Samantha Bond: The name's Bond...

Samantha Bond - Moneypenny to Pierce Brosnan's 007 - has left for the stage. It wasn't a painless parting, she tells Claire Allfree
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The Independent Culture

At one minute past one, umbrella dripping, Samantha Bond dashes into the theatre with apologies and expletives flying: "I'm so terribly sorry I'm late, I've had a nightmare."

"The traffic is always worse when it's raining," I offer. Bond turns on me in an instant: "It's not the weather; it's those bendy buses. It's the fault of that..." The rest is lost in a hurl of unprintable swear-words. Given that Bond recently led a campaign against Ken Livingstone's congestion charge in London, it's not difficult to work out the object of her ire.

Within seconds, however, she's offering a dazzling smile. "Hello, I'm Samantha. How are you?" One immediately thinks of her in her most famous role as the demure, hot-under-the-collar Miss Moneypenny in the last four James Bond films, and wonder if the producers didn't miss a trick in extending the fantasy kiss sequence between her and Pierce Brosnan's Bond in Die Another Day (2002) into something more involved. What a tantalising side-plot: Brosnan's suave, ice-cool 007 getting the full force of his long-suffering but surely fiery and sensual secretary.

Bond is about to star in her second London play in six months. Donkeys' Years is a revived Michael Frayn farce set in an Oxbridge college on the occasion of an old boys' reunion. Is that a world she knows much of? "Not remotely! I slummed it at drama school in Bristol. I had no idea this place existed with people to make your beds and cook you breakfast. My dad [the actor Philip Bond] went to Oxford, but I didn't realise until now that he had people picking up his socks."

Still, it's not hard to imagine Bond in her role as Lady Driver. A middle-aged woman now married to the Master of College, she'd once been a rare female student in a predominantly male environment, and correspondingly over-attentive to her male peers. As her former fellow-students run amok on copious quantities of wine, Lady Driver is secretly searching for her old paramour Roddy, the only one for whom she really cared.

"I think the young Lady Driver, with the best will in the world, probably felt a certain responsibility to all those lovely young men far from home," Bond says, deadpan. "She's far too respectable ever to have thought of herself as a bicycle, but I do think she looked after them, and I like to think she was doing it for all the right intentions. She's still looking after the college in her role as the master's wife, although obviously not in a physical sense any more." Bond lets rip a peal of laughter: "God knows what that will sound like in print!"

0ne can't help thinking that the James Bond franchise is going to be subtly worse off without Samantha's Moneypenny. In person, she's a tantalising mix of mischievous sexuality and a very English propriety (despite the swearing). These are traits she usually displays - in variation - in her roles. "I didn't want to become Auntie Moneypenny in twin set and pearls," she says. "I'm lucky in that Moneypenny was allowed to be different in the last few films. I'm not sad it's over, though. And I think Daniel Craig will make an excellent Bond."

She does think, however, that the abrupt termination of Brosnan as 007 wasn't handled well. "We had a fantastic time making Die Another Day - it was the 20th Bond film and the 40th anniversary. The sad thing is that Pierce thought there was going to be a fifth, and so did we. But it's a huge machine, and I also know the producers adore Pierce and wouldn't have done it unless Bond needed it. Bond, ultimately, is bigger than any of us."She always said she would leave when Brosnan did.

Now, as an actress in her mid-forties who has devoted a fair part of her career to safe TV dramas, Bond seems intent on trying new things. "I seem to be doing plays that make me do things I've never done," she says. "I've done comedy, but never farce. It's very different: it goes at a hell of a lick. It's very, very frightening."

Forthright and passionate, Bond doesn't look likely to suffer a crisis of confidence. Yet that happened in her last stage project, in which she played Esther Rubenstein in The Rubenstein Kiss at Hampstead Theatre, a fictionalised account of the Rosenbergs, the couple executed in America for selling secrets to the Russians in 1953.

It was, she admits, her hardest role. "I always try to find the bits in my characters that are a bit like me. There are aspects of Lady Driver that are Samantha Bond. But Esther was this American woman who sang opera, for God's sake. I went into a very dark cage, and I stayed in it until the play opened. The cast were all younger than me, and all I could think was, 'I'm the old one who can't do it.'"

Bond, who grew up surrounded by actors (her mother was the actor turned TV producer Pat Sandys), says she always considered an acting career as going into the family business. "My father had a circle of friends called 'the brothers' and the core were Peter Bowles, Patrick Magee and Bryan Pringle. Our house was always full of actors. My first love was ballet, but I would never have been good enough to make me happy. Which was just as well, because I would have retired at 30 and never joined the RSC."

She did join the RSC at 30, and went on to star in Kenneth Branagh's Romeo and Juliet in 1986. "I was never your typical leading lady, though," she says. "I tended to get character parts." Perhaps this explains why she was under no illusions about acting. "Even at drama school, I was aware that other people were full of aspiration and ambition, whereas I was very aware that what I was doing was a job. I usually talk about my job rather than my career. My feet are firmly on the ground.

"When I was growing up my father had huge television success with The Onedin Line and then months of unemployment, so I knew all about that. When we have lean times, my children [she has two, with the actor Alex Hanson] bloody well know we're having lean times, and I think that helps.

"We're very lucky in this country that we actors can slip back and forth between screen and stage, whereas in America it's less easy. I'm a bit of a whore, and I'll go where the work is."

'Donkeys' Years', Comedy Theatre, London SW1 (0870 060 6637) from 9 May