SXSW: Josh Lawson, Director Josh Greenbaum and Australia’s own 007 George Lazenby talk Becoming Bond

Hot on the heels of winning the SXSW Audience Award for the “Visions” programming, we sat down with Aussie actor Josh Lawson, Director Josh Greenbaum and Australia’s own 007 George Lazenby to talk about the film Becoming Bond, which premiered at the festival last week. This pseudo-documentary tells the story of Lazenby, the only Australian to play 007, and the only 007 to appear in but one film – in fact, it was the only cinematic role that Lazenby would ever play. The story, told from Lazenby’s perspective and in his own words, is re-enacted to outstanding effect (in the style of Drunk History) by Lawson.

I spoke to the three about the film, its premiere and

Well, welcome to South by Southwest. It was great seeing the film with the audience yesterday. Standing ovation at the end, which is rare, so you must have been pretty humbled by that response.

Josh Lawson: We looked at each other pretty thrilled by that… yeah, it was great.

Josh G.:  We were actually about to get up on stage for the Q&A after, and I noticed everyone starting to stand, and I was trying to figure out if these were people we know. Obviously, we had some producers and friends in the audience, and it was not them. I was like, “Oh, my god. These are people I don’t know, standing up and clapping.”

Your friends had already left by then.

Josh G.:  Yeah. They had seen the film 40 times already. *laughs* No, that was very humbling. It’s so fun.

Josh Lawson: Also, I think the film builds so well, and the way it ends, what George leaves you with at the very end, is, I find, so inspiring. It does sort of make sense that … It doesn’t make sense that you’re on your feet, but I can understand that people are kind of rallied at the end of that film. There is a fire that gets lit under you, I think, after you watch that film. Maybe you do want to attack the day a little bit.

I had the same feeling when I left Man on Wire, where, again, I went into that film not expecting to leave inspired, but it in the same way, I left saying “I’m just going to do what I want. That’s what I’m doing, and I’m just going to keep doing that.” I very much appreciated that sentiment.

George L.:  Sometimes we need a reminder of that, right?

Josh Lawson:  Yeah.

I think so. It doesn’t seem like you do, though, George. I think that no one needs to remind you to keep going on your path.

George L.:  What do you mean? I don’t know any other way.

*laughs* Yeah, exactly!

George L.: It’s as simple as that. I’ve tried to be smart, but it doesn’t work. I’ve just got to go on instinct.

When it came to creating this film, did you go into it knowing that they were going to be casting a younger version of yourself?

George L.:  No, not necessarily. I didn’t know exactly what they were going to do at all.

It was just the interview at first.

George L.: I did the interviews and trusted that they would be kind. You can always turn things around and make them look different, but I felt good with these guys. I’d met them quite a few times before. I said, “Okay, let’s go.”

Josh G.: If it just surprised you, you wouldn’t sign the contract, as it were.

George L.:  When you can turn down a Bond contract which will fix you for life, I can turn down anything. I see these guys, no one around here, have got these jobs for millions of dollars, but they’ve got to show up every day. I wouldn’t take that job in a fit. You know what I mean? If you offer me a hundred million, I’ve got to be in this office, nine to five? Forget it.

Josh Lawson:  What about two hundred million?

George L.:  What?

Josh Lawson:   Two hundred million.

Josh G.:  From nine to four.

Josh Lawson:  I want to find out what your limit is.

George L.:  You’ve got to figure out my prices.

Josh G.:  I did bring up the reenactment to George quite a bit. We had quite a few lunches together.

Did you always know that’s what you wanted to do with it?

Josh G.:  Yeah, right away. This started by having read some things about George online, and through friends, and there’s a lot of lore about him, some of which was too crazy to believe. Then, of course, I sat down at lunch and realised, “Actually, it sounds like the bulk of it is, in fact, true.” One of the things I noticed right away with George is, first of all, he has an incredible story, but he’s an incredible storyteller. It, right away, inspired the idea to do creative reenactments with incredible talent like the man sitting next to me, Josh Lawson, and bringing in people like Dana Carvey to play Johnny Carson and James Garland.

That was great.

Josh G.: People clapped last night.

Yeah. That won’t work everywhere in the world. That won’t work in Australia, because people don’t necessarily know who he is.

Josh G.: No Dana, yeah.

That was great.

Josh G.:  It’s one of those fun things where you’ve got almost a creative game of telephone. I’ve always wanted to do this idea of have a painter paint a picture, and then have a musician look at that painting and create a song, then have a filmmaker listen to that song and make a film. In a way, that’s how this started. I sat with George; he told me his story. I then envisioned it into reenactments, which then incredible creatives, like Josh, came along and brought another layer of creativity on top of it, in terms of his performance. It was an incredibly fun and fulfilling film to make, all starting with the way George lived his life.

Of course, things are camped up on screen and with the reenactments. How did you feel about some of those scenes? Was there anything that you were uncomfortable with?

George L.:  Yeah. I didn’t fart as loud as he did.

Josh Lawson:  George, we actually second sourced that, and it turns out you did.

George L.:  Meanwhile …

We have a man on the ground.

Josh Lawson:  Me too. I love that’s your take on it. That’s the one thing you’ve taken away here.

George L.:  A lot of it there, they use a left-hand-drive car.

Josh G.:  That’s a budget constraint.

Yeah, I did notice that.

Josh G.:  Don’t write about that.

George L.:  Yeah. When I saw it, I was a lot closer. When I talked to her and asked her out, I was right up against her face, to the point where it’s like here, going, “What the fuck?” Then, I said, “I’m going to take you out next week.” They didn’t say anything. They just looked at each other like, “This guy is nuts,” and walked away, but I was just dead serious. Fuck you [inaudible 00:05:56]. Then, I found out he was the guy who had won the thing with his dick, with a … I don’t know, shit. That’s going to be tough.

Josh G.:  You’re both Aussie. Have you ever heard of this competition in the Australian army? It doesn’t happen anymore.

George L.:    Back in the 60s.

Josh G.:    Yeah. That’s so crazy to me.

George L.:    Yeah, it had to be back. Now, they’re politically correct.

Josh G.:    By the way, that may have been the story that really solidified the reenactments, because I really wanted to make a boner tent, basically. We pulled it onset.

It reminded me of Austin Powers, that scene in Austin Powers when he’s in the campsite…

George L.:  I’m wondering what Belinda’s current husband is going to think.

Josh Lawson:    Well, yeah. There’s a whole other movie in that.

George L.:    Oh, yeah. She’s got a bunch of sons. She’s Catholic; she’s got about five sons. They’ll be chasing me around the world now.

What was the most enjoyable thing for you, Josh, in terms of playing George?

Josh Lawson: It’s hard to choose just one, honestly. It was such a fun job. I felt really free, in a lot of ways. I wasn’t trying to do an impersonation of George, so I didn’t feel shackled by that. In fact, there’s a lot of freedom in the fact that you can only work within the parameters of the stories George tells. It was fun to work within that and be able to sort of, sometimes, lip sync what George was saying, other times be able to move beyond that, and improvise, and stick to a script. I don’t know. We laughed every day. It was just so much fun, and the cast were awesome. Cassandra, who is so great.

Josh G.: We got to relive the funniest stories that we …

Josh Lawson: That’s true, in a way. Exactly right. We got to play in a world, and a time, that … I don’t know. That’s so true. I got to be George Lazenby for a bit. Trust me when I tell you, it’s a lot of fun. It really is fun to be George.

George, they’re looking for a new Bond. Do you think Josh has what it takes to take over from Daniel Craig?

George L.:  Absolutely.

Josh Lawson: Wow.

George L.: No problem. He’s a good actor. Meanwhile, I’m not going to do it.

When Craig went on TV and was saying he wasn’t going to do it again, you must have been like, “I’ve been there. I understand what you’re going through.”

George L.:    No, I didn’t, because he was super rich. I was broke when I walked away from it. It was a different feeling. He has a choice of other films. He’s an actor; he wants to be an actor. I got pulled in as an actor, and then I became an actor, like 20 years of classes just for fun. I found acting can be fun if you get the right script. I went to a class where they give you a great script every time, and that is fun. When you’re written by one good writer, you can become the instrument, basically.

Josh Lawson:    What George doesn’t realise, perhaps, is that he was the writer of this movie. You may not have put pen to paper, but he was the script. As you say, it’s fun when you get a good script. George is a good script.

Josh G.:    Yeah, from one writer, from one voice, one director.

George L.:    It’s real. People should be able to feel reality, and I find that when people are lying to me, I can feel it. I try and be as honest as I can, because I’m not politically correct. I just blurt it out the way it feels, and some people are like, “Oh, my god,” and walk out of the room, because they can’t handle it, because they’ve been brought up with bullshit. I think, “God, poor them, when they die and they find out the real truth and haven’t lived it.”

Josh Lawson:    Everyone says, “That’s got to be bullshit. Josh, that story from George has got to be bullshit.” I go, “It might feel like that to you because you don’t live life like George.”

Josh G.:    It’s true.

Josh Lawson:    I say, “If you did, life can be crazy.”

Josh G.:    Crazy, yeah, when you say yes to everything.

Josh Lawson:    When you say yes to everything, and go with your gut, and don’t be afraid, and just go nuts, life can be as crazy as that. I think it can feel untruthful to a lot of people, because a lot of people’s lives are dull, because they’re afraid of taking chances the way George has his whole life.

George L.:    A lot of people don’t know they’re alive. They’re brought up with religion, and nationalism, and, “This is the way to do it,” and it locks their brain up so that they have to do it in a certain way. If it’s not that way, it’s bullshit. Then, when they have a death experience, as I did, you realise that the world is just a plaything to teach you how to come in as a spirit and go out as a spirit. Every time I lose that, which I have many times, I got hooked up on dialogue and started believing that I’m Australian, and I’m Presbyterian, and all that stuff … Then, you come out of it, and you go, “Oh, my god. I don’t want to get caught again,” but you do, because the world is so …

Josh Lawson:    I hope this movie, then, is a bit of a reminder to people that you can go out and live life to the fullest.

George L.:    Yeah, as you are. You’re just here for the experience. There’s hundreds of religions. Who knows which one is right, or if there is one right? The same with nationalism. When I had the first death experience, I woke up and I said, “I’m not Australian. I’m not Presbyterian. Who am I?” You have to find this spirit, and then you fall back into it again, because everybody around you is talking that way, and your brain starts working the way theirs does.

We have to wrap up, but I quickly want to ask about some of the influences from a filming point of view. Everything from Confessions of a Dangerous Mind to Drunk History comes to mind.

Josh G.:    Yeah.

Were there any references you were using? It’s such a unique approach.

Josh G.:    There’s a few, and I’ve heard a couple people pick up on them. Right off the bat, probably, the first film that jumped to my mind was Forrest Gump, just in the sense that-

George L.:    Give me a break.

Josh G.:    No, his story. George, we didn’t even get into his stories where he became friends with Bruce Lee and he was there. He was in all these places in history that you’re surprised by. The other story I love-

You wouldn’t have even had to have Photoshopped him in.

Josh G.:    Yeah, right, exactly. He was there. Big Fish was another big influence, just in terms of this incredible … What’s the word? Surrealistic storytelling.

Larry Heath:    Larger than life.

Josh G.:    Yeah, larger than life. A little bit of Catch Me If You Can. My DP and I, John Rutland, who did just such an incredible job shooting this film, we really looked a lot at that film, in terms of the look, because, again, there’s an element of that film. Part of it is certainly Drunk History, in terms of the voiceover technique, but I think, as artists, we’re always trying to do something new and feel like we’re breaking new ground, even though it’s always a form of stealing/honoring something else. You do it unconsciously all the time, films you watched as a kid.

This was a really thrilling project to try new stuff, and having a partner like Josh Lawson and the rest of our cast, and George’s trust in kind of holding hands, and jumping in, and just saying, “We’re not quite sure what we’re doing, but this is what we’re going to try. If it works out, well, we’ll be great. If not, then I’m glad we tried something new.” I was proud even before last night, but then to see strangers I didn’t know, in Austin, standing on their feet and clapping at the end was like, “Okay, cool. I feel like we maybe did something today.”

Becoming Bond premiered at SXSW earlier this month and will be released later this year on Hulu, with Australian screenings still be be determined.