Forget 007's lovers, his boss M or even gadget expert extraordinaire Q; everyone knows there is only one true co-star in each James Bond movie: his arch-nemesis. That's how Goldfinger, Dr No, Blofeld and Le Chiffre, the most memorable Bond villains, have become almost as treasured in British film culture as the great spy himself.
That makes landing the coveted role a very big deal for the actor in question. That man, industry reports insist, is Chiwetel Ejiofor, the Oscar-nominated star of 12 Years a Slave. If true, he would follow Javier Bardem, another Oscar favourite, who was electrifying as Raoul Silva in the most recent Bond film, Skyfall, which took $1.1bn (£660m) at the box office. As then, Sam Mendes will direct.
Ejiofor, whose recent performances on the big screen and on stage have cemented him among Britain's acting elite, would join Daniel Craig as Bond, Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomi Harris as Moneypenny; and Ben Whishaw as Q. Production of the 24th film, which is scheduled to be released on 6 November 2015, is due to start this summer.
David Black, chairman of the James Bond International Fan Club, said yesterday: "If the production company can hook an actor of Ejiofor's calibre for a key role they'll be well on their way to another winner. He named The Godfather and Fargo as two of his all-time favourite films – that must say something about his likes for a good villain."
Since his performance as Solomon Northup in Twelve Years a Slave, the 36-year-old actor has dominated the limelight. Ejiofor was born into a Nigerian family in south-east London and studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. He played a villain early on in his career with the part of The Operative in the 2005 film Serenity.
He has also had leading roles in Dirty Pretty Things, Children of Men and Four Brothers. He is currently filming Z for Zachariah, an American sci-fi film, and Triple Nine, in which he plays a cop alongside Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson and Casey Affleck.
The prospective Bond casting has not met with everyone's approval. Ashley Clark, film critic for Sight & Sound, the BFI, and Little White Lies, said: "It's a shame that we're not hearing that he's been cast as the first black Bond.
"I guess we'll have to wait some time for that… though I'm sure it will happen one day. That said, Ejiofor playing a villain will probably rule him out from doing the role himself, which is a shame."
Kate Upton and Helen Flanagan are among the list of actresses rumoured to be cast as the new Bond girl. And the search is still on for a Scandinavian love interest for the spy. MGM and Sony declined to comment on the latest speculation.
Although a phoney Bond trailer, called Come and Dive has been fooling fans in recent weeks, the official title and plot details of the next film in the spy franchise have yet to be announced.
Dave Calhoun, global film editor at Time Out, backed Ejiofor, saying: "He's a fine and variable actor who has shone in sci-fi, drama, comedy and more, so he's more than capable of playing a Bond villain.
"What's less predictable is the script. If the villain is ill-conceived, like Mathieu Amalric's in Quantum of Solace, then it doesn't matter who plays him. It won't work.
"In the last film, Bardem's great villain was a triumph of actor, director and script. It's never one alone."
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