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Sunday, July 22, 2018

‘Roger Moore — a man with an easy-going nature who never took himself seriously’

Former tennis player Vijay Amritraj talks about his friendship with Roger Moore who died from cancer.

Written by Vijay Amritraj | Updated: May 24, 2017 11:09:25 am
Roger Moore-starrer Octopussy, James Bond, Roger Moore, James Bond actor Roger Moore dead, Roger Moore, indian express news Roger Moore and Vijay Amritraj in the 1983 James Bond movie Octopussy. TV grab

On the first day of shooting for Octopussy, I went to the studio at 5:00 in the morning. I was directed to my dressing room and told to wait there, but I tip-toed my way to the main set to get a glimpse of Roger Moore. All the actors were on set, and the moment the director said ‘action,’ Roger saw me from the corner of his eye. With all the cameras rolling, instead of going on with the scene, he started waving at me. He walked across the entire set and came to me. He said, “We’re all so glad that you joined us.”

I had been nervous before I got to the studio, but once Roger did that, and with everyone watching, I grew even more nervous. But it was a start to a beautiful friendship. I was playing at Wimbledon in 1982 when the producer Albert Broccoli and his daughter approached me to do a screen test at the famous Pinewood Studios for the upcoming James Bond film. I didn’t really think much about getting the role, let alone act beside Roger, but I thought it’d be a nice laugh to be the only player to play at Wimbledon and do a screen test at Pinewood. But I got the role.

Roger and I were an instant hit. He had seen me play a lot of matches on tour. Even later on when he was living in Gstaad, Switzerland, he’d come down to meet me when I went there for the Swiss Open. He was very easy to get along with, and we’d share many stories. He’d tell me stories about movies, and loved it when I told him about stories on tour. On one occasion, between shoots, I had to travel to the Soviet Union to play in the Davis Cup. On my way back I brought some caviar and vodka. Roger and I had it together and we called it ‘From Russia with Love.’

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He was just as charming in real life as the character he had to portray. But he was also hilarious – and he’d do it with a straight face. Very British. There was one scene we were shooting by a swimming pool. The director told us to take a break. Roger was dressed in a half-sleeved safari suit, smoking a cigar. He put down the cigar, dove into the pool, swam across, came back, picked up the cigar, as if nothing happened at all.

The rest of us were in splits. That summed him up — a man with an easy-going nature, never took himself seriously, and he just had this aura about him. And he was always willing to introduce you to people around him. On one set in the studio, we were shooting the James Bond film, and in the other, Christopher Reeves was shooting for Superman. Often what would happen, you’d have Roger, dressed in a crisp suit dressed as James Bond, sitting at a lunch table. Beside him, dressed in his Superman costume was Chris, and Vijay Amritraj the tennis player sitting opposite.

Imagine how many Instagram hits you’d get for that today. When we were acting, he’d change a few lines here and there if he felt they’d be better. Since I was new, the director would try to give me a few instructions, but he’d butt in and say, “Vijay and I will do it. Don’t worry.”

It was that close bond and understanding that got us through that famous rickshaw scene. It was a customised rickshaw that came from abroad, with tons of horsepower. I had to practice on it for three days. I had to drive Roger and do a wheelie, so there was a lot of pressure, but he’d never make me feel uncomfortable. That scene was the most iconic one and it got a big laugh at Leicester Square when it premiered, with the Royal Family present. Since it premiered 10 days before 1983 Wimbledon, all the players went out to watch it.

From the tennis fraternity, the players expressed a lot of awe, because my first ever film was a Bond film, that too with Roger Moore. Of course, there were also 32 Miss Worlds, Miss Universes, Miss UKs acting, so a lot of envy too. We kept in touch, Roger and I, even when the movie was over.

Years later, he was appointed the UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador and I was the United Nations Ambassador for peace. It was another opportunity for us to meet regularly. And nothing changed about him. He remained hilarious, an excellent talker, and one who always respected the person next to him. Just among the nicest men you’d ever meet.

As told to Shahid Judge

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