Brow Beat

David Bowie Almost Played a Bond Villain. He Could Have Been the Most Fascinating One of All Time.

David Bowie (L) and Christopher Walken as Max Zorin in A View to Kill (R).
David Bowie (left) and Christopher Walken as Max Zorin in A View to Kill (right).

Photos by Ralph Gatti/AFP/Getty Images and © Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc

When it comes to casting, the James Bond franchise has plenty of “what-ifs.” Cary Grant, Burt Reynolds, and Mel Gibson were all considered to play Bond. British playwright Noel Coward was almost allowed to play Dr. No, the series’ first villain. But few near misses seem as retroactively intriguing as the fact that David Bowie, who died this week from cancer at age 69, was originally offered the role of Max Zorin, the crazed industrialist whose plot to take over Silicon Valley is eventually discovered and foiled by Roger Moore’s James Bond in A View to a Kill.

Although A View to Kill is one of the lesser entries in the series, and although it ultimately gave us a spirited (if slightly crazed) performance by Christopher Walken as Zorin, Bowie—then in his late 30s (View was released in 1985)—would surely have been fascinating in the role. (The part was also offered to Sting and Mick Jagger.) So close was Bowie to formally accepting the offer that the Bond filmmakers even released a statement saying he was going to take it.

But it was not to be. Bond fans—and Bowie fans—not only missed the opportunity to hear him spout a Bond nemesis’ typically over-the-top threats, but, even worse, they missed the chance to see Bowie team up with Grace Jones, who gives an utterly bizarre performance as May Day, the film’s villainess. (The weird sexual dynamic between Jones and Walken would have even more mesmerizing with Bowie in the role.) 

How would he have fared otherwise? What any good Bond villain needs, above even a cruel scheme, is a rapport with our hero. It’s hard to know how Bowie and the debonair, aging, relentlessly poised Moore would have meshed, but the contrast would have been one to behold. (Bowie’s eventual villainous turn did occur, with mixed results, in Jim Henson’s Labryinth.) But perhaps Bowie wasn’t entirely absent from A View to Kill, after all: some have speculated that Walken’s strange hair color and style in the film were meant as an homage to the singer.

“I didn’t want to spend five months watching my stunt double fall off cliffs,” Bowie would later say. How wrong he was. Max Zorin eventually falls off the Golden Gate Bridge.

Read more in Slate about David Bowie.