Iconic Spotlight : David Niven, by Terry O’Neill

Ian Fleming’s first James Bond novel Casino Royale , was optioned long before the successful film franchise was launched. After several years of development, the option owners of the first novel decided to make a satire spy film as opposed to following the more traditional route. Sean Connery was initially offered the leading role but turned it down. Without ‘Connery as Bond’, this enabled the producers to cast a stellar list of actors, including Peter Sellers and Woody Allen, but the overall production was fraught with ego. Before filming was completed, Peter Sellers left the set.

“I would have loved to have been behind the scenes in terms of production and casting. How on earth they got all those stars together—let alone all those directors—is beyond me. Niven, Peter Sellers, Woody Allen, Orson Welles—it was an incredible collection of talent. But knowing what I know now about the making of the film, well, I’m glad I just stayed behind the camera.

“There are a lot of stories about this film, including whether or not Peter walked or was fired. I never asked him about it.

“One of my favourite sequences to shoot was with David Niven. I have long admired Niven. He was one of the most prolific actors—not only on film, but did dozens of radio dramas. Growing up, there was always a new David Niven film, sometimes two or three a year.


“The scene was going to be a comic explosion, if there is such a thing, with Niven clad in his perfect tux, very Bond. I don’t know how he stood there, always in character, while everything went literally flying around him. But that’s the sign of a true professional. Maybe he was used to doing all those war films in the 1950s?

“This is a good example of when it’s important to take as many shots as you can while the action is happening. Most of the time, on film sets, my role was more portraits. But this time, I really felt like I needed to get the action in focus. Only one or two of these images have ever been shown before. You can see why just by looking at the contact sheet. You know which one works as a still, frame 35A. He’s in the middle, you can see his face, the dust has settled just a little bit. But this is a good chance to see all the other shots surrounding the one you already know.”

Read more about the stories behind Terry O’Neill’s iconic photography by picking up a signed copy of ‘Every Picture Tells a Story‘ from the Iconic Store.

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