By Steve Pratt
Sir Roger Moore is embarking on a UK-wide theatre tour, opening here Sunday 14 September, to talk about his life and career from stage to screen, from Pinewood to Hollywood. He talks about having fun, laughing at yourself and acting with your eyebrows then gets serious to talk about his work with UNICEF.
How to address Roger Moore? Certainly not Mr Moore as he’s a knight of the realm. Arise Sir Roger Moore. But he’s equally famous as James Bond from the 007 films, not forgetting Lord Brett Sinclair from The Persuaders and Simon Templar alias The Saint in TV hits. Those with long memories might add two more TV roles, the title character in Ivanhoe and Beau Maverick in the American western series Maverick.
Is there another actor who can claim to be known in quite so many and so varied roles on screens, big and small? Somehow he’s always remained himself – smooth, suave, amusing. It’s a part he plays to perfection and has kept him in work from early days as a young actor in weekly rep and a Hollywood contract player to movie stardom, holding a licence to kill as James Bond between 1973 and 1985.
At 86, he has much to talk about which makes An Evening With Roger Moore such a good idea. He toured the show in 2012 and 2013, and now has 12 new dates this autumn to towns and cities chosen, he jokes, because his wife Kristin wants to visit them.
Sir Roger is a great joker and prankster. Film sets, you gather, are never dull when he’s around. A nice line in self-deprecating humour has stood him in good stead during a career when critics haven’t always been kind about his performances. Taking the line that if you can’t beat them, join them he “invented” the Roger Moore eyebrow acting technique – a joke seized upon by those mischievous Spitting Image folk. The whole joke that his eyebrows are the only part of him that act was his fault. Being self-derogatory, he noted he had just three expressions – left eyebrow raised, right eyebrow raised and no eyebrows raised. “I remember at the time my agent said you must stop staying these bad things about yourself and I said, ‘but they’re saying them already’.”
When I phone him he’s at his summer home in Monaco, soon to head off for a couple of weeks in London promoting his new book, Last Man Standing: Tales From Tinseltown before hitting the road for his stage tour.
He’ll be interviewed on stage by author Gareth Owen, who worked with Moore on his autobiography My Word Is My Bond and Bond Is Bond. In truth, Sir Roger needs little encouragement to launch into another humorous story about his life and career. For him every picture tells a story, often with a punchline at his expense. Although deliciously gossipy, his stories are never malicious. Writing his autobiography he made it a rule not to be horrible about people. “It’s not my style to put it in print, being nasty about people. It’s very unfair, particularly on people who are dead. Even worse if they are alive.”
He didn’t start writing his autobiography until the eve of his 80th birthday in 2007. Why so late in life? “It took me a long time to learn to spell,” he replies. “It’s a bit like the tour and not having been in some of the towns since 1949 – I say I am back by popular demand,” he says.
Despite his great success on screen, theatre figured in his early career with his current tour not only bringing back memories of those days but also reminding him of the moment he realised it was to be an actor’s life for him. “The reason I like to wander around theatres from time to time is that feeling you have when you can hear the house chatting away, hear the bells go and the lights gradually diminish. You hear the swish of the curtain, take a deep breath – and you’re on,” he recalls with a temporary seriousness.
“It’s that feeling I love. Like that first time I did an audition for RADA (Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) and thought this is really what I want to do. That’s the most wonderful thing about our profession. If you are working in a profession with the highest unemployment rate, then no actor is acting because he has to do it. It’s because he wants to do it. It’s a very lucky profession to be in. I can’t imagine what it would be like doing manual labour.”
Yet as James Bond, Sir Roger was involved in his fair share of physical action, I suggest. “Oh, you mean the love scenes – they were terrible to do,” he says. “I got a few knocks and bruises when explosions happened before they should,” he says. Thankfully his main acting tool, his eyebrows, weren’t singed.
He knew the time had come to hang up his secret agent’s badge before playing Bond for the last time. “It wasn’t because of the physical stuff as I could still play tennis for two hours a day and do a one-hour workout every morning. Physically I was okay but facially I started looking… well, the leading ladies were young enough to be my grand-daughter and it becomes disgusting.”
Bond is just one of his repertoire of roles. Ask why his CV is so varied and this ever-jolly-Roger says, “People have kept giving me different roles to see if I could get any better”.
As you gather from talking to him, fun is the keyword for happiness. “If you are not able to laugh at things and laugh at yourself throughout life, then life is unbearable,” he says.
There is one subject on which he is serious – his work as an ambassador for UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) for the past 24 years. He was recruited by actress Audrey Hepburn who invited him to accompany her on a visit to an international children’s ward. “It was listening to her and her passion and her elegance on the subject of the children that intrigued me, that gave me the thirst for more,” he recalls.
“I am so grateful because it changed my life and I have been able to do things for UNICEF. It sounds a bit po-faced and pompous but it’s doing something good in life apart from prancing around in pictures.”