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‘Becoming Bond’ gives former 007 George Lazenby a new license to thrill

Becoming Bond

Available for streaming on Hulu beginning Saturday.

Posted 7:09am on Saturday, May. 13, 2017

His name is Lazenby, George Lazenby.

His claim to enduring fame is that he had the great fortune and the bad luck to follow Sean Connery in the iconic role of James Bond, Agent 007 of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Alas, the rebellious Australian only lived once as Bond. Lazenby shot to overnight stardom when he was cast in “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” the 1969 film that marked his acting debut.

Afterward, even though the movie was a box-office success, his showbiz career fizzled and he wound up becoming a pop-culture punch line. Much of the grief he endured was of his own making.

The way Lazenby tells the story in “Becoming Bond,” a self-deprecating yet surprisingly poignant biographical movie available for streaming Saturday on Hulu, he was blacklisted within the industry after he had the audacity to turn down a six-picture deal and $1 million signing bonus to stay on as 007.

He says he committed career suicide because he didn’t want to be shackled to a contract that would have controlled all aspects of his life.

But don’t feel sorry for Lazenby. “Living life on your own terms in your own way, you feel like it’s much fuller,” he says. “The best you can do is know yourself and feel yourself and be yourself.”

“Becoming Bond” is must-see television for 007 aficionados — who are certain to get a kick out of seeing Jane Seymour, a former Bond Girl (opposite Roger Moore in 1973’s “Live and Let Die”), as Lazenby’s first agent in an inspired stroke of stunt casting.

But it’s worth noting that Lazenby’s short life as James Bond is only part of the film. “Becoming Bond” — a Hulu original that made its world premiere in March at the SXSW Film Festival in Austin — is actually a story about a man who has led an extraordinary life.

We see George as a ne’er-do-well schoolboy. We see him as a cocksure young car salesman. We see him as an in-demand male model. We see him as a shameless ladies man who broke the heart of his first true love (one of his few regrets). We see his shooting-star rise and fall in show business.

And we get to know a man who relished almost every minute of what he experienced.

It probably helps that Lazenby, now 77, can take solace in knowing “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” maligned by many critics at the time, is now regarded as one of the best of the Bond films.

“Isn’t that amazing how people are saying that now?” he said when I interviewed him more than a decade ago. “I guess it just had to have some time for people to give it another chance.”

Also worth watching

Low Finance/High Expectations: HBO’s “Wizard of Lies,” a film about the Bernie Madoff investment scandal of 2008, boasts a trio of heavy hitters in front of and behind the camera.

The movie, premiering at 7 p.m. Saturday, stars Robert De Niro as Madoff, the man who made headlines because of his financial swindle that ruined lives, and Michelle Pfeiffer as wife Ruth Madoff. The third big name attached is director Barry Levinson, who like De Niro is an Oscar winner.

School Daze: “Decline and Fall,” a laugh-out-loud miniseries based on a classic Evelyn Waugh novel, originated on BBC to rave reviews. Now it’s available to American viewers beginning Monday on Acorn TV, a streaming service that specializes in British drama.

Jack Whitehall stars as Paul Pennyfeather, a young man drummed out of Oxford for morality infractions that weren’t his fault. He winds up teaching in a third-rate boarding school and falling head over heels with a dangerous widow (scene-stealing Eva Longoria).

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