With his starring role in 1969’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, an Australian male model and former used car salesman named George Lazenby entered the small fraternity of men who’ve played James Bond on the big screen. Taking over the role from Sean Connery, Lazenby was fascinating precisely because of how unexpected a choice he was for 007. But then, after On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was a critical and commercial hit, Lazenby turned his nose up at a seven-film contract and a million-dollar bonus. He just walked away.
Decoding the enigma of Lazenby is the focus of Hulu’s new original documentary, Becoming Bond. Directed by Josh Greenbaum (who also created Hulu’s mascot docuseries Behind the Mask), Becoming Bond intersperses dramatic recreation segments with a rambling, wide-ranging interview with Lazenby himself. Unlike some similar hybrid narrative documentaries, both parts not only work well individually, but interact with each other in clever ways. The narrative segments regularly break the fourth wall, winking at the audience or riffing off something the real Lazenby is saying over the top of them. The result is a cheeky, often hilarious look at a blunt, incredibly charming man who mixes cocksure arrogance with self-deprecation.
With the film launching off that initial question—who the hell walks away from a movie-star lifestyle and a million-dollar bonus?—Becoming Bond doesn’t actually get to Lazenby’s involvement with the franchise until nearly an hour into the film’s 90-minute runtime. It’s a credit to the documentary, then, that at no point does it leave you impatient to get there. The first hour explores Lazenby’s life growing up in Australia, from the kid setting snakes loose in elementary school, up through his first true love, and the series of misadventures that wound up with him becoming a successful male model living and working in Europe.
Throughout this, Becoming Bond shows us a man who is a baffling mixture of cocky and semi-clueless, fumbling his way to success thanks to an unfailing ability to look like he knows what he’s doing, even when he doesn’t. By the time he crosses paths with the Bond producers—and lies through his teeth about his nonexistent acting background—it makes perfect sense that this guy would win over the Bond power brokers. This is a guy who had the balls to ask Bond producer Harry Saltzman for the same thousand-a-week per diem Connery received, simply because “I’m doing the same job, aren’t I?” That’s a total Bond move.
None of it would work nearly as well as it does, of course, without Lazenby himself. He’s utterly charismatic, a gifted natural storyteller, and completely unafraid to deliver a “warts and all” vision of his life. Sure, he casually spins tales of his sexual escapades with a string of gorgeous women even before he was Bond, but he shows the same good humor in recounting the time he couldn’t get it up with the first girl he ever loved. Lazenby is one of those guys you could sit and listen to for hours, and when those stories are supported by a perfectly cast younger version of himself, so much the better.
Once Becoming Bond finally does dig into that central question—who is this guy, and why did he walk away?—only then do you realize that the film has been answering that question from the very start. It comes at it from an oblique angle, by immersing you in the man himself—in his determination to make the most out of the one life he’s got, and in his ability to roll with the punches but also chase exactly what he wants. By the time you’re watching footage of Lazenby announcing, off the cuff on Johnny Carson’s couch, that he doesn’t think he’ll do another Bond flick, it just makes sense. It’s still unbelievable, the very definition of “stranger than fiction,” but it’s entirely consistent with the man you’ve spent 90 minutes getting to know.
In the end, Becoming Bond leaves viewers in a strangely inspiring place. Lazenby stumbled into fame without ever really trying to seek it. And once he had it, he realized it wasn’t what he wanted… so he turned on his heel and marched off to figure out what he did. Becoming Bond is about a man determined to go his own way, even if his choices make no sense to the rest of the world.
At his core, Lazenby was Bond before he was Bond, and he’s still Bond today. There was just a brief period where he got to play him in the movies, too.