The Norwegian James Bond Magazine speaks with Richard Kiel, who played Jaws – one of the most famous Bond villains. This weekend Honor Blackman, who played Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964), and Richard will attend BOND IN MOTION.
First of all, I want to ask you how you did end up in the part as Jaws. Was it the director Lewis Gilbert that discovered you?
I was discovered by June Randall the continuity person (script lady) who had seen me on the Barbary Coast (1975-1976) TV series starring William Shatner and Doug McClure which was running on the BBC.
She suggested that when James Bond producer Albert R. Broccoli – or just Cubby to those who got to know him – should interview me when he was home in Los Angeles that he interview me.
I was working on the Silver Streak (1976) movie starring Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor when my agent called to let me know that Cubby wanted to have lunch with me in the Polo Lounge of the Beverly Hills Hotel.
Cubby proceeded to tell me he had already interviewed David Prowse.
Cubby’s next words describing the character only served to discourage me even more. ‘The character, said Cubby, would have teeth like pliers or perhaps like a shark and he uses them to kill people.’
I was totally turned off as I had worked very hard to stay away from playing monster roles.
I did love the James Bond movies and was determined to find a way to play this character that would work for me and the audience.
I said to Cubby: “First of all, whether you cast me or someone else I believe you need an actor, otherwise this character could easily become over the top.” I went on to say that I believed that killers in real life were real people with mothers, pets, girlfriends, etc. and if I were to play the role that I would want to give Jaws’ character traits such as frustration and perseverance.
Cubby took his Bond movies quite seriously and his response was: “I like that. What are you doing for dinner tonight?”
I ended up having dinner with the Broccoli’s and meeting his wife Dana, his children and the writer.
The rest is history!
How would you describe the legendary producer Albert R. Broccoli?
He was very, very special in my live. My father died from a heart attack when I was 19. He never saw me do a single TV show. Cubby became like an adopted father. He became like family. We travelled a lot with him and his wife Dana all over the world and this story gives you an idea of how special he was.
I was doing a scene for the first movie and I didn’t know whether they were going to kill me off or not. There was a scene where Jaws was in a tank with a shark and they were deciding whether or not I survived. We had to hang around while they decided the ending. My wife Diane was pregnant with our second child and they wanted her to fly home without me but she didn’t want to do that. If she waited, she’d have been flying home in her ninth month and she didn’t want to do that either. So Cubby flew his own private doctor first class and he was there in case she went into labour. When it was over, the doctor got right back on the plane and flew right back. Cubby cared enough about Diane to do that. I thought that was terrific. We got to be very close, good friends.
On the second movie, when they brought me back, I had been out of the country filming for quite a long time and had to go to Paris to film Bond. I hadn’t seen the script but it described the girlfriend I would have. When I went to the studio they said: “We’ve got a surprise for you. We’ve got a 7 foot 7 inch woman”.
I said that doesn’t work for me. It doesn’t make sense; a 7ft 7” woman wouldn’t need help from me. They said ‘well you’ve signed the contract so you should do what we want you to’ and I said ‘I haven’t signed a contract’. So they asked what I wanted – did I want a Bond girl? I said that would be nice but what about a little, short girl? They said how tall? I said 5ft, it does work – my wife is short. When we did the scene, the light was bouncing off my teeth when I smiled and she smiled at me and it was quite, quite charming. Cubby was walking out of the screening room with a journalist and he said ‘Richard and I had a falling out about that scene and I must say that he was absolutely right’. He was like that; he was big enough to say when he was wrong.
Why do you think Jaws has become such an icon and classic film character?
Cubby was very serious about making his Bond movies bigger and better. When Bond pushed me out the window of the plane, I got up and brushed down my clothes. Jaws was kind of like that, like the Coyote and Road Runner. He kept coming back.
The other reason that Jaws became such an icon is that Bond always beat up and killed the bad guy before Jaws. It became a bit predictable. But Jaws gave him a run for his money. Roger played right into making Jaws entertaining. He was such a great guy, his ego is small and his heart is big and he didn’t care as long as the audience was entertained. The director was a sensitive guy with a good sense of humour and he let us go with it and put bits in the movies that would have been outtakes.
What is your fondest memory from the shooting of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker?
For The Spy Who Loved Me it was when we had a screening just for the regular blue collar people at MGM; security people, secretaries and families. And when Jaws survived and popped out of the ocean after killing the shark, they all applauded. I thought ‘I’ve finally made it in acting’. They loved Jaws.
In Moonraker the little girl who ends up as my girlfriend helps me from the wreckage of the cable car. It was just the way that played, with the lighting, that really worked and I finally say a few words ‘well, here’s to us’. It was special because it was such a shift of the character. At that point, Jaws helped Bond escape and learned that it’s one thing to be a tough henchman but another to be inherently evil and out to destroy everybody who wasn’t perfect when he wasn’t perfects himself. It was a nice turnabout of the character.
What has the success of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker meant for your career?
The movies I did after that all came about because of my part as Jaws – and the commercials. I wouldn’t have done any of that without it. It opened up a lot of doors for me. For any actors who have a feature role in Bond, it catapults their career.
Javier Bardem, the bad guy in Skyfall (2012) has said that Jaws is his favorite Bond villain of all time. But what’s your opinion about Bardem’s performance in Skyfall?
I love that actor’s acting. He was so scary in No Country for Old Men (2007). He gave the baddy in Skyfall a reason and a motivation for what he did. You could understand it. I thought that was very clever. He saw his first Bond movie with his dad when he was about 12 and it was Moonraker. He said he loved the movie not because of James Bond but Jaws and that was quite a complement.
(The Norwegian James Bond Magazine will report from the Bond in Motion event)