People know my voice, they just don’t know me.When people see Ursula Andress in Dr No, or Shirley Eaton in Goldfinger, they don’t know that I revoiced them, and a lot of other Bond girls too.
I was asked to revoice Ursula because the Bond movie producers thought she had a very strong Swiss-German accent that an American audience wouldn’t understand. When you see her coming out of the sea singing — that’s me. Shirley Eaton had a cockney accent, which was unsuitable and very unsexy, so I was asked to revoice her.
In Dr No, I also revoiced the character Sylvia Trench, played by Eunice Gayson. The scene at the gambling table at the Le Cercle Club in London is the first time you hear a female voice addressing 007. You hear me say: “I admire your luck, Mr…?”. He responds with the famous line: “Bond… James Bond”.
I had a natural talent and became known in the industry for my revoicing skills. I would stand in the sound studio, with the sound director and sometimes the director of the film, and try out different accents for different characters. It depended on what I liked and didn’t like — I’m the artist. The voice has got to be part of the acting. I was there to do a job and took pride in my work, using breathing techniques, singing and acting.
I wanted to be an actress from a very young age. I trained as a stage actress and changed my name from Monica to Nikki because I thought it sounded nicer. I was not curvaceous and didn’t have much on top — if I had a big bosom I might have got a lead role. I was once offered a “casting couch” role, but rejected it. I wasn’t going to take any role unless I got it for my acting skills.
Nikki van der Zyl did revoicing work on the Bond films from Dr No in 1962 to Moonraker in 1979. Now 77, she was born in Berlin and fled to the UK with her family in 1939. After leaving showbusiness she became a barrister and a research assistant in the House of Commons. Her new autobiography, For Your Ears Only, is published by Indepenpress, at £12.99
While I was working on Dr No, I went up to Terence Young, the director, and asked for an on-screen part as well as revoicing. He just said: “No, you wouldn’t stop traffic, Nikki”. Someone in the corner heard us and said: “I’d stop traffic for you any day of the week”. I looked round and it was Sean Connery.
From then on, if I ever had any problems I would go to Sean. I knew Sean well. He was very straightforward. I liked him and between filming scenes, he taught me to play golf.
When they started shooting Goldfinger, I was asked to be dialogue coach to Gert Fröbe, who played the villain Auric Goldfinger, as we were both from Germany and I spoke German. Of course, half of my family had been killed in the Holocaust and the other half had had to leave, so I wanted to know what he and his family did during the war before I agreed. Gert told me that they helped hide a Jewish family, at great risk. After that, I thought, fair enough, and agreed to coach him for three months on the set.
Goldfinger’s my favourite Bond film. In the famous scene where Bond is tied to the table with a laser about to cut him in two, Bond says: Do you expect me to talk?” Goldfinger replies: No, Mr Bond, I expect you to die”. Gert delivered the line fairly dramatically at first, but I told him it would be more effective if he said it in a throwaway manner, which he does in the film.
Sometimes we would speak in English and other times in German. Gert was a very quick learner but they ended up revoicing him. In my opinion, he didn’t need it.
He was absolutely hilarious and good friends with Sean. The three of us would often go to lunch in the restaurant at Pinewood Studios and Gert always made us laugh — he could have been a comedian. One of the nicest memories I have was when they were filming the final scene in Goldfinger, when Gert and Sean were fighting on the plane.
I was taking photos and the director suddenly yelled: “Cut! Nikki’s taking photos of you”. So Sean said: “Let’s take a nice photo”, and they stopped in the middle of the scene and posed for me.
Frankly, I was one of the major contributors to the James Bond films and that has never been acknowledged. I got paid but was never invited to the film premieres or parties. I’ve certainly never understood why they never credited me.
I haven’t seen Skyfall in the cinema but might see it when it comes out on TV. The way I’ve been treated doesn’t make me want to spend any money on the films.
I have no regrets apart from being sorry they never gave me a better part after I became known for my revoicing skills. I was going to be a very good actress. But I don’t look back, I look forward.