Talking to Sir Roger Moore is one of those entrancing experiences where you can easily forget what you’re doing. Like talking to a radio presenter then suddenly realising you’re not actually listening to the radio.
One of the reasons is that he’s an interviewer’s dream. Merely mention a subject and he’s off on an immaculately-rendered, self-deprecating trip down memory lane, fondly reeling off anecdotes about Bond, The Saint, foreign royalty and Monaco, from where he is speaking to the Chron.
Like an Aston Martin - you just end up sitting back and enjoying the ride.
The reason he is available for interview from his sunny summer residence is because he is preparing to come to Northampton as part of his UK tour in October.
He confesses he loves hearing what interests people about him and “the shape of their questions”, which often revolve around the glamorous women he has acted with.
I ask if he’s surprised that people are still interested in him.
“They’re just curious that I’m still alive,” he says, unable to resist employing his famous dry wit. “They wonder whether it’s going to be a cadaver speaking.”
Most of Sir Roger’s replies are self-mocking, his manners far too well-developed to indulge in anything as ungentlemanly as bragging. At points I feel like I’m talking to James Bond himself. looking back on his career in retirement in the luxury of the south of France.
He typically downplays the unique style that made him such a beloved actor.
About what the Bond makers saw in him, he says: “They say I can’t act, but I did manage to look heroic,” he says.
“I was entirely miscast,” he adds, with typically dry humour. “For one thing I’m a coward, I hate explosions.”
Surely he exaggerates.
“No, I work cheap. Occasionally you reduce it to get you through the door, you know,” he adds and I can imagine that mischievous grin.
The real story of how he became Bond is actually a little closer to his legendary alter ego, as he eventually explains. He met the production team at a casino: “I’d been friends with both the producers; Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, for about nine years,” he says.
“I had a terrible habit, I gambled, which I don’t do any more, except with my life, and we met over the gaming tables in Curzon Street. And, yeah, we became friends.
“[They said] ‘We saw you, a lot of people like you’, and so we became really good friends and they offered me James Bond, once Sean Connery had announced he was only doing four.”
However, for a time the public’s favourite Bond looked like he would never take up the offer. Cambodia, where the next movie was to be set, became embroiled in conflict and filming was off.
Eventually, though, Moore and 007 were to come together and when he had finished The Persuaders, the Bond team made good on its promise and made history (although Moore apparently had to ignore advice from friends who were adamant the franchise would “ruin his career.”)
Unlike most Brits, though, the most prolific actor to play the world’s most famous secret agent (seven films from 1973 to 1985) doesn’t like to watch himself, and when he does it is apparently always his wife who is the prompter.
“You realise I try not to look at [the Bond films]. My wife hadn’t seen them when they came out as she was born in Sweden.
“There are people in the world who haven’t seen a James Bond film you know.” he adds drily.
Not many haven’t, I point out in defence of the multi-million pound franchise.
“She was one of those not many. Any time there’s one on television she says, ‘Oh, please put it on!’
“I’m more or less forced to sit there and criticise my performance.
“I suppose I’m such an egomaniac that I always say I could have said that better. They always say you should never let an actor say can I go another take as they always think they can do better.”
But surely the man responsible for the most famous eyebrows in cinema doesn’t regret the unique laid back twist he gave Bond? Thankfully, far from it.
“No, but I’ve regrets that I wasn’t able to do certain things. Certain films just didn’t happen. and I’m very sorry about that.”
It’s obvious Sir Roger, now aged 86, still loves talking about movies in general.
It helps that one of his sons is in production and daughter Sophie is an actress. He has obviously given out much advice to his children about the industry.
“If you want to be an actor it has to be something you really, really want to do,” he says.
“If you’re prepared to accept the fact it’s an industry with the highest percentage of unemployment and where you have to be prepared to be rejected, prepare to be [chuckling] criticised in such a way in that it can be very cruel - unless you have a sense of humour about it – then the rewards are there, if you’re very lucky.
“If you’re lucky and a successful actor you might do one or two pictures a year and get paid a lot, but as a supporting actor you may do six and get paid a lot less. And then there’s the also-rans, who are damn lucky if they get one picture a year. It’s a tough profession.”
It’s a wonder anyone wants to do it knowing all that.
“I think most people are actors because they want to be someone else, they want to be other people,” Sir Roger says, making another rare incursion into seriousness.
“You get out of your skin – ,” but then he catches himself and his perfect manners come to the fore, “This sounds very pompous, I don’t mean it to be - we’re damn lucky.”
An Evening with Sir Roger Moore, Monday October 6, 7.30pm, Royal & Derngate. Box Office: 01604 624 811