UPDATED: Although a fan and studio favorite to play James Bond, 007 author Anthony Horowitz thinks Variety cover star Idris Elba is “too street” for the role — remarks that touched off a social media furor that centered largely on race.
The English novelist, whose latest book in the Bond series, “Trigger Mortis,” hits stores on Sept. 8, told the Daily Mail that the actor is simply not suave enough to succeed Daniel Craig.
“Idris Elba is a terrific actor, but I can think of other black actors who would do it better,” he said. “For me, Idris Elba is a bit too rough to play the part. It’s not a color issue. I think he is probably a bit too ‘street’ for Bond. Is it a question of being suave? Yeah.”
Horowitz released a statement on Twitter late Monday morning to apologize for his comments.
“I’m really sorry my comments about Idris Elba have caused offense,” he wrote. “That wasn’t my intention. I was asked in my interview if Idris Elba would make a good James Bond. In the article I expressed the opinion that to my mind Adrian Lester would be a better choice, but I’m a writer, not a casting director, so what do I know? Clumsily, I chose the word ‘street’ as Elba’s gritty portrayal of DCI John Luther was in my mind, but I admit it was a poor choice of word. I am mortified to have caused offense.”
Elba responded to the remarks on Tuesday afternoon by posting a screenshot of an article about the news on Instagram with the coy caption, “Always Keep Smiling!! It takes no energy and never hurts! Learned that from the Street.”
Elba’s fans strenuously objected to the writer’s remarks, saying that Horowitz was using coded language that actually signaled an objection to a black man playing the iconic British spy.
The debate is essentially moot at this point, given that Daniel Craig still has a grip on the role. “Skyfall,” the last iteration of the franchise, was the highest grossing of the Bond films. Expectations are high for “Spectre,” which is due in theaters on Nov. 6.
Those close to the franchise are said to be hopeful that Craig will re-up for at least one more sequel, before moving on. But the actor is not giving anything away. In a profile in Esquire that went online Tuesday morning, Craig sounded ambivalent about continuing as 007. “I really don’t know. Honestly. I’m not trying to be coy,” he told the magazine. “At the moment I can’t even conceive it.” Pressed about portraying Bond once more, he added: “At this moment, no. I have a life and I’ve got to get on with it a bit. But we’ll see.”
People who know Elba said he would like to play the iconic secret agent, if the role becomes available. But he has said he would not want the role as a racial type.
“I just don’t want to be the black James Bond,” Elba told NPR in 2011. “Sean Connery wan’t the Scottish James Bond and Daniel Craig wasn’t the blue-eyed James Bond, so if I played him, I don’t want to be called the black James Bond.”
Horowitz’s opinions about the Bond film franchise were not limited to Elba. He also told the British newspaper that “Skyfall” is his “least favorite” movie from the franchise.
“Bond is weak in it. He has doubts. That’s not Bond,” Horowitz said. “Secondly, the villain wins. The villain sets out to kill M. The film finishes with the villain killing M. So why have I watched it?”
Roger Moore, who played Bond between 1973 and 1985, recently foreshadowed Horowitz’s sentiment in the French magazine Paris Match, but later said that his comments were taken out of context.
“I think [Bond] should be ‘English-English,'” Moore said. “Nevertheless, it’s an interesting idea, but unrealistic.”
Speculation that Elba would play Bond reached its peak following the release of a hacked email sent in early January of 2014 by Sony Pictures then-co-chair Amy Pascal. In the email, Pascal told Elizabeth Cantillon, former exec VP of production for Columbia Pictures, which distributes the Bond films, that “Idris should be the next bond.”
That was followed by Rush Limbaugh’s controversial comments that James Bond must be “white and Scottish.”
“James Bond is a total concept put together by Ian Fleming. He was white and Scottish. Period. That is who James Bond is, was,” Limbaugh said last December. “But now [they are] suggesting that the next James Bond should be Idris Elba, a black Briton, rather than a white from Scotland. But that’s not who James Bond is.”
“I know it’s racist to probably point this out,” he also acknowledged.