HOLIDAY FILM: Roger Moore's Duke of Castlebury, left, with help from… (Toni Salabasev / Hallmark…)
After appearing as James Bond in seven hit films beginning with 1973's "Live and Let Die" and concluding with 1985's "A View to a Kill," Roger Moore put his acting career on the back burner.
For two decades, he has devoted much of his time to being a goodwill ambassador for UNICEF, and was knighted in 2003 for his charity work. But Saturday, he returns in Hallmark Channel's holiday fantasy "A Princess for Christmas."
Moore, 84, plays the fabulously wealthy Edward Duke of Castlebury, who invites his estranged young American niece, nephew and their aunt to his castle in the snowy countryside of a fictional European country (the film was shot in Romania). Though Edward is Scrooge-like when it comes to Christmas trees and holiday celebrations, his heart begins to melt with the visitors' arrival.
Moore said he was drawn to the project because he enjoyed working with the producer Brad Krevoy on a previous movie. "My wife and I had a great time with him and we ate very well every night," said Moore, speaking from his chalet in the Swiss ski resort of Crans-Montana. "I had never been to Romania. It's a very short trip to Romania [from Switzerland] and I said let's do it. I liked the story and I felt it was a really good film — the right type of film for Christmas."
"Princess for Christmas" is a far cry from the relentless poverty Moore encounters while traveling the world for UNICEF. "I always feel like I am in the way when we go into the field not being a doctor or a nurse or an engineer," he said. "But it is important for us to see what is actually happening, so we can talk about it when we are back home or when we are doing fundraising."
The late Audrey Hepburn inspired him to become involved. When he began his volunteer work, Moore said an estimated 40,000 children died every day from preventive causes. Today, according to the World Health Organization, that figure is about 22,000.
"That's still a frightening statistic," said Moore who since his first field trip to Central America has visited almost every country in the world for UNICEF.
Long before he became James Bond — replacing Sean Connery — Moore moved from England in the 1950s to try his luck in Hollywood. Under contract to MGM, he landed bit roles in such films 1954's "The Last Time I Saw Paris" working his way up to the male lead opposite Lana Turner in 1956's forgettable "Diane."
"It was absolutely marvelous," he said of his salad days in Hollywood. "You got paid 40 weeks a year. You had three months when you were not working and you were very well looked after being part of the MGM machine. I loved it. But unfortunately, it was toward the end of the studio system and television was starting to bite. In fact, we weren't allowed to appear in anything on TV when I was under contract to MGM, which rather annoyed me. They stopped me from doing some very good plays on TV."
But it was television where audiences really discovered Moore — first as Sir Walter Scott's dashing "Ivanhoe" in the late '50s series, then in the ABC adventure series, "The Alaskans," which Moore later described as "my most appalling TV series ever," and as Beau, the British cousin of Bart Maverick on the fourth season of ABC's "Maverick."
Moore hit his stride in England as the debonair, wisecracking thief Simon Templar in the 1960s British series, "The Saint," which came to NBC as a summer replacement in 1966. In fact, Templar was sort of a precursor to his approach at playing Bond, which was much more tongue-in-cheek than Connery's.
"People say why did you laugh and joke about it [as Bond]," he said. "I thought the idea of a spy who is known everywhere he goes in the world — it's so ridiculous because a spy should be unrecognizable. So I played the humor of it."
His favorite Bond vehicle was 1977's "The Spy Who Loved Me" because he loved working with the director Lewis Gilbert ("Alfie"), who also directed him in 1979's "Moonraker."
"He is a dear man," said Moore. "He is now 90. Unfortunately, he is not directing anymore, otherwise he might give me a job."
Moore acknowledged that he is a fan of the latest Bond, Daniel Craig. "I think he's a marvelous actor," he said.
Would he take another acting job? Yes, he said, "as long as I don't have to jump around too much and there aren't any explosions!"