In "The Other Fellow," real people named James Bond reveal the blessing and curse of the 007 moniker

Filmmaker Matthew Bauer says sharing the name of the famous spy comes with "this idea of a certain masculinity"

Published February 18, 2023 3:30PM (EST)

The Other Fellow (Gravitas Ventures)
The Other Fellow (Gravitas Ventures)

What's in a name? Plenty if your name is Bond. James Bond. Matthew Bauer's illuminating documentary, "The Other Fellow," explores the lived realities of those individuals who have the name James Bond. Some, like New York theater director James Alexander Bond, are born with it. Some, like James Bond, Jr. and James Neal Bond, have it handed down to them by their fathers. And others, such as Gunnar James Bond Schäfer, have adopted it. There are also cases of James Hart (nee Bond) disowning it, and another James Bond whose name was legally changed to match that of the super spy. Lastly, there is the original James Bond, an ornithologist whose "flat, quiet name" was co-opted by Ian Fleming for his fictional character. 

Bauer's film explores the "blessing and curse" of being known as James Bond. Gunnar James Bond Schäfer embraces the identity to creating a Bond Museum, while James Alexander Bond trades on his name only when gets paid — as when he plays himself for a commercial. "The Other Fellow" shows how the famous name is a double-edged sword. It can be helpful or cause a real issue as in the case of two Bonds — one white, one Black — who recount how their name, respectively, got them released and arrested after an encounter with the police. 

The filmmaker spoke with Salon about his new documentary and the myth of and experience being James Bond.

So, I have a James Bond story. When I got a landline in 1993, the last four digits of my phone number were 1007. It gave me a little, unexpected cachet. Do you have a James Bond story?

You're not going to believe this, but my phone number also ends in 1007. I purchased it off eBay for 10 pounds. Sam Mendes, who directed "Skyfall," his phone number also ends in 007. What's interesting is that that was how I got a flavor of what it is like for the subjects of my film. You probably got a bit of that as well. But whenever I have to hand over that number, especially in England, I get a joke about half the time. I try to hide it half the time to stop the joke from happening. So, my James Bond story is just like yours!

What image do you have of James Bond? What does he mean to you and what is our collective fascination with him?

I grew up as a James Bond fan. I discovered him when I was 8 years old. I came in while my father was watching a James Bond film on TV. It wasn't, "Who is this guy?" It was, "Oh, that's James Bond." This was a term I heard in the zeitgeist. James Bond was an interesting part of my upbringing. I'm a gay James Bond fan. Surprisingly, there are a lot of gay James Bond fans out there. It was a weird dichotomy of being really into this figure of masculinity. When I came out to my mother, the first thing she said to me was, "What happened to my little James Bond?" As if the Bond fandom thing put them off the scent, if you will. From that experience, I got an interesting viewpoint on Bond and its place in our conceptions of masculine identity.

Bond is the 20th century's epitome of that alpha male figure in a very "duty free store" way with the tie-in products. You know what cologne he wears, the cigarettes he smokes, the vodka he drinks, what kind of the car he drives. There's a commercial masculinity there, the kind you can buy. Frankly, it's been acknowledged that James Bond is a bit naughty and a bit un-PC. People think that it's only in 2023 that we came up with the idea that he's out of date, but in 1969 the flower power generation was saying this — and that is part of the mystique as well, this idea of a certain masculinity from slightly previous age. 

How did you meet the various James Bonds and get them to participate in "The Other Fellow"? 

I had the idea out of nowhere. I went on Facebook and LinkedIn to look for real James Bonds. On Facebook, they are all called Bond James because you can't actually be James Bond on Facebook. I wrote to them and said I am considering making a documentary, have you got any stories to tell? I expected all the stuff we give you in the first part of the film — all the Aston Martin jokes, and the name is good for picking up women, that sort of thing— but the first one who wrote me back was the last James Bond in the film. That story was one I was never expecting. When I spoke with the other James Bonds in my research, his story made more sense, that was my impetus to say there was a film here. James Hart is the most like Bond, but he struggled the most. I wanted to find Bonds who were the opposite of our conception of James Bond and when you do that, you find diversity. Whenever a new Bond is being chosen, a lot of right-wing media does the clickbait thing that the new James Bond is going to be Black or gay or a woman – even though the producers have never said this! But we kind of went down that road a bit with a homosexual James Bond, and a Black James Bond

The Other FellowThe Other Fellow (Gravitas Ventures)

As the subjects recount their experiences you use interviews, archival and news footage, and recreations. Can you also talk about assembling the narrative to tell the story? 

We didn't want to make some crazy, tongue-in-cheek documentary. The film never stops and comments that this film is about these guys named James Bond. We wanted to focus on the subjects and their stories. I wanted the subjects in the film to be active not passive. We see the Swedish James Bond turning into James Bond, and the New York James Bond dealing with being in the media and making commercials while "Spectre" is being released. With the Indiana James Bond, it involves the police. Through these dramatic storylines, we found moments that are more cinematic than Bond-esque, but it allowed us to have shots of police and helicopters and people on the run. The most fun we had was with our composer when we went to big Bond music. There is a cut to the aerial of Atlantic City, NJ. We had Bond-esque title card and shots of casinos, but it's like Trump casinos, so we had the composer do the most lush James Bond intro possible so it calls out to the Bond films but in opposing ways.

Gunnar James Bond Schäfer actively emulates Bond in part because he wanted a role model. In contrast, James Alexander Bond is hardly the suave, womanizing Bond of fiction as he is a gay theater director. Another James Bond is a daredevil, and seen jumping out of a plane, but having no love or for or connection to the character. How did the dozen or so James Bonds you met in this project lean into or subvert your expectations of Bond's masculinity? 

We tried to find a variety of people who had different points of view. We worried about it being repetitive. If everyone was like James Alexander Bond and bitched for two hours, this film wouldn't work. With Gunnar, we were cognizant that the film needed someone who loved James Bond to act as a counterpoint. Another story, we wanted an instance where the name had done a profound amount of good. In terms of the masculinity thing, they all have different takes on it, but the most interesting story for me is James Hart who changes his name. He is James Bond's age, he is incredibly handsome like James Bond, and English like James Bond. He's the most James Bond of all of the subjects and he found it the worst and changed his name. He took his wife's name when he got married, which is an emasculating thing, but he did that to get away from this thing. Our gay James Bond and our Black James Bond, contrary to what I was thinking going in, it is actually easier for them because they can fall back on, "I'm different from him because I'm gay or my skin color." But for the guy most like James Bond, it made not living up to the masculine archetype harder.

You present the stories in a very non-judgmental way, and your film presents the original James Bond's wife, Mary Wickham Bond (Tacey Adams in the recreations), writing Fleming a letter threatening to sue him for defamation of character. Do you think these folks have a case? Is there a harm being done? 

I don't think any of my Bonds have a case against Ian Fleming. What frustrates me with some reactions to the film is that it can't be that bad. The film isn't about how terrible it is to be James Bond. But it's about more than people complaining about their name. Fleming chose real people's names, but then he outed those people in the press and said, "I stole it from this specific person," which made them the object of press attention. I can see a slight wrong being done there. In the UK we had the great brutalist architect, Ernö Goldfinger. Fleming hated his buildings and used his name as the villain in one of his novels, and that got Goldfinger's back up. He got his lawyers involved. And they had to put a disclaimer in the book. I wanted to include that in the film but there wasn't time. Fleming loved [ornithologist] James Bond's book and used it to name his hero. The fault of it is sheer popularity. Millions of fictional characters are named constantly. Bond happened to be the most famous name in the world, and it had an unexpected longevity to it. He didn't want a '50s noir hero name like Bulldog Drummond. Bond is an ageless name. Peregrine Carruthers. He wanted a flat quiet name. Bond is an ageless name.

What do you think about parents who name their children after someone famous or a reluctance that these James Bond have about changing their names legally, as some do? 

A lot of people we spoke to get an association with this film that I didn't expect in that they have some "name thing." 

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Yes, my last name is Kramer, so I got "Kramer vs Kramer" growing up, then "Seinfeld" came out, and . . .

We spoke to a reporter named Josh Gay, who is straight, and has spent his life receiving homophobic abuse because of his name. Someone called Hannibal gets Lecter jokes. I didn't find one case — and there isn't one in this film — where parents are idiots and called their sons James Bond for a laugh. It's easy to go to that place and call those parents stupid. But in my film, the James Bonds were born in either the '60s or the '70s, and a sequel was a new concept. Sure, it was a character in a film, but we didn't expect these films to go on forever. By 1971, they were halfway through adapting Fleming's books. There are millions of people called Bond out there, and 1% of those decided to call their son James. The people in the film were named that because there is family lineage reason. Or there's someone like Gunnar, who changed his name to it. But I never came across someone who did it for frivolous reasons. I'm sure they are out there, but I didn't find them for this film.

Who is your favorite Bond actor from the Hollywood films? 

My favorite Bond is Roger Moore because he was my first. I think most people's first James Bond is their James Bond. I have a lot of time for Timothy Dalton. I think he's absolutely wonderful as well. I wish there were more of his movies.

And who is your favorite Bond in "The Other Fellow"?

There's a Bond in the film that is my favorite character and telling their story has been meaningful for me. But I don't want to spoil that. 

"The Other Fellow" is in select theaters, and expanding to other markets, as well as on demand Feb. 17.

By Gary M. Kramer

Gary M. Kramer is a writer and film critic based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter.

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007 Interview James Bond Matthew Bauer Movies The Other Fellow