to have been in it.
And you’re in The Tourist coming up, right? How did that come about?
Well, Donnersmarck’s movie The Lives of Others was just fantastic. I know it got Best Foreign Film, but I think it was the best film of 2007. The Tourist for me was another example of wanting to work with people. It doesn’t have to be a big part — I play a policeman in the film — but if someone like Donnersmarck asks you to come and it’s with two actors that you’ve never met before but have always admired, Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, and it’s being shot in Venice, you take it.
Looking back at your career is there anything that you wish you had done, or is there anything that you still wish to do?
I’m certainly not going to say what I wished that I had done. I think John Barrymore wrote that, “A man is never old until regrets take the place of dreams,” so I’m certainly not going to regret anything. I mean, anytime you see a great film, you think, “Oh f–k, I wish I had been in that.” But you deal with what you’ve got. And I’m happy. At the moment, I just have come home from the studio, Warner Bros., where we make Chuck, feeling exhilarated. When you talk to people who have real talent, who are really bright, who have original ideas, it’s the best.