From Miss M to Lady M

Last Update: 19 December 2002

Source: What's on in London
30 October 2002

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The name's Bond, Samantha Bond. But one hesitates to say 'no relation', because the actress does, in fact, play 007's secretary. Yet, away from her desk, she also lands plum stage roles, like Shakespeare's most ambitious villainess. Roger Foss meets her.

"YOU always were a cunning linguist, James." She was only on screen for a few minutes as Miss Moneypenny in Tomorrow Never Dies, but Samantha Bond, the actress who has played 007's ultra-sexy secretary in the last three James Bond films, made sure that one of the best oral gags in the history of Bond movies brought the house down. But when the new Bond blockbuster, Die Another Day, premieres in London on November 18, Samantha Bond won't be there to hear her latest double entendre. She will be just around the corner on the stage of the Albery Theatre with Sean Bean in Macbeth delivering killer lines, like "Out, damned spot! Out I say," and "Unsex me here". No laughs for these, though. And playing Shakespeare's most ambitious villainess means that Samantha will miss all of the opening 007 razzmatazz in Leicester Square, a situation she experienced back in 1995 when Golden Eye opened, in which Bean played baddie Alex Trevelyan.

"It clashed that time because I was in a play with Maggie Smith called Three Tall Women. My husband and I were going to the party after the film premiere and I'ii never forget going to the theatre that night. Five thousand people were thronging in Leicester Square for the premiere and I walked straight through them carrying my posh dress in my bag and not a scrap of make-up on my face and just went to work."

The two-and-half days Bond spends filming the Miss Moneypenny scenes are a doddle compared to the months of preparation and rehearsal that go into creating a major stage role like Mrs Macbeth, although the high profile has made a difference to her life in unexpected ways, says Sam. "The biggest difference it has made is with the charity work I have been involved in. The nation's press will always come and photograph Miss Moneypenny, so that side of my diary has become incredibly busy. Cancer and children are the areas I like to help, especially bowel cancer, which is what my mum [the actress and television producer Pat SandysJ died of."

So, will we see more Miss Moneypenny? "I'd like to think that I would be there as long as Piers Brosnan is there. But I wouldn't want to be there without him,"

So what sort of Macbeth have Samantha Bond, Sean Bean and their director, Peter Hall's son Edward, conjured up for this much-anticipated West End revival.

The production is set in a war-tom modern Scotland, although the publicity posters showing Bond and Bean strolling arm in arm across Richmond Park suggest a thoroughly modem young couple more worried about the mortgage payments than how to gain the Scottish crown by the foulest means possible.

"It's as if what happened in Central Europe has happened in Scotland, but it's not a Bosnian Macbeth," says Bond. "Passion is probably the keynote," she explains. "All three of us decided early on that what drives both of them is a colossal love for one another and wanting to make the other person happy. That was the starting point, but then the passion becomes a blinding desire which is very frightening." Maybe that's why she describes Lady Macbeth as "a murderous Juliet".

"I spent the first two weeks of rehearsal trying to work out how a basically nice person could find herself in this position. Then came a moment of great liberation when I realised that she isn't me. She doesn't have my morals; she doesn't have the little bit that would pull me back from the brink. If you remove those normal constrictions it's both frightening and thrilling - one can't do without the other. And the idea of calling on the black side is absolutely terrifying."

Lady Macbeth is a role that has obsessed Bond since she played the role in her final show at Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, "I was only 20 years old, I had a stab at it, but you know that you haven't had enough life to begin to explore it fully, so it's been on my mind ever since. I'm convinced that actors have a Shakespeare bit of their brain where a role sits and cogitates."

Bond may be best-known for playing Miss Moneypenny, but has appeared in a number of television dramas and her extensive RSC, West End and Broadway credits include acting with both Dame Maggie Smith and Dame Judi Dench, her off-stage friend. Indeed, Bond is spoken of so often as a "successor" to Dame Judi that it's become a kind of running joke between them. "It's been going on for so long now. Funnily enough, we are the two people who find it hardest to see the similarities, but the one thing I can say is that there is a funny animal-type noise that sometimes comes out of us. Apart from that, as she once said, 'it's down to the strong jaw line'."

Given her theatrical background (her dad is actor Philip Bond and her mother's varied career included producing The Bill) and reading her rave reviews, it's impossible to believe that Bond was once so scared of going on stage that she was on the verge of giving up. "I had this terrible stage fright. It got to the point where I thought I'd have to become a radio actress. But that was before my two children. When I had Molly I went up to Stratford to play Rosalind, which is probably the biggest role in Shakespeare's female canon, but I suppose because I had a six-month-old baby keeping me up a all night the fright went away. I had something so terribly important to me so the work ceased to be the most important thing."

That was 11 years ago. So will Molly and her son, Tom, aged nine, be watching her play Lady Macbeth? "Tom is too young at the moment. It would deeply distress him to watch me kiss another man and then see his own mum go mad. But I hope he'll see the Bond film, if the certificate is right. They both watched my other Bond films on video. Somehow I didn't think it quite right for Miss Moneypenny to be seen walking into a cinema with two under-age children!"

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