When you lose your temper in an row, you've lost: Moore
Veteran actor Roger Moore talks to Julia Molony about his four marriages, living with hypochondria, the James Bond role that made him a superstar and why he won’t win any acting accolades.
You could easily miss the five-star hotel in the centre of Knightsbridge where Roger Moore is ensconced. The Capital is hidden away among one of London's most exclusive residential streets, the presence of a doorman a clue to the fact that there's something a bit special inside.
Dressed, as ever, in a smart suit, arms folded over crisp white tablecloth, Moore, now 86, is the embodiment of the particular kind of vintage British refinement that surrounds him. The hair has thinned, he wears a hearing aid these days and the blue eyes are framed with specs. But the expression of wry amusement is still there on his face, that slight moue of self-mockery which undercut every bout of fisticuffs and seduction he took part in as Bond.
As one of Britain's foremost national treasures, Moore has always led with humour. He rarely ends a paragraph of speech without a wisecrack — most often at his own expense. He did try, at one point in his life, to take himself seriously — heading off to RADA and harbouring aspirations to be a “serious” actor. He was even invited to join the Royal Shakespeare Company. But he chose Hollywood instead. Perhaps, even then, he suspected that his particular kind of jaunty, blue-eyed beauty might be better suited to movies and television. A couple of years ago he admitted that “nobody takes you seriously. They don't take a pretty girl seriously and they certainly don't take a pretty boy seriously. They presume you can't act”. He then quipped: “They're right!”
Still, for an actor who thinks he can't act, he's done alright. More than alright. Four years off 90 he remains sharp as a tack and pretty busy, about to go off on tour, taking his lap of glory, An evening with Sir Roger Moore around the UK. In his self-deprecating way he refers to it as “a boring evening with Roger Moore. Throw away your Stilnox. Guaranteed a good snooze”. He's got a new book out as well — his second. Called Last Man Standing, Tales From Tinseltown, it's packed full of gossip and anecdotes about all the great stars he ran with back in the day, the best of which are observations about the leading ladies he knew. Bette Davis's fearsome temper was the stuff of legend — when they worked together on the set she had people fired “almost on a daily basis.” Zsa Zsa Gabor was “exquisitely beautiful but perhaps a little large in the rear area.” Lana Turner taught him how to kiss when they worked together on Diane.
“I had already been married twice and hadn't had many complaints in that department,” he says. “But Lana taught me the new technique of 'passion without pressure' — what a lady she was.”
Moore's observations are so good because, despite being accepted as one of the biggest movie stars of his generations, he was in some respects a Hollywood outsider. Although he got a contract with MGM early in his career which failed to launch him, he was always firmly situated within the British system, more associated with Pinewood and British television, than Hollywood.
Because of his plummy 007 diction, people have always assumed that Moore must be posh. But that couldn't be further from the truth. He was born in Clapham, the only son of a policeman and a restaurant clerk. It was only when he went to RADA that his South London accent was rounded out into the RP which then stuck with him for the rest of his life. After RADA he worked as a jobbing actor and a model, often appearing in knitwear magazines, before his first real West End role, and the eventual call from Hollywood and the television networks.
Growing up, his family life was loving and close. His parents, he has said, were a model couple and the family life was peaceful. They “never went to bed on an argument”, and their only son was adored and spoiled.
His parents were curious, upwardly mobile sorts. His father taught himself languages and was a keen participant in amateur drama. In his first memoir, My Word is My Bond, Moore give an account of growing up in wartime London. The only really unhappy moment came when he was evacuated from the city during the Blitz. He was plagued with health problems, though, including tonsillitis, for which he had surgery. And he almost died after a bout of double pneumonia when he was five. The doctor told his parents that he was preparing to sign the death certificate, but Moore’s temperature broke in the night, and he woke in the morning singing “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam,” at which point they knew the worst was over.
Perhaps it was his early brushes with illness that instilled in him a lifelong hypochondria. Despite having a lot of health problems over the years, cancer, heart problems (he has a pacemaker), and a second bout of double pneumonia later in life, he's still in fine fettle at a rather grand old age. “Maybe I brought them on myself,” he says. “It gives some legitimacy to my theory that I'm a hypochondriac. I mean, a hypochondriac is someone who thinks they're sick. I know I'm sick,” he jokes.
“I keep looking back on illness and brushes with surgeons and operations. I've been very lucky. I've been able to sort of get over those things. But I'm a great believer in ‘be prepared' ... But never, never look it up on the internet. Because then you become suicidal.”
It seems out of character, this strand of neurosis in someone who seems otherwise so level. “I'm neurotic about being neurotic,” he admits. “I disguise it. I lie.”
In any case, he puts his happy endurance down to luck again. “I've been lucky, because I've had good doctors, good friends,” he says.
And his best advice is “cultivate your doctor. And I suppose, when you think the end is up, cultivate your priest. Get some insurance”.
He was devastated when his mother died in 1985 and writes in My Word Is My Bond of his distaste at the local “widows and spinsters” who started circling around his father. One of them eventually succeeded in invading the integrity of the little family unit he'd known and loved — his father remarried shortly after his mother's death and Moore didn't sound very happy about it.
It took him many years to find his own equivalent. Moore himself has been married four times. The first time was at aged 19. He had met the ice dancer Doorn Van Steyn when he was on National Service.
“I had to learn to ice-skate just to be near her,” he wrote, adding that though 19 was young to get married there was the marriage allowance to consider. But she had a wild temper (he told Piers Morgan that she used to punch and scratch him) and before long he was trying to get away from her instead. Soon after she told him he'd never be an actor, pointing out “your face is too weak, your jaw is too big and your mouth is too small”, they decided, mutually, on a divorce.
But his second marriage, to the famous singer Dorothy Squires, was hardly more successful, albeit longer-lasting. She was 12 years older than him, and extremely well connected. They went off to New York to break America, but ended up breaking up instead. He hasn't said much about his third wife, Luisa, an Italian and the mother to his three children, but rumour had it that she was pretty fiery. So why does he think he ended up on the receiving end of all this aggression?
“Because I'm an irritating person,” he says. “Because I don't argue. I hate it ... And I think the minute you lose your temper in an argument you've lost. You're not in control.” How very English. How very Bond.
In any case, he finally found someone as inclined to an easy life as he is. In 1993 Moore was diagnosed with prostate cancer, and during the recovery he was prompted to reflect on his life. He was then still married to Luisa.
“When feeling fine I was quite capable of handling outbursts of Italian temperament,” he wrote, “however these new circumstances left me unable to cope. I had plenty of time to think about my life and how close I had been to losing it”.
During his recovery, he'd been in regular contact with a neighbour and mutual friend of his and Luisa's, the Danish-Swedish socialite, Kristina Tholstrup. The friendship got closer and eventually he made the difficult decision to leave Luisa for Kristina. He calls her the “love of his life.” They are now married and almost never apart.
“The only real time we ever have apart is when she goes to the hairdresser,” he says. “ I've said to her, occasionally, that she really is the only person, the only lady that I am ever happy having lunch or dinner with alone. I never used to like that, I always used to like three or four people. No, I'm not being antisocial. I just enjoy being with her. Sounds terribly Mother's Weekly.”
Does he feel that in her, he's finally found what he was looking for?
“I don't suppose you are aware of searching for anything,” he replies. “I think things happen. In a sense it's fate. I remember being told that to be a success in the field of acting that you had to have one third talent, one third personality/appearance and one third luck. I say you need 99.9% luck. And the other little bits. It was luck that I met Kristina. It was luck that I had three lovely children. And a lot of grandchildren. I jokingly say I have the last word, which is ‘Yes dear'. That's not true. I think you have mutual respect. Care. No arguing.”
Despite always having an eye for the ladies, he was never a committed philanderer. He's much more of a serial monogamist. And he steered clear of the sex, drugs and rock and roll excesses that were part of the entertainment industry culture when he was at the height of his fame.
“I'm clever,” he says. “I asked years ago a friend, a journalist, ‘Why is there never anything bad about me?’. He said ‘Has it ever occurred to you that people like you?’. So I'm an only child and spoilt. Some have a death wish, they go out looking for trouble. I don't. Anyway, I've always been married. I've been married since I was 19. Different people. I’ve never had a time of being single. And I never had a stag night.”
He agrees married life kept him on the straight and narrow. “You go home at night. If you're not married, you say (and he adopts an Irish accent) ‘I tink I'll go and have a jar’.
“But I must have done something wrong, else I wouldn't be diabetic.”
He gave up his final vices, sugar and alcohol, after the diagnosis, and these days is perfectly clean living. It was the hypochondria that prompted him to give up smoking decades ago. After he coughed up blood on holidays in the Bahamas, he became convinced that he was dying.
These days, Moore's biggest labour of love is his work for Unicef. Audrey Hepburn introduced him to the charity, he became an Ambassador and has been committed to it ever since. He won a lifetime achievement award for his work with the charity back in 2012 and said it was the accolade he is most proud of.
“Well, I was very unlikely to get an award for acting,” he laughs.
Moore had a licence to thrill
After starring in television shows The Saint and The Persuaders, Roger Moore was approached by James Bond producer Albert Broccoli and offered the part of the super-suave spy when Sean Connery stepped down. Moore lost weight and cut his hair for his debut role as 007 in the 1973 film Live and Let Die.
He went on to star as Bond in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974); The Spy Who Loved Me (1977); Moonraker (1979); For Your Eyes Only (1981); Octopussy (1983); and A View to a Kill (1985). Moore remains the longest-serving James Bond actor, having spent 12 years in the role. He is also the oldest actor to have played Bond — he was 45 in Live and Let Die and 58 when he announced his retirement on December 3, 1985.
In 2004 Moore was voted Best Bond in an Academy Awards poll. In 1987 he hosted Happy Anniversary 007: 25 Years of James Bond.
Last Man Standing by Roger Moore is available now, Michael O'Mara Books, £20