To hell with the hair – Aaron Taylor-Johnson will make a perfect Bond


You’d be forgiven for taking these latest James Bond rumours with a fistful of salt. Aaron Taylor-Johnson has emerged as frontrunner in the endless rolodex of names (Idris Elba, James Norton, Henry Cavill, Jodie Comer et al) rumoured to be stepping into the special agent’s Oxfords.

This rumour, though, seems to hold more water than the rest. For one thing, it’s the first time an actor has, albeit reportedly, been offered the p­art of 007 as opposed to merely “circling” it. The 33-year-old’s casting wouldn’t only corroborate claims from Bond co-producer Michael G Wilson that the team was looking for a thirtysomething, but also reports that Taylor-Johnson floored Barbara Broccoli with an incredible screen test in Slough two years ago. Even Taylor-Johnson himself, who has been wearing a suspicious number of Omega watches lately (Bond’s timepiece of choice), did not deny it.

Me? I am vehemently hoping the rumours are true this time around, not only because it would mean an end to the interminable parade of actors in-and-out of the Bond turnstile – but because Taylor-Johnson, an avatar of burly machismo and suave Britishness, would make an excellent 007.

Yes, he is younger than your average suited-and-booted spook – which, looking online, tends to be the major gripe from naysayers (that and his hair; more on that later). But at 33, Taylor-Johnson is significantly older than 29-year-old George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – and he’s still got two years on Sean Connery who was a sprightly 31 when Dr No began filming. Not to mention that by the time they start shooting the new Bond film (inevitable delays notwithstanding), Johnson will be a very respectable 34 or 35.

Taylor-Johnson is, in fact, pretty much the perfect age according to Ian Fleming who places his beloved creation in his mid-to-late thirties. Even Idris Elba, the Bond favourite for a long time, ruled himself out at in 2016 because he thought himself too old at 43. (Last year, Elba also said he never would’ve accepted the part as it “became about race”.)

A younger Bond (even marginally so) would serve the franchise well. Craig did the whole embittered, older man thing – and he did it well, but do we really want more of the same? A greener 007, a little damp behind the ears, would afford writers some new ground to cover. Take Matt Reeves’ The Batman: it was endearing to see Robert Pattinson’s superhero just two years into his vigilante career, still cool and brutal as ever but working out a couple of kinks along the way. A new Bond comes around rarely, so why not use it as an opportunity to shake (not stir) things up?

The focus on Taylor-Johnson’s youth is likely less to do with the years he’s clocked than his background. He rose to fame playing soft-spoken, shaggy-haired boys in teen fare like Angus, Thongs and Perfect Snogging. Even in the ultra-violent comic book movie Kick-Ass, his wannabe superhero is the picture of boyish goofiness, all blushing cheeks and averted gazes. Butter wouldn’t melt. I admit it’s hard to imagine the Taylor-Johnson of yesteryear sipping a dry martini without spitting it up and ordering a Jägerbomb instead. But people change; they grow up. Johnson certainly did.

Across increasingly serious turns in films like Nowhere Boy, in which he played a young John Lennon, Nocturnal Animals, a psychotic thug terrorising a family, and Anna Karenina, Taylor-Johnson has banked up goodwill and legit cred in the industry. Despite being a bonafide A-lister, though, he retains an air of mystery and cool distance about him – two ingredients crucial for any Bond worth his Aston Martin.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson faces off with Brad Pitt in ‘Bullet Train’ (AP)
Aaron Taylor-Johnson faces off with Brad Pitt in ‘Bullet Train’ (AP)

Because, well, I don’t much care to know whether my Bond once had a tepid affair with a production assistant, and I loathe to recall if he ever spun the wheel on This Morning with Phil and Holly. As much as Bond should be unattainable, he should also ultimately be unknowable such that the fantasy lives on. Wasn’t that the kiss of death for former frontrunner Tom Hiddleston? Following his turn as a debonair spy in The Night Manager, the Englishman, then 35, was looking like a shoo-in. His Jonathan Pine was beautiful, repressed, and quick with a gun. It’s all sounding very familiar.

So definite were fans and bookies that Hiddleston had secured the part that, at one point, betting was suspended. It all went up in flames around the same time he started his high-profile, tabloid-fodder relationship with Taylor Swift. Suddenly, Hiddleston was everywhere. And poof! The Bond rumours dissipated as quickly as they had erupted – not even the series’ carefully placed beach scene (glistening bare chest; hand through the hair à la Craig in Casino Royale) could save him. We knew too much.

Admittedly, Johnson has weathered his own media storm. In 2009, his relationship with his now wife, the director Sam Taylor-Johnson (he was 18; she was 41), caused a kerfuffle, but he took it in stride and his calm indifference has kept the trolls at bay. Taylor-Johnson is, then, someone who has mostly operated on the peripheries of magazines, but also the margins of film, too. Often, he is a welcome addition to a film’s cast rather than the main attraction.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson has come a long way from the wannabe superhero in teen flick ‘Kick-Ass’ (Rex)
Aaron Taylor-Johnson has come a long way from the wannabe superhero in teen flick ‘Kick-Ass’ (Rex)

Ask anyone their favourite Aaron Taylor Johnson film and depending on their age and proclivity for superhero flicks (he is a Marvel star, too), they’ll have different answers. The point is, there is no singular defining Johnson performance – his oeuvre is still malleable enough to slip into the contours of 007’s expertly tailored suit without protest from too many people.

And if toughness is the benchmark of a great Bond, well, Johnson could take that bench and fling it into the ocean without breaking a sweat. Not since Alexander Skarsgård thumped his chest as Tarzan has a physique looked so formidable (which is saying something given Taylor-Johnson stands at a modest 5ft 10in compared to the Swede’s 6ft 4in). The actor is a brickhouse of a man: quads the size of my waist, biceps bigger than basketballs.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s take on Bond would likely skew more Connery brawler than Roger Moore dandy

Most recently, Johnson rough-housed his way through carriage after carriage as a well-dressed contract killer in Brad Pitt’s Bullet Train. With his pinstripe suit and slicked-back coif, Taylor-Johnson also embodied another crucial component of Bond-ness: vanity. And well, there’s no beating around the bush: Taylor-Johnson is incredibly hot – which, as history has proven, is one other prerequisite for the Bond title.

For further credentials of macho-ness, see Marvel’s Kraven the Hunter – or at least, its three-minute trailer in which Johnson kicks, punches, and shoots his way down a bucket list of enemies with an animalistic, unbridled rage. Suffice to say, his take on Bond would likely skew more Connery brawler than Roger Moore dandy – and while chances are Bond would never bite the flesh off a man’s face in a fight, as Taylor-Johnson does in Kraven, it’s nice to know he could all the same.

But the fact is, Johnson doesn’t need to dial the aggression up to 11 to be effective. During a brief but memorable appearance in Christopher Nolan’s Tenet, he is quietly but effectively imposing barking orders in a military vest and gruff voice.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a formidable – and large – killer in ‘Kraven the Hunter' (Sony)
Aaron Taylor-Johnson is a formidable – and large – killer in ‘Kraven the Hunter' (Sony)

Just as crucial to Bond as his military precision with a revolver or the horsepower of his convertible is his capacity for emotion. You want someone who can juggle punching, punchlines, and pathos. Craig’s iteration sorely lacked the latter. Often simply a blunt instrument of pain for his enemies, Craig’s Bond was capable of little else. Consider how devastating the denouement of No Time to Die might’ve been had Craig been able to really sell his grief – an insurmountable hurdle for him also in Casino Royale when Vesper (Eva Green) died. You don’t need much, mind you, Bond is the strong and silent type after all, but a little is necessary.

There’s a glimmer of it in Pierce Brosnan when Teri Hatcher’s Paris is killed in Tomorrow Never Dies; likewise in Roger Moore when Cassandra Harris’s Countess Lisl von Schlaf meets her end in For Your Eyes Only. Credit to Lazenby, who was a lousy Bond by all accounts, but who brought to life perhaps the most moving moment in franchise history when mourning his dead wife, played by Diana Riggs. It’s easy to imagine Johnson hitting those rare, but pivotal, emotional notes.

Which brings us to Taylor-Johnson’s hair – of both the head and facial kind. People hate the hair; they loathe the hair. “Not with that beard,” wrote one person in response to the reports. “Well, the long hair will have to go,” snarked another. But if the biggest problem you have with Taylor-Johnson playing arguably the most coveted role in all of cinema is his scruff, things are looking pretty good. Fetch the clippers!