Keoghan, Madden, James Martin: who should be James Bond, if Aaron Taylor-Johnson is out? | James Bond

Just as the runners and riders were parading around the paddock, Aaron Taylor-Johnson has sensationally dismounted and stalked back to the changing room, thoughtfully tapping his whip against his thigh. What happened? Did his agent overplay things by sneakily leaking negotiations to the press, hoping the subsequent acclaim would nail down a whopping fee? Did they get their bluff called? Who knows? Either way, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G Wilson, keepers of the Bond flame in their legendary Eon offices in Piccadilly, must now resume the search and once again study the crumpled and heavily thumbed form sheet …

Idris Elba

For many, this would be a glorious choice – Elba is an outstanding character lead with action experience and a powerful, humorous presence. The tiresome debate about a person of colour playing Bond died down a decade ago but Elba’s casting might have the same effect on Tucker Carlson as 10ml of toxin stabbed into his heart from a specially modified umbrella. Elba has hinted he’s too busy playing Luther and modestly talked about his age (51). But so what? He’s in great shape. And Tom Cruise is 61. Come to think of it what about …

Tom Cruise

His next mission? Tom Cruise. Photograph: Stuart C Wilson/Getty Images

This would be startling news – can The Cruise do a Brit accent? Could he sort of make it a Canadian accent? He gives great tux. But it would be a legend playing a legend and perhaps he’s just too much of a legend himself. He might also be too much of a gentleman and a family-values guy to play the cocktail connoisseurship and the romantic philandering scenes although these have been rendered less problematic of late.

Tom Hardy

Hardy can do the ruthlessness, the cruelty, the licensed-to-kill and licensed-to-be-naughty shtick and he has that old-school beefy manliness that people associate with classic Bond. (Ian Fleming didn’t imagine Bond doing daily 200 sit-ups plus a regular stint of chair-yoga.) Maybe Hardy has been on the fantasy-casting list too long now and maybe he doesn’t want the job. But the price point could change.

Rége-Jean Page

Among what we have to think of as the younger contingent, Page (of Bridgerton fame) is a definite contender: he has the aplomb, the style, the cheekiness – a Bond for the TikTok generation perhaps and a Bond who could cultivate both male and female fanbases.

Theo James. Photograph: Gavin Bond/The Observer

Theo James

James is a relative newcomer which is a plus – it means he can be moulded more easily into the part. He is a big, handsome guy who is in shape and his recent turn in the second season of The White Lotus shows that he can do the bad-guy streak and is capable also of conveying that outsider/loner identity, the agent going behind enemy lines and bending the rules without Whitehall’s permission.

Richard Madden

Madden is a very likable and attractive personality; he won hearts and minds with his performance in Jed Mercurio’s TV drama The Bodyguard, as the cop gallantly protecting Keeley Hawes’s home secretary and he has the looks. But maybe he’s just too nice.

Henry Golding

Golding brings the swoon factor – the dishy, smart Malaysian-British player who carried off the tricky relatable-rich role of zillionaire Nick in Crazy Rich Asians. He would give good tux and CRA showed that Golding could convince as the globetrotting man-of-the-world. As with others, a director would have to skew his performance away from the ingratiating nice-guy looking for likes on his Instagram. But he’s certainly plausible.

Tom Hiddleston

In many ways, Hiddleston is the classic Bond: the well-spoken, charming public school Englishman who is tall, good-looking and he has also clocked up experience in the most reputable spy school of all – that of John le Carré, playing the lead in The Night Manager. Perhaps Hiddleston doesn’t see his career going down this path. He, of course, has done franchise time in Marvel, playing OTT villain Loki, but that just adds to his Bond credibility.

Matt Smith

Perhaps Smith, with his chiselled looks, and having played young Prince Philip in The Crown, would be the best Bond if Broccoli and Wilson decided to take the advice offered by so many fans, experts and back-seat Aston Martin drivers over the years and backdated the franchise to the original 50s/60s setting of the novels. (That might also make sense, incidentally, considering the ending of No Time to Die.) Smith was also Dr Who, but that shows he can play the humorous streak and Whovians might not necessarily object to this new turn of events.

Perfect for a post-punchup quip? Taron Egerton. Photograph: Gilbert Flores/Variety/Getty Images

Taron Egerton

Egerton has the chops for Bond, a good actor with action-tailoring experience who could execute a post-punchup quip in closeup. But there’s an existential difficulty. His role in the Kingsman franchise means that he has already established himself in a quasi-Bond role and in the Vaughn/Ritchie universe which might rule him out. For some Bond fans it would be like casting Mike Myers in his Austin Powers costume. But you never know.

Barry Keoghan

Like Connery, Keoghan would bring some working-class toughness to Bond and a touch of that other-ranks insolence to his testy briefing sessions with M and Q. And he’s already shown in Saltburn that he can carry off a tuxedo although of course it needs to be let out along the chest to accommodate the Walther PPK holster. For Keoghan fans, his casting would bring something tasty to the franchise bathwater.

James Martin

Martin is the suave and handsome TV chef who was once stepping out with Bond producer Barbara Broccoli and has spoken emotionally about her being the love of his life. His appearance in the franchise would be a piquant touch and he could do a great restaurant scene.

George Lazenby

Time for a return? George Lazenby. Photograph: Elyse Jankowski/Getty Images

He’s tanned. He’s rested. He’s ready. He’s 84. The man many 007ologists believe to be the greatest extant Bond would be a bold choice for the new superspy. It would be a sensational second bite at the cherry – like Connery in 1983 with Never Say Never Again only without need of a hairpiece – and he would bring a maturity and humour as well as a rebuke to ageism.

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