Debbie McWilliams has cast more than 10 Bond films.
'Around the Table' with the cast of 'No Time to Die.'

Fans love to talk about who should play James Bond next, but in reality, the search to find a good Bond involves months (if not years) of work. And leading that search for the last 30 years has been casting director Debbie McWilliams, who was brought on board during 1981's For Your Eyes Only. After joining in the Roger Moore era of the iconic character, McWilliams has helped find the next iterations of the 007 agent with actors like Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and Daniel Craig.

EW spoke with McWilliams about what goes into casting such a career-defining character.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What are you looking for when you're casting James Bond?

DEBBIE MCWILLIAMS: It's somebody who can hold their own, who is attractive, physical, capable of taking on not just the part but all the razzmatazz that goes with it. It's quite a tall order and it can live on with somebody for long after they've played the part, although I think it's not so defining now as it used to be. I think some people got very much stuck with it and others have managed, particularly if they've chosen good projects other than Bond, where they're seen as just a very good actor rather than just being James Bond. 

What goes into a James Bond audition? Is there a test for the physicality as well as the acting chops?

Yes. It's a pretty rigorous process, it goes on for quite a considerable time. Lots of people are considered and then rejected for one reason or another. Then it comes down to two or three choices and those people usually have to do a screen test, they have to do a stunt assessment, and they have to meet everybody. It's a committee decision between the producers, the studio, and the director, but it's usually very much down to the Broccoli family [who run Eon Productions, the company that produces the James Bond film series]. They're pretty much in control. But I don't think they've ever cast someone who the studio absolutely didn't want them to cast. It's not something that happens overnight, shall we say. 

What was it about Pierce Brosnan that made you think he could play Bond?

It was a funny happenstance with him because he was the then-husband of Cassandra Harris who I cast in For Your Eyes Only, so when they went to shoot in Greece, he went with her and people got to know him. He was pretty much earmarked as the next one, but then, of course, once interest was shown, the Mary Tyler Moore company had him under option for Remington Steele. And despite the fact that a great deal had gone on, even down literally to him being costumed, they had a 60-day [period] where they could choose to use that option or not and on day 59 they said, "You can't have him." And this was almost no time before the film was due to start shooting so [it was a] massive disappointment for him and threw all of us into total turmoil, which is when the Timothy Dalton process kicked into huge action. But since Timothy Dalton didn't grab the public's enthusiasm particularly, he was let go after two films so Pierce then came back into the frame again. He'd been on the sidelines for a long long time.

Pierce Brosnan as Bond; Daniel Craig as Bond.
| Credit: Everett Collection (2)

Let's talk about Daniel Craig. There was such a loud response to that casting at the time.

It was unbelievably negative, I have to say. The press response was awful and I felt so sorry for him, but in a funny kind of a way I think it almost spurred him on to do his damndest to prove everybody wrong. The whole way through the film, stuff would come out about he couldn't walk and talk, he couldn't run, he couldn't drive a car properly, so much stuff which was completely and utterly untrue. And he just kept his head down, got on with the job, and then the film came out and everybody went, "Oh wow, I think we quite like him after all." He's going to be a tough act to follow.

He was a bit of a different choice — blond hair, blue eyes, a more rugged look. Did you set out to cast someone so different or was he just the obvious choice?

There was a massive search before he was cast and it had started out as a slightly different slant on things. Originally the story of Casino Royale was meant to be a sort of new, young tryout growing into James Bond rather than the fully formed character, but we struggled to find anybody who could fill those shoes. We saw lots and lots of people and tested a bunch and one or two people even said, "Look, I'm not ready for it," which was pretty brave of them. Then as time went by they decided, let's just stick with the old formula and let's look at it again. And that was after a long, long search and Daniel became the obvious choice to me in the end. Well, he was obvious to me and obvious to Barbara Broccoli, not so obvious to everybody else. [Laughs] It was she who battled long and hard for him and she won the day. 

Had you known him beforehand?

Yes, of course, he was pretty well known from having done several films and TV series. Absolutely, I knew him.

Seeing as how Bond will never die and you've been doing this for so long, do you find yourself thinking about the next Bond when watching other things?

Sort of maybe, but until I'm hired and I'm paid for it... [Laughs] Obviously, one's keeping one's eyes open all the time. That's part of the job, just being aware of who's who and where they are in their career. It's going to be very, very hard I must say [to cast the next one].

I'd love to also touch on casting Bond villains. Has there been a villain that was the most difficult to cast?

Minds get changed quite long into the process. Some people aren't cast even after we start shooting. Mads Mikkelsen was not in [Casino Royale] at all until the person who we originally wanted didn't go. There was an actor very much in mind who I very much wanted, but in the end, the studio didn't want. Having fought the battle for Daniel, Barbara felt she couldn't really push it any further. You always have to have your eyes open in case you have to replace somebody, which has happened many, many times. I had been monitoring Mads Mikkelsen for quite a while and had seen him in a few Danish films and was really impressed with his versatility. I'd kept my eye on him although, to my mind, he wasn't entirely right for the part because La Chiffre by his own name is meant to be French, but once our French actor was not going to be cast, we were in Prague and by pure chance so was Mads Mikkelsen and so I grabbed him and got him in. That was a slightly odd situation. But they're always quite odd situations.

Did No Time To Die present any challenges in terms of casting?

I had a very strange time trying to get Rami Malek into the room because, with all due respect to his agents, they didn't really respond when I suggested that they might want to meet him. Because every single person on a Bond film pretty much has to come in and be met by everybody first, you don't just get the contract through the post. I, again, just happened to be in the right place [at] the right time. I went to a screening of Bohemian Rhapsody that he was at and then we were invited afterwards for a drink, so I marched up to him and said, "Have you had any call from your agent about a James Bond film?" He went, "No." And I said, "Well, we've been trying to meet you for quite a long time." Within a second, he was on the phone and the very next day he was in the office and that was that. [Laughs] I've learned to be quite bold. If you want something you go and get it. 

Read more from EW's 25 Days of Bond, a celebration of all things 007 ahead of the release of No Time to Die. 

Related content:

Comments have been disabled on this post