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Hollywood Abuzz Over Next James Bond

The name's Owen. Clive Owen (search).

Now that MGM, the studio that owns the Bond franchise, has gone from an independent company to being owned by a Sony-led consortium, Hollywood is abuzz on the future of the fabled spy.

Pierce Brosnan (search) now has four Bond flicks under his belt, but does not appear likely to remain for much longer, if at all. MGM is negotiating a two-picture deal with the actor worth $40 million, according to the trade paper Variety, but no deal has been announced.

So who's next?

MGM isn't commenting, but everyone else is. The query has received the most lip service in Britain, where Bond is considered a national treasure. There, it's typically assumed that the successor should be British, Scottish or Welsh.

Clive Owen's name has frequently been mentioned. In a video interview on TheMovieReporter.com, Owen, speaking at the premiere for "Sin City," responds to questions about Bond by saying, "I'm going to be busy for a while." But Owen appears to smile and consciously nod his head in affirmation — a gesture that has only fueled more conjecture.

Oddsmakers also cite Christian "Batman" Bale, Ewan "Obi-Wan Kenobi" McGregor, Orlando "Legolas" Bloom and Jude "I'm in Everything" Law. Aussies Hugh Jackman and Eric Bana are often mentioned, as is the Irish Colin Farrell. And Daniel Craig, a British actor mostly unknown to American audiences, has recently emerged as a possible front-runner.

But does Bond HAVE to hail from Britain? Does he have to be dark-haired? Does he have to be white?

Few would say the 007 franchise couldn't use an injection of freshness. Brosnan has been a perfectly serviceable Bond, but he has always looked the part almost too much.

All Bonds suffer from comparisons to Sean Connery, but Brosnan's appeal has often felt skin-deep. To shake up (but not stir) James Bond, MGM should draw from a wider pool of actors that don't necessarily fit the mold so superficially. After all, who would have thought that Michael Keaton would be the best Batman?

An analysis of the contenders, plus a few new names to toss into the hat:

_Clive Owen: Perhaps the best choice. He has the necessary dapper grace and showed in "Croupier" that he knows his way around a casino. Would also bring a new, darker quality to Bond. The question is, would such a highly regarded actor even want to be confined by the role?

_Daniel Craig: Who is he? A blond, tough-looking actor, West appeared in "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider" and played Paul Newman's evil son in "Road to Perdition" — but most of his work has been in England. The idea of an unknown playing Bond has appeal because he could fully inhabit the role without the audience having any preconceptions.

_Jude Law: Would certainly please at least half of the world's population, as well as Sean Penn, his staunchest defender. But would audiences buy Law in the action scenes? Like Brosnan, he may be too much of a pretty boy if Bond is to be spiced up.

_Ewan McGregor: The "Star Wars" star has already helped make one serial boring. Why let him in on another?

_Christian Bale: Could he manage both Bond and Batman at once? Was brilliantly icy in "American Psycho," but may be too wooden to add much pizazz.

_Colin Farrell: Wouldn't you be proud to be classified as too much of a drinker/smoker/partier to play James Bond? Strange as it may seem, Farrell probably is too rough around the edges to don the tux.

_George Clooney: The best option from this side of the pond and possibly anywhere. In the great opening sequence to "Out of Sight," he robbed a bank purely with charm. That's classic Bond material.

_Idris Elba: Yes, Stringer Bell from "The Wire" could be the first Black Bond — if only because he's suave and British.

_Timothy Olyphant: The "Deadwood" sheriff is hot right now and could bring some wildness to the role — which he exhibited in "Go" and "The Girl Next Door."

_Bill Murray: In "Lost in Translation," Murray showed he had the acting chops to hang in a "mature" movie. In "The Man Who Knew Too Little," one of Murray's more underrated flicks, he played a man who haplessly falls into the spy business. Why not again? Murray might not take Bond completely seriously, but why should he? Do we anymore?

_Christopher Walken: OK, so Walken is over 60. But who wouldn't run to the theater to see Walken play Bond? It would immediately be the most interesting movie of the year. In reference to one of Walken's "Saturday Night Live" skits, if there's one thing Bond could use, it's more cowbell.