A year and a half ago, at the end of Sam Mendes’s Skyfall, we learned that, as many suspected, he was set to take over from Judi Dench as M in the Bond films. That must have been a tricky secret to keep. One wonders whom he allowed himself to tell.
“I think I told virtually nobody apart from my agent and my publicist,” he says. “Some people said, ‘Who are you playing?’ They would be aggressively guessing, and I would smile and look back at them. But I never explicitly told anybody.”
It was an interesting piece of casting. Speculation about the identity of the next Bond is almost as febrile an activity as speculation about the next Doctor Who. Fiennes seemed to be a contender for at least a decade. His star rose just before the arrival of Pierce Brosnan, and he was still in the frame when that actor was shuffled into the wings. (Come to think of it, his name has also been mentioned in connection with the Doctor.) Did he have any conversations with Cubby and Barbara Broccoli, custodians of the Bond franchise, or was this all so much hot air?
“There was actually a conversation much earlier on,” he says cautiously. “About 20 years ago there was a sort of tentative conversation with Barbara. I did meet Cubby Broccoli. I don’t . . . It didn’t . . . Erm . . . Bygones are bygones. It wasn’t a path I chose then to pursue. I don’t think I would have been a very good Bond. Daniel Craig is fantastic.”
He probably made the right choice. It was a deal harder to escape from the 007 limelight in earlier decades. And if he wants pop-culture recognition – he almost certainly doesn’t – then he can revel in becoming the noseless face of He-Who-Must- Not-Be-Named to a billion Harry Potter fans. Meanwhile, he retains the sort of critical respect that once went the way of Laurence Olivier and Ralph Richardson.
Can he have any professional regrets? Maybe he wishes he’d become a painter after all. “No I have no regrets in that regard. No, not at all,” he says, faltering. “Well, there was one period after working at the Open Air Theatre [in Regent’s Park in London] when I was out of work for a while. There was a lean moment. I remember thinking, There’s nothing, there’s nothing. I felt, This is what they talk about. But it wasn’t long.”
He pauses for a few more ums and the odd ah. “No. I’ve been very lucky. I’ve been very lucky.”