A beautiful interview with Sean Connery from back in the ’90s about his defining role as 007 James Bond.
When Pierce Brosnan resuscitated the Bond series back in the ’90s, with Goldeneye and Tomorrow Never Dies, the rumours were flying around that Sean Connery would make a return to the series. Not as Bond, however, but as James Bond’s father. Or perhaps even a villain.
The Bond camp had slyly alluded to it, Brosnan was hopeful, and fans rejoiced at the news of the unique casting twist.
“I hear about my supposed return every year now,” Connery confessed.
“There have been no overtures made to me. I would certainly consider it. I don’t know if I could avoid it, really.”
“But, quite frankly,” he added with his characteristic wry grin and raised arched eyebrow, ” I don’t think they could afford me.”
Connery defined the 007 role, but his ability to transcend it took much longer than expected. As a result, Connery has always held a love/hate relationship with his infamous alter ego.
It did make him a worldwide superstar and was the biggest break of his career. But when Bondmania swept the globe in the mid-’60s, Connery was trapped in the eye of the storm, which had taken on Beatleesque proportions.
In fact, James Bond and the Beatles were the two biggest pop-culture icons to emerge from that decade. “And there were four of them to kick it around,” he joked, admitting it took years for him to recover.
Born to humble beginnings, Thomas Sean Connery grew up in a poor and rugged part of Edinburgh near a rubber mill and a brewery. “The place smelled of rubber and hops,” remembered Connery.
His father worked 12 hours a day at the mill, and his work ethic rubbed off on his son. ” ll ‘s blind allegiance, in a way. Therefore I couldn’t wait to go to work.”
Shortly after his brother Neil was born, nine-year-old Sean began rising at six a.m. to deliver milk before going to school. It was wartime, and while his father worked in a munitions factory in Glasgow, Sean was doing his part to keep the family afloat.
Connery said he recalls life being “disruptive.” Still, he managed to see a few movies on Saturdays, trading jam jars and beer bottles, he said, for tokens to the local movie house. He says he loved Flash Gordon, The Three Stooges and American cowboy flicks.
He dropped out of school at age 13 and joined the Navy at 16. Stomach ulcers – which he blames on his inability to deal with discipline -got him discharged at 19. After attending a British Legion training school, he became a furniture polisher, which led to a job polishing coffins.
In 1955, while working in a London newspaper printing plant, he joined a bodybuilding club. His six-foot-two stature and rugged good looks got him jobs as a swimsuit model. When he entered the Mr Universe competition the same year, he was invited to audition for the touring company of “South Pacific.”
Connery wound up in the male chorus, going from town to town singing “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” he recalled with a laugh. He graduated to a small speaking part and, on the road, made up for lost school time. Connery hit the local library and read into a tape recorder every day for a year in virtually every town.
Back in London, he immersed himself in theatre by studying at the Old Vic.
He applied himself to repertory theatre and television work, making a mark for himself in a BBC presentation of “Requiem for a Heavyweight.” Then came a role opposite Claire Bloom in Anna Karenina.
He signed with 20th Century Fox and appeared with Lana Turner and Barry Sullivan in Another Time, Another Place. He had just played a vicious killer in Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure when he got a call from two American producers-Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. This call would change his life forever.
They had acquired the rights to several of Ian Fleming’s popular James Bond novels and were interested in seeing the young Scotsman for a role in the upcoming movie.
For the role of Bond, however, the producers were considering more polished contenders, including Cary Grant, David Niven, Richard Burton, Trevor Howard, Peter Finch, James Mason, Roger Moore, and even Jimmy Stewart.
But Connery came in with that walk of his, a kind of fluid swagger that Broccoli later described as “the threatening grace of a panther on the prowl.”
Poorly dressed and with his thick Scottish burr, Connery delivered his theory of Bond, pounded the desk to make his points, and then sauntered out, leaving the two producers dumbfounded.
“I used strong and commanding movements ,” explained Connery of that fateful day. “Not with weight, but to show how Bond is always in control of a scene.” It worked. And so did his fee of only $16,500.00, compared to the other big names, which were just too big for Dr No’s $1 million budget.
Connery ran with the part, adding a blue-collar arrogance to the character written by Fleming as a more superbly efficient upper-class Brit. Connery also injected an ingredient largely alien to Fleming’s Bond: humour.
It came in the form of teases, Miss Moneypenny, the secretary of Bond’s boss being the most frequent target, and racy double entendres. In bed with yet another knockout dame in Goldfinger, Bond answers the phone and declines a dinner invitation with “something big’s come up.”
Connery’s Bond had a levity and innate cruelty but was light-footed enough to roll with the campy punches- not to mention dagger-tipped kicks and razor-edged bowler hats.
“I look for humour in whatever I’ m doing,” mused Connery, “as long as the humour fits the character and the story.” His early role models were Spencer Tracy, Cary Grant (“probably the most underrated actor to appear on screen”), Marlon Brando (“the most watchable of American actors”) and Sir Ralph Richardson. ” I adored his acting,” he said. “He always found something quite humorous in his way of doing things.”
Students of pop culture attribute the 007 phenomena to America’s need for a suave hero after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, who was himself an avid Ian Fleming fan. Not only did JFK list Thunderball as one of his favourite books back in 1960, but he even had Fleming over for dinner one night at his Georgetown residence.
On the threshold of the ’60s sexual revolution, the Beatles were taking care of the girls, but all women wanted Bond, and all men wanted to be Bond. The only exception was Connery himself.
No matter how good he was at essaying the role, he was growing increasingly worried that he would be stamped as 007 forever and was never at peace with the frenzied adulation and attention.
On one occasion-while on location in Japan shooting You Only Live Twice, Connery was at dinner. After retreating to the men’s room, he looked up from the urinal to find a photographer snapping photos of him relieving himself. For Connery, that was the last straw.
“The problem was that Bond was just so damn popular; the public only wanted to see me doing that,” Connery sighed. “All I can do now is what’s interesting and rewarding for me. To try to erase the image of Bond is next to impossible.”
Connery admitted the series became almost a straightjacket for him. The films often did not start shooting when they were supposed to, and it was impossible to get a completion date. Connery never knew when he might be free to make a non-Bond movie. And he desperately wanted to.
“For me, what became wrong with the Bond films was that they just got further and further into the technological stuff and science fiction stuff, which was not very interesting for me,” admitted Connery…And they kind of lost the plot in terms of having some sort of story.”
But if he had to pick his favourite James Bond film? ” I guess I’d have to say From Russia With Love, heavy on intrigue and light on technology,” said Connery.
After finally ripping up his license to kill after 1971 ‘s Diamonds Are Forever, Connery returned to Bond in the competitor’s 1983 attempt Never Say Never gain, but Connery came away from the experience disheartened.
Connery said he’s constantly offered action scripts, “where it’s all action, action, action, right to the end. But my personal choice is for something much more than just that.”