As we gear up for our Bond-themed film festival, TIM HUGHES catches up with one of 007’s most fearsome adversaries – Jaws aka Richard Kiel
Measuring almost 7ft 2ins tall and with a formidable set of metal teeth, Jaws was among the most formidable of all James Bond’s adversaries.
Just one snarl with those steel chompers was enough to have enemies fleeing in terror from this mean-looking man-mountain. Roger Moore’s description, on finding him on top of a cable car high above Rio de Janiero, said it all: “His name’s Jaws; he kills people.”
But it wasn’t only 007 who ran scared from the toothy star of movies The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker. Actor Richard Kiel’s deceptively mean appearance has also left him immune to trouble off the set. Like the time he arrived in London to get measured up for those famous iron incisors.
“I’d just arrived from America,” he tells me, speaking from the home in California he shares with his wife Diane.
“I hadn’t got used to the time difference, though, and went for a walk in the park at 11 at night as I couldn’t sleep. As I was going there, this car with hoodlums drove by, came round the block, looked at me and slowed down. So I gave them a Jaws smile and they drove away very quickly.
“They’d got close enough to see I’m pretty huge and went off to pick on someone their own size.”
Richard’s toothy snarl made him one of the most recognisable movie villains of all time. And film-goers will get a chance to relive his classic struggle with Moore when The Spy Who Loved Me is screened a part of the Oxford Mail’s Best of Bond film festival at the Phoenix Picturehouse, in Oxford, on Wednesday.
Richard is genuinely delighted that the film which made his career is continuing to fill cinemas, 36 years after its release.
“It’s great they are going to see The Spy who Loved Me,” he says.
“It’s good to see the films on the big screen again and it’s great you are doing it. I wish I could be there. It was a challenge being a baddy and it’s nice having people root for me.”
The film holds fond memories for the actor – who is still making movies at the age of 73.
He tells me: “Let people know that when that Lotus car comes out of the water, the little boy on the beach who points at it is my son. He was less than two years-old at the time – and now he’s a doctor.”
His most iconic moment, however, was his grapple with Bond on the Brazilian cable car two years later in Moonraker. But, he confesses, the scene filled him with dread – for despite his fearsome appearance, he is painfully scared of heights.
“I’m okay in an enclosed space, but getting on top of a cable car was something else,” he admits. “But they were very nice, so we filmed it with a mock-up in a studio in Paris, and if we fell off we’d land on mattresses.
Even then it was hard enough though, as there was still all kind of nuts, bolts and cables to contend with.”
Detroit-born Richard, who started his acting career in the Cowboy series Laramie in 1960, went on to star in scores of films and TV shows after Bond icluding Happy Gilmore and Cannonball Run. His appearances also saw himstaring in dozens of adverts, selling everything from drill bits to Shredded Wheat.
He even landed the role of the Incredible Hulk in the 1977 TV show, before being replaced by the muscle-bound Lou Ferrigno.
“I wouldn’t have done any of that if not for Bond,” he says.
“With Jaws, I really enjoyed having the chance to take a very bizarre character and make him more interesting and fun. It was wonderful to get the support of Roger, who helped me. He was a real team-player who wanted to entertain the audience – and he did a great job.
“It’s much more fun than being a good guy too,” he says. “I’ve been playing bad guys all my career – and even as a young man growing up I enjoyed seeing the baddies – and hoped they’d get away. After all, they are just doing their job.”
So who was his favourite Bond? “All the Bonds have done a great job,” he says. “Roger is just terrific and we are still friends to this day. I grew up with Sean Connery as a young man, and loved seeing all the beautiful gals. George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was very good too and the movie had a great story.
“But I also love the new Bond, Daniel Craig, in Skyfall – it’s right up there as one of the top three Bond movies. I thought the villain (Javier Bardem) was the best ever too. He’s fantastic; very entertaining in a very different way and we feel sympathy for what he did, which is hard to do for a villain.”
Left partially disabled following a car accident in 1992, Richard now walks with the aid of a stick and uses a mobility scooter for longer distances. But that has not harmed his acting career. Indeed for his next film, Overlord, starting this summer, he plays the part of a handicapped crime-fighter, kitted out with a scooter equipped with a machine gun. “It’s perfect for me,” he laughs.”
But while the parts continue to come in (he also provided the voice of Vladamir in the Disney cartoon Tangled), it is his role as the meanest of Bond’s baddies of which he is most proud.
Next month Richard arrives in Britain for two dates which are sure to delight fans of the franchise. On May 25 he appears in Portsmouth with his onscreen love interest Dolly (the French actress Blanche Ravelec, from Moonraker), pictured bottom right, and Caroline Munro, who played Naomi, the helicopter pilot in The Spy Who Loved Me, and Bond’s Lotus Espirit.
The next day he visits the Bond in Motion exhibition at the National Motor Museum, in Beaulieu – the world’s largest official collection of original James Bond vehicles – alongside 007’s Aston Martin DB5, Octopussy’s Acrostar Jet and Daniel Craig’s Honda CRF250R motorbike from Skyfall.
“Dolly will be there,” says Richard. “But my wife is coming with me to keep me out of trouble.”
Just don’t expect him to be wearing those teeth. “They are nauseating,” he says. “They are made of chromium steel and go right up to the roof of the mouth. It’s hard enough putting aluminium foil in your mouth let alone steel. I was gagging, and it was all I could do to keep them in for a minute or two at a a time.
“As soon as the director said ‘cut’ out they went!”
Richard Kiel, Blanche Ravelec and Caroline Munro are at the Mountbatten Center, Portsmouth on Saturday, May 25, from 10am-5pm (timelesscollectors.com).
The next day Richard and Blanche appear at the National Motor Museum, in Beaulieu (beaulieu.co.uk).
The Best of Bond film festival runs from Sunday to next Friday at the Phoenix Picture House, Oxford. Films start at 8.45pm