Unlike iconic spy 007, Lashana Lynch does not have a signature cocktail. You will never hear her sternly giving out martini instructions. “I like trying new things,” she says. “I’ll sit and have a chat with the bartender for ages, and say stuff like, ‘What goes well with amaretto?’ and we’ll have a one-on-one cocktail party at the bar.”
In a cinematic world where grown women have forever been known as “Bond girls,” the British actress has arrived as, very literally, an agent of change. “No Time To Die,” the 25th installment in the James Bond franchise, stars Lynch as Nomi, a 00 agent with a scrupulous work ethic.
While the film’s March release was just delayed until November (over coronavirus fears), the actress is focused on her forward thinking character.
“She’s a highly skilled young woman who is ready to do everything by the book. She’s disciplined; she gets the job done,” says Lynch. “And I think it reminds Bond that he can be sort of chaotic in his work, and that his relationships are just full of turmoil.”
Perched on a director’s chair after our Alexa cover shoot, she’s dressed simply in all black, right down to her cap, but with a pop of electric saffron on her nails. She shrugs off the furor that has surrounded the idea that her character might become the new 007: Daniel Craig has said he’s leaving after this film, and the Hollywood Reporter cited “sources close to the film” who say that at the start of “No Time To Die,” Lynch’s character has “inherited the ‘007’ designation from Bond, who has retired.”
Naturally, Twitter went nuts.
“I try not to follow these things too closely on social media,” says Lynch, “but I have seen some comments that have made me giggle from my head to my toes.”
She isn’t giving me even a wink of a hint about the truth, but says it’s almost beside the point. “Years ago, when I graduated from drama school, I imagined doing really bold, fierce, inspiring roles,” she says, “but I never once imagined being part of a historic conversation like this. No matter what happens from here onwards, we know this conversation happened. And I feel very grateful for that.”
Over the years, the Bond franchise has featured several notable black female characters: Gloria Hendry in 1973’s “Live and Let Live,” Grace Jones in 1985’s “A View to Kill,” Halle Berry in 2002’s “Die Another Day,” Naomie Harris in 2015’s “Spectre.” The series has made some efforts to update author Ian Fleming’s depiction of Bond women as sex objects in string bikinis, sometimes with nefarious intentions, always with killer cleavage.
But credit Lynch with taking the uniform further forward. Describing her range of outfits in the movie as “power suit, power suit, power suit,” she says she was adamant about preserving function along with form.
“They wanted to sew down my pockets, make them more aesthetically pleasing. I said, ‘No, let’s let them hang out. Let’s imagine something could go in there. Can a magazine for a gun fit in? If it can’t, we need to make the pocket bigger.’”
Will there be viewers who balk at a woman wearing the pants? Undoubtedly. The world doesn’t generally accept change without struggle, Lynch points out.
“Daniel experienced that when he was a blond, blue-eyed Bond, and nobody liked it,” she says. “And he’s become my favorite Bond ever. People like to attach their own ideologies to a role. And they don’t like change. But once you ram it down their throats that change is going to happen — that it’s the only constant — then they suck it up and they start enjoying it anyway. So, in the end, it doesn’t really matter!”
“I thought it would be nice to have a double-O who is uber-confident but also questions herself.”
Lynch, 32, has been an attention-grabbing performer for years, many of them spent on the British stage; a graduate of London’s Arts Educational School, she was raised in the city but strongly influenced by her Jamaican parents’ culture. She found herself back on the island shooting “No Time To Die” scenes, although this was not the Jamaica of her youth.
“I’m not going to pretend I’m not working class, and that we could afford to go all the time when I was growing up, but I’d been a handful of times,” she says. “And every time I stayed with family, doing the chores and looking after the animals in the backyard. So shooting there and staying at a hotel was bizarre. My mom came with me and it was just … well, a five-star experience in Jamaica is just not something we’re used to.”
American audiences will probably know Lynch from her roles on the Shonda Rhimes ABC series “Still Star-Crossed” and as the fighter pilot Maria Rambeau, best friend to the titular hero in 2019’s “Captain Marvel.”
I ask her what she makes of the derision, from directors Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola, about Marvel mov- ies — the notion that they aren’t real art. “I still don’t quite understand how there’s not room for these kinds of movies,” Lynch says. “Back to back, in 2018 and 2019, Marvel celebrated my two biggest passions, which are black culture [“Black Panther”] and women [“Captain Marvel”]. I felt I was really being taken care of as an audience member, where other types of cinema haven’t. To throw that by the wayside is just disrespectful.”
Between Lynch and Phoebe Waller- Bridge (“Fleabag”), one of the Bond screenwriters, “No Time To Die” promises a similarly satisfying experience to female fans. When the two met to discuss Nomi, Lynch expected Waller-Bridge to give her the rundown on how to be. “But she just said, ‘You tell me what you see in Nomi.’ I listed maybe ten things, all very human, very normal. I wanted Nomi to be awkward, and deal with anxiety. I thought it would be nice to have a double-O who is uber-confident but also questions herself.”
More controversially, she asked to include a moment that will be familiar to any woman: “I mentioned this in one interview and everyone went f–king crazy,” says Lynch with a small eye roll. “I want there to be a scene where she’s on her period. You don’t need to have a moment when you’re holding up a tampon — but we need to know she might be a bit cranky that day, because she’s not had a minute to herself and he’s not understanding that she’s got cramps, you know?”
Alas, it didn’t make the final cut, but not because director Cary Joji Fukunaga (“True Detective”) wasn’t willing to entertain it. “The fact that we could have a conversation about it made me feel really good.”
We marvel at the near-total lack of acknowledgement of That Time of the Month in scripts. When researching her next role (coincidentally also as a highly trained agent), she brought it to the fore as well. For the upcoming FX adaptation of the graphic novel “Y: the Last Man,” in which she plays Secret Service Agent 355, Lynch spoke to a real-life female agent. “My main question was, ‘When do you change your tampon?’” Lynch says, laughing. “And she’s like, ‘Oh, gosh, no one’s ever asked me that before! I guess you just have to find time.’ And I was like,’But when?’”
Both Nomi and Agent 355 may be hard-charging characters, but they exist in dramatically opposite worlds: the former in a heavily male universe, the latter in a dystopia in which literally all of the men, except one, are dead.
Shooting the two projects has kept Lynch monumentally busy, but in rare periods of down time, she says, “I’m a full-on granny. I just don’t do much. I have a good core group of friends, and we do a lot of game nights and hang out at each other’s houses. We create music, everyone singing together.”
As publicity picks up with the release of “No Time To Die,” Lynch says that, unlike Nomi, she’ll probably step into a pair of heels. “It makes me feel elegant — I’ve had to become really comfortable with my 5’9” height. If I wear a heel, I think it’s an even more unapologetic statement to be taller than the men on the carpet and still hold my own.”
Crew Credits: Fashion Editor: Serena French Stylist: Anahita Moussavian; Fashion Assistants: Nicole Zane and Haley Wells; Hair: Lacy Redway at SWA Agency using Nexxus; Makeup: Alex Babsky at The Visionaries using Lancôme; Manicure: Yukie Miyakawa at Celestine Agency using Orly
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