Sony in a bind over Bond

Studio hunting for femme fatale

Daniel Craig may be the new 007, but who’s his Bond girl?

That question looms large at Sony, which is betting on the next James Bond pic, “Casino Royale,” to help turn the studio around after a dismal year. Martin Campbell’s second Bond entry and “The Da Vinci Code” are two major hopes for 2006.

In order to make that release sked, Sony has set a Jan. 30 start date for filming “Casino Royale.” The trouble is, beyond Craig and Judi Dench — who will reprise her role as M — most of the cast has not been set.

The most glaring unknown is the role of Ms. 007. After going out to Charlize Theron, 007 producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson now are auditioning a fresh crop of leading ladies.

Four actresses are reading for the part this week in London with Craig, who’s just off the set of Warner Bros.’ “The Visiting.” The hope is that a decision will be reached by next week.

Just as the rumor mill was amply supplied with talk of who’d fill the dapper shoes of the most recent Bond, Pierce Brosnan — Julian McMahon? Clive Owen? — several names have been floated in recent months to play his main attraction. Among names being bandied about are “Species” beauty Natasha Henstridge and Aussie thesp Kimberly Davies. It was also speculated at one point that Angelina Jolie was in the running.

Yet with just weeks to go before cameras start rolling, even those close to the production say they are in the dark as to who’ll be the new Bond filly. Role is a tricky proposition for thesps: On one hand, it means being a lead in a well-known franchise; on the other, it means being a sidekick.

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