Dougray who? Scott may have met his match

WE’VE been expecting you, Mr Scott. Dougray Scott, the fridge salesman’s son from Glenrothes, was widely considered a shoe-in for the role of James Bond, and even bookmakers had closed betting on the issue.

But Bond loves nothing more than delivering a surprise, and it now appears an Old Etonian could be the one to succeed in the race for the 007 title.

Hollywood insiders believe that despite his starring role in Mission Impossible II and a rash of reports linking him to Bond, Scott, 39, could lose out because he is a relative unknown in the States.

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Instead they may plump for Dominic West, 35, who, while not a household name in Britain, has an impressive acting CV in the States, which makes him appear much better qualified for the job, on paper at least.

The two actors’ profiles in the US could well be the key factor. Even in the press office of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, staff seemed unsure who Scott was. "Who?" said the spokeswoman. "Eh... I’ve heard of him." But she did not sound too sure.

West’s name elicited a much more immediate response. "Absolutely," she enthused, adding that hit TV series The Wire, in which he starred, was "up there".

But the rumours suggesting that the lead role in Casino Royale was in the bag for Scott may have irritated the Broccoli family, who hold the rights to the film series.

William Hill suspended betting temporarily twice before - in December after a rush of bets on black actor Colin Salmon, following what they considered a ridiculous report in the Sun linking him with the part, and in January after heavy betting on Clive Owen, whose profile rose when he started picking up awards and nominations for his role in Closer.

But the Dougray Scott situation was different in that there was no obvious reason for the spate of large bets. "It started with one lady who came into a shop and she patently had never placed a bet in her life before," said Rupert Adams, a public and media relations executive for William Hill. "She had to ask for a lot of help on how to do it and she staked 170 in cash.

"There were a whole lot on the internet of exactly 100 and then another chap came into a shop with 500 in cash. At that point he was 5-2. We said we can’t really take 5-2, but we will give you 200 at 6-4, which he accepted, which is quite a strange thing to accept, unless you genuinely think that you’re on to a pretty well guaranteed winner."

Adams said the company had been unable to clarify the situation with either James Bond company Eon Productions or Scott’s representatives, but he did add that celebrities and their agents have in the past been prepared to bet significant sums either to put them in contention for a role or simply to raise their profile.

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"It could easily have been an agent trying to drum up support for Dougray Scott. That’s definitely a possibility... I think a full-page in the Sun is about a quarter of a million, so it’s pretty cheap publicity."

Asked if Dougray Scott would be the new Bond, his publicist Rupert Fowler said: "There’s no news at all, I’m afraid. I’ve checked with Dougray, he doesn’t know anything... He hasn’t said that he doesn’t want to do it."

He said he knew nothing about the heavy betting. "We haven’t and his agents haven’t. I don’t know if they are personal supporters."

A reliable source within Eon insisted Dougray Scott had not been chosen as the new James Bond.

She added that a decision was probably "several months away", but would not comment on whether Eon has already conducted screen tests.

West played Rene Zellweger’s ill-fated lover Fred Casely in the Oscar-winning musical Chicago, he co-starred with Julia Roberts in the chick-flick drama Mona Lisa Smile and with Julianne Moore in the thriller The Forgotten, and he had a lead role as an American homicide detective in three series of the HBO series The Wire, which was voted best show on television in an American critics’ poll.

Neither Eon nor West’s representatives would confirm or deny the suggestion that he has already been through a series of auditions and screen tests. One source suggested he is a front-runner after impressing Barbara Broccoli, daughter of legendary Bond producer ‘Cubby’ Broccoli.

Speculation on the next Bond reached fever pitch following Pierce Brosnan’s announcement last year that the Broccoli family were dropping him after four outings in the role.

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The planned release of the next Bond film had already been postponed from 2005 to 2006, and Sony’s takeover of the 007 studio MGM added to the uncertainty, but it did nothing to dampen speculation over who would replace Brosnan.

Several Scots were touted to take up the role first filled on the big screen 43 years ago in Dr No by Sean Connery, who remains the definitive Bond for many fans.

Gerard Butler, star of The Phantom of the Opera and Dear Frankie, has long been associated with the role and Ewan McGregor has reportedly had discussions with the producers.

Jude Law, Colin Farrell, Hugh Jackman, Nicolas Cage and Russell Crowe have all been mentioned, and former Bonds have been split down national lines with Connery supporting McGregor and Brosnan backing Farrell, though Farrell has said he is not interested.

A spokeswoman at Dominic West’s agents, Artists Independent Management, was no more forthcoming than Scott’s representative: "We can’t comment on our actors’ careers and impending jobs." She added that the actor did not want to make any comment.

However, perhaps significantly, West did express an interest in an American interview when The Forgotten came out last year. He said: "I’ve always liked Bond, and I thought I would do it better than anyone else... He’s pretty much a superhero, and I think he should be more of a soldier."

His refusal now to say anything, even to confirm that he might be interested in the role, may be significant. Perhaps he has learned the first lesson of a successful secret agent... secrecy.