In her memoir Close to the Bone (HarperCollins India), Lisa Ray recounts her experiences as a model and an actor and her battle with multiple myeloma, a cancer of the plasma cells. Ray, a Canadian national with a Bengali father and a Polish mother, appeared in television commercials, movies and music videos in India in the 1990s and 2000s. Her credits include films and television shows in Canada and the United States of America. The James Bond movie Quantum of Solace (2008), starring Daniel Craig and directed by Marc Forster, would have been on her list if things had gone her way, as edited excerpts reveal.
‘I liked the character’
The script arrived by courier with my scenes bookmarked, my name watermarked across the top page. I liked the character: She would be the first Bond Girl that the spy doesn’t (immediately) bed. She’s out for revenge and they become partners. I had to figure out this South American accent. My acting coach hooked me up with a friend of hers from Chile and I recorded her speaking the lines.
I was flown first class to London and put up at a great old hotel, The Landmark in Marylebone, a study in WASP swank. There were Aston Martins and Rolls Royces idling outside, abiding wealth and power in every glittering chandelier and embroidered wing chair. The whole operation was thrillingly top secret and eponymous, it bordered on the farcical. I knew there were two other actresses at the hotel (Olga Kurylenko and Gal Gadot), but I never saw them. We were moved in and out of rooms with the perfect timing of a French farce, never laying eyes on one another. This was a marked difference from traditional auditions where you’re placed in a waiting room with your competition, everyone staring each other down. The next day I was driven out to the famous Pinewood Studios where all the Bond films have been shot as well as Superman, parts of the Harry Potter movies and, more intriguingly for me, Kubrick’s Full Metal Jacket.
Ready at last, sitting in the small dressing room with a thin, satin bathrobe over my clothes, I felt dazed: What am I doing here? Marc popped his head in the door and gave me a warm hello. Barbara Broccoli appeared too. ‘Good luck, my dear,’ she said. I’ve never had such a respectful audition experience and I’m sure I never will again. Then, suddenly, a red-headed actress appeared in the dressing room: Bond Girl hopeful Gemma Arterton, spilling nervous energy from her audition for the role of Strawberry Fields. She said: ‘Well, I’m glad that’s over.’
‘And then Daniel Craig walked in’
The studio was enormous. The scene was taking place in this barren rocky landscape, a set built solely for the auditions. As I took my place, the crew was very gracious, helping me find my mark. And then Daniel Craig walked in. It couldn’t have been a more dramatic entrance: he was backlit with a halo of light around him, a perfect specimen outlined in silhouette, just in case I needed to be reminded of where I was. He cleaved the air as I stepped into his line of sight. In a career of them, that was definitely one of those What-the-fuck? moments. I almost laughed. I knew all kinds of actresses had been vying for this role, and there I was, with a one in three chance of getting it.
Daniel Craig is very tiny, very physically dense, and he had an aura coming off him from the success of his last film. This was clearly his territory, and he was at ease and focused. I think my first mistake was that I tried to make a buddy out of him. I wanted to imprint myself on him, channel seductive siren, tell him to save the last dance for me.
Instead, nervousness overtook me and I started cracking jokes. What I wanted to say was: I’m mesmerized by your blue eyes. What I said was: ‘My, how shiny are your shoes!’ I made a shoe joke. Really. This makes me cringe even now. He smiled indulgently, but a rush of energy had exited the room, like a back draft.
‘Do you want to run lines?’ he asked, very earnest.
‘No, no,’ I said. ‘Let’s go into it.’
I think I just wanted to get it done. The scene was poignant and intense. We were hiding under a bridge, pressed against polystyrene rocks moulded by the film’s sculptor. No gravel beneath us. How I longed for gravel, something real that would anchor me in the moment. He put his arm around me, and I melted, which was very unprofessional, I admit, and which had never happened to me before. I had all sorts of contingencies in my mind, but I had not set aside one for being physically tormented by my co-star. Then Marc called, ‘Action!’ and we were in the scene.
I think I had been concentrating too much on the accent, which can be fatal. I should have just concentrated on the emotion and added the accent later, but the night before, another acting coach had dropped by my room. She was part of the Bond franchise, there to help us prepare, running lines and working the dialect. Three different acting coaches had all offered their input on these two short scenes. It threw a spanner in my performance. Instead of a passionate flight of oratory, I could hear my South American lilt strangling itself mid-sentence. I started sounding like I’d been in a bar brawl in Edinburgh.
‘Forget about the accent,’ said Marc, after the first take.
As if on cue, my mind clogged up. I’d been practicing so hard at sounding Chilean. Lose the accent? Which of my accents would I choose from now?
There was a pause while everyone prepared for the next scene. I kept trying to goof around with Mr Bond, and while he was only ever kind, I could feel something turning. He didn’t go cold, but there was a distance between us, a nameless presence. Even as I regained some footing in the second scene, I couldn’t bring him back.
Very close to Christmas of 2007, I found out I didn’t get it. Aude, my British agent, had a talk with a studio insider. All that was clear was they were not going with me. Then slowly conflicting reports began to roll in: they were going back to retest some other girls. Did I still have a shot? By the time I found out for certain who it was – Olga Kurylenko – I had swung into that comfortable zone in my heart and mind where I could believe it was okay to have lost the part. It was not meant to be, and I was never meant to be an actress in the first place, so I should be grateful for the windfall thus far.
Excerpted with permission from Close to the Bone, Lisa Ray, HarperCollins India.