The actor known as Bond, James Bond, says he's turning in his license to kill. ''That's it,'' reports Pierce Brosnan. ''I've said all I've got to say on the world of James Bond.''
In an interview with EW, the 51-year-old Irish star answers the question that's dogged him since his last mission on Her Majesty's Secret Service, 2002's ''Die Another Day'': Will he return for his fifth Bond movie? ''Bond is another lifetime,'' he says, ''behind me.''
Before we jump the Walther PPK (Bond geek alert!), it's worth noting that contract disputes between Bond stars and EON Productions, which makes the movies, are as common as finding vermouth in 007's liquor cabinet. Speculation in the 1970s and '80s regularly had Roger Moore leaving the series, though he wound up sticking around for seven movies. Sean Connery famously sat out 1969's ''On Her Majesty's Secret Service,'' only to return for 1971's ''Diamonds Are Forever'' when he was paid the then-astronomical sum of $1.25 million. This could be a bargaining ploy by Brosnan, who isn't under contract to EON; he's said to have tired of the series' increasingly silly scripts, and he may have priced himself out of the role. But there are rumors EON (which did not return calls for comment) severed ties with Brosnan; Bond movies tend to take on a new sensibility -- and leading man -- every decade or so, and Brosnan's been at it since 1995. Either way, says ''Tomorrow Never Dies'' (1997) director Roger Spottiswoode, ''I was surprised that Pierce was even thinking of doing another one. He'd done it, he'd had enough -- I was pretty sure he'd made enough money. And you know, they do become a trap.''
A trap that has endured for more than 42 years, 20 installments, and five stars, hitting an all-time high with Brosnan, whose four Bond films have grossed more than $1 billion worldwide. The actor instilled a new vigor into Ian Fleming's character, which by 1989 -- the year of Timothy Dalton's woeful ''Licence to Kill'' -- was leaving audiences unstirred. And if Brosnan truly is done, then the England-based EON must find another star for the as-yet-untitled 21st Bond movie, for which there's already a script draft (production is set to start in January for a late-2005 release). Likely contenders include Brits Clive Owen, Ioan Gruffudd, and Gerard Butler, as well as Aussies Hugh Jackman, Heath Ledger, and Eric Bana.
''It's bizarre, it's incredibly flattering,'' the Welsh-born Gruffudd (''King Arthur'') recently told EW. All the same, he chuckled, talk of his chances amounts to ''rumor'' -- it's a rite of passage for pretty much every young Anglo actor ''to carry that mantle.'' For MGM's sake, the choice had better be wise: Bond is the perpetually for-sale studio's only consistent moneymaking franchise. (MGM had no comment.)
The trick, of course, is to find an actor at the right moment in his career to take on the role. The most successful Bonds -- Connery, Moore, and Brosnan -- have been able to carry the franchise but had nothing to lose by dropping everything for 007. Before trading wisecracks with M and Q, Connery was a little-known ex-milkman, Moore was an all-but-washed-up TV star, and Brosnan was a big draw...in TV movies like 1991's ''Victim of Love.'' Which rules out stars with more established track records, like Jude Law, Ewan McGregor, and Hugh Grant, giving the edge to Owen, Bana, and Gruffudd. As for Jackman, it's been a dream: ''While growing up, that was the role I wanted to play,'' he told EW in March. ''I'm not going to compare it to Hamlet, but in a way it's the same thing. You want to put your stamp on it.''