Timothy Dalton is a British actor best known for his role as the fourth James Bond. He starred as 007 only twice, but he is fondly remembered by Bond fans for the no nonsense approach to his portrayal as the world’s smoothest secret agent.
As well as starring as James Bond, Dalton has starred in many films and television productions, and has also lent his voice to audiobook recordings.
In this biography post, we take a closer look at the life and career of Timothy Dalton, exploring the unique qualities that make him one of the most respected actors to have played Bond.
Timothy Dalton Growing Up
Timothy Leonard Dalton Leggett was born on March 21, 1946 in Colwyn Bay, Wales to an English father who was a captain in the Special Operations Executive and an American mother of Italian and Irish descent.
The family moved to England when Dalton was young, and he attended Herbert Strutt Grammar School in Derby shire. His main interest outside of school was the Air Training Corps where he became a member.
At 16, he was inspired to become an actor after seeing a production of Macbeth, so he left school to study acting at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art (RADA) and go on tour with the National Youth Theatre.
He left RADA before completing his studies to join the ensemble of the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. Despite some initial concerns from his mother’s side of the family, Dalton pursued his acting ambitions.
After studying at RADA, Dalton quickly moved to television and primarily worked with the BBC, but his big break came in 1970 when he starred as Heathcliff in a remake of the film Wuthering Heights.
Throughout the 1970s and early 1980s, Dalton took on plenty of leading roles in television, film, and theatre, but his big break came in 1986 when he won the rights to take over the role of James Bond for the next iteration of the franchise.
Timothy Dalton – James Bond IV
The Nearly Man of Many More Bond Films
Before eventually accepting the role of James Bond, Dalton was approached multiple times to take on the character. In 1969, after Sean Connery’s first departure, Dalton was offered the role but turned it down, feeling he was a bit young to play Bond and the legacy left behind by Connery was a bit much to take on.
George Lazenby was then offered the role before abruptly ending his contract. Timothy Dalton was approached again after Connery’s second departure following Diamonds Are Forever, but again declined for the same reasons.
In 1981, when Roger Moore decided to retire from the role prior to For Your Eyes Only, Dalton was again offered the part. He was on the brink of signing on, but Moore ultimately decided to continue in the role.
And when the opportunity arose again, Dalton felt he was ready and accepted the role to become the fourth James Bond.
Timothy Dalton initially signed a seven-year contract to star in 3 James Bond films: The Living Daylights in 1987, Licence to Kill in 1989, and the third film was due for 1991, but was never made.
Dalton’s third and final Bond film, The Property of a Lady, was announced at the Cannes Film Festival in 1990. However, production was soon halted due to a legal dispute between Danjaq, the company that owned the rights to the Bond franchise, and MGM, the parent company of United Artists, the distributor of the Bond films.
The dispute lasted for several years and prevented any further Bond projects from moving forward. By the time the legal issues were finally resolved, Timothy Dalton’s seven-year contract had expired.
The Living Daylights
Timothy Dalton became the fourth James Bond after the long reign of Roger Moore ended, and it was apparent that Dalton’s Bond was a big change. He was a fan of the 007 literary character, and was determined to approach the role and play true to the original character described in the novels by Fleming.
Gone were the raised eyebrows, frivolous personality and cigars, for a cigarette smoking, darker and grittier Bond. He was even determined to do all of his own stunts, to the fear of producers.
We finally saw Bond back in an Aston Martin after Moore’s long absence from the classic British luxury cars, and we also saw many more gadgets used than in any of Roger Moore’s Bond films.
The plot took on a different form, The Living Daylights has no Bond villain trying for global domination, instead a former KGB agent tries to set Bond and the MI6 up in a master plot based in realism.
And although Dalton’s initial introduction as Bond, James Bond sees him bed socialite Linda on her yacht, this new Bond isn’t as libidinous as previous 007s and the plot is built around his relationship with Kara Milovy.
The Living Daylights was a commercial and critical success. Timothy Dalton, although criticized by some for being a bit too serious in role, made a storming debit as James Bond, and the film is definitely one of the favourites.
Licence to Kill
The second Timothy Dalton Bond film, Licence to Kill (1989), is something of an outlier in the Bond catalogue. A critical success, but struggled at the Box Office.
It didn’t achieve the same level of success as his first film. In the U.S. market, it was largely due to bad marketing and a last-minute change of the film’s title from ‘Licence Revoked.’
They also decided to keep the British spelling ‘Licence’ even for the American market, which might not have helped. But the main factor for it not performing as well was that they released Licence to Kill in the summer of 1989, a time when many blockbuster movies are released and so it had stiffer competition.
In the U.K. the film received a 15 certificate instead of a PG, which ruled out many children from seeing the film, and obviously impacting the commercial success.
The film is actually really good and was a critical success, even if some complained about the darker side of it, and Dalton’s more serious nature. It’s a more personal story for Bond and a more grounded approach to the action, which in retrospect many appreciate.
Timothy Dalton Life After Bond
After his tenure as James Bond in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Timothy Dalton sought to diversify his acting roles and avoid being typecast as the iconic spy.
He took on a wide range of characters in both film and television, including Nazi spy Neville Sinclair in The Rocketeer and Rhett Butler in Scarlett, the television miniseries sequel to Gone with the Wind.
He also appeared in a number of cable films, such as The Informant and Made Men, as well as playing Julius Caesar in the TV film Cleopatra. In 2003, he even played a parody of James Bond in the film Looney Tunes: Back in Action.
Dalton also lent his voice to the character of Mr. Pricklepants in the Toy Story franchise and Lord Milori in Secret of the Wings. In 2009, Dalton returned to British television for a guest role in the long running TV series Doctor Who – a two-part special The End of Time.
At 76 years old, Timothy Dalton is still working albeit limited. He’s rumoured to have joined the cast of the upcoming Parmount+ Yellowstone prequel series 1923, where he will star alongside Harrison Ford and Helen Mirren.
Overall, Dalton’s post-Bond career saw him take on a wide range of roles, but ultimately the role of James Bond was his biggest.
On a personal note, Timothy Dalton spends his time residing between London and Hollywood. He has never been married, but has dated many famous women including actresses Whoopi Goldberg, Stephanie Powers, Vanessa Redgrave, and BBC journalist Kate Adie.
He has never been married, but was engaged to musician Oksana Grigorieva in the late 90s. They were together from about 1995 to 2003, and had a son called Alexandar in 1997.
Timothy Dalton – James Bond IV
Timothy Dalton’s life as James Bond was always destined to be problematic. Before becoming Bond, he turned down the role in his twenties, because he was too young, he didn’t want to take over the mantle from the legendary Sean Connery, and he was gazumped after the producers decided at the last minute to stick with Roger Moore for Octopussy.
And even when he became Bond, there was trouble. His two films, although often forgotten, are up there with the very best Bond films, but unfortunately he never made the third due to messy legal wranglings.
Dalton’s portrayal of Bond was praised for his more ruthless and determined take on the character. He offered a more serious and grounded 007, and will always be remembered fondly by Bond fans.