Tuesday, April 30, 2013

A Modest Defense of Tanya Roberts as Bond Girl Stacey Sutton in "A View to a Kill"


One of the most reviled Bond Girls is former "Charlie's Angels" actress Tanya Roberts as California geologist Stacey Sutton in "A View to a Kill" (1985).  Whenever lists of the best or worst Bond Girls are put out by know-nothing magazine writers, she usually ranks at the top of the list in terms of being among the worst examples of what a Bond Girl represents.  I've acknowledged at different times in my blog that Roberts' performance in "A View to a Kill" wasn't ideal and that I think Priscilla Barnes (a much better actress who played Della Churchill in 1989's "Licence to Kill) would have been a preferable choice in the role.  (Barnes would have brought some nuances to the role that would have given it more gravitas and depth.)  Nevertheless, I think that the level of vitriol directed at Roberts by some Bond fans through the years has become overstated and misplaced at times.  At the risk of jeopardizing my own credibility at discussing movies, I don't think Roberts' performance is as bad as people have alleged through the years.  It's a flawed character and performance, but Roberts has a couple of moments in the movie where her acting comes across okay and, even if she and Roger Moore don't exactly set the screen on fire with their scenes together, they at least seem at ease with one another and appear to enjoy each others company.  I find both Roberts's performance, and the Stacey Sutton character itself, endearingly clumsy in the movie. 


I've always felt that one reason why the Bond movies remain relevant all these decades later is because they are a cinematic Rorschach test in terms of tastes and perspectives.  Just a glance at Bond movie message boards on the internet confirms how none of the movies, or the elements in them, are seen the same way by two different people.  That's why it's fun to discuss and revisit the movies in order to debate and discuss one's favorite Bond actor or Bond movie.  Tanya Roberts as Stacey Sutton is consistently criticized by Bond fans on these message boards, but sometimes it feels like the people who are saying she is awful seem to enjoy saying they hate her just for the sake of it.  They act as if her performance was so bad that it somehow ruined their lives.  I recall someone on a message board saying how Priscilla Presley, who was also considered for the role of Stacey, would have been a preferable choice for the role.  I chuckled when I read that because whoever wrote it evidently never saw Presley's five-year stint as Jenna Wade on the hit prime time soap "Dallas" from 1984 thru 1989.  If you go over to "Dallas" message boards, you'll find that fans of that series hate Presley for what they perceive to be her whiny disposition and weak acting--which are the same criticisms that Bond fans lodge against Tanya Roberts' work in "A View to a Kill."  On that basis, Presley would not have been better than Roberts in the role.


Tanya Roberts is an easy whipping-boy for Bond fans, but I sometimes wonder if director John Glen isn't also to blame for the qualities in Stacey Sutton that people respond negatively to.  I recall Glen saying in his memoirs that he had doubts about Roberts' acting ability and that he consulted John Guillerman, who had just directed Roberts in "Sheena" (1984) as to whether he felt she could act.  I remember in college an acting professor telling us that, if an actor gives a bad performance in a movie, you shouldn't only blame the actor.  You should also blame the director because he or she made the final decision to hire that person and should have known based on their audition, or prior work, what they were capable of bringing to the role.  Since John Glen acknowledges he had doubts about Tanya Roberts' acting ability, he needs to take responsibility for hiring her to play Stacey.  I also recall on the DVD supplements for "A View to a Kill," Glen introduced some deleted scenes which included a scene between Stacey and her boss Mr. Howe (Daniel Benzali), where she tries to convince him of the dangers of arch villain Zorin's (Christopher Walken) plan to pump sea water into the Hayward Fault.  While introducing the deleted scene, Glen admits that "somehow this scene didn't work terribly well.  I think I started to shoot it and didn't bother to do any close shots in the end and I always thought I'd pick the scene up when Roger (Moore) enters the scene outside the elevators.  And that is, in fact, what happens."  When you watch the deleted scene, you don't get any sense that director Glen did more than one take of it, much less rehearsed it or gave the actors any direction on how to play it.  The fact that Glen didn't put much thought into the scene also suggests the extent to which he didn't try to work with Roberts to help develop her performance more effectively.


I think it's too bad because Tanya Roberts could've been a good Bond Girl if only she had been cast in a part more appropriate for her that allowed her to demonstrate qualities that worked well for her in other roles.  When she was on "Charlie's Angels," Roberts had a scrappy, street-wise quality that struck an effective contrast with her more refined co-stars Jaclyn Smith and Cheryl Ladd.  Her husky/raspy speaking voice, tinged with the remnants of her Bronx accent, gave her gravitas in some of her more serious scenes on that series.  On "Charlie's Angels," Roberts had a confidence and assurance that was absent in "A View to a Kill," as well as a feisty, athletic quality in the action scenes that demonstrated she could have been an exciting heroine in the Bond series.  None of those qualities were utilized in "A View to a Kill" and I sometimes feel that Roberts was miscast as the demure damsel-in-distress Stacey Sutton.  John Glen cast her in a role that didn't play to her strengths, which is why I think her performance was considered grating by some Bond fans.  In fact, I sometimes feel Roberts should have been cast as former Army pilot-turned-DEA operative Pam Bouvier in "Licence to Kill."  Carey Lowell always seemed too light-weight to have the grit required for that role, and I think Roberts' scrappy Bronx edginess might have served that role better, especially if she went back to being a brunette instead of being bleached blonde like she was for "A View to a Kill."  (As information, check out at the 6:08 mark Roberts' entrance scene in her debut episode of "Charlie's Angels."  You can see it on YouTube here.  Ironically, she's acting in this scene opposite "Licence to Kill" featured player Don Stroud, who played Heller in that movie.  I believe you will get an idea of the quality that I feel would have made her a better Pam Bouvier than Carey Lowell.) 


Ironically, as written, the role of Stacey Sutton probably sounded pretty good to Roberts from the outset.  Unlike other actresses who have played Bond Girls, and who claim that their roles are different than the ones that came before (a tiresome cliche coming from every actress who ever appeared in a Bond movie), Stacey Sutton was indeed a different kind of leading lady for the series.  She wasn't a spy, or a mistress of some villain, or someone living or working in an exotic location doing something glamorous or dangerous.  She was basically an American and a civilian, a scientist studying rocks and minerals of the Earth, living and working in the San Francisco area on her family's empty estate.  In many ways, she was similar to Kate Warner in Season 2 of "24," another blonde American civilian from California whose life is turned upside down when a government agent with the initials "J.B." unexpectedly enters her life and asks for her assistance to avert the destruction of a major metropolitan area in the state.  The only extraordinary thing about Stacey is that she was the heiress to her family's oil company but got a job working as a California state geologist once Zorin stole it in a rigged proxy fight.  We learn that she got a degree in geology with the expectation she'd run the family business someday.  For once, we actually learn quite a bit about the leading lady in a Bond movie as Stacey is provided a family history and back story that is unusual for the series.  What isn't acknowledged enough about Stacey is that she was a person of decency and integrity.  She wasn't a character in a larger-than-life situation lounging around wearing sexually revealing outfits, or someone who easily gave into Bond's charms the first night he spent at her house.  In fact, he sleeps in the chair guarding the house while she goes to sleep.  It's only at the end of the film, after Bond and Stacey defeat Zorin, that they consummate their relationship by taking a shower back at her house. 


Perhaps people found Stacey uninteresting because she was probably one of the more "normal" leading ladies the Bond series ever had.  However, on the surface of it, there was potentially a lot of substance to the character had Roberts played it with a bit more gravitas and assurance.  I think one reason why Roberts is unconvincing at playing a geologist is that, with the exception of the scene where she discovers and explains Zorin's plans to destroy Silicon Valley as well as her early scenes at Zorin's estate in Chantilly, France where she appears haughty and aloof to Bond, she plays the rest of the movie with kind of a light, high pitched voice that contrasts with her normally husky/raspy delivery and considerably undermines her credibility at being a scientist.  However, Roberts is still better than Denise Richards as Nuclear physicist Christmas Jones in "The World is Not Enough" (1999).  Richards plays her role with an air of indifferent petulance that undermines her credibility, whereas Roberts gives a comparatively more sincere performance even if she sounds whiny at times.  Roberts seems glad to be in the movie and is at least trying to give a competent and sympathetic performance as Stacey, whereas Richards seems so disconnected and disinterested that she never seems to give a damn throughout her Bond movie of creating any sort of mood with her character.


Roberts' aforementioned voice also sounded terrible throughout the action scenes in the movie where Stacey is screaming "Oh James!" or "James, help me!" because her naturally husky voice wasn't suited to playing scenes that required her to be so helpless, which inadvertently caused her to sound screechy.  Especially in the scenes where Bond rescues Stacey from the fire at San Francisco's City Hall; where Bond and Stacey elude the SFPD through the streets of the city by stealing the Fire Engine; the sequence in the Main Strike mineshaft where May Day (Grace Jones) stalks Bond and Stacey and tries to pull them down as they try and climb out of the mine; the scene where Zorin sneaks up on Stacey from behind her in the blimp; and the fight on top of the Golden Gate Bridge where Stacey is dangling from atop one of the pylons, Roberts plays all of these action sequences from a hapless, helpless, at times hysterical perspective (even though Stacey's commitment to cooperating with Bond to defeat Zorin never waivers).  Her reactions to the situations going on around her would understandably be confusing to a civilian not used to espionage or action.  Nevertheless, Roberts should have played Stacey in the action scenes from the perspective of a normal person caught up in danger, who is uncertain of herself, but who stays calm and eventually rises to the occasion with grit and determination.  I think the audience would have accepted Stacey better if she had kept her cool throughout the action scenes.  Unfortunately, she didn't and, in so doing, opened herself up to the criticism she has received since then.  However, Roberts has stated in interviews that she had issues with the extent to which Stacey was portrayed so submissively in the movie, which lends credibility to my suggestion that John Glen's direction in the movie hindered her performance. 


Ironically, it's in the non-action dialogue scenes in "A View to a Kill" that I believe Tanya Roberts does good work.  The dinner scene in the kitchen of her home where Bond cooks for her has a relaxed quality that is notably different than other scenes between Bond and the other leading ladies of his movies.  Some might say that there is no chemistry between Roger Moore or Tanya Roberts in the movie as a whole, but I kind of like the fact that, for once, Bond isn't initially interested in the leading lady on a romantic or sexual level, but is trying to get at the truth of what Zorin might be up to and hopes Stacey can provide that information.  Stacey feels at ease with Bond because she senses that he has no ulterior motives with her, and I sense that Tanya Roberts and Roger Moore sincerely enjoyed working with each other.  Except for the final scene in the movie, there is an overall platonic friendship between Bond and Stacey that I find endearing.  I also think Roberts is good in the scene the next morning, after the mild earth tremor, when Bond mentions to Stacey that Zorin is pumping seawater into Zorin's oil wells near the Hayward Fault.  Roberts registers the appropriate level of outrage and determination at learning of this information.


Probably Roberts' best moment in the movie is the scene inside the Main Strike Mine where Stacey and Bond stumble upon Zorin's plans to rig explosives to try and set off both the San Andreas and Hayward Faults in order to start a double earthquake that will destroy Silicon Valley.  ("He'll kill millions!  These green lights, they're Zorin's oil wells, the ones he's been using to pump sea water into the Hayward fault.   These (tunnels) lead straight into this section of the San Andreas fault.  You know, Zorin just has to blast through the bottom of these lakes to flood the fault...Except that right beneath us is the key geological lock that...that keeps the faults from moving at once.")  Roberts has a very controlled tone to her voice throughout this sequence as she explains the scientific and technical aspects of Zorin's scheme to Bond and demonstrates the right level of awe and concern upon realizing what Zorin is up to.  Unlike the rest of her performance, she demonstrates a level of confidence and assurance that would have considerably strengthened the character if she had used it throughout the movie.  The scene shows what the rest of Roberts' performance could have been like had both she and John Glen worked more effectively at developing the Stacey Sutton character.


Even though Tanya Roberts was not one of the best Bond Girls the series had to offer, I sincerely believe she had some moments that allowed her to rank higher than Jill St. John, Britt Ekland, or Denise Richards, who I feel were far worse as Bond Girls in the series.  I think Roberts tried to create a sympathetic, down-to-earth character, a person who the audience might easily identify with compared to other, larger-than-life Bond girls in the series.  However, I think she was hampered by being miscast in a role that didn't play to her strengths and I am convinced she didn't get much help from director John Glen to bring out the best in her performance.  Nevertheless, as written, the character does have substantial screen time (perhaps too much, in the eyes of her detractors!) and does play a significant role in helping Bond defeat arch-villain Zorin in "A View to a Kill."  That's more than could be said for the leading ladies of the acclaimed "Skyfall" (2012), who I've blogged about before were saddled with the most thankless and insignificant roles of any Bond Girls in the entire series.  If there's any virtue to Stacey Sutton, it's that, whether you like her or not, she did not play an expendable role in "A View to a Kill" the way Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) or Severine (Berenice Marlohe) played in their Bond movie.  If you take Stacey out of "A View to a Kill," and I'm sure some fans would love to do that, you would be left with a considerably different movie, whereas if you took Moneypenny or Severine out of "Skyfall," the plot and structure of that story would likely have remained largely the same.  For better or worse, Stacey Sutton contributed a great deal to the overall plot and storyline of "A View to a Kill."  Tanya Roberts as Stacey Sutton in "A View to a Kill" may not have been the best Bond Girl the series had to offer, but there's something to be said for actually showing up and getting the job done, rather than just sitting on the sidelines like Eve and Severine did in "Skyfall."

3 comments:

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    1. She's streaming on www.behindthecurtain.tv/en.tanya-roberts.htm doing live chats and all. Check it out :)

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  2. She was a realistic character. She was a normal woman , not a superheroine. She and bond form a deep friendship which would likely last for a long time. She's one of my favorite bond girls because she seems very real.

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