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Dalton bails out as Bond

Timothy Dalton brandished his own license to kill Monday, severing his eight-year connection with the James Bond action pix series.

The British thesp, who starred in “The Living Daylights” and “Licence to Kill ,” said in a statement that he’s ready for new acting challenges and no longer wants to play 007, the secret agent known for high-tech gadgets, fast cars and even speedier women.

In separate releases, UA president John Calley and Danjaq Inc. producers Albert R. (Cubby) Broccoli, his daughter Barbara Broccoli and stepson Michael G. Wilson replied that they regret the decision but will respect it.

The 17th Bond film, scripted by Michael France, is slated for a summer 1995 release.

Dalton’s statement said, “Even though the (producers) have always made it clear to me that they want me to resume my role in their next James Bond feature , I have now made this difficult decision.

“As an actor, I believe it is now time to leave that wonderful image behind and accept the challenge of new ones,” he added.

Dalton, who is on location playing Rhett Butler in the CBS mini “Scarlett,” said his three-pic deal with Danjaq expired in 1990 after pre-production of his third Bond film was delayed by litigation.

But the star bears no ill will. “The Broccolis have been good to me as producers. They have been more special as friends,” he said.

The Danjaq release said, “We have never thought of anyone but Timothy as the star of the 17th James Bond film. We understand his reasons and we will honor his decision.”

The Danjaq execs added that they would soon be announcing plans for the next pic, which still has no director or supporting talent, and now lacks a headliner.

Calley said, “While we were sorry to learn of Timothy Dalton’s decision regarding the role of James Bond, we are proceeding with the project as planned and will meet our targeted summer 1995 release date.”

UA execs were mum on possible replacements, but speculation surfaced on two questionable possibilities: Liam Neeson and Pierce Brosnan.

Neeson, recent best actor Oscar nominee for “Schindler’s List,” would seem to have his plate full with other offers. Brosnan had been offered the job in 1986, before Dalton, but was forced to withdraw because of a conflict in his schedule on the series “Remington Steele.” Though possibly still in the running, it’s debatable whether he’s as hot a candidate as he was eight years ago.

“Licence,” in 1989, was the last Bond pic. The new one has been delayed four years because of legal entanglements between Danjaq and MGM that started in 1990 . Two separate lawsuits with MGM over the cut-rate sale of foreign rights were settled in 1992.

When the pic was announced last year, former MGM co-chairman Alan Ladd Jr. said it would carry a budget of at least $ 40 million. Sources said that figure may rise if an A-list star takes over the series.

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