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Interview with Stefan Zürcher about his work on nine James Bond films

By: Mark Cerulli
Published:
2023-11-19
Stefan Zürcher, James Bond, interview
From Sweden with Love contributor Mark Cerulli, our man in Hollywood, has spoken with Swiss stunt skier and filmmaker Stefan Zürcher about his work on nine James Bond films in an exclusive interview for FSWL.

These days, the end credits for major movies can run almost as long as the film itself... and while the stars and director get most of the spotlight, no movie can be made without hundreds of dedicated, incredibly hardworking professionals who toil anonymously, sometimes for years on a single project. Well, the veil of anonymity is no more for Stefan Zürcher who not only was part of nine Bond films, but also worked alongside EVERY actor to ever play 007 on film! His incredible story is told in his new book, In The Secret Service Of James Bond (written with Roland Schaefli).

In The Service Of James Bond, Stefan Zurcher, Roland Schaefli
The English cover for Stefan Zurcher's book In the Secret Service of James Bond co-written with Roland Schaefli. Copyright © 2023 Weber Verlag. All rights reserved.

FSWL caught up with Stefan at his home in Switzerland, for a wide-ranging interview about his life and career. Early on, he was shaped by a tragic event – his mother’s untimely death. “It’s very tough to lose your mother at age 5,” Stefan recalled. But the loss led to him spending countless hours in nature – “A lot of times you were alone and spent a lot of time outside. You learn the rules of nature and build up your natural instincts,” he said. “It made me self-sufficient.”

Those traits would serve him well when he ventured to Canada and the US to teach skiing and work for a world-class mountain photographer named Bruno Engler doing tourist films and nature photography. High up in the Canadian Rockies, he learned the basics of the film business. A chance phone call from his father about “Filmmakers looking for experienced skiers for a James Bond movie” sent him packing back to Switzerland where his command of English and mastery of skiing landed him a prized spot on the On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969) crew. It proved to be an invaluable foundation for his career –

“They put me everywhere as a translator with the Swiss crew, the German crew and the British crew – special effects, makeup, wardrobe. I got to know every department and learned how they function. That was my film school.”


Stefan Zurcher, Heinz Brunner, Bruno Zryd, On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Stefan Zürcher (far left) with Heinz Brunner and Bruno Zryd as Blofeld skiers in On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Copyright © 1969 Danjaq S.A. & United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved.

He also developed a good rapport with Bond newbie – George Lazenby. “He was a very nice guy and I got along with him. I knew him as just George.” Working as a stunt skier and in the 2nd Unit, he also got to know legendary producer Cubby Broccoli. “He was like a father figure... a real English gentleman,” Stefan said. Most importantly, his hard work impressed Cubby – “If you were good, you became part of the family.” (He also met a very young Barbara Broccoli, on set with her dad.) All in, Stefan spent five months in the snow and ice filming On Her Majesty's Secret Service but he wasn’t available for the film’s upscale premiere because he had already landed another project – Downhill Racer (1969) starring Robert Redford. Stefan was tasked with shooting “pick-ups” (incidental shots) and doubling for Redford, who was an avid skier himself. “We got along really well. He had his family there and we would all go out for dinner,” Stefan recalled.

Soon after, Stefan got to work with one of the most iconic Bond villains of them all – Gert Fröbe in 1969’s car racing comedy, Monte Carlo or Bust. (Called Those Daring Young Men in Their Jaunty Jalopies in the US.) “He was only there for a few days but was very impressed by the stunt.” In his modest way, Stefan referred to his highly dangerous stunt involving a skier flying down onto a moving car! Stefan pulled it off flawlessly – which made Auric Goldfinger very happy.

Other major 1970s releases followed, including Cabaret (1972) – the star-making vehicle for Liza Minelli. Set in dance halls and night clubs in pre-war Germany, Stefan had the “tough” job of scouting clubs and Beer Gardens in Munich and Berlin. One imagines a few beers were consumed as well! However, Cabaret was a sobering project in that it was set in Berlin a few years before WWII broke out. “It was a history lesson for me,” Stefan recalled, “to learn so much about what happened leading to the war.”

Stefan returned to the Bond family for The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) where he’s seen on screen as the Russian agent shot by Bond as they ski down a glacier. “I had a harness with an explosive on it and I set off the squib with a button on my ski pole,” Stefan says as if it were an everyday job! Roger Moore was also on set – on a toboggan for his closeups. As exciting as it was, it turned into a very close call when ski sequence photographer Willy Bogner (a champion Alpine skier himself) wanted to get a few more shots “in the can.” An icy fog crept up the mountain and the transport helicopter made one run but couldn’t return. Stefan and several others found themselves trapped at 3,500 meters for the night! In darkness, the temperature dropped to -20 degrees (Celsius). This kind of cold could easily kill or maim. (And off the mountain, Cubby Broccoli was extremely worried about the missing crew members.) Once again, Stefan’s keen observation of nature and his Swiss Army survival training kicked in and he was able to build an igloo and a fire (burning wooden camera tripods) and they survived. You’d think he would have taken a few days off but no – “I had a hot shower and a warm meal and went back out.”

Willy Bogner, Stefan Zurcher, The Spy Who Loved Me
Stefan Zürcher doubling as James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me filmed by Willy Bogner. Copyright © 1977 Danjaq S.A. & United Artists Corporation. All rights reserved.

In The Secret Service Of James Bond is full of hair-raising stories like this, rare photos, plus his priceless memories of the other Bond films he was on. The pages offer up his interactions with Pierce Brosnan, Daniel Craig, Timothy Dalton and many other iconic stars and filmmakers.

Stefan Zurcher, Timothy Dalton, The Living Daylights
Stefan Zürcher (far right) with Timothy Dalton and Maryam d'Abo on the set of The Living Daylights in Austria. Copyright © 1987 Danjaq S.A. & MGM/United Artists Pictures. All rights reserved.

Stefan Zurcher, Pierce Brosnan, The World Is Not Enough
Stefan Zurcher and Pierce Brosnan on the set of The World Is Not Enough in France. Copyright © 1999 Danjaq LLC. & Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM). All rights reserved.

While making Five Days One Summer (1982) in the Swiss Alps, Stefan found himself working with Bond #1, Sean Connery. “I got to know him very well, he was a gentleman. We went to the glacier early, at 5AM and we were finished by 3PM so we would go to the golf club and play 9 holes.” (And yes, Big Tam was a great golfer!) I asked if Connery ever mentioned Bond, fully expecting the answer to be no. Much to my surprise, Stefan said, “He was very interested in the series and had his own opinions about the later Bond films. He didn’t agree with some of the stories.”

Stefan was also in the unique position to watch Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson grow up (literally) and turn into the powerful and highly respected producers they are today. “They grew up with the films and know everything about the industry. Just as Cubby was a father figure, Michael is now the father and Barbara is the mother – always looking after the crew.”

Over fifty years and 40 films, Stefan Zürcher has a lot to look back on, but when asked what he’s most proud of, the guarded, businesslike Swiss native let his emotions come to the surface, “Being part of the Bond family,” he said. “They respected me and trusted me and that is something very important to me.”


Stefan Zurcher, George Lazenby, OHMSS50
Stefan Zurcher reunited with George Lazenby on top of Schilthorn in Switzerland. Photo by Sascha Braun. Copyright © 2019 From Sweden with Love. All rights reserved.

Written by Mark Cerulli. Copyright © 2023 From Sweden with Love. All rights reserved.

Editor's note:
The English edition of In The Secret Service Of James Bond can be ordered from Amazon UK.
The original German edition of In The Secret Service Of James Bond can be ordered from Amazon DE.

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