Sean Connery died on October 31, 2020. He came to fame playing agent James Bond 007 in 1962. Despite appearing in about seventy films, tackling different roles and having a career spanning over forty years, it would be his performance as the smooth secret agent that he would forever be best known for.
I thought it would be fun to take a look at Connery’s life and career, but with less a rudimentary abridged glance than most articles had done about him when he died last year.
I wanted to do a bit more than just a cursory run-through of his most famous films. He did a lot of other films than the ones that would become the most popular fan favorites. He would often take chances with his choices. Sometimes they worked, other times they didn’t. I wanted to look at his career trajectory. Connery literally had a rags to riches story from his humble and destitute beginnings in Edinburgh to becoming one of the most famous film stars in the world.
He was also well known as being one of the most litigious movie stars ever. He filed so many lawsuits to get what he felt was money he rightfully earned from films it’s almost impossible to keep track of. I would still love to find a list of lawsuits he was involved in. There’s also some of the alleged behind the scenes stories and gossip about the man and the productions he worked on.
I had previously done an extensive look at the career of Raquel Welch (‘Raquel Welch – Her Career, Being Difficult & Some Gossip), so this is something similar.
I enjoy diving a bit deeper than usual bullet point rundown of an actor. So hopefully all this will be a fun read for Connery fans. At the very least, you might discover a few anecdotes about Connery that you might not know. Yes, we all know he played James Bond, but how did he end up in Zardoz?
So here’s my look at Sean Connery’s life, his career, his early years, the heights of fame from James Bond he reached, the shadow of 007 that would follow him, trying to break away from 007 and being lured back, his high salary demands and aging into older roles, along with some other things.
Because of the exhaustive length of this blog post, I’ve broken it down into sections of Connery’s films and sections to help navigate it. Enjoy!
HIS EARLY LIFE / A NAVY MAN / BODYBUIDLING / DISCOVERING ACTING
HIS PRE-BOND CAREER / STAGE / TELEVISION / VENTURING INTO FILM
STARRING WITH LANA TURNER AND BEATING UP HER GANGSTER BOYFRIEND / SINGING FOR DISNEY / HIS FIRST MARRIAGE
DR. NO (1962) / FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963)
WOMAN OF STRAW / MARNIE / GOLDFINGER (1964)
THE HILL / THUNDERBALL (1965) / THE NOTORIOUS 1965 PLAYBOY INTERVIEW
A FINE MADNESS (1966) / BROTHER NEIL IN O.K. CONNERY aka OPERATION KID BROTHER (1967)
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967) – LEAVING 007 BEHIND
DIRECTING THE BOWLER & THE BUNNET (1967) / SHALAKO (1968) / THE RED TENT (1969)
THE 1970’s BEGIN / THE MOLLY MAGUIRES (1970) / THE ANDERSON TAPES (1971)
THE RETURN TO BOND IN DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER (1971) / THE OFFENCE (1973)
ZARDOZ / THE TERRORISTS / MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS (1974)
THE WIND AND THE LION / THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING (1975)
ROBIN AND MARIAN / THE NEXT MAN / ‘CIRCASIA’ (1976)
A BRIDGE TOO FAR (1977) / THE GREAT TRAIN ROBBERY (1978)
METEOR / CUBA (1979)
OUTLAND / TIME BANDITS (1981)
WRONG IS RIGHT / FIVE DAYS ONE SUMMER (1982)
NEVER SAY NEVER AGAIN (1983) / THE LAST RETURN TO 007/ THE SWORD OF THE VALIANT (1984)
A BIG PAYDAY FOR HIGHLANDER / THE NAME OF THE ROSE (1986)
THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987) / WINNING HIS OSCAR / THE PRESIDIO / A CAMEO IN MEMORIES OF ME (1988)
INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE / PEOPLE MAGAZINE’S SEXIEST MAN OF THE YEAR / FAMILY BUSINESS (1989)
THE HUNT FOR RED OCTOBER / THE RUSSIA HOUSE (1990)
RETURNING FOR HIGHLANDER II: THE QUICKENING, A BIG PAYDAY & A CHAOTIC PRODUCTION / A CAMEO IN ROBIN HOOD: PRINCE OF THIEVES (1991)
MEDICINE MAN (1992) / RISING SUN (1993) & THE CONTROVERSY / THE SMALL FILM A GOOD MAN IN AFRICA (1994)
UNKNOWINGLY SIGNED FOR JUST CAUSE – FIRST KNIGHT (1995) MAKING RICHARD GERE CRY
LENDING HIS VOICE TO DRAGONHEART / SCORING BIG WITH THE ROCK (1996)
PLAYING BAD IN THE AVENGERS (1998) & BOMBING BIG / PART OF THE ENSEMBLE IN THE SMALL FILM PLAYING BY HEART (1998)
PRODUCING & STARRING IN THE HIT ENTRAPMENT (1999) / FINDING FORRESTER (2000)
THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY GENTLEMEN / FEUDING WITH THE DIRECTOR / A TROUBLED PRODUCTION LEADING TO HIS RETIREMENT
CANCELLED FILM PROJECT / FEUDING WITH HIS NEW YORK NEIGHBOR
BEING HONORED / HIS AUTOBIOGRAPHY ‘BEING A SCOT’ / ABUSE ALLEGATIONS
THE VOICE OF SIR BILLI / INVESTIGATION OF PROPERTY FRAUD / DEATH
HIS EARLY LIFE – A NAVY MAN – BODYBUILDING – DISCOVERING ACTING
Thomas Sean Connery, named after his grandfather, was born in Edinburgh Scotland on August 25, 1930. Born to Joseph Connery, a Scots-Irish truck driver and factory worker and his wife Euphamia a laundress.
When he was a baby, his crib was a bottom drawer in a bureau. He was called ‘Tommy’ in school. He had one brother Neil, who was eight years younger. He grew up in a neighborhood known as ‘the street of a thousand smells’.
“We were very poor, but I never knew how poor because that’s how everyone was there.”
In 1939, Britain went to war with Germany. Connery’s first job was at the age of nine helping a milk delivery man in Edinburgh. He would wake at six in the morning and do the job before going to school. One of the places he delivered milk to was Fettes College, the elite institution from which James Bond was meant to have been expelled from. Connery’s meager earnings helped the family get by while his father worked in a munitions factory during WWII.
As he grew up he got the nickname ‘Big Tam’, because of his size and his ability to beat up most of his playmates. His love for his home country would be passion for him throughout his life. “I lived and worked around the world and have family in Scotland, America and France. I go back to Scotland regularly to work with the Scottish International Education Trust. Scotland is my home and emotionally I’ve never left.”
Connery quit school when he was thirteen and began working full time. He recollected, “The war was on, so my whole education time was a wipeout. I had no qualifications at all for any job, and unemployment has always been very high in Scotland anyway, so you take what you get.”
“In those days it was never a question of one’s ambitions. It was the struggle of going from day to day that counted.”
The poor conditions of his early life molded his well-known frugalness later in his career. He was meticulous about getting the money he had earned from him films and would be very vocal if he was cheated. Often times he would file lawsuits to get compensated to what he was promised. If anyone attempted to shortchange him, Connery would not stay quiet about it.
In 1993 he revealed to Vanity Fair that “his first sexual experience” took place during WWII. At age 14 he was picked up by an older woman from the Armed Territorial Service and was whisked off to an Edinburgh air-raid shelter by her. “I couldn’t believe my good fortune”, he remembered. “I remember the fantastic heat. She was hot all here.“, as he pointed to his abdomen. “The heat was immense.”
Before pursuing a career in acting Connery had joined the Royal Navy at age sixteen and signed for seven years. This was also the time when Connery got two tattoos. One with a heart through it saying ‘Scotland Forever’ and a bird with a scroll in its mouth that read ‘Mom and Dad’. He barely made it to half the years of his enlistment when he was discharged for a duodenal ulcer.
After leaving the Navy he worked as a lorry driver, a lifeguard, a cement mixer, a steel bender, a laborer and a coffin polisher in the East Lothian town of Haddington. His job as a coffin polisher elicited this one article saying that after work Connery would go out for an evening at a local dance hall, if he missed the bus back to Edinburgh he would be forced to sleep in one of the coffins. Is that true or not, I’m not sure.
In his off time he participated in a weightlifting club, which led to a bodybuilding stint that began at age eighteen.
Years later, he admitted his initial attraction to bodybuilding, “was not so much to be fit, but to look good for the girls.”
“I don’t know when I first envisioned myself as a sort of muscle-boy, a Scottish Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it must have been in my mid-teens. Teenagers are very conscious of their bodies anyway, and the rugged jobs I’d held helped build up those muscles.”
At 6’2 weighing 200 pounds, Connery would go on to compete in the 1953 Mr. Universe contest. His official website lists the year as 1950, but most sources say it was 1953. Whatever the year, he came in third in the competition.
Thanks to his impressive physique he worked as a nude artist model in the Edinburgh College of Arts “to make ends meet” he would later say. He earned six and eight pence (about forty-six cents in U.S. dollars) an hour to stand stationary and be given a fifteen minute break.
Decades later Connery spoke of his early bodybuilding period and reveled he felt the weakest part of his body was his calves.
It would be through one of his bodybuilding competitors that Connery learned of auditions for a stage production of South Pacific in London. He decided to try out for the job.
Connery assured the director he could sing and dance and spent the next 48 hours taking lessons to be able to at least show off some of those talents. He landed a small part in the play he said mainly by his ability of performing handsprings. “No one else could do them” he would later say, and his acting career began in 1953.
At the time he viewed a role in the musical as just another job. According to one story when he was offered the job his first question was “What’s the wage?”
The producer replied, “It really doesn’t concern me.” To which Connery shot back, “Well, it concerns me!”
The wage was apparently good enough for him to take the job. It was then he chose his stage name as ‘Sean Connery’. One story is that he settled on the name not just because Sean was his middle name, but the name also reminded him of his favorite movie hero, Shane that was played by Alan Ladd.
During a party for the King’s Theatre production of South Pacific in 1954 he would meet fellow actor Michael Caine. The two would remain good friends through Connery’s life.
He recalled in 1993, ”I was so impressed by actors and how articulate they were. How much they seemed to know about everything. I was impressed by most people I met. I was impressed by people that could express themselves. I had no confidence in terms of intellect at all because I’d had absolutely no exposure to it.”
An interview while promoting Entrapment in 1999, Connery talks about his early years
One story that was printed in a press release for Outland about Connery’s humble beginnings, was around this time his mother was told by a door-to-door soothsayer that she had a son who would one day be very famous.
“That’ll be the day.” his mother supposedly replied.
Connery later recalled, “The very fact that I didn’t have anything made it easier, because I didn’t have anything to lose.”
While he was on tour with South Pacific Connery played on a football team. He had been playing football in a semi-professional Scottish club and attracted the attention of a manager from Manchester United who was scouting for the team. Connery was offered a 25 pound-a-week contract. Connery turned down the offer later saying, “I really wanted to accept because I loved football. But I realized that a top-class footballer could be over the hill by the age of 30, and i was already 23.”
Around this time was a story about Connery’s toughness. While working backstage at a theater in Edinburgh he was approached by six Valdor gang members who tried to steal his jacket. Connery held his ground, cracked two of their heads together and afterwards gained the gangs respect and they never gave him any trouble after that.
“I grew up with no notion of a career, much less acting. I certainly never have plotted it out. It was all happenstance, really.”
CONNERY’S PRE-BOND CAREER
While 18 months touring in South Pacific, Connery lost some of his Scottish accent. He later claimed other actors first thought he was Polish. A fellow American actor in the cast Robert Henderson, gave him a reading program that included all the plays of George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde and Henrik Ibsen, along with the novels of Thomas Wolfe, Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past and Joyce’s Ulysses.
He said in 1992, “I spent my ‘South Pacific’ tour in every library in Britain, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. And on the nights we were dark, I’d see every play I could. But it’s the books, the reading, that can change one’s life. I’m the living evidence.”
After leaving South Pacific, Connery ventured into straight acting, mostly provincial productions and fringe theatres in London’s suburbs. Taking advice from a castmate Connery began an autodidactic education to improve his acting. He attended acting, dancing and movement classes under the tutelage of Swedish dancer Yat Malmgren.
The influence from Malmgren would be a major component of Connery’s performances throughout his career. The movement studies would be a particular element he would often focus on. In 1993 Connery said, “The dance, to me, is all-important. The place where you stand, how you use your space, is the number-one priority. How you stand in relation to other people in scenes, how you dance with them – that’s what it’s all about.”
Work as an actor was not easy to find. In an interview with the Saturday Evening Post in 1964 Connery described this time as “my Too Period. I was too tall or too big, too Scottish or too Irish, too young or too old.”
One unusual story around this time was allegedly between Connery and actress Anna Neagle. According to the story he lost a role from an early 1950s stage production when he made a pass at Neagle who was the shows star., Neagle was in her late 40s and nearly thirty years his senior at the time.
Extra work in film and television would soon follow. He would find bit and supporting parts. He supposedly appears somewhere in 1955’s Lilacs In The Spring, which is listed as ‘film debut’. He was a welder in Time Lock, a small-time gangster in No Road Back and a trucker in Hell Drivers.
Connery played Van Johnson’s drunkish first mate ‘Mike’ in Action of The Tiger. The film would mark the first time he would be directed by Terence Young. Co-star Martine Carol was not very impressed with her leading man Johnson. She supposedly said about Connery, “This boy should be playing the lead instead of Van Johnson. This man has big star quality.”
Young was not happy with the film. He described it as “a terrible film. Very badly directed, very badly acted – it was not a good picture. But Sean was impressive in it.” Young recalled after filming Connery asked him, “Sir, am I going to be a success?” Young said, “Not after this picture, you’re not. But, can you swim?” Connery said, “Yes. But what’s that got to with it?”. Young told him, “Well, you’d better keep swimming until I can get you a proper job and make up for what I did this time.”
Connery also managed a brief appearance on The Jack Benny Show in 1957. It’s often written that Connery has a small part in the 1958 film A Night To Remember. It is not true, Connery does not appear in the film.
Connery began losing his hair in his late teens. Almost from the start of his acting career he would often wear hair pieces for his performances to hide his premature baldness.
In 1957 he was cast in the leading role in ‘Blood Money’, a BBC reworking of Rod Serling’s ‘Requiem for a Heavyweight’ titled ‘Blood Money’, in which Connery portrayed a boxer whose career is in decline.
Jack Palance was originally asked to reprise the role from the American television version. However, because of contractual obligations – and a story that said Palance simply refused to travel to London – a new actor was needed to be cast in the lead role of Mountain McClintock
The producer Alvin Rakoff’s wife Jacqueline Hill suggested the casting of Connery. “The ladies will like him,” she said.
Oddly enough, this wouldn’t be the last time someone’s wife would be won over by his appearance and have an influence on Connery’s hiring for a role. Cubby Broccoli’s wife would share similar sentiments to her husband when he was being considered for the role of James Bond.
Blood Money was a hit and got good notices for Connery’s performance. After watching it Connery’s father was reported to have said, “My heavens, that was smashing!”
The program was broadcast live and for decades it was believed that no recording of it was ever made and Connery’s performance was lost. A young Michael Caine also had a small role in it. It wasn’t until 2014 producer Rakoff unearthed a reel-to-reel recording that he had requested and forgotten of the program. He found it in his London home, thus there is a record of Connery’s first starring role.
Blood Money’s success brought him the opportunity to appear in the TV productions Anna Karenina and the BBC’s Age of King.
In 2010 America’s Library of Congress discovered footage of Connery in a 1960 television production of Jean Anouilh’s ‘Colombe’. There was thought to be no record of the program. Also, a copy of Anna Karenina made in 1961, which was also believed to be lost, was found in 2010.
I find it amazing how so many early television programs were not thought worth the time to archive and persevere. It’s amazing to consider how much of early television has been lost just for the fact that no one thought there would be any interest in watching them after their initial broadcasts. It’s only through good fortune old copies of some are found, usually decades after they were first broadcast.
Around this time, Connery met a young rising actress by the name of Shelley Winters. They had a romance that would continue through the course of a few years. Winters allegedly said that Connery, “was the best lover I ever had”.
His performance in Blood Money having gained him a lot of attention and acclaim, Hollywood took notice of him. In 1957, Connery signed a seven-year contract with 20th Century-Fox. Connery later described his unhappiness with the contract with the studio – “it didn’t work out the way I had hoped. In fact, it proved to be a marriage of disaster.”
Connery would be cast in a series of second-rate films. Connery later described it as, “a man walking through a swamp in a bad dream”. However, his Bond director Terence Young would later say this period was crucial for Connery’s career. “He was on the garbage heap of acting, but it gave him what he needed most: craft. He did everything: hoofing, movies, Shakespeare, TV, legitimate theater, everything. But it also made him somewhat bitter. The stories one hears now about his big head, his standing people up and the rest, they are the actions of a man having the last laugh.”
STARRING WITH LANA TURNER AND BEATING UP HER GANGSTER BOYFRIEND – SINGING FOR DISNEY – HIS FIRST MARRIAGE
Connery was loaned out by Fox to make his first major role in the 1958 melodrama Another Time, Another Place starring opposite Lana Turner. It was during filming a famed behind-the-scenes story took place that demonstrates Connery didn’t merely play a tough guy on screen, but in fact could handle himself in real life.
Turner’s boyfriend at the time was mob bodyguard Johnny Stompanato, who suspected Connery and her were having an affair while filming. He threatened to either kill or disfigure her. Stompanato flew to England, stormed onto the set at the moment Turner and Connery were filming an intimate scene on a couch. Stompanato walked into the frame, pointed a gun at Connery and told him to take his hands off Turner.
Connery grabbed Stompanato’s wrist, twisted it until the gun came loose and decked him to the floor with one punch. Unfortunately, no footage of the incident exists.
Turner called Scotland Yard to escort Stompanato from the set and he was deported for breaking England’s gun laws.
This incident would later cause Connery some problems.
On April 4, 1958 Lana Turner’s 13-year-old daughter killed Stompanato with a carving knife after he attacked her mother. It became a very high profile Hollywood scandal. The public were gripped by the trial and headlines.
In 1959, Connery landed a lead role in Walt Disney’s Production of Darby O’Gill and the Little People. It was his first trip to America to shoot the film. It was bad timing.
After his death, Stompanato’s personal letters to Turner were published in the press. Some of the letters mentioned his feelings about Connery, not liking how he was spending time with Turner and her daughter, them going out to London vaudeville shows and his suspicions they were having an affair.
Mickey Cohen, the famed mob boss, was close with Stompanato and vowed revenge on anyone who had anything to do with his former bodyguard’s death. Seeing the letters implicating Connery did not sit well with him.
Connery was staying at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel. Depending on which version the story you hear, Connery either got a call directly from Cohen ordering him to “Get your ass outta town.” OR one of his henchman relaying the message, “Get out of town or a contract will be put on your life”. Either way, the message was conveyed that Connery was looking at trouble if he stayed around.
Unsure of how serious the threat was, under the advice of Disney executives Connery checked out of the hotel and moved to a cheaper Bel Air Palms Motel in the San Fernando Valley until things quieted down.
In 1983, Connery told Rolling Stone about the incident, “I didn’t know what I was dealing with, and I didn’t see any point in discussing it.”
Let’s get back to Connery making a sweet Walt Disney film about Leprechauns and it being his first experience to filmmaking in Hollywood. He recalled, “I could never get over these fantastic breakfasts out on the ranch, with the bacon and the eggs and the tomatoes and the toast and everything.” Having endured rationing for so many years, “I used to eat hundreds and sandwiches and hamburgers, hot dogs.”
The most notable thing about Darby O’Gill now is watching a young Connery do a bit of singing. Director Robert Stevenson considered dubbing another singer over Connery’s voice, but eventually decided against it. So, Connery himself can be heard singing the song ‘Pretty Irish Girl’.
The next several years Connery went back and forth between film and television work. He gave performances on BBC Television in Adventure Story and played the title role in Macbeth.
In 1959 Connery co-starred as a sadistic hunter in Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure. Connery is actually quite fun to watch in it playing bad. He was paid $5,600 for the role.
The producers were so impressed with him they later wanted to cast him as the new Tarzan. They ended getting to him too late. By the time, they got to asking him to play Tarzan he had already signed on for Dr. No. Not knowing how ‘this James Bond’ film would pan out and what lie ahead for him, he apologized he wasn’t able to do their film, but reassured them, “But I’ll do your film next.”
He never did.
Connery soon landed larger roles in 1961’s crime drama The Frightened City and was part of a comic duo in the 1961 military comedy On The Fiddle starring alongside Alfred Lynch.
It’s kind of surreal to see Connery playing in a silly comedy going for laughs. The trailer proclaims ‘A Great New Screen Team!’ It makes me wonder what Connery’s career might’ve been had he and Lynch become a dynamic successful comic team and went on to do more comedies together.
Comedian Alan King co-starred in the film and would reteam with Connery’s ten years later in The Anderson Tapes. In 1988 Connery agreed to do a cameo playing himself in King’s 1988 comedy/drama Memories of Me.
When Connery hit it big as James Bond On The Fiddle was re-released, but this time it was given a new title – Operation Snafu. Not surprisingly, it played up Connery. It was marketed less as a comedy, given a more of a ‘Bondian’ allure and was made to look more like an espionage thriller. One look at the poster for Operation Snafu and you can easily see the studio was trying to profit off of the ‘James Bond Craze’ with Connery’s earlier film.
Connery capped off his pre-Bond career with a small part in 1962’s large scale war film The Longest Day. Connery has a very small role as a Private Flanagan.
Connery supposedly asked if his scenes could be shot quickly so he could get to Jamaica in time to film Dr. No. According to director Ken Anakin, Darryl F. Zanuck took a dislike to Connery. It was claimed he said about Connery, “That Limey mumbles his lines and he looks like a slob!”
On November 30, 1962 Connery marred Australian actress Diane Cilento. They had met in 1956 during a production of Eugene O’Neill’s play Anna Christie. Client would later be nominated for an Oscar for her performance in 1963’s Tom Jones.
Initially, she said she wasn’t attracted to him, feeling that he had an enormous chip on his shoulder, but over time they developed a friendship with each other, which gradually led to romance. She brought two children from her previous marriage and together they had one son, Jason born in 1963.
Connery supposedly landed a lead role in the film El Cid, but turned it down when Cliento caught tuberculosis, so he could look after her.
One amusing remembrance by friend and actor Robert Hardy about the couple was how Cliento introduced off-beat alternative therapies to her new husband.
Hardy recalled visiting them in London and they had a large box upstairs. It resembled a coffin standing on end and was lined in zinc. Each morning Diane and Sean would take turns to get inside. It was, they said, supposed to help concentrate their energies and they both swore by it.
Connery and Cilento would divorce in 1973.
“I like women. I don’t understand them, but I like them.”
Dr. No (1962)
It would be his meeting with Albert ‘Cubby’ Broccoli and Harry Saltzman in 1961 that would dramatically change Connery’s career and life forever.
Broccoli and Saltzman had teamed and created Eon Productions and were about to bring Ian Fleming’s James Bond to life on movie screens. All they needed was the actor for the part.
While perhaps not looking exactly like a polished secret agent, Connery oozed enough confidence and masculinity to impress the producers.
Connery told his acting teacher Malmgren a few days before his interview with the producers, “I shall establish myself on Overpowering and take the interview like that. That would be a good thing, don’t you think sir?” Malmgren agreed and added the advice that Connery ought to be “thinking about cat animals” during the proceedings because “they are very loose”. Connery recalled, “I put on a bit of an act, and it paid off.”
Broccoli would later say, “Connery walked into our office and had a strength and energy about him I found riveting.” Slatzman echoed the impressed sentiment about first meeting Connery and said, “Cubby and I went through, I’d say over 200 actors. I liked the way he moved and the fact he had a lot of acting experience. But he moves extremely well.”
Saltzman said, “He’s got balls. In thirty minutes he sold us both.” Broccoli agreed, “It was the sheer self-confidence he exuded. I’ve never seen a surer guy…it wasn’t just an act, either. When he left we watched him through the window as he walked down the street. He described how he watched Connery “striding like a panther”. “He walked like the most arrogant son-of-a-gun you’ve ever seen – as if he owned every bit of Jermyn Street from Regent Street to St. James’s. ‘That’s our Bond’, I said.”
The difference between the other actors who had tried out for the part and Connery, Broccoli later said, was like “comparing a still photograph with a film.”
It was also Broccoli’s wife Dana who reenforced the sentiment after watching Connery in Darby O’Gill. She reassured her husband that Connery did have the magnetism and sex appeal for the part of James Bond.
The $1 million budgeted film had its James Bond. Connery was paid $16,5000 and signed for a six-picture contract. On November 3, 1961 Connery was announced as the first actor to play secret agent James Bond 007 – and to this day many maintain the best one.
It was Bond creator Ian Fleming that would take convincing about the casting of Connery. Fleming was not impressed, feeling he was too raw and unrefined. He referred to him as “that working class Scot” with none of the social graces to play 007. Like Broccoli’s wife, Flemings’ girlfriend Blanche Blackwell assured him that Connery had the sexual charisma needed for the character. Fleming was unconvinced. Even going so far as telling the producers, “I’m looking for Commander Bond, not an overgrown stunt-man.”
Dr. No director Terence Young schooled Connery in the ways of sophistication that the role of James Bond demanded. Young imbued his own elegant style onto the actor, schooling him in fine wine and menus and took him to a tailor for fitted suits. Then he famously ordered Connery to sleep in them to get comfortable wearing them.
Connery would always give Young credit for the creation of the cinematic James Bond. “Terence’s contributions were enormous because he was always a great bon vivant. He was very much up on the latest shirts and blazers and was very elegant himself – whether he had money or not – and all the clubs and that kind of establishment. He also understood what looked good – the right cut of suits and all that stuff, which I must say was not that particularly interesting for me. But he got me a rack of clothes and, as they say, could get me to look convincingly dangerous in the act of playing it.”
Connery made the character his own, blending elegance, ruthlessness and sardonic wit. The films were a hit from the start and became bigger in scope and success as they continued. Bondmania would rule the 1960s and James Bond would be a dominant force throughout the decade.
Fleming’s skepticism of Connery eventually would be won over in spades. While Dr. No was filming Fleming was writing ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’. In the book it is revealed that Bond’s father is Scottish. Connery’s portrayal of the character influenced his creator. Bond says in the book ‘The Man With the Golden Gun’, “I am a Scottish peasant and I always feel at home being a Scottish peasant.’ That line sounds like it could’ve been said by Connery describing himself at any point during his life.
Also starring Ursula Andress, Joseph Wiseman and Jack Lord, Dr. No was a success and would prove even more popular when the sequel was released.
Connery helped define the cinematic ‘James Bond’, was a vital element in making the films a worldwide phenomenon and he became one of the most popular actors in the world.
“People used to call me Bond in the street. It was impossible to avoid crowds of people all over the place and blinding flashguns. The Beatles had to run the gauntlet as well, but at least there were four of them!”
It would be undoubtedly the role that defined him and he would be most remembered for. When he died every article about his death would inevitably have the name ‘James Bond’ in its first paragraph. Yet, his worldwide fame was said to have not changed him. Director Terence Young once said, “There are only two great stars in my recollection who have not been changed by great massive success: Sean Connery and Lassie, and both of them Scottish.”
During the 1960’s while enjoying his success that Bond brought him, Connery resisted being hampered by just being 007. He used his fame to branch out as much as he could from the elegant secret agent to other roles and challenges.
At the time he appeared happy with his contract as Bond. During a promotional tour he was doing for Dr. No he’s quoted as saying, “I have a non-exclusive contract and I am required to make a Bond only every fourteen months.”
“I’m grateful to [Dr.No] for giving my career a lift like this, but I must be careful not to get too typed.” He added, he wanted to make “a completely different type of film.”
From Russia With Love (1963)
Thanks to the success of Dr. No a second James Bond film was greenlit. United Artists doubled the budget to $2 million. It also approved a bonus for Connery, receiving $100,000, on top of his $54,000 salary.
The popularity of the character was clear.
James Bond comes into the crosshairs of an evil organization called SPECTRE. Bond is lured by a beautiful agent to steal a secret decoding device while his enemies have a plan for his demise. Also starring Daniela Biachi, Robert Shaw, Lotte Lenya and Pedro Armendaiz, From Russia With Love was an even bigger hit than its predecessor.
Connery was paid four times his amount on Dr. No for From Russia With Love. Connery’s career was not only on the rise, but so were the Bond films. The second film would end up doubling Dr. No’s worldwide gross. It would earn even more money when it was reissued. The early Bond films would be re-released or released on double bills throughout the 1960s.
The popularity of the character was clear. James Bond looked to bring even more successful films and earn more money as they continued. Connery’s popularity was going to rise with it.
In an interview from 1963 Connery told a reporter while promoting From Russian With Love, “There’s not much of James Bond in me. The only real difficulty I found in playing Bond was that I had to start from scratch.”
Connery would say From Russia With Love was his favorite James Bond film he had made.
“I’ll be honest with you,” he once said. “There’s not much of James Bond in me.”
“I don’t suppose I’d really like Bond if I met him,” he added. “He’s a man who makes his own rules. That’s fine so long as you’re not plagued with doubts. But if you are — and most of us are — you’re sunk.”
Woman Of Straw (1964)
In 1964 Connery starred as a scheming greedy nephew in the crime thriller Woman of Straw with Gina Lollobrigida.
Connery was greatly impressed working with Ralph Richardson, who played his uncle. He later described Richardson as his favorite actor. On the other hand, he had very different feelings about Lollobrigida.
The ‘behind-the-scenes’ stories of the production is that Connery and Lollobrigida did not get along at all. Connery, known for his disciplined, detailed approach, resented Lollobrigida’s temperament, her late arrivals on the set and her insistence on trying to shape the production.
The National Enquirer reveled in relating on-set clashes between the two. Describing Connery erupting after Lollobrigida took to second-guessing director Basil Dearden. The magazine quoted Connery thusly, “Either he’s directing the picture or you are. If it’s you I may not be in it.” The tabloid added that a slap in the face the script had Connery deliver to Lollobrigida was harder than it had to be.
One supposed tidbit of trivia about Woman of Straw is about the white tuxedo Connery wears in one scene. One source said it was the same tuxedo Connery wears in the pre-credits sequence of Goldfinger. Supposedly it has the initials ‘AR’ sewn on the inside, which stands for his character’s name ‘Anthony Richmond’ in Woman of Straw. I’m not sure of the accuracy of this story, but I’m just adding it. Perhaps a James Bond expert on the clothing can confirm it.
Woman of Straw did poorly at the U.S. box office with a gross of $2.9 million. In later years, Connery expressed disappointment at the films critical and box office failure. He believed that the poor story let the film down.
A promotional newsreel about the filming of Woman in Straw in Majorca an island off Spain with stars Connery and Lollobrigida taking in the sights of of the picturesque area. Connery can be seen with his new wife Diane. Based on this newsreel you wouldn’t think there was tension between Sean and Gina.
Connery did have happier film shoots at this time. Knowing that Connery was anxious to work with Alfred Hitchcock, Eon hoping to make him happy worked to make it happen, thus he was cast in Hitchcock’s 1964’s Marnie.
Initially Connery’s introduction to Hitchcock didn’t go very well. Connery had asked to read the script before he accepted the role, but Hitchcock felt it was sufficient that Grace Kelly was going to come out of retirement to do the the film. I suppose in Hitchcock’s opinion that alone should have made him happy enough to do the film. Yet, Connery was concerned about being typecast as a spy and wasn’t eager to do a variation of North By Northwest.
Hitch acquiesced and sent the script to Connery. The draw of Marnie being a return of Grace Kelly was short-lived. It ended up that the heads of Europe had decreed it was unbecoming that Princess Grace of Monaco would star in a motion picture. Kelly was replaced by Tippi Hedren. Connery signed up for the film and was paid $300,000.
Once filming began Connery said he and Hitchcock had a great time working with one another. He remembered, “The only major direction about acting he gave me on the film, however, was when I was listening to what somebody else was saying in a scene, and he pointed out that I was listening with my mouth open – as I often do – and he thought it would look better shut.”
In 1979 Connery honored Hitchcock at the American Film Institute’s Life Achievement Award: A Tribute to Alfred Hitchcock. Hitch was said to have not recognized Connery because he didn’t have any hair.
Hedren has said after Marnie many people would ask her what it was like to kiss Sean Connery. Her reply was, “How sexy was it? It wasn’t. It was simply technical. It was totally technical.”
Double-features of Dr. No and From Russia With Love were successful and pulled even more money and buzz for James Bond.
Also starring Honor Blackman, Shirley Eaton, Gert Frobe, Goldfinger would be a bigger hit in every way possible. A distinctive theme song by Shirley Bassey, extravagant sets, a gadget-filled Aston Martin, Goldfinger became an iconic film almost immediately.
Connery had to learn golf for a scene in Goldfinger. He ended up falling in love with the game and it became a part of his life. “I began to see golf as a metaphor for living, for in golf you are basically on your own, competing against yourself and always trying to do better. If you cheat, you will the loser, because you are cheating yourself.”
In 1993, he said his handicap floats somewhere between 8 and 12.
In an interview with Pete Hamill in the Saturday Evening Post at the time, Connery was asked about his sudden success, he said, “Nobody is more surprised than me, although I suppose it had to happen sooner or later.”
The article states Connery’s price per picture “has shot from $30,000 to about $300,000”.
Connery said, “I’ve been down to my last quid many more times than I care to remember. But nowadays, it’s a case of being down to my bag of rubies”.
Connery was already reluctant to discuss his private life. “My private life, or most of it, is my own business and I intend to keep it that way.”
He has said he intensely disliked intrusions by the press. “Particularly, the critical personality profiles that run in magazines and newspapers. The actors utter these inanities, then go to some movie set and pose for pictures in some mock-up kitchen. The article will then read: ‘Here’s Sean Connery, a real homebody, frying eggs in his own kitchen’.”
The interview goes on to say that press agents weren’t too happy with Connery’s resistance to play the game with journalists, yet he said he wasn’t worried about it, saying, “I just don’t have the time for all that jazz. I’ve been working continuously for a year and a half. and I don’t see why I can’t grab my relaxation where and when I can. For the first time in my life, I can ask to read a script, and if you had been in some of the tripe I have, you’d know why. If I wore hats, I think you’d find I still take the same size.”
After Goldfinger the role of Bond started to become a drag for Connery. “Well, once you had done the first two, you just moved forward because the rules were established. One wound up doing less and less as it were, because you did what you were expected to do and whatever else up to a point.
Sources reported that Connery hurt his back while filming a fight sequence with Harold Sakata (Oddjob). His injury delayed filming and some claimed that Connery used the injury as a ploy to get a better deal out of the producers for the next Bond film. After his back injury on set, Eon and Connery supposedly renegotiated his Bond deal where he would receive 5% of the gross of each Bond movie in which he starred.
“I would never deny that Bond made me, and I’ll be everlastingly grateful to him,” Connery said in 1964. “But that doesn’t make me a Bond-slave. I can cut the shackles free any time I want to. And they aren’t made of steel chains any longer, either, but smoothest silk.”
For the French premiere of Goldfinger, Connery drove an Aston Martin DB5 down the Champs-Elysées. The crowds were enormous. At one point a woman managed to get into the car with Connery. After the chaotic premiere where he was mobbed, Connery was apprehensive about attending James Bond film premieres.
The increased budget for Goldfinger wasn’t a worry. Goldfinger recouped it’s entire cost within two weeks of release and became one of the most successful films of 1964. It grossed $125 million on a $3 million budget.
“I suppose more than anything else, I’d like to be an old man with a good face. Like Hitchcock. Or Picasso. They’ve worked hard all their lives, but there’s nothing weary about them. They never wasted a day with the sort of nonsense that clutters up a life. They know that life is not just a bloody popularity contest.”
The Hill (1965)
In 1965 Connery took off his toupee and starred in Sidney Lumet’s drama The Hill, which he played a prisoner in a British prison in the Libyan desert. He had said he took the role specifically because it was such a dramatic change from James Bond. “It is only because of my reputation as Bond that the backers put up the money for The Hill.”
Lumet had said before filming began he warned Connery, “I’m going to make brutal demands of you, physically and emotionally, and he knew I’m not a director who has too much for ‘stars’ as such. The result is beyond my hopes. He is real and tough and not at all smooth or nice. In a way he’s a ‘heavy’ but the real heavy is the Army.”
Lumet had already sensed that there more to Connery’s talents than just playing James Bond and he was confident that he could play much more a variety of roles than what the public was seeing him as the smooth secret agent. Lumet said, “Nonprofessionals just didn’t realize what superb high-comedy acting that Bond role was. It was like what they used to say about Cary Grant. ‘Oh,’ they’d say, ‘he’s just got charm’. Well, first of all, charm is actually not all that easy a quality to come by. And what they overlooked in both Cary and Sean was their enormous skill.”
Filming in Almería, Spain the overwhelming heat of the location was a challenge for the production. Lumet recalled asking Connery if he was urinating at all, to which Connery replied, “Only in the morning”.
The film did low numbers at the box office, but despite it not being a hit Connery considered it a personal triumph, allowing him to show off other talents and proving he could tackle more challenging roles.
It’s probably the best film he made outside of the Bond film during the decade. Clearly Lumet and Connery got along very well, as The Hill would be the first of five films they would make together. – The Anderson Tapes (1971), The Offence (1973), Murder On The Orient Express (1974) and Family Business (1989).
Before returning to his role as James Bond in Thunderball, Connery provided the storytelling narration for a recording of Sergi Prokefiev’s ‘Peter and the Wolf’ and Benjamin Britten’s ‘The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra’
According to a Gramophone review of the album at the time it said, “He had just four hours free to read Gabrielle Hilton’s revised narrative in a suite at the London Hilton before dashing off to Greece to be 007 again in Thunderball”
*Incorrect. Connery couldn’t have ‘dashed off to Greece’, no parts of Thunderball were filmed there.
The write-up also notes that Connery donated all of his royalties from the album to Dr. Barnardo’s Homes, a U.K. charity for underprivileged children.
In December 1965 the James Bond mega-hit Thunderball was released. It would be billed as ‘the biggest Bond of all’ and the response to it proved it.
Also starring Claudine Auger, Lucianna Paluzzi, Adolfo Celi, Martine Beswick and Molly Peters, Thunderball was a huge hit eclipsing all of Connery’s previous Bond films. Adjusting for inflation the film has made around $1 billion, making it the second most profitable Bond film behind 2012’s Skyfall.
The press attention of Connery and a new Bond adventure being filmed was now major news. The press descended on the set. It was obvious James Bond was not just an ordinary movie, but a worldwide event.
During filming a love scene with co-star Paluzzi press photographers were permitted to watch. They were so excited and anxious of photographing ‘James Bond’ they became too disruptive for the actors to actually act and the film takes would be useless.
The filmmakers agreed the two would perform the scene once for the photographers so they could take their photographs and then they would be escorted out so actual worthwhile filming could be accomplished.
Connery described the evolution the Bond films were taking at the time and his unhappiness about them – “They’re like comic strips the producers constantly have to come up with bigger and better gimmicks. That’s all that sustains the pictures. How far can they go? I think that they’ll have to switch the routine completely to survive.”
In one of the movie magazines at the time an article described the response to Thunderball – “It is expected to make $90 million for its distributors alone and almost surely will replace Gone With The Wind as the biggest ticket-seller in movie history. When it opened in Tokyo the theater manager surveyed his bulging house and wistfully asked the producers to release all future Bond film in the summer: ‘I can get 200 more people at each show if they don’t bring their overcoats’.”
Everyone was excited about James Bond – except Connery. He expressed getting tired of playing the role – “Bond’s been good to me, so I shouldn’t knock him, but I’m fed up to here with the whole Bond bit.”
The 1965 Playboy Interview
It was in November 1965 Connery gave an interview to Playboy magazine. His remarks about hitting women would haunt and follow him for the rest of his life.
In the interview, he was asked how he felt about roughing up a woman, as Bond sometimes has to do?
Connery answered, “I don’t think there is anything particularly wrong about hitting a woman – although I don’t recommend doing it in the same way that you’d hit a man. An openhanded slap is justified – if all other alternatives fail and there has been plenty of warning. If a woman is a bitch, or hysterical, or bloody-minded continually, then I’d do it. I think a man has to be slightly advanced, ahead of the woman. I really do – by virtue of the way a man is built, if nothing else. But I wouldn’t call myself sadistic. I think one of the appeals that Bond has for women, however, is that he is decisive, cruel even. By their nature women aren’t decisive – ‘Shall I wear this? Shall I wear that? – and along comes a man who is absolutely sure of everything and he’s a godsend. And, of course, Bond is never in love with a girl and that helps. He always does what he wants, and women like that. It explains why so many women are crazy about men who don’t give a rap for them.”
Connery’s remarks would be focused on in a 1987 interview with Barbara Walters where he said he stood by what he said. “I haven’t changed my opinion…I don’t think it’s good, I don’t think it’s bad. I think it depends entirely on the circumstances and if it merits it….If you have tried everything else – and women are pretty good at this – they can’t leave it alone. They want to have the last word and you give them the last word, but they’re not happy with the last word. They want to say it again, and get into a really provocative situation, then I think it’s absolutely right.”
In 1993 Connery told Vanity Fair that his comments were taken out of context. “They taped two hours of me and only showed 20 minutes. Barbara Walters was trying to get me to say it O.K. to hit women. But I was really saying that to slap a woman was not the crudest thing you can do to her. I said that in my book – it’s much more cruel to psychologically damage somebody…to put them in such distress that they really come to hate themselves. Sometimes there are women who take it to the wire. That’s what they’re looking for, the ultimate confrontation – they want a smack.”
In 2006 his first wife Diane Cilento, claimed in her autobiography, My Nine Lives, that Connery was abusive during their marriage, which lasted from 1962 to 1973. Connery denied her allegations and finally flatly stated outright that he believed hitting women was wrong. He told the Times of London. “My view is I don’t believe that any level of abuse against women is ever justified under any circumstances. Full stop.”
A Fine Madness (1966)
Connery continued to tackle different roles far removed from 007. It was reported he was offered the lead role in Michaelangelo Antonioni’s Blowup, but he turned it down because Antonioni wouldn’t show him a completed script. In 1966 he starred in the 1966 comedy A Fine Madness directed by Irvin Kershner (who would later direct Connery in his final performance as James Bond in 1983’s Never Day Never Again).
Connery played a frustrated poet in New York City. It was reported that studio head Jack Warner was excited to sign Connery to a film and thought he was getting a Bond-style action movie. He didn’t understand the comedy/drama and demanded constant rewrites on it.
When filming was finished Warner barred Kershner from the lot, ordered a new score and re-edited the film, calling the original edit as “anti-social”, which Kirshner said was his intent.
Audiences had seen Connery in four Bond films up to this point and identified him strongly with the role. Him as a depressed poet in Greenwich Village was too much of leap for them or at least they didn’t want to see him playing one. The film was a box office bomb.
Later, Connery sued Jack Warner for “a relatively minor amount of money” owed to him from the film. Rather than fighting, Warner paid him the amount he asked for.
O.K. Connery aka Operation Kid Brother (1967)
Let’s take a slight detour from Connery’s career and look at a bizarre offshoot project that spawned from his popular image. A project that attempted to give the world another ‘Connery’ a big-screen career. Sean’s little brother Neil was lured into trying to follow in his older brother’s footsteps with his own spy film – but it ended up bombing very badly.
It’s difficult to comprehend just how big James Bond and Connery was in the 1960s. The 007 series inspired a ‘Spy Craze’ that dominated most of the decade. Not only did the Bond films become a marketing juggernaut with James Bond inspired products and toys, it also influenced others to attempt to get in on it.
Movies and television jumped into the spy game with their own inspired spy characters. Imitators, comedic spoofs and parodies, an entire secret agent genre grew out of it. Some of them were quite good in their own right, but most were embarrassingly bad, cheap and poorly made. Connery was even asked to star in producer Charles K. Feldman’s film Casino Royale – to which he owned the rights to. Connery passed on it. You couldn’t get away from international spies saving the world during the 1960s.
One of the most unique and brazen of the knock-off spy films that sprouted from the Bond Craze was O.K. Connery aka Operation Kid Brother. The hook of the 1967 Eurospy comedy film was it starred the famous Sean Connery’s actual younger brother Neil.
It was the spring of 1966 when Italian film producer Dario Sabatello saw a photo of Sean’s younger brother Neil in a newspaper. Neil was had been working as a plaster and lost his job for losing his tools. Sean Connery’s brother getting fired – actually anything remotely to do with Sean Connery would be news at this time – got picked up by the press. Neil’s story made the papers and he even appeared on the radio to talk about his story of being sacked. Bond director Terence Young noted how much Neil sounded like his famous brother.
This sparked the idea that Neil could replace brother Sean as James Bond – or at least play his brother in a movie. This was an opportunity that could be exploited!
Sabatello traveled from Rome to Edinburgh to meet the famous actor’s brother. They met at the Caledonian Hotel. Despite not having any acting experience, Sabatello asked Neil if he would star in the lead role in a movie. Neil answered, under the “proper circumstances”.
It was clear from the conception that the casting of Sean’s younger brother in a spy movie was straight forward exploitation. The goal was to make money off of Sean’s success by using his brother and the Connery name. Getting Neil to star would get publicity for the movie, hopefully generate interest and if all went well everyone would make some fast easy money. This all could potentially upset big brother Sean though and invite lawsuits.
A film magazine at the time said Neil had been earning three pounds a day as a plasterer, so this payday was too good an offer to pass up. Any concerns that Neil had about brother Sean or his lack of acting experience disappeared and Sean’s 28-year-old brother signed up to star in his own film for $15,000.
Sean and Neil were close growing up and maintained a good relationship through much of their lives. At one point Neil told the press that often Sean would give him suits and shoes he no longer had a need for. Once he gave his younger brother a Jaguar, after Neill noted Sean had burned out the engine on it. Neil ended up selling it for scrap.
Taking the offer to headline in his own spy movie actually didn’t worry Neil that much. He reasoned that Sean was already sick of James Bond, so he shouldn’t really care that much about Neil’s new spy adventure movie, and possibly a long-running series in the future. You never know!
Sabatello did contact Eon Productions to make the offer that his film could be an ‘official’ Bond film starring 007’s brother and asked for their cooperation in the project. But Eon weren’t having any of that. So, Sabatello did the next best thing and steered away from any direct mentions of Fleming’s characters or infringing on any copyright he wasn’t allowed to use. He wanted to exploit as many Bond connections he could – while avoid getting sued.
Without Eon’s support, Sabatello went full in on making O.K. Connery unmistakably a movie with James Bond connections. He cast two of the official series recurring actors, Lois Maxwell (Miss Moneypenny) and Bernard Lee (M) in his film. Of course their characters had to be given different names, but their presence alone would help reinforce the 007 connection.
Sabatello went even further with his casting – Bond Girls Daniela Bianchi (Tatiana Romanova in From Russia With Love) and Yasuo Yama (a small role in You Only Live Twice) were given plum roles and former Bond Villains Adolfi Celi (Emilio Largo in Thunderball) and Anthony Dawson (Professor Dent in Dr. No/ Blofeld in From Russia With Love) were asked to join the party, which they did. The film would try to copy as much of the Bond formula as possible.
A movie magazine at the time said Sabettello wanted even more Bond Girls for his film. “But Ursula Andress was too expensive, Honor Blackman and Claudine Auger were too busy, and Molly Peters turned him down flat.”
The director of O.K. Connery Alberto de Martino approached Sean to make an appearance in Neil’s feature film debut. He said Connery got so angry at de Martino when he was asked that he “literally kicked his backside”. Connery supposedly requested Sabatello to stop making the film, but Sabatello refused. O.K. Connery would be filmed in Tetuan, Morocco and Spain.
Connery was supposedly upset with Maxwell and Lee for participating in the film at first. In 1996 Maxwell said when he learned she had joined the cast of O.K. Connery he got angry and started screaming, “You have betrayed me!” Maxwell then said later Connery calmed down and forgave her when she saved Neil from a fool at a press conference for the film. He then thanked her for looking out for his little brother.
Maxwell would later say she made more money from O.K. Connery than from all her performances as Miss Moneypenny in the official series combined.
Publicly Sean was against the idea and felt it was a silly stunt. A movie magazine quoted him saying at the time, “They’re exploiting both of us”. Privately his attitude was less harsh. “We’re as close as ever we were”, Neil said at the time. He added brother Sean advised him to make sure the contract he signed was a good one.
Neil told The San Francisco Examiner in August 1967, “People have said that he doesn’t like what I’m doing, but I think he realizes I’m no danger to his career. He’s an established actor, and I’ve seen all his films and enjoyed every one of them…He wished me luck, and I know he’s interested in how I make out.”
By February 1967 Neil traveled to Rome bringing his wife and two young daughters to play the part of ‘Doctor Neil Connery’ in O.K. Connery aka Operation Kid Brother aka Operation Double 007 aka Secret Agent 00. Neil recalled it was during his screen-test the crew kept saying to him, “OK, Connery, OK” which ended up inspiring the initial title….supposedly. I’m not sure what inspired all the other titles the movie was released under.
Neil learned that being a secret agent came with some hazards during production. During one scene he was running on the deck of a yacht and slipped on rug that was left in his path. He required five stitches to his leg. He also got irritated by the sudden changes of dialogue.
“For some reason I’m only told what my lines are as I go into make-up for the day’s work. I know the script, but I’m living on a day-to-day basis. It gets quite frantic at times.”
Neil added, “I’d like to succeed as an actor, even take lessons, but if I’m a flop I’ll be quite happy to go back to my old work.”
Neil was shorter than Sean and wasn’t as handsome. He sports a beard in the film. It’s been suggested it was added to hide a bit of the chubbiness in his face.
As outlandish and silly as all this sounds with ‘new star Neil Connery’, some magazines at the time started to offer up the suggestion that Neil could legitimately replace Sean as the actual James Bond.
It was probably just publicity to drum up attention for O.K. Connery and there wasn’t a shred of chance to it. Some brave reporter managed to ask Bond producer Harry Saltzman about the rumor that little brother Neil would take over the 007 role from Sean, to which Saltzman quickly retorted, “No he won’t.”
Ironically, one of the key ingredients for casting Neill in the movie was his voice sounding so similar to brother Sean’s – and it was never heard in the film. At the time the film was being dubbed Neil was undergoing a medical treatment and wasn’t able to speak. His voice ended up being dubbed by an American actor.
O.K. Connery was unleashed onto the world. The opening title card declared – ‘Neil Connery…IS TOO MUCH’. None of what follows made too much sense. Neil is supposed to be the brother of James Bond, but plays Doctor Neil Connery. He’s some kind of plastic surgeon/hypnotist/archer. It’s quite the nonsensical adventure.
When the film was released in the U.S. in October 1967 it got ravaged by the critics. Variety called it “unbelievably inept”. The closest to positive reviews was the critic from the Monthly Film Bulletin who said they found it “bad enough to be hysterically funny”.
Neil’s acting did not impress anyone and he certainly wasn’t comparable to big brother Sean onscreen. Audiences ignored it and O.K. Connery quickly disappeared.
Neil did in fact return to his career as a plasterer. Although he did accept a few other small film roles in the following years – The Body Stealers in 1969 and Mad Mission 3: Our Man From Bond Street in 1984. Nothing very notable. He was right, Neil wasn’t a threat to brother Sean’s acting career.
O.K. Connery’s legacy has become known as one of the strangest, most blatant knock-offs that came out from the popularity of the Bond films and Connery during the 1960s Spy Craze. O.K. Connery is an oddity that would be featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000 and mocked.
Sean saw the film exactly as what it always was from the getgo – a money grabbing stunt.
Connery would later say, “Neil is a plasterer, not an actor. Still they put him in a film over in Rome – gave him the lead, too! It’s a typical example of the way some people do things. It doesn’t matter whether the person can act or not. What matters is one happens to be one’s brother.”
Neil Connery died on May 11, 2021, seven months after his big brother Sean.
You Only Live Twice (1967)
With 1967’s You Only Live Twice Connery planned to leave James Bond behind – for his first time. The mammoth production was a petri dish of all of Connery’s frustrations that have come with playing 007. He was unable to film scenes on the streets of Tokyo without being recognized. The international press descended on him. During news conferences they continually referred to him as ‘James Bond’.
At one point reporters followed him into a public restroom. Some sources have claimed that some photographers actually took photographs of him while he was on the toilet and newspapers ran the photos. That part I find questionable. I imagine if there were any newspapers that actually ran photos of Sean Connery sitting on a toilet there would be a record of them and they’d be passing around the internet. I’ve never seen any of these, so I suspect that part of the story is exaggeration.
Years later, Connery recounted the pressure he felt from the press and the frustration over what the Bond films were becoming, “The demand was enormous for publicity and exposure. People coming on the sets and everything. And the films were difficult and got more and more difficult to make because they were never well planned, and they were always being rewritten.”
Connery told a story in 2000 that during filming he managed to enjoy a rare moment of anonymity. “I remember when we were filming You Only Live Twice in a remote part of Japan. We were staying in this little Japanese hotel and the tub in my room was far too small for me to take a proper bath. So I went to see the night manager, who took me to his room that had a massive bath.”
“It was heaven. It was a big tub and the water was really hot. I sat there soaking, but suddenly a rather large, naked woman appeared. She bowed to me and backed into the tub. A little later, a naked man joined us. There we sat, three naked people in a tub. They really had no idea who I was and I couldn’t have been happier.”
Connery was reluctant to play along with the James Bond image. Arriving tired after a full day of filming to an interview Connery appeared in a t-shirt and baggy trousers and sandals. The reporter asked him, “Is this how James Bond dresses?” to which Connery replied, “I’m not James Bond, I’m Sean Connery, a man who likes to dress comfortably.”
During interviews he didn’t hold back on his tiredness of his connection to James Bond. “I honestly am so bored with hearing myself talk about James Bond or trying to make any sense of him, that they must be bored as I am, frankly.”
Supposedly one day on the set he was asked about James Bond for the millionth time and Connery replied, “Do you want to know once and for all what I think of that pest? He’s made life impossible for me. I wish they’d kill him!”
Friend Michael Caine, recalled how bothered Connery had gotten by his association with Bond, “If you were his friend in these early days you didn’t raise the subject of Bond. He was, and is, a much better actor than just playing James Bond, but he became synonous with Bond. He’d be walking down the street and people would say, ‘Look, there’s James Bond.’ That was particularly upsetting to him.”
Connery threatened to break his six-picture contract after filming, since his commitment to filming You Only Live Twice forced him to postpone his Broadway directorial debut ‘The Secret of the World’.
Tensions with Broccoli and Saltzman were at a breaking point. Connery still felt slighted for what he felt was unfair compensation for his role and the success of the series. Along with the baggage James Bond brought onto his career and his life, he simply did not want to continue. He also wasn’t happy with the more fantastical direction the films were going in. “Apart from the payment, which was puerile, they were bringing in a lot of science-fiction stuff.”
In the middle of the production hoping to ease the stress, the producers removed Connery’s contractual obligation to do one more Bond film. Although he was offered to return for the next film for a high salary, Connery flatly refused. Connery was eager to announce to the press that he would not return as James Bond after You Only Live Twice.
The promotion for You Only Live Twice trumpeted ‘Sean Connery IS James Bond’. This ad campaign was in part designed to combat the rival Bond film that was released that year, Casino Royale. I’m sure Connery hated seeing that tagline plastered on billboards around the world.
You Only Live Twice was another huge Bond smash grossing over $111 million worldwide. Fans marveled at the scale the Bond films have reached with the notable volcano set and the extravagant gadgets that were on display. These were exactly the things that bothered Connery, who was happy to depart the role for other things.
With more distance and a more relaxed perspective in 1995 Connery reflected back on his time as Bond – “I never objected to playing James Bond, I just didn’t want to JUST that. Those films and that image, became overwhelming. That’s when I wanted to branch out.”
“You have to remember that no one thought those films would be successful. With Dr. No, the first one, the budget was pretty low. I probably wouldn’t have gotten the part if they had known the series would be that successful. Ian Fleming, the author, didn’t want me. I think he wanted the songwriter, Hoagy Carmichael, for the part. It didn’t take off until From Russian With Love, which I think was my favorite one. Then, with Goldfinger, it became a phenomenon. No one could have thought that I, or anyone, would be sitting her talking with you, in 1995, about James Bond.”
Feeling monetarily slighted by the Bond producers was something he would carry. He was sure to never let that happen again. Even when he was commanding massive fees he would gain a reputation as a ruthless contract negotiator throughout his career. He hated the idea of being manipulated by the film industry and would regularly be embroiled in lawsuits.
Around this time Connery would turn down the lead in The Thomas Crown Affair in the 1968 movie. Connery would later say it was one of the few movie roles he regretted not accepting.
A 1967 interview with Connery by lawyer F. Lee Bailey. Connery states he’s done with playing James Bond.
The Bowler and The Bunnet (1967)
Connery tried his hand at directing with 1967’s television political documentary The Bowler and the Bunnet, detailing a new experimental approach to working practices between management and trade unions at a Fairfield shipyard. the working practices in the Fairfield Shipyards on the River Clyde. It would be the first and only time Connery would direct a project.
Connery said at the time, “I’d never considered myself a particularly political animal at all, but when I went up to Scotland to look at this Fairfield Experiment, it awakened all sorts of dislikes and likes that had obviously been dormant in me.”
An in-depth interview (from ’67 or ’68) where Connery talks about directing The Bowler and The Bunnet, his opinion on the tax laws in England, spending time with his children, his grandparents, wanting to set up a ‘Golf Pro Am’ in Scotland,
Shalako in 1968 saw Connery in a cowboy hat, in a saddle and yielding a six-shooter in a western adventure. He plays the title character, an expert tracker who tries to rescue a European hunting party when they venture into Indian territory.
Connery was teamed with 1960’s sex symbol Brigitte Bardot. He also reunites with his Goldfinger co-star Honor Blackman.
Veteran action director Edward Dmytryk wasn’t anxious to do the film when it was offered to him. His two provisions was a major script re-write and that two big stars would be cast. Thinking that no major stars would be interested, thus giving him an easy out, he was stunned when producer Euan Lloyd revealed he signed Connery and Bardot for the film.
Dmytryk said he couldn’t understand why Connery agreed to do the part. “I still wondered why he wanted to play a part which did not really seem to suit him as a person or as an actor. When I learned that he was getting one million dollars, plus 100 percent of the profits from Spain, where he wanted to establish a winter home, I understood.”
Shalako didn’t live up to its full potential at the box office.
An interview where Connery talks about the making of Shalako and working with Bardot, his preference for working on location and some footage of filming Almeria, Spain
The Red Tent (1969)
In 1969 Connery appeared in the TV movie Male of the Species, a compilation of three plays revolving around the same woman and her relationships with three different men. The movie also starred, Anna Calder-Marshall, Michael Caine, Paul Scofield and Laurence Oliver. and the ITV Sunday Night Theatre MacNeil.
He also had a supporting role the 1969 adventure film The Red Tent. Set in 1928, the film tells the story of a crash of an airship near the North Pole and the survival and attempted rescue of the crew. The production was complex and the scale was very big. Star Peter Finch filmed for nine months. In comparison, without a toupee and with whited hair, Connery worked just three weeks on the epic survival story.
THE 1970s AND HIS FIRST RETURN TO BOND
In 1970 Connery was playing in the Moroccan International Amateur Golf Tournament when he met Micheline Roquebrune, a French painter who was also competing. They each won their matches and, after waiting for their respective divorces, married in 1974.
The 1970s could be described as ‘Connery’s Wilderness Years’. He was trying to carve out an onscreen identity and to steer clear of his James Bond persona. He would would be attracted to challenging and offbeat roles. He had some successes, but more missteps. He always managed somehow to bounce right back up from his cinematic misfires. The sheen he had from his Bond tenure stuck with him and he would find himself returning to the role that made him famous.
Connery would leave England and made his home overseas, in part because of what he felt was the country’s unfair tax laws. He and wife Micheline had homes in Monaco and Marabella Spain, which was where they spent most of their time. There his principal recreation was golf.
“After I began to make some money, my brain-damaged accountant put me in one business after another that went bad. The only one that panned out was a small bank, an old Scottish firm with London offices in Pall Mall. I was a director. We sold out to a larger bank. That was the only successful venture I’ve had, apart from acting.”
“What happened was that the British government was taking 98 percent of my income in taxes. I was making nothing but money, and I was virtually broke. I finally moved to Spain.”
Asked if it was difficult to leave London, Connery replied, “Not at all. I made my break when I moved from Scotland. that was leaving home. Michael Caine moved away and misses London and goes back all the time. When I went away, I stayed away four years.”
Connery would live in Marabella Spain until 1999, then move to another tax-friendlier country – the Bahamas.
The Molly Maguires (1970)
Connery would begin 1970s starring in The Molly Maguires with Richard Harris. The film tells the story of immigrant coal workers in Pennsylvania that revolt against the inhumane treatment they’re subjected to. A group of coal miners respond to the exploitation with acts of terrorism. Harris plays an undercover Pinkerton agent assigned to infiltrate the group. Connery plays the group’s leader.
It was reported during the production that Connery incurred minor injuries during the filming of a brawl scene involving five stuntmen, in which he declined to use a double.
Harris demanded and received first billing over Connery. This didn’t bother Connery much with him reportedly saying, “For the amount of money they’re paying me for this, they can put a mule ahead of me.”
Harris and Connery became good friends during filming. When Connery was filming Robin and Marian, Harris agreed to play King Richard the Lionheart as a favor to him. Harris would later say Connery was one of the few actors he was happy to see throughout his career.
Upon release the film fizzled at the box office and the critics were indifferent towards it, but through the years it has been reevaluated and has gained more respect.
The Molly Maguires was filmed on location in Eckley, Pennsylvania. An odd tidbit about the location, the town of Eckley had planned a 50th anniversary celebration marking when Hollywood and Connery came to their town in 1968 . Plans were to have a screening of the movie, a reenactment of a football match scene, an extras reunion of locals who played bit parts in the film, along with a ‘Sean Connery Mustache Contest.
I’m uncertain if or how the anniversary celebration of The Molly Maguires went in Eckley. If you know please share.
The Anderson Tapes (1971)
Connery reteamed with Lumet with The Anderson Tapes, playing a career theif just released from prison who plans a heist in an apartment building. Unbeknownst to John ‘Duke’ Anderson he enters a world where surveillance is prevalent everywhere he turns, from government wire taps, residential security cameras, phone taps and bugging devices. Every part of his plan ends up on audio and video.
The film also stars Dyan Cannon, Alan King, Martin Balsam, Ralph Meeker, Garrett Morris and marks the film debut of Christopher Walken.
Shot on location in New York City (much like many of Lumet’s films) there was a supposed colorful story that said while Connery was in New York filming he got into the mood of playing a theif by putting on a holdup man’s mask walking down the street. “And nobody noticed anything strange!”.
As amusing as that sounds, I question how truthful that story is. It sounds like a juicy tale to help with the publicity for the film that the press would be eager to print.
READ MY REVIEW OF THE ANDERSON TAPES
Diamonds Are Forever (1971)
At this time Broccoli and Saltzman were looking for yet another new actor to play James Bond. George Lazenby’s tenure as 007 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was finished and it was clear he was not returning. American actor John Gavin was the next choice by the producers, but the head of United Artists David V. Picker demanded that Connery be brought back at any price.
And the price was going to be high. Very high.
In 1971 Connery agreed to return as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever for a then record $1.2 million salary, a 12.5 percent of the movie’s gross, a bonus if shooting ran over the projected schedule, a contractual freedom from having to talk to the producers (who he had a rough relationship with at this time) and the chance to produce two further films of his own choice for United Artists, as long as they cost no more than $1 million.
Connery’s demands were met, which is how the world got to see his first return as 007 in 1971. Sources calculated his total payday for Diamonds was around $6 million. The salary might seem small today, but at the time ranked in Guinness World Records as highest paid actor in history.
Here’s a bit of behind-the-scenes gossip – Connery and wife Cilento separated in 1971. Now recently separated, while filming Diamonds he and co-star Lana Wood, who played Plenty O’Toole, was said to have been having an affair. At the same time, Connery was also seeing Jill St. John, who played Tiffany Case in the film.
St. John and Wood were in a decades long feud that began while filming the movie due to this ‘awkward conflict’., when throughout the spring of 1971 both women were dating the recently separated Connery at the same time. Is this all true or not? You can make up your mind on that.
Connery donated his record-making salary to set up the Scottish International Education Trust. It provides financial assistance for Scots from disadvantaged backgrounds to attend university and college.
“There’s an impression around, that I have been constantly rebellious about playing Bond. This is not so. Certainly I wanted to opt out after I had played him five times, and I did Diamonds only because I could earn $1 million for the Scottish Educational Trust, which is very important to me. But the Bond character has brought me money and fame – and I am not such an idiot that I regret either.”
After filming completed he vowed he would never play James Bond again. “Positively, definitely, beyond a shadow of a doubt, this is my last Bond. I won’t do another, not even for another million.”
Asked about the future of the Bond films, Connery replied, “Of course the films will go on, but who’ll play me I just don’t know and can’t guess.”
Connery’s return as James Bond was a success. Diamonds Are Forever was the top film in the U.S. for seven weeks and ended up grossing more than $116 million worldwide.
Connery wasn’t much impressed with the success of the film and was more anxious to capitalize on the two-picture deal he had snagged saying that he could “make my own mistakes. And I can afford them.”
An interview with Connery about his return as James Bond in Diamonds Are Forever. He mentions a big motivation was his two-picture deal that he got in his deal, the films that he has done outside of Bond hasn’t fared as well financially and declaring this would be his final time he’ll play James Bond.
The Offence (1973)
Connery and his longtime agent Richard Hatton, formed Tantallon Films, along with producers Denis O’Dell and Stanely Sopol in preparation for the UA deal Connery had gotten. Tantallon Films was named after the 14th century castle in Scotland. Eager to once again shake off his image of James Bond, Connery used his first of his two-picture deal to do The Offence in 1973.
Connery told a reporter at the time, “This is the perfect vehicle for what I want to do from now on. The Bond films took forever to make and made any kind of artistic rhythm or mood impossible. This film is being done so cheaply, there’s no chance we’ll be take to the laundry on it – even though, because of the subject, there’s not much chance of an American TV sale.”
Connery would end up being wrong on both counts. The film would take eight years to show a profit and would be shown on American television years later.
Based on the play by John Hopkins, The Offence is a dark British police drama, directed by Lumet. Connery plays a police inspector who becomes obsessed with a series of rapes and murders of young women. When a suspect is arrested he becomes unhinged during the interrogation which leads to an investigation of his own actions.
Connery went directly to Lumet and asked him to direct the film and Lumet quickly agreed. In 2007 Lumet spoke of his collaborations with Connery. “I think one of the reasons we immediately got close was the first thing he felt from me was enormous respect for him as an actor. When you look at the Bond characterization, everybody says, ‘Oh, well he’s just charming.’ Well shit, that’s like saying Cary Grant was just charming. There is more acting skill in playing that kind of character. What he’s doing, stylistically, is playing high comedy. And that is extremely difficult to do, which is why there are so few of those actors, so few Cary Grants and Sean Connerys. But it’s acting, don’t kid yourself. And right away on The Hill, the very fact that I cast him in it meant something. And he was so thrilled to be taken that seriously for that kind of drama. And when he got to produce a picture of his own The Offence, a story he picked out, I was thrilled to be asked by him to direct.
Connery had said he enjoyed making The Offence much more than his time on Diamonds Are Forever. Connery was active behind the scenes as well onscreen, attempting to make the film live up to the hopes he had for it. He would often work twenty hours a day during the shoot, which lasted for only twenty-eight days.
It was an extremely small budget, and while it was critically well received, the film was not a financial success. The Offence has been cited by many critics as being Connery’s greatest film performance.
Connery’s next film he planned in his two-picture deal was an adaptation of Macbeth, which he was going to direct. It was cancelled however, when The Offence failed at the box office and Roman Polanski’s film Macbeth had beaten it to movie screens.
In 1974 brought probably the strangest film and choice that Connery would make in his career – Zardoz.
Most causal moviegoers aren’t familiar with Zardoz. I’ve shown the images of Connery shirtless, wearing his red skivvies, knee high black leather boots, sporting a ponytail while holding a gun and the usual reaction is confusion, asking, “Is that from a real movie?” or “What the hell is that all about?”
Following the success of 1972’s Deliverance director John Boorman had the clout to make a film of his choosing. He wrote a post-apocalyptic fantasy film set in the future where society has fractured into different factions, guns are worshipped and ‘the penis is evil’ is sacred philosophy. That’s the simplest way one could describe Zardoz.
Boorman originally wanted Burt Reynolds to star, but when Reynolds pulled out the script was sent to Connery.
“It was one of the best ideas I’d come across for ages….So by the following weekend I was over in Ireland to prepare for filming.”
Boorman was worried he would lose artistic control over his passion project by a studio, which meant several turned his Zardoz offer down. Eventually 20th Century Fox agreed to back it, but only if the budget was kept extremely low. As a result both Connery and Boorman didn’t receive a sizable salary, and opted for percentage of the profits to keep the costs down. The film had a budget of $1 million.
Decades later Boorman spoke of Connery and him accepting Zardoz and the minuscule salary he got for it in comparison to what he received for Diamonds Are Forever. According to Boorman, Connery agreed to do Zardoz for so little money because after the financial failure of The Offence he was finding it difficult to get work. He was paid $200,000 – a sixth of the money he had been paid for his return as James Bond and without even taking inflation into account – it was Connery’s lowest pay deal since Dr. No.
Boorman said that Connery was reluctant to wear a wedding dress for a dream sequence. Eventually he was worn down and dutifully put on the dress and did the scene as Boorman had asked.
According to Boorman’s dvd commentary of Zardoz Connery did get quite irate over a makeup incident. In the final scene Connery’s Zed ages via time lapse photography. Connery hated doing it, not being a fan of things touching his skin. Soon after completing the scene, a flaw was discovered with the footage and they had to do film it again. “Sean was horrified.” The scene was filmed again a day after the wrap party when a hungover camera assistant accidentally exposed the film and ruining it.
Connery went ballistic. Realizing he would have to do the makeup scene a third time “he went into a kind of rage, he began to froth at the mouth, he wanted to kill the assistant cameraman and we had to restrain him.”
The film was shot within ten miles of Boorman’s home in Wicklow Hills, Ireland. During filming Connery stayed at Boorman’s home during the production. Connery paid the Boormans for their hospitality, giving them seven pounds a week – a sum Boorman believed was more appropriate in the mid-1950s, “when Connery was last responsible for such payments.”
Boorman later said Connery, “was the perfect sort of lodger. He would always turn the lights off at night.” According to Boorman Connery also spent his time writing poetry. “He’s never shown his poetry to me or to anyone else as far as I know, but he does write poetry.”
Another thing Boorman has said was he once asked Connery if he ever considered using a different accent when acting. Connery told him, “If I didn’t talk the way I talk I wouldn’t know who the hell I am.”
When Zardoz was released critics were confused by it, audiences felt alienated and it quietly left movie screens. It was another financial failure during Connery’s ‘After Bond Period’.
The Terrorists aka Ransom (1974)
Connery flew directly from the set of Zardoz in Ireland to Oslo, Norway for a ten-week shoot in subzero temperatures to film The Terrorists.
Connery plays a Norwegian police chief in charge of thwarting a group of terrorists who have kidnapped the British ambassador of Norway. They take over an airplane and demand the freeing of prisoners in a British jail and a safe passage of escape. Connery plays a cat and mouse game of negotiations on a runway with lead terrorist Ian McShane as he tries to plan out a way to stop McShane and save the hostages.
The film faced a few problems during filming. A brief warming weather trend threatened to melt snow which was needed and the filmmakers resorted to using tons of a salt mixture as a substitute.
Norwegian pilots threatened to strike to protest the film for what they felt was glamorizing airline hijacking. Connery himself tried to appease the protestors by stating, “The film deals with how to prevent a hijack, not perform one. I does not accuse Norway – rather we are using Norway as a location so that the snow and subzero temperatures add to the dramatic effect of the story.”
While in Oslo there was little for the cast to do. Connery was able to partake in his favorite pastime of golf obviously. He was also not permitted to do any skiing for insurance purposes. A lot of his time was spent playing indoor tennis with co-star McShane.
One anecdote from the production said that once a dinner companion of Connery’s was approached by an older woman who asked if he was dining with James Bond. He replied, “No. I am dining with Sean Connery.” The disappointed woman replied, “Oh, he looks like James Bond!” Connery later commented, “There was a time I had to prostitute myself to pay the bills. I am grateful to the Bond films for ending that.”
As for the film The Terrorists, it’s a a rather unremarkable exercise with nothing really noteworthy about it. Released in England as Ransom, the film’s release barely made any waves and it was universally panned. The film had a delayed opening in the U.S. and when it did finally make it to theaters it was on the bottom half of double bills.
Murder On The Orient Express (1974)
Connery’s career was not very healthy. Three consecutive box office misses – The Offence, Zardoz and The Terrorists. He was in desperate need of a hit and he found one with Lumet co-starring in an all-star adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder On The Orient Express.
Connery joins Albert Finney, Lauren Bacall, Ingrid Bergman, Jacqueline Bisset, Richard Widmark, John Gielgud, Anthony Perkins, Vanessa Redgrave, Michael York and Martin Balsam.
With so many characters that become suspects onboard the train, Lumet felt it would be easier for the audience to keep track of the suspects if they were familiar faces, i.e. recognizable stars. He thought the best way to attract stars would be to cast the biggest one first, so he went directly to Connery. He signed up and the rest of the cast followed in a matter of weeks.
Connery said about the film, “It was the chance to join an incredible cast…It’s all very stylish, very much in the vein of the Bond films.” Kind of an appropriate statement, given in From Russian With Love Bond traveled aboard the famed train and narrowly survived a very nasty fight with villain Robert Shaw.
The film was big success with critics and audiences. Bergman, who had come out of retirement to make the film, ended up winning an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress. And Connery holds his own with a trainload of talent.
The Wind and The Lion (1975)
The Wind And The Lion in 1975 gave Connery one of the favorite roles of his career.
Writer/director John Milius takes a liberal interpretation of an actual historical event, by telling the story of President Teddy Roosevelt’s attempts to deal with the kidnapping of an American citizen by a Moroccan Shekih.
‘The Wind’ is Roosevelt played by Brian Keith, and ‘The Lion’ is Connery’s Raisuli the leader of a band of Berber insurrectionists. The film also stars Candice Bergen and John Huston. It’s an epic adventure film with expansive locations and action.
Milius originally wanted Omar Shariff to play Raisuli. When Shariff declined Connery was cast. It again gave Connery a different type of character to play. With a grey beard and wearing Arabic wardrobe and turban it was visually distant from his James Bond image.
“It would be rather silly for a fifty-year-old-Arab to have a James Bond look, wouldn’t it? I didn’t know a great deal about Islam before the picture. In fact, I was quite ignorant about it – but I’ve been learning. Raisuli is a very interesting role…very different. Whether he was a moral man or not is difficult to judge. However, he’s been written into the picture as a well-rounded, full-fledged man who lived by the Islamic code – and I find that stimulating.”
Supposedly the film’s dialogue expert tried to coach Conery to speak with an Arabic accent, but gave up, stating it was impossible to disguise his broad bogus accent. Milius solved it by inserting a line of dialogue that says Raisuli was taught to speak English by a Scotsman.
Milius later said he didn’t enjoy working with Bergen or Connery. He was not impressed with Bergen in any way. He said Connery was “dour and sour” although Milius greatly admired his performance. Connery was said to have enjoyed working with Milius, saying at the time, “I think John is very clever, very talented and find him refreshing.” He supposedly was not very impressed with Bergen.
Connery supposedly admired Milius’ writing skills and requested his services as a script doctor to revise his dialogue for The Hunt For Red October.
Steven Spielberg was putting together Jaws at the same time as when Milius was editing The Wind and The Lion. He said Spielberg would often visit him and help him edit the film and make suggestions.
Bergen enjoyed working with Connery, in 2000 she said about him – “Sean is one of the last of the great old-time movie stars. He’s a national treasure, a global treasure, really. It’s wonderful to see a guy with that much talent be so nice. And the older he gets, the better he gets and the more you love him.”
The film was a modest success and critics applauded Connery’s performance. Although some pointed out the humorous attributes he brought to the role. One critic wrote, “Allah must have been puzzled to hear a sheik talking with a Scottish accent!”.
“My strength as an actor is that I’ve stayed close to the core of myself, which has something to do without voice, a music, a tune that is very much tied up with my background.”
The Man Who Would Be King (1975)
After decades of wanting to film it, finally in 1975 writer/director John Huston got the opportunity to bring the story by Rudyard Kipling’s The Man Who Would Be King to the screen.
The adventure film tells the store of two British ex-soldiers who travel from India to the remote land Kafiristan where its inhabitants are unaware of the outside world. Surviving the long arduous journey they arrive and one of them is mistaken to be a god and becomes the people’s king. The pair decide to play along with the ruse in order to buy time until they can make off with the cities wealth.
Originally Huston first wanted to do the movie during the 1950’s and hoped to have Humphrey Bogart and Clark Gable as the stars. Now it would be Connery as Daniel and old friend Michael Caine playing Peachy, along with Christopher Plummer as Kipling
Connery had said Huston gave him the directive that the two characters were one man and when they were together they could do anything, but when they drift apart then there are problems.
Filming took place in Morocco, France and Pinewood Studios, London. To film a climactic scene Connery performed his own stunt by dropping about seventy to eighty feet and landing on cardboard boxes and foam rubber pads.
The film was a critical and commercial hit. It was among the top 20 films of 1975 with a $33.3 million U.S. gross.
Later Connery and Caine sued Allied Artists for $109,000 each, a sum they said they were entitled to based on the five percent of the films gross they were agreed, but had not received. Allied counterclaimed and sued the actors for $21,500 for ‘defamation of character’.
A few months later Caine stated that he and Connery resolved their differences with Allied. Although no monetary figure was reported, it was said they got a ‘substantial portion of the sums they claimed they were owned’.
It was said The Man Who Would Be King was Connery’s and Caine’s favorite film they had done.
Years later Huston was ill in the hospital. Connery and Caine showed up unannounced at his bedside wearing red tunics and said, “Here we are – Peachy and Danny!”
Robin And Marian (1976)
Connery tackeld a legendary character in 1976 in Robin and Marian. Now only in his mid-40’s he played an older Robin Hood who after years of fighting in the Crusades returns to Sherwood. He arrives to discover his love Maid Marian is now a mother superior at a convent and the Sheriff of Nottingham still rules. He decides to reignite his romance with Marian and defeat his nemesis once and for all.
The producers originally wanted Albert Finney to play Robin and Connery to play Little John. Ultimately, Connery got the lead role.
Audrey Hepburn hadn’t made a film since Wait Until Dark (1967) and left acting to raise her family. She was reluctant to return to the screen. She was finally convinced to take the role of Marian at the insistence of her sons. Once her sons learned that Connery had been cast as Robin Hood, they begged their mother to take the part, so she could act with ‘James Bond’.
Robin and Marian reteams Connery’s From Russia With Love co-star Robert Shaw. The two do battle once again in a fight to the death. Ian Holm plays King John, Denholm Elliot is Will Scarlett and Richard Harris plays King Richard the Lionheart as a favor to pal Connery. Interesting, to consider it’s a similar favor that Connery would reciprocate years later to Kevin Costner in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
Said Connery, “Here was a guy who was aging, and at the end of a myth. He’s not a very intelligent guy, who’s at heart a boy, and that’s how I played it.”
In 2000, Connery was asked about his favorite roles and his Robin Hood still held a special place to him. “I’ve always liked Robin and Marian, the film I did with Audrey. Now, there was a character role as opposed to an action hero. He did some heroic things but, mentally. he was about twelve years old.”
Film critic Pauline Kael wrote, “There’s something really grand about the way Sean Connery will appear bald, will look frazzled, will appeal half-naked, so you see the gray hair on him, and see that’s he’s an aging man.”
Directed by Richard Lester, Robin and Marian was hit. The allure of Connery as Robin Hood and Hepburn returning to movies after nine years to play his Maid Marian, drew audiences in. The film grossed $8.8 million in the U.S.
Connery was said to have been pleased at the definitive conclusion of the film, saying he was happy to play a character in which there no possibility of having sequel.
Connery enjoyed his third consecutive box office hit. It was something he much needed. He later reflected on this period, “It’s a stupid scenario, doing three films one after another. I did The Man Who Would Be King, The Wind and the Lion and Robin and Marian all one after the other. It was like pushing a quart into a pint bottle. But when you find something you want to do, you do it.”
The Next Man aka The Arab Conspiracy (1976)
In 1976’s The Next Man (also known as The Arab Conspiracy) Connery once again played an international character.
Connery plays an Arab diplomat who proposes to make peace with Israel by bringing them into OPEC as a non-producing member. Announcing his decision at the UN angers radical members of the Arab world and decide he must be killed. A hit woman is sent to eliminate him. The two inevitably fall for each other and the question is, will she still follow through on her assignment and kill him.
“I took the part of Khalili in The Next Man based on reasoning that I always use. I thought him to be an interesting character. He is a contemporary man in every sense of the word: sportsman, diplomat, lover, intellectual, a complete man of our times.”
Despite a challenging role for Connery The Next Man is once again, an extremely underwhelming, extremely forgettable film. It ended up as the only Connery film not to be released theatrically in the United Kingdom. It eventually premiered on UK television. It had several title changes, The Arab Conspiracy and Double Hit. It barely recouped its costs and has become something of an ignored and forgotten film in Connery’s career.
Connery later stated about the film, “Basically, it was a good idea that went off half-cocked because we didn’t have a good script. We tried to salvage it through the editing, but that can never be done.”
I recall watching it and felt it plays more like an outline to a movie, rather than a fully fleshed out film. It’s really not good. Connery’s old nemesis from Thunderball Adolfo Celi shows up, unfortunately he’s killed off early and he and Connery never get to reunite onscreen.
In 1975, Connery arrived in Ireland, put on a clown costume and performed under a circus tent. It was what charity circus that would became a short film titled Circasia.
Circasia was put on at the Straffen House which was owned by film producer Kevin McClory. To James Bond fans that name might be familiar them. McClory was the man who held the film rights to Thunderball, partnered with Eon films to make the 1965 film and who later manage a remake of the story and convince Connery to return to playing 007 in 1983’s Never Say Never Again.
Circasia is Mccrory’s only other film he worked on between Thunderball and Never Say Never Again.
While not really being that prolific a producer, at the time, McClory must of maintained quite a few connections and friends in the film industry. When putting on his charity circus he called in favors to them and asked them to participate. The circus show was a benefit for the Central Remedial Clinic and Variety Club of Ireland.
Along with Connery, Eric Clapton, Shirley MacLaine, Milo Shea and Burgess Meredith joined the circus for the day. Apparently all the celebs McClory recruited played clowns, except John Huston, who was the ringmaster.
He introduces Connery’s segment as a “gallant show of horseman-ship”. Connery shows up in his clown costume, gets strapped to a harness then leaps and flies around trying to ride a horse. It’s not exactly ‘Bond-level excitement’.
The film runs for eleven minutes. Perhaps it could be viewed as a precursor to the later Circus of the Stars television broadcasts that American networks would stage. Although, Circasia is nowhere near such cheesy amusement. It’s pretty odd, it’s not filmed very well, the music is annoying and I’m not exactly sure where this short film was ever shown.
At the very least the stars all look like they’re having fun in their clown get ups. Connery mentioned Circasia in his book, mainly saying how drunk he got at the party after the show.
A Bridge Too Far (1977)
Richard Attenborough directs the 1977 epic war film A Bridge Too Far based on the true story of Operation Market Garden.
It’s late 1944 and the Allies attempt a risky move to seize control of key bridges in the Netherlands hoping to break the German lines and making a route into Germany. A combined effort of British and American paratroopers fight valiantly, but in the end the plan fails and the Allies suffer a dramatic loss.
A Bridge Too Far was an extremely expensive production for its time – $27 million. To put it in perspective Star Wars the same year cost only $10 million)
Connery again joins an all-star cast – Dirk Bogarde, James Caan, Michael Caine, Denholm Elliot, Edward Fox, Elliot Gould, Gene Hackman, Anthony Hopkins, Hardy Kruger, Ryan O’Neal, Laurence Oliver, Robert Redford and Maximillian Schell. In the 1970’s they were able to pull barrels of stars together for a lot of movies.
Connery played real life Major General Roy Urquhart. Initially, Connery turned the role down, because he felt the film would be glorifying a military disaster. He changed his mind after reading the script.
The real Urquhart was employed as military consultant on the film. He had no idea who Connery was or why his daughters were so excited that he had been chosen to play their father. All these years later his Bond persona was still following him and gave him cache.
I’ve read that the star-name actors all agreed to be paid the same weekly fee to help keep the costs of the film going any higher. However, then I’ve read conflicting information that there was an issue with Connery’s salary and it created some tension.
Connery has one of the largest roles in the film. However, he became angry when he learned Robert Redford, who had a very minor role, was being paid more money.
According to producer Joseph E. Levine, this was because the star who exhibitors wanted to see most in the movie was Redford, followed by Connery. Hence the higher salary Redford was paid. Connery was not happy and went on strike for a short time until his fee was adjusted to his satisfaction.
I’ll just leave it up to you to decide between the two versions.
After being such an expensive film to make, it was a hit at the European box office and it recouped its cost.
The Great Train Robbery (1978)
Set in England during the 1850s, Connery plays master criminal Edward Pierce who plans to rob a moving train and relieve it of its gold contents. It seems like an impossible task to pull off, but Connery’s thief is confident he can pull off the job.
Writer Michael Crichton wrote and directed the film based his own novel. The film also starred Donald Sutherland and Lesley-Anne Down
Connery took some unsuspecting risks while filming. He had to traverse the roof of the train car during the heist portion of the film. He was told the train would only be traveling at thirty-five miles per hour and wouldn’t exceed that speed.
After some takes Connery argued that the train was going faster. It was then discovered the train engineer was miscalculating the speed and the production helicopter had the clocked the train going over fifty-five miles per hour.
When Connery’s wife Micheline saw the film she was furious at him for taking such risks.
In 1978, a story circulated that Christopher Reeve called Connery on the eve of the release of Superman: The Movie asking for advice of how to avoid getting trapped by a recurring role. Connery supposedly tells him, “I just told him to get a good lawyer (for) some measure of control, and not to be dictated to by idiots, as much as you can reasonably be protected against that.”
Connery couldn’t get through the 1970s without starring in at least one disaster movie. Unfortunately, he did one when the ‘disaster craze’ was ending and picked a film that was a huge stinker.
A comet smashes into an asteroid belt knocking a gigantic asteroid headed for Earth. The only way to stop this huge chunk of rock is Americans and Soviets to work together, pool both their secret orbiting nuclear missiles at the thing and blow it up!
Connery plays the man who designed it and has to find common ground with Soviet scientist Brian Keith and hope they can stop this planet killing meteor. In between looking at screens, Connery gets to flirt with Keith’s Russian interpreter Natalie Wood and get yelled at by General Martin Landau. There’s also President Henry Fonda and NASA man Karl Malden biting their fingernails.
For those Connery fans that might be ready to argue the worst film he had done was The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or maybe, The Avengers, they might want to check out Meteor before ruling on a verdict. It’s certainly a worthy competitor for the title.
Director Ronald Neame, who directed the box office disaster film The Poseidon Adventure, returned to the genre, but with very middling results. He would later say it was “an unhappy experience for all concerned.”
Filming was shut down for two days when Connery contracted a respiratory condition during the filming of the mud sequence. During the climax a river breaks into a subway tunnel and the characters struggle to survive it.
One million tons of mud were used. Connery said the sequence was “the most frightening set I’ve ever worked on.” The mud knocked Connery off his feet and buried Malden twice. Wood was almost sucked into one of the mud pumps.
The release of the film was delayed due to special effect reshoots. According to interviews in the December 1979 issue of Starlog magazine, the special effects department was replaced more than once. For one sequence the effects department repurposed footage from the 1978 disaster film Avalanche and incorporated it into Meteor.
Which makes me curious as to how bad the first swing at the effects were, because what you see in the movie is pretty embarrassing. Connery later referred to the meteors as resembling “little balls of shit.”
The studio then went all in with Meteor spending $6 million to promote it. They planned a three-day promotional blitz leading to the films premiere on the floor of Meteor Crater in Arizona.
Connery, Wood and Landau were expected to appear at ‘The Crater Party’. An article at the time wrote about it and said, “…but Connery was still en route from Spain, and Wood – reportedly not fond of flying – was coming by train from Los Angeles. Martin Landau, however, was there, posed on the crater’s edge like a Rodin “Thinker” for the photographers.”
Then President of AIP Samuel Z. Arkoff explained the extravagant promotion – “We in the distribution end have to provide the dazzle-dazzle these days. In the old days, the local theatrical exhibitor did most of that. Now he puts all his dazzle-dazzle into the candy counter. So we got to get out and sell the public ourselves. This junket is part of that.”
I have never seen any footage or photos from this ‘Crater Party’. If you’re in possession of any please send them my way. I’d love to see how this promotion went down! Connery posing for photos in the Meteor Crater conjures up images of You Only Live Twice to me.
Meteor was the most difficult picture in AIP’s history. The budget was said to be $20 million. It was one of the most expensive movies in 1979. Despite all the money they poured into its ‘Crater Party’ promotion, after six weeks in theaters Meteor had earned just over $2.4 million and was a failure at the box office.
It was speculated that the failure of Meteor, along with some other costly films that underperformed, contributed to the demise of AIP. The company was sold in to Filmways Pictures in 1980.
READ MY REVIEW OF METEOR
Connery reteamed with Robin and Marian director Richard Lester for a period romantic thriller in 1979’s Cuba.
Connery is a British mercenary who travels to Cuba to train government troops against Castro rebels. He unexpected reconnects with his former lover. He soon realizes that their relationship and the government of Cuba is beyond saving. Also starring, Brooke Adams, Jack Weston, Hector Elizondo, Denholm Elliot and Chris Sarandon.
Connery signed on to Cuba despite the fact a script had not been finished. The film being shot in Spain appealed to him. Several of the locations were close to his home in Marbella, allowing him to drive home after the day’s shooting.
Filming was delayed three times over a period of months. Eventually, the cast and crew commenced filming while Lester worked on the script. Lester told the press at the time this would give the move a spontaneity that would result in more exciting performances. No one was really buying that philosophy.
The $7 million production traveled to seventy-eight locations in Spain during its 54 days of filming to capture the 1950s time period and look of Cuba.
Lester described Cuba as “a political film within which no one spoke about politics and a love story in which no one spoke about love.” It was intended as sort of a Casablanca-type film. The ending of Cuba tries to ape the famous final scene of Casablanca. It does not pull it off.
Adams said about working with Connery, “He has a whole thing about the physical part of acting that’s real interesting. It’s about how much space a character needs around his head and how centered he is and how much weight he has. Sean is intuitive, but he’s also very trained.”
When he saw the finished film Connery was very unhappy. Connery blamed Lester for the films failure, Lester felt Connery unfairly painted him as the main culprit for the movie’s failure and their relationship ended.
Connery would later say about Cuba, “It was the least satisfying [film] in the end, considering the original idea, which was Dick Lester’s, was very promising. We had no script to begin with and there were other problems. I had to postpone the picture three times – the result in the end sort of shows….Cuba is the only film I have reservations about, apart from he very early B films, of course, but that’s something else.”
Cuba received mostly negative reviews from critics. It flopped at the box office earning $5.6 million at the U.S. box office.
After the fiasco of Cuba, Connery vowed not to commit to another project unless he was fully confident in it. At the time there were rumors that Connery was going to make a move to television and star in the miniseries Shogun. After Richard Chamberlain was cast that ended those rumors.
The 1970s had been a bit ‘haphazard’ for Connery, but the 1980s would be more fruitful. He would once again return to play 007 for his last time. As much as he might have dismissed the role, his final return as James Bond would begin a rebirth for his career and he’d become an elder statesman of cinema. He would command large paychecks and would finally gain critical acclaim and awards for his acting.
Connery ventured into a science-fiction/action territory in 1981’s Outland.
Connery plays Federal Marshal William O’Niel assigned to work the outer galactic-beat on a mining outpost on Jupiter’s third moon. He discovers corruption is running afoul from a drug ring. Rather than stay silent he’s prepared to stop the criminal activity, even if he has to stand alone to do it. Killers are sent to kill the lone Marshal and he has to fight against the high odds of defeating them. The film also stars Peter Boyle, Frances Sternhagen and James Sikking.
Outland is essentially a western in space. It’s often described as ‘High Noon in space’. Writer/director Peter Hyams recalled, “I wanted to do a Western. Everybody said, ‘You can’t do a western. No one will do it.”
I kept on saying, ‘It’s the longest, most enduring genre in the history of the movies, starting with The Great Train Robbery in 1903. I remember waking up in the morning, and a lightbulb had turned on. Like George Lucas before me, I had realized that the Western hadn’t gone, it was that now it was in outer space. That was the propulsion for Outland. I wanted to make a film about the frontier. Not the wonder of it or the glamour of it: I wanted to do something about Dodge City and how hard life was. I wrote it, and by great fortune Sean Connery wanted to do it. And now many chances do you get to work with Sean Connery?”
Hyams would end up working with Connery twice, later in The Presidio.
Hyams had only good things to say about working with Connery. “He is one of the the most extraordinary people I have ever met. He is one of the straightest, the biggest, truest, most honest, most un-full of shit, talented people I have ever met. He is a movie star the moment you first meet him and shake his hand, with a wrist the size of the Lincoln Tunnel.”
The only way that you can get into trouble with Sean is if you’re not honest. If you’re straight, and if he asks you a question and you ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t agree’, you’re okay. If you think you can bullshit his, you’re making one of the biggest mistakes you’ll ever make in your life.”
“Sean is an extraordinary actor, and he has that rare quality, his emotions seem very close to the surface of his skin. you have the impression, when you photograph him, that you truly sense what he’s feeling. He has a very powerful image on the screen, and he’s a tremendous craftsman. Sean had such a presence that when we were editing Outland, if we weren’t sure if something was working, we’d just cut to a close-up of that face.”
Connery said he was drawn to the role because Hyams’ concept of the future was a dramatically taut story dealing with credible conflicts and problems, rather than merely a showcase for futuristic hardware.
He said, “I have never been concerned with my image, but have always taken parts because they are interesting.”
Connery was said to have been distracted during the filming of Outland by what he felt were injustices in the British tax laws.
The movie was filmed at Pinewood Studios in London. Now being a resident of Spain, Connery was only allowed to work ninety days a year in Great Britain. To comply with the limited amount of time he could work there, every weekend he would fly out of the country to insure he had enough days to complete the filming. This did not put him in a good mood and he complained to government officials as to what he felt was an unfair law. “They seem to be more flexible with villains who break the law!”
Because the filming of Outland went over schedule Connery was unable to film a planned extended cameo in Chariots of Fire.
Outland had been generating positive word of mouth and buzz and Connery was optimistic about its success. He extensively promoted it and held a gala film premiere in Scotland to benefit the Scottish International Education Trust.
When it was released Outland earned $17.4 million, which while respectable , was not the heights of success Connery had envisioned the film was going to reach.
Time Bandits (1981)
Writer/producer/director Terry Gillam has said that Connery’s appearance in Time Bandits started as something of a joke. When he and co-writer Michael Palin were working on the characters introduction which King Agamemnon defeats a Minotaur and pulls off his mask they added the description that he “reveals himself to none other than Sean Connery or an actor of equal or cheaper stature.”
As luck would have it George Harrison was one of the backers of the film and his manager played golf with Connery. He mentioned the film to him, Connery got interested, was a fan of Monty Python and signed onto the film forgoing a salary and accepting a percentage of the gross instead.
Connery later recalled, “George Harrison and his associate, Denis O’Brien, telephoned me to say, ‘We have a script with a role for you- the trouble is we only have two and half million dollars with which to make the film. Would you like to see it anyway?’ I said yes; the script arrived and it was a one father best scripts I had ever read.”
Gilliam said, “I’m convinced the reason he said yes was that he was having some guilt feelings about having been an absent father. And here was a chance to be a surrogate father”.
Young actor Craig Warnock who played Kevin was supposedly so overwhelmed at meeting Sean Connery that their close-ups had to be shot separately, reportedly at Connery’s own suggestion, until the boy had adjusted to the veteran actor’s presence.
Connery’s last minute reappearance at the end of the film as a fireman was a last minute scene that was suggested by the actor. Connery was in the UK as the film was finishing up. “He was back in England for, I think, a day meeting his accountant. And I managed to get him to come out of the middle of nowhere to just put on a fireman’s helmet, wink and get in the truck and go, and that was it. And it ended up this brilliant ending that wouldn’t have been there if it hadn’t been for Sean and his tax problems.”
The last time Gilliam said he saw Connery was on the set of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. “And the thing Sean was talking about was how proud he was that he was the first and only actor at that time who got his money directly from the studio. Whereas normally it goes to the agent, they take 10 percent and then pass it on, Sean go the money directly. And he was really proud. He was always still a working class guy. And he was Scots and you know, always feeling he’s being fucked by the English.”
Wrong Is Right (1982)
Wrong Is Right is a comedy satire by writer/director Richard Brooks. Connery plays Patrick Hale, a superstar anchorman on The World Television News Network. He finds himself reporting on a major story that involves an intricate plot involving the President, a terrorist group, arms dealers the CIA, television ratings and nuclear devices that can possibly lead to a global war.
The film also stars Katherine Ross, Robert Webber, Robert Conrad, Leslie Nielsen, John Saxon, G.D. Spradlin, Henry Silva, George Gizzard and Dean Stockwell.
Brooks described Wrong Is Right – “It’s about the craziness of ‘today’…enabling one to laugh at the insanity that is about to explode on the world.”
It’s been written that Brooks’ original script, the one initially that attracted Connery, was made for a movie lasting about three and half hours. Connery and Brooks worked on rewrites during filming. It was reported that only select number of people at Columbia Pictures and Connery were allowed to know the film’s ending. The actors were given their lines of dialogue on strips of paper, which they were required to return at the end of their scenes.
Brooks finished the film more than $2 million under its projected $12 million budget. Because of the high cost to film in the African regions of Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria, the “Hagreb” desert scenes (a fictional location) were created by editing footage filmed on a studio lot with clips from National Geographic and American and British television news programs. When Brooks filmed in Washington, DC, he avoided getting official clearances by posing as an actual television news crew.
In addition, Brooks negotiated a product placement deal with the Sony Corporation, which allowed the production to use $800,000 worth of television monitors and news equipment, and reportedly saved $1.5 million. Finally, he accepted the minimum Directors Guild of America and Writers Guild of America wage of $30,000, which would also be deducted from his percentage of eventual box-office earnings. Hopefully, Brooks had a percentage of the gross, because there were no profits. The film grossed only $3.6 million in the U.S.
Wrong Is Right was a flop at the U.S. box office earning only $3.6 million. It opened on the same weekend as Conan The Barbarian which opened at number one. Wrong Is Right opened in the fifth slot and only managed to spend two weeks in the top ten.
After the film flopped at the U.S. box office, the title was changed to The Man With The Deadly Lens for other English-speaking countries. It was accompanied by the tagline – ‘Only Patrick Hale can prevent a desperate president, the Head of the CIA, a trigger happy general, terrorists, an arms dealer and a religious fanatics from destroying our world. But he has other things on his mind.”
It was given a new poster to make it intentionally resemble a James Bond film. It didn’t help.
The films failure was in part attributed to the lack of promotion by Columbia Pictures. They simply did not know how to effectively market it. They simply went to describe it as a Dr. Strangelove-type film. Saxon years later said, “I knew people who were publicists…and they said, ‘What are going to do with this? It’s just too far out.’ And that’s what happened for all these years…It got buried, I mean literally buried.”
As he had frequently done in the past, this time Connery didn’t blame Brooks for the films failure and continued to defend it after it flopped at the box office.
Since its release the film has been reevaluated and its outrageous premise seemed to get more timely as the film aged.
Five Days One Summer (1982)
Connery starred in the romantic drama Five Days One Summer in 1982. Director Fred Zinnemann’s film is set in 1932 and tells the story of a middle-aged doctor who has an illicit romance with his grown neice (Betsy Brantley) while on mountain climbing trip in the Swiss Alps.
Connery said what drew him to do the film was the opportunity to work with Zinnemann, who had directed for over fifty years and was behind some classic films (A Man For All Seasons, From Here To Eternity, High Noon). “One reason was Zinnemann himself – after all, the man is a living legend. I saw High Noon when I was struggling to get into the business. Also the role itself is fascinating.”
Zinnemann said that Connery was always his only choice for the role “because no one else could undertake the hazardous exercises required and yet was mature and yet again could act!”
Filming on location in the Swiss Alps was an arduous and dangerous process. Filming locations were scouted, prepared and then often times the changing weather conditions forced the crew to find a new location to film at. At one point heavy snow made the mountains impenetrable for the crew. The intermittent blowing of dust from the Sahara desert unexpectedly turned the mountains orange halting production until another snowfall occurred turning them back to picturesque white again.
Snowstorms destroyed set dressings which had to be replaced. A falling chunk of ice broke a camera and destroyed an entire day’s worth of takes, forcing the filmmakers to film it all again. The crew got caught in an electrical storm. Production would be put on hold many times due to poor weather.
One report about the production said once when the crew was scouting a remote mountain location they discovered the frozen body of a man who had been missing for thirty-one years.
With mountain climbing being an integral element in the film the cast were trained by expert climbers. Risk was further increased because Connery had to use 1930s-era climbing boots and equipment in order to be period accurate. Connery didn’t want to use a stunt double, because of the amount of close-up shots that were required.
Connery later said, “I try to go as far as I can doing my own stunt work, even if over the years it becomes harder. A double in a scene often dilutes the screen quality, especially if, as in this instance, the cameras are lined up for close shots. Some of the location furling for Five Days was the most audacious I’ve ever been involved in. It was all very hairy.”
Connery recounted that the worst moment he experienced while making the film was when he had to make a 300 meter (328 yard) walk alone down a glacier known to be laden with crevasses hidden by a fresh snowfall and without safety markers. The marker poles were present during rehearsals, but were not there during filming, as they would be seen in the shot. Connery said, “Inches on either side of the path there were 90-foot caverns. I could hear the sound of ice moving underneath me, and behind me in the peaks, shifting all the time. That’s the loneliest walk I’ve ever taken.”
The film received negative reviews and was a box office bomb, grossing just $200,000 in the U.S.. Zinnemann felt the critics were too harsh on his film. “I’m not saying it was a good picture, but there was a degree of viciousness in the reviews. The pleasure some people took in tearing down the film really hurt.”
Five Days One Summer was Zinnemann’s final film.
Never Say Never Again (1983)
It took a ton of money, but twelve years after he last walked away from James Bond Connery returned to the role in 1983’s Never Say Never Again.
Producer Kevin McClory owned the rights to Ian Fleming’s ‘Thunderball’. When the film was made in 1965, Bond producers Broccoli and Saltzman had to work with him since he owned the rights. They struck a deal, McClory was credited as a producer on the film and the movie became a mega-hit. Under the deal he had with Eon Productions he wasn’t permitted to do anything with the ‘Thunderball’ novel for ten years.
Well, those ten years were up and as soon as they were McClory started planning another film adaptation to the Bond novel. Initially Connery began working with McClory – only as a writer- in the mid-70’s on a screenplay on a new proposed film that was tentatively titled ‘James Bond of the Secret Service’.
Connery had never written a screenplay, but McClory knew with his name attached, no matter in what way, gave his proposed film some cache.
The film was to have been called ‘Warhead’ and involved a climax that would’ve taken place in New York with James Bond fighting mechanical sharks in the sewers, paragliding to the Statue of Liberty which is the evil organization SPECTRE’s secret headquarters and fighting goons on the iconic statue. As the script said, ‘Blood trickles down the cheek of the Statue of Liberty like a tear.’
Connery had no intention of ever acting in this new ‘James Bond’ film, and really he wasn’t banking on it ever getting made with all the lawsuits from Eon that were trying to hamper McClory getting his own Bond film made.
But McClory prevailed. ‘Warhead’ didn’t materialize, but McClory and producer Jack Schwartzman would make more of a direct adaptation, or remake, of the film Thunderball with the title Never Say Never Again.
The timing to lure Connery back to play 007 happened to be ideal. Around this time Connery was in financial trouble because his former accountant had invested a large portion of his money into unsecured property investments. Connery would later end up suing and won a $4.1 million judgement for negligence in 1984. After the verdict he told reporters, “I don’t foresee I’ll get any money.”
There were also reports that Connery partly agreed to play 007 again because he lost a lot of money in a Spanish land deal.
At the time, a large payday looked mighty enticing and encouraged by his wife, Connery agreed to play James Bond once again.
At age 52, Connery with getting a reported salary of $3 million plus 15 percent of the films profits and script, director and casting approval, he broke his vow, ate his words and agreed to play James Bond once again. It’s been written that once again, Connery donated a large chunk of his salary to his Scottish charity.
The film also starred, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Barbara Carrera, Kim Basinger, Max von Sydow, Bernie Casey, Edward Fox and Rowan Atkinson.
The title Never Say Never Again was famously suggested by Connery’s wife. Her contribution of coming up with the memorable title is listed in the films credits.
On intersting tidbit about Never Say Never Again is that Francis Ford Coppola did some uncredited work on the script. Schwartzman said, “We discussed it, he read the material and commented on it. He re-wrote a few things here and there.” Schwartzman was married to Talia Shire at the time, Coppola’s sister.
Connery at the time explained his return to the role – “It’s really dense in terms of the story and subplot and texture – It’s like a detective story – and I have to take quite a bit of responsibility for that. Because I insisted that they go back to that sort of movie if I were going to do it, which, I suppose, is a certain kind of nostalgia on my part.”
Irwin Kershner directed Never Say Never Again. He and Connery last worked together for A Fine Madness in 1966. There were troubles with money on the production, with producer Jack Schwartzman underestimating the needed budget of the film.
During filming, Kershner and Connery were unhappy with him and there was a lot of tension. Connery barely spoke to Schwartzman. Connery was said to have described Schwartzman as “totally incompetent, a real ass”. Connery later claimed that he ended up having to produce the movie himself.
Writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenias were brought in by Connery to work on the script. Clement described the tension between Schwartzman and Connery saying, “Jack Scwartman was terrified of Sean and tended to leave the room when he came into it. And there was no love lost from the other direction either. Sean had no time for Jack.”
Kirshner said the relationship between the two during filming, “They had a very, very poor relationship. It goes beyond what you can imagine.”
Clement described the two yelling at each other in the evenings. “At the end of each day there was a huge debate about what was going wrong. And my writing partner Ian La Frenais and I would sit in on these meetings until they started to get ugly and then we would get up and say, we’ll just go make dinner reservations. So we would go and get a bottle of red wine, start drinking and wait to see who turned up. And it tended to be Sean. He’d come in and say, ‘bloody Mickey Mouse outfit’, and grumble at us. He found it very unprofessional.”
Another bit of trivia is that Steven Seagal was working on the film as a martial arts instructor and accidentally broke Connery’s wrist during a lesson.
Never Say Never Again was initially scheduled to be released in the summer of 1983. However, due to the necessity of some scenes needing to be reshot that summer, it missed it’s summer release date and would be delayed until the fall. The official Bond film Octopussy would beat it to theaters being released in June 1983.
Connery’s return to playing James Bond after twelve years was HUGE news. The media excitedly hopped on it and stories about it were all over the place. The official Bond series was about to release Octopussy with Roger Moore. The press loved hyping up ‘The Battle of the Bonds’ that was to unfold in 1983. Who would win – Moore or Connery?
Although the two actors were close friends and acted good-natured about the competing Bond films.
During the promotion Connery appeared on the Tonight Show With Johnny Carson. Carson began talking about a Bond trivia quiz and started to ask Connery some of the questions. Carson asked, “Who played the first Bond villain?” and Connery answered, “Cubby Broccoli.” After the audience laughs, Connery then added, “I’m only kidding.”
My take is that still all those years later Connery still felt somewhat resentful towards Broccoli that he wasn’t fairly compensated and paid what he justly believed he was worth in the early days of the Bond films. It’s something that would always be a sore spot for him.
He’s equally well known for his scrutiny of movie profits, hiring his own team of accountants to review the books of most of his movies. “I hate unfairness,” he had said.“I find it criminal that you can enter into an agreement with somebody and then they try to steal from you in the bookkeeping.”
He often said that he despised injustice. It’s not that Connery loved money – no more than anyone else. But coming from such a poor background he didn’t want to be taken advantage of and believed he should be paid what he rightfully earned and was valued for. His large paydays were a reflection of his worth and what he brought to a film. In the past we’ve seen him take smaller parts for much less money, so money wasn’t the ultimate driving force behind all his decisions in his career. Plus, he would often donate some of his large salaries to charity.
Regardless that the role of James Bond was the big break in his career, believing he felt slighted by the Bond producers was a feeling he carried through the rest of his career. Although his most famous dispute was his money battles with Bond producers Saltzman and Broccoli, thereafter he kept a keen eye on his earnings.
There has been many times he’s gone to legal lengths to get what he felt he earned from films and studios (as I’ve noted with some of his films). He had said, he’s “put lawyers’ children through school”.
Being in the mega-salary range he has said money is important because he’s “been ripped off so many times.”
“I have some resentment for people that make an agreement and then don’t keep it. I hired my own bookkeepers to keep a watch on everything. Hollywood bookkeeping can be very suspect.”
He was not willing to allow himself to get shortchanged again, hiring his own team of accountants to review the books of all his movies and do a thorough audit of them. “I’ve been screwed more times than a hooker! I’ve been caught out twice with guys who were involved with my finances, and I had to go to court and bankrupt them. It’s deep – a deep kind of resentment I have for that kind of betrayal and injustice. I hate injustice. It’s the reason why I’ve sued every one of those film companies…If someone like myself doesn’t continue doing it, who’s going to? There’s a lot of people in Hollywood who don’t make an issue out of it, just accept it. It’s unfair! It’s bent!”
He might’ve felt a bit of satisfaction demanding a large salary for Diamonds Are Forever just to make Broccoli and Saltzman bend to his will in that instance. Starring in a competing Bond film against Broccoli with Never Say Never Again might’ve felt like a bit of payback as well. That’s just my speculation though.
Never Say Never Again was released on October 7, 1983 and was an immediate smash. It didn’t top Octopussy’s box office total, but it did come close. Ultimately, Connery’s return as Bond had a worldwide gross $187 million.
Producer Schwartzman wasn’t quite ready to let go of his James Bond rights he held with McClory, and was anxious to do another James Bond film starring Connery. However, Connery declared this time he was absolutely, unequivocally done with playing James Bond. He would never reprise the role.
Connery also wasn’t eager to work with Schwartzman again under any conditions. He said at the time that making Never Say Never Again seemed “as long as all the other six I did put together. Anyway, by the time they’d be ready to go on another Bond I’d be too old.”
When a reporter noted to him that Moore was 56, Connery replied, “He’s also too old. Bond should not be more than 35.”
In 1993 Connery told Vanity Fair, “There are periods of disenchantment when you don’t do much, because you’re not enthusiastic about the things you’re offered, or because of a bad experience like Never Say Never Again. Because of the disenchantment of making that picture I just didn’t do anything for two years.”
As he had done in the past, Connery paid close attention to the profits of the film and in 1985 filed a complaint against Schwartzman and his company Taliafilm, claiming he had not received his agreed-upon percentage of the profits from Never Say Never Again. An arbitrator decided in favor of Connery and he demanded an accounting, a minimum of $172,843 in damages and $25 million in punitive damages.
Connery did not have the best relationship with his James Bond producers.
Years later, with more distance and a different perspective as his time as James Bond he softened on what the character had given him: “I’m not quite as branded or destroyed by the association with Bond as I once was. There’s no question it was getting in the way of my decisions to do anything else. The strange thing was how long it hung around, but it doesn’t bug me as much as it used to.”
An interesting thing to note – Never Say Never Again would be the last time audiences would see Connery clean shaven in a film.
Connery is the subject of the show coinciding with the release of Never Say Never Again.
Sword of the Valiant (1984)
A sword and sorcery fantasy telling the mythical Arthurian story of Gawain and the Green Knight. During a feast held by King Arthur the mysterious Green Knight (Connery) interrupts and challenges anyone to strike him once with his ax on the condition that he will accept a return blow a year later. Only young Sir Gawain (Miles O’Keefe) accepts.
Writer/director Stephen Weeks, had already made a little-seen variation of story in 1972. He managed to entice a pretty impressive cast for a new retelling. Miles Cyrielle Clair, Trevor Howard, Peter Cushing, Ronald Lacey and John Rhys-Davies. It would be made by the notorious Cannon Group.
The Sword Of The Valiant seems like it was strictly a paycheck movie for Connery. He appears at only the beginning and end of the film, along with a brief appearance in a magic orb in the middle.
All his scenes were shot in France in September and October 1982 while he was also filming Never Say Never Again.
Connery’s appearance in The Sword Of The Valiant is the most unusual since Zardoz. Connery appears covered head to toe in bizarre green make-up. The make-up required over an hour to apply. When she saw her husband in his getup wife Micheline said, “He scared me to death.”
My suspicion is that Connery accepted this strange, lucrative role in part because he knew how popular and successful his return as James Bond in Never Say Never Again would be, so why not make some easy extra cash by signing up for the supporting role of the Green Knight. It wasn’t a lot of strenuous work, it was most likely a lucrative payday and he’s not expected to carry the whole film.
At this point Connery’s appearance in a film was a coup that could be marketed, promoted and give a film an element of prestige. It was also proven that Connery could appear in an unsuccessful production and he could walk away from it pretty much unscathed. Doing a bad movie wouldn’t leave a detrimental mark on his cache.
Connery’s name didn’t do much good for The Sword Of The Valiant. The film was hoped to capitalize on other sword and sorcery films that were popular around this period – Conan The Barbarian, Excalibur, Dragonslayer – but it’s barely remembered today. I can’t find any information about the production, Connery’s salary or its reception. I guess it’s just fallen into the cracks of cinema and is now most notable for Connery wearing that green costume and make-up.
In 1985, a Los Angeles judge dismissed a lawsuit that Connery had filed in 1984 against the producer Albert ‘Cubby Broccoli’ and distributor of the James Bond films MGM-UA Entertainment Co. Connery was seeking $225 million in damages over the profits he felt was owed to him from the six James Bond films he starred in.
At the time, Broccoli was said to have been “shocked and distressed” over Connery’s lawsuit. He said, “The only thing that I have done to Mr. Connery was to place him in the role of 007, which became the most successful film series in the world and made him an extremely wealthy and important film personality. My attorneys are dealing with his unfounded allegations.”
It was a strange lawsuit, the basics were Connery argued his original Bond contract and re-negotiations of it guaranteed him certain profit participation and box-office receipts for starring in the Bond films – Dr. No, From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever. It was also claimed that he had not received any money due to him from the merchandising of the James Bond character.
The lawsuit was dismissed and it went no further.
A fantasy/action/adventure Connor McCloud (Christopher Lambert) has been part of a centuries old war between powerful immortals. We see how in the distant past he first learned he could not be killed. The only way an immortal can be kill is by being beheaded. McCloud got schooled of his unique history and abilities by a fellow immortal warrior who had become his mentor Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramirez played by Connery. Now the war comes to a head in present day and McCloud must defeat his enemy the Kurgan.
The film also stars Clancy Brown, Beatie Edney, Roxanne Hart, Alan North and Jon Polito.
Highlander fans are all to aware of the detailed history of how the Highlander franchise came to be. To be brief, the script was written by Gregory Widen for a screenwriting program at UCLA as his thesis. The script was picked up, director Russell Mulcahy signed on and the production was off and running.
Landing Connery for the low-budget film was quite the accomplishment – one that cost the filmmakers a lot of money. With no big bankable stars attached to the film, Connery’s presence would be a valuable asset to have. So they went to great lengths to get him.
In 2016, producer Peter S. Davis recounted how he approached Connery and made a deal to get him to sign up to play Ramirez in Highlander – “I thought he would be great in the role, but I was discouraged by everyone. Everyone told me there was no chance in the world I’d get Sean Connery. I talked to his agents at the time, and they said, ‘Davis, just make an offer…you know he’s a very well paid actor. Make an offer.’ I offered $300,000 for one week’s work. They told me I was far off the mark. But then, I upped the ante from $500,000 to $700,000. Still nothing. So finally, his agents said, ‘Peter, we like nice round numbers.’ So we offered a million.”
“That got the script to Sean. We immediately heard back that he enjoyed the piece if he got to make certain changes to broaden the role. We finally settled on the million for the week’s work.”
According to Jonathan Melville’s book ‘A Kind of Magic: Making The Original Highlander’, Michael Ryan Highlander’s financer is quoted as saying, “Sean was always known for his love of money”
Connery arrived on the set and the clock began ticking down of his agreed to time to play the immortal Ramirez, a Spanish-based Egyptian, who talks with an unmistakable Connery Scottish brogue.
It’s odd when you think about it, but Connery was hired for Highlander because he was ‘Sean Connery’, not for him to disappear into the part. And if you’ve been following all that I’ve written so far about him, we’ve seen he never really tried to go to long lengths to change his voice when he played another nationality.
It would also be a type of part that Connery would return to through the rest of his career – that of the older, wiser mentor figure who imparts his wisdom and experience to a younger character.
Mulcahy said, “Sean came with great enthusiasm and was very prepared; energetic, and very smart, and great fun to work with. On his first day, we flew up to Glencoe, and on the plane, he opens up this bottle of home-made Scotch and said ‘Try this’. I had a shot, and I don’t know what proof it was but it blew my brains out!”
Mulcahy has said that Connery was forthcoming with his opinions on the production and where things needed improvement with the crew. “He can’t stand inefficiency of any kind. He would group us together and air his views on why so and so wasn’t doing his job correctly. This was free advice – very expensive, I might add – that none of us needed. When he saw the rushes though, things changed.”
To maximize the time they had with Connery, a helicopter was hired to specifically get him to the location faster than the two-hour drive it would normally take. They would also use doubles for any scenes in which you didn’t need to see his character’s face. So many portions of Connery’s scenes were shot in a ‘jigsaw’ way. Shooting shots of Connery while they had him available, then later filming reactions of other actors.
Mulcahy recalled, “Sean was a delight to work with. We’d shoot his close-ups over Christopher, then two weeks later we’d shoot Christopher’s close-up over a double. We didn’t have time to finish full scenes with him. If we went an hour over, it’d be major money.”
It’s funny to think about simply filming Connery and making the most out of his available time seemed to be as much of a complicated project as coordinating an entire film production on its own.
During shooting one scene the villainous Kurgen played by Brown, surprises Ramirez and cuts a table in half he’s sitting at. Brown accidentally came a little too close to Connery with his sword, and Connery stormed off the set. Brown later apologized to him and Connery joked that he needed to use his stunt double more.
Connery ended up spending seven days in the West Highlands shooting his scenes for Highlander. Due to a technical foul-up a scene with Connery had to be reshot, which added to his time on set and increased his paycheck.
Ryan said: “There was a fault with the camera and the negative was damaged.” The deal was $500,000 for three days [of Connery’s time], $500,000 for every day after that. Because of the technical problems, he got another million.”
It was race down to the wire of not having Connery to pay another half a million for another day of filming with Connery.
Mulcahy said, “I got him with the hat on, to turn, to smile, to turn round, with the sword out, laughing, looking shocked…I had three cameras on him. I looked at my watch and, with one minute left, I said ‘You’re wrapped’. And he went, ‘You bastard.”
I’ve read some conflicting interviews and reports from several sources about Connery’s Highlander salary deal. I’m not precisely sure what his original salary deal was and how his overtime added up. I’ve read his additional days added up to $500.00, then some say he earned an extra million for it, but it appears the general consensus is Connery worked between five to seven days and was paid about one and half million dollars for his time on Highlander. Putting aside the details, it was a very nice payday for him.
To his credit, Connery was said to be very easy to work with and he and Lambert got along very well during filming. I’m sure knowing he was earning some very large bank kept him in a good mood on the set.
Mulcahy added, “He was one of the most professional actors I’ve ever worked with. He was such a treat to work with. I was a fan of his. Everybody respected him so much, but he was so respectful of others too. He was so helpful with everybody, and when he was on set, the bar was raised and everybody rose to the occasion.”
One final tidbit about Connery and Highlander I read was that they had him film an opening voiceover that plays at the start of the film. He recorded it in the bathroom of his Spanish villa, not a studio. The recording doesn’t sound very sharp and has an odd echo effect to his dialogue. The producers ended up leaving it in the film. It probably would’ve cost them a small fortune to have Connery re-record it.
With a budget of approximately $16 million, Connery appearing for eighteen minutes onscreen and Queen contributing songs to the film, Highlander only grossed $12.9 million. Fortunately, Highlander would find another life on home video becoming a cult hit and becoming a franchise with more movie sequels, books, video games and a television series.
Connery would return to play Ramirez in Highlander II: The Quickening – and again be paid handsomely for it.
The Name of the Rose (1986)
It’s the 14 century and a suspicious death has taken place at a medieval abby. Franciscan friar William of Baskerville arrives with his young apprentice in tow, and begins an investigation of the incident. He begins to unravel a mystery, more monks are found dead and he begins to unravel a mystery that reaches up to the church leaders as accomplices to a coverup.
Director Jean-Jacques Annaud had wanted to adapt Umberto Eco’s novel for years. He spent four years preparing and planning the film. There was one particular person he felt could not play the lead character of William of Baskerville – Sean Connery.
“I wanted an unknown person to play William de Baskerville, oldish Sherlock Holmes fighting against serial murders in the abbey imagined by Umberto Eco. He had to be over 50 and of course very talented.”
Connery lobbied heavily for the part of William of Baskerville. He had his agent call Annaud every few months reminding him that Connery was interested in playing the part. Annaud didn’t think Connery was well suited for the role. “Sherlock Holmes plus James Bond, there’s one character too many in the abbey”.
After further persistence Annaud agreed to meet with Connery. He came to his office, sat down and said, “Let me read boy”. At which point Connery began reading the script. Annaud recalled, “What I was hearing was what I had heard inside me for almost two years. I stopped him on page 3.”
“I ran out my office and went downstairs to tell my producer Bernt Eichinger the good news.”
“I just have then to convince Umberto Eco, shattered by my choice, the distributors who don’t want to bet any cash on an actor they see on the decline, and the reviewers who take years to accept Sean among the greatest of the first century of cinema.”
It might sound crazy today envisioning a studio being apprehensive of having Sean Connery in a film of theirs, but at the time his box office track record was not on fire and he wasn’t viewed as a bankable star – other than being in a James Bond film. Up to this point the 1980s his films were not doing very well (other than Never Say Never Again) and he was in something of a slump. Him being the lead in The Name of The Rose did not instill confidence with Columbia Pictures, who were the studio then interested in the film. When Annaud decided he was casting Connery as his lead Columbia refused to finance the film. The film would be moved to Twentieth Century Fox to distribute it.
Author Eco also was unhappy with Annaud’s decision to cast Connery.
Connery did want some changes to the script. He had the read the book and “wanted to put more of the philosophy in, stuff like Aristotle’s quote about man being a political animal.”
One condition Connery had was that all the actors would have a Franciscan friar hairstyle of a shaved scalp and a hair halo around the rim.
Connery reflected on the production: “God, it was one of the toughest films I’ve ever made. We filmed in Germany in a monastery, and then we built sets on a hillside outside Rome, and of course, there was noise from planes and trains and buses and blimps. We couldn’t record a single line of dialogue that was usable, and so we had to spend 10 days looping every line of the movie. The monastery was so cold, you could see your breath when you spoke, and of course, they wanted that effect. But I wanted to make the film because I loved the book, which sold 4 million copies, although I imagine 2 million of those copies were never finished, because the first 100 pages are rather slow going – although nothing compared to the 10 days we spent dubbing the dialogue.”
Slater who was then fifteen had nothing but praise for Connery and said working with him was “like having a master class in acting, life all sorts of things. He’s an incredible professional, a real gentleman, a man’s man. He also didn’t take any shit from anybody. He had earned his right to be who he was, and things moved along according to his plan. He was concerned about every element and how everything was treated on the set.”
“It’s quite surreal. But getting the opportunity to work with someone like Sean Connery was probably some of the best foundation building I could have had. He’s such a phenomenal example and such a phenomenal man. But yeah, I was there looking up to him like he was James Bond all the time. I was overwhelmed, I couldn’t believe it.”
Screenwriter Andrew Birkin reflected on Connery’s performance – “Baskerville was a completely different role for Sean, but I think he pulled it off nicely.”
“He gave [Baskerville] a dour, rather Scots sense of humor. He brought pensiveness and thoughtfulness to the part. Things he wasn’t able to play in Bond. Bond is a man of action. Here, Sean played a man of words.”
Birkin added, “He was quite a shy guy, really, not antisocial, but not really a great socializer. I knew him as a very sweet, gentle person. I’ve heard rumors he could be difficult, and his reputation with women wasn’t that great, but I never saw any evidence of that….I was fond of him.”
Annaud was happy he chose Connery for the part and enjoyed the experience of working with him. “I loved working with him because he really is an old-fashioned Rolls. It’s devilishly precise. What he likes that we steer him to the millimeter, saying, ‘You take two steps towards the writing desk, you take your glasses and you put them an inch and a quarter from the tip of your nose and a little lower than the level, and there you pause for a second and a half’. When you work like that with him, it’s wonderful. And suddenly, I had a wonderful shoot with Sean.”
While it was poorly received in the U.S. The Name Of The Rose was a hit internationally grossing $77 million. Connery earned a BAFTA award for his performance.
The Untouchables (1987)
It’s the 1930s and gangster Al Capone (Robert DeNiro) has complete control of the city of Chicago. He’s created a powerful empire from his illegal distribution of alcohol, bribery and violence. Bureau of Prohibition agent Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) is set to bring Capone to justice and assembles a team of ‘untouchables’ who will aid him in his task.
The film also stars Andy Garcia, Charles Martin-Smith, Billy Drago and Patricia Clarkson. Connery plays Irish cop Jimmy Malone, who becomes Ness’ mentor and colleague in his fight against the rampant corruption and crime.
Connery first became attracted to the film because of screenwriter David Mamet. “I thought the part was very original and different and a very interesting storyline.”
Connery signed on for a reduced fee and a percentage of the gross. “I think the emotional level of the film will surprise many people”, he said at the time.
DePalma thought audiences seeing Connery’s character being killed would leave them in shock. “…if I kill Sean Connery, no one will believe it.”
Connery was said to be “appalled” at the level of blood in his death scene, having to be wired up to multiple squibs. He supposedly had a visit to the hospital being left temporarily blinded by the flying stage blood and debris.
“I like when an actor looks one thing and conveys something else, perhaps something diametrically opposite. With Malone, I tried to show at the beginning he could a real pain…so that you wouldn’t think he could be concerned with such things as Ness’s feelings or Ness’s family, and then show he was someone else underneath, capable of real relationships.”
Connery told the New York Times that after reading Malone’s scenes he would then read the scenes in which his character did not appear. “That way I get to know what the character is aware of and, more importantly, what he is not aware of. The trap that bad actors fall into is playing information they don’t have.”
According to DePalma and producer Art Linson, it was Connery’s idea to film the ‘blood oath’ scene between Ness and Malone in a Catholic church. Originally, the scene was going to take place on the street. Connery felt a church would be the only ‘safe’ place in Chicago where the two men would make such a commitment to fight Capone.
It’s quite surprising to learn that the setting for that particular scene came from Connery, since it seems like an ideal location and has become one of the most memorable scenes in the film. Add that to the dialogue:
“Do you know what a blood oath is Mr. Ness?
“Good, ’cause you just took one.”
Somehow I can’t envision that scene being as memorable if the men were standing on a street corner.
Costner and Connery got along very well during filming and became fast friends. Costner recalled “I told Sean when I worked with him, I said, ‘I think you’re going to [be nominated for] the Academy Award for this.'”
Connery was anxious to work with him again and thought he would on The Presidio until Costner pulled out on the film. Connery did a friendly cameo for Costner in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
After Connery’s death Costner fondly remembered him saying about him, “He was the biggest star that I ever worked with and I will be forever grateful to be linked with him on film. Sean Connery was a man’s man who had an amazing career.”
Once again, Connery didn’t bother much with hiding his natural Scottish accent to play the Irish-American Malone. Critics were eager to point out the oddness. It would be an easy point to make when he would play other nationalities, but Connery never attempted to change his voice, which had become his trademark.
He once asked “how he gets away with it” by an interviewer, Connery answered, “I think you have to march to your own drummer. I can be less Scottish sounding than I am, but there’s a certain music for me in words, which is one of the reasons I always work on a script with the director or writer in terms of speech patterns. Emotions are international anyway. I always felt that whenever I was attempting to go too far away from my speech pattern, I lost the picture of what I was trying to do, so I made an early decision not to do that.”
“Drama is conveyed with emotion, and it’s best to spend time looking for that emotion – which is international – instead. Besides, I think there is a certain musicality each person has in their own tongue.”
The Untouchables was a huge hit, grossing 106 million worldwide. It not only attracted audiences, but also awards. The film would be nominated for four Academy Awards, including for Connery’s performance.
Connery found himself nominated for Best Supporting Actor. It was only the second time Connery had attended the ceremony in Los Angeles. The first had been thirty years prior. “Thirty years earlier I had gone to the Academy Awards with John Wayne and Maurice Chevalier, just to watch. I hadn’t been physically present at the ceremony since, until the night I won.”
His nomination was the first in his career and he ended up winning. His future co-star in The Rock Nicholas Cage presented him his Oscar.
During his brief acceptance speech he quipped, “Patience truly is a virtue.”
Despite being an ‘Oscar-winner’, Connery never joined the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. He later said about his Oscar win – “I didn’t experience any great elation”, feeling his Oscar was more for his body of work than his performance in The Untouchables. [The Oscar was] for all my years of patience, I suppose. But I value my Oscar. it got people thinking, ‘Maybe the old duffer can act, after all’.”
“I should like to believe that one improves at one’s craft as one gets older. But whatever improvement that comes, that’s a direct function of however much enthusiasm one is willing to invest in the craft.”
“The people who see James Bond as the beginning of and the end of what I am capable of delivering – well, that’s their problem; it’s not my problem.”
Connery added that he approved of Timothy Dalton as the current 007 and liked “The Living Daylights,” which he applauded for its attention to character over hardware.
Connery reteamed with Peter Hyams and actor Mark Harmon who was bestowed People’s magazine’s Sexiest Man – an honor that Connery would soon receive.
Harmon is an ex-miliatry policeman, now a San Francisco police detective, investigating a murder on a military base. His old commanding officer Connery has an interest in the case. The two men butt heads and try to find out ‘who-done-it’, while also Harmon romances Connery’s daughter Meg Ryan.
There’s a bit of action and an amusing scene of Connery taking out a big bruiser by only using his thumb to fight him.
Initially, Don Johnson was going to be in The Presidio. Then Kevin Costner was potentially going be cast in the film, and Connery was eager to work him again. Ultimately, Costner pulled out and Harmon was cast. The two were said to have gotten along during filming.
Harmon recalled he was not so much intimidated working with Connery, but welcomed the challenge of playing scenes with such a legendary actor. “I think it’s great that he’s competitive because I’ll tell you what, I’m going to give it right back to him.”
Thinking back on the film Harmon added, “A chance to work with Sean. A chance to work with Meg. A really good script, originally by Larry Ferguson, who wrote The Hunt For Red October. But the script changed a lot, as they sometimes do. An interesting experience, though.”
The Presidio was a modest hit, but many felt it was a come down from Connery’s Oscar-winning role in The Untouchables.
Memories of Me (1988)
Henry Winkler makes his feature film directorial debut with this comedy drama. After suffering a heart attack about a man (Billy Crystal) tries to reconnect with his father Abe (Alan King). He travels to Los Angeles with his fiancé (JoBeth Williams) where his father has made a career of being a film and television extra.
While Abe is dressed as a lobster shooting in a soundstage who walks past the three – none other than Sean Connery! Abe apparently knows him and Williams is extremely excited to see the famous actor in person. She exclaims, “That’s Sean Connery!”
Connery’s cameo lasts less than a minute. He was clearly filming The Presido on the Paramount lot, given that he is wearing his military uniform for the film. He did the brief appearance during a break in filming.
Alan King explained how he persuaded Connery to do a cameo in the film:
“First of all [Sean] is a great guy. Second of all, he has a tremendous sense of humor. Years ago, I made the first picture he ever made. It was called On The Fiddle. It was the first picture Sean Connery ever made. I had a small part. It was a G.I. picture. So we’ve been friends. Then we made a picture together called The Anderson Tapes.
“This new generation – Tom Cruise, young [Mark] Harmon, all these very popular and attractive young men were walking around the lot at Paramount while we’re shooting. What we always noticed is that when Sean Connery walked by, everybody – the grips – whirls around and says ‘Sean Connery’. All these other guys, they couldn’t care less. Sean Connery is a star, with his carriage and all.”
Connery happily obliged to do a walk-on cameo and King said he paid him with some champagne and live lobsters for the favor.
Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade (1989)
Adventurer/archeologist Indiana Jones (Harrison Ford) is on a search for the Holy Grail – and his father Henry Jones (Connery) who has gone missing. Jones’ father has been on a lifelong search for the Grail and now the two will follow the clues, fight Nazis and bicker on the long road to discovering the final resting place of the Grail.
“I was doing a film with Peter Hyams, The Presidio. Peter knows Steven, and said that he wanted to talk to me about a film. I had no idea it was Indiana Jones.”
When needing to fill the role of Indiana Jones’ father, Steven Spielberg said that Connery was his first choice to play Dr. Jones Sr. “I couldn’t imagine anyone with less screen power than Sean Connery to be the famous Indiana Jones’ father. Spielberg rationalized that Harrison Ford “takes up a lot of screen, and I didn’t want Harrison diminishing any father in screen presence. I figured Sean would give Harrison a run for his money.”
Connery’s stature, along with his ‘James Bond history’ made him probably the only actor who would make audiences believe the elder Jones could actually tame, confront and steal away a girl away from his son. Even if he was only twelve years older than Ford.
At the time Spielberg wasn’t sure Connery would accept the part. “I didn’t think Sean would want to play Indiana Jones’ father. Obviously, Sean had a trademark on the James Bond movies, and we are a kind of James Bond movie ourselves. I’m not quite sure I’d be interested in being in James Bond’s rival motion picture.”
At first Connery needed a bit of convincing to play the senior Dr. Jones when he read the script. “I was rather disappointed. When I voiced my reservations about it, Steven was, I think, a bit surprised. My reservations at the beginning were mainly to get a clearer picture of where we were going with this character – this father figure.”
Connery continued, “They had to be very sure what they were going for. A more academic-type casting would have been somebody like Gregory Peck, but you needed somebody that Harrison could bounce off. Henry had to be something pretty special to produce Indy. Also, he had to be something different. When Indy says, ‘You never talked to me’, I say, ‘Well, you weren’t interesting until you were 19.’ Which is right below the belt, but probably right on the nose.”
Connery enjoyed his time making The Last Crusade saying, “I got on famously with Steven, and speak with him often. There was no seduction talk, no movie-star stuff. And Harrison’s a pro, he’s terrific. We got a really good relationship going.”
Ford was happy Connery joined the film and felt no trepidation working with him. “It was a brilliant idea to bring Sean in. I want all the possible support the film and I can have.” Ford enjoyed playing the comedic bantering scenes with Connery, “Some of those scenes were like vaudeville routines. It was great fun working on that stuff with Sean.”
Ford said, “Sean is, of course, such a terribly experienced actor and that made it interesting to work with him. He’s an awfully nice guy, too. I’ve enjoyed knowing him as well as working with him.”
“I think the essence of the fun for me is the pleasure”, Connery said. “The greatest pleasure is when the whole team is working and then what you’re all trying to do works. When a film set is harmonious and everybody has the same similar intention and goal, it’s terrific. It’s like a microcosm of a really good society.”
Last Crusade was released in North America on Wednesday May 24, 1989 earning a record $37 million over the 4-day Memorial weekend. Grossing $474 million worldwide. Connery earned a BAFTA and Golden Globe nomination for Best Supporting Actor. At the time of its release Last Crusade was the 11th highest-grossing film of all time and ended up as the highest grossing film of the year.
As for a possible future reteaming of Indiana Jones and father, Connery at the time reiterated what Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford had said before, that The Last Crusade “was planned as the last of the Indiana Jones series and I presume he knows better than anybody if there are going to be any more. If he says it’s the last one I presume it is. Nobody’s ever said anything to me about the possibility of doing another film.”
Connery declined an offer to reprise the role years later in Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull as he said he found retirement too enjoyable. In the film it is reveled that his character has died, and he does appear in a photograph on his son’s desk.
At the time a reporter asked if he’d consider playing the father of James Bond. Connery replied, “Would I play James Bond’s father. I haven’t thought about it. They haven’t asked me. Again, it would depend of on how well it was conceived and who was doing it. But, why not?” Then added, “It would cost them.”
Connery Is The Sexiest Man Alive!
People magazine votes the 59-year-old Connery as their Sexiest Man Alive for 1989
Connery’s Never Say Never Again co-star Barbara Carerra told People at the time, “All over the world, women ask about Sean Connery. They stare at me with their mouths open: ‘What’s he like to work with?'”
Spielberg commented to the magazine, “There are only seven genuine movie stars in the world today and Sean is one of them.”
Connery’s old flame Shelley Winters said at the news, “He was sexy at 26, and at 60 even more so. He makes a woman feel sexual chemistry. To be his leading lady, I’d lose 50 pounds and get my face lifted. As a matter of fact, I’d get everything lifted.”
When Connery was asked who he thought was a sexy man he named Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, saying he was “‘a man’s man’ because of his “extraordinary combination of intelligence, baldness and serenity. Almost Buddha-like.”
Yep, this silly ‘most Sexiest’ stuff from People was once a popular topic for the country to discuss. News outlets ran with this ‘story’ and it got an awful lot of exposure.
Privately, Connery thought this ‘Sexiest Man’ honor bestowed on him from People magazine was rather ridiculous. He dryly, said, “I suppose it’s better than being the sexiest man dead.”
“What was I meant to say? ‘Oh, I’ve known it for a long time and I was just wondering how long it was going to take before you realized’?”
In 1993 he reflected on his physical appearance, “I think that people’s faces do express the lives they’ve led,” he says, persuaded at last to talk seriously about his looks. “People who’ve done quite a lot in their lives have faces that show that. I’m not as old as Hemingway or Picasso were when they died. But I hope I’m on my way to getting their kinds of faces. You remember what Picasso was like? It’s something to do with an appetite—with being alive.”
Family Business (1989)
A college student (Matthew Broderick) decides to call on his shady family’s past by planning heist with his career criminal grand-father (Connery) and his reformed father (Dustin Hoffman). As with most well planned capers in movies, as well as they thought they planed it something goes wrong, and the youngest family member ends up getting caught and in deep trouble.
Connery was only seven years older than Hoffman at the time.
Vincent Patrick who wrote Family Business was amazed by they way New Yorkers reacted to Connery while filming. “You suddenly realize he’s the closest we now have to Clark Gable, an old time movie star. Everyone knows him and likes him. It’s shocking – every age group, men and women. There’s something very likable about him on a screen.”
When Lumet was asked about Connery’s sudden career resurgence that had taken place the last several years he said, “I don’t think he’s so much grown as an actor. It’s more that the estimation of him has finally caught up with what he can do. I always knew his ability. John Huston, when he cast him in The Man Who Would Be King, he knew it, too. Sean always had the capacity for giant acting. But it’s only in the last ten or fifteen years that people have started saying, ‘Oh! He can act!'”
“He’s not just physically big, he’s emotionally large, too. When he enters a room, it’s the arrival of his persona, really. It’s like those great eyebrows come into the room first, you know?“
“There is none of the star’s self-indulgence about Sean,” Lumet says. “He’s not the type to get angry about the size of his trailer or any of that stuff…. If you put him in a crew that’s functioning well, there’s no one more fun to make a movie with. You’re kicking ass, in the best sense.”
Connery has said when he’s on set he doesn’t like to waste time and just wants to get the job done. “I’m not open to suggestions. When I’m on set, I just want to get on with what we came to do.”
Critics and audiences were not impressed with the crime drama starring the trio of actors. One popular criticism was the unbelievable concept that Connery, Hoffman and Broderick being related by blood in any way. Audiences are willing to go with a suspension of disbelief, but it’s quite a confusing family tree Lumet made with the casting.
In 2012 Hoffman recalled Family Business and the casting of Connery as his father – “Oh God! That was the silliest piece of casting I ever did. And Matthew Broderick was my son. But I cannot believe you saw that movie. Did it hang together? No, it wasn’t a good movie. I only did it for the money, and I try not to make choices for that reason. I’d just finished Rain Man and decided I wanted to do ‘Merchant of Venice’ on stage in London, which meant I’d be away from movies for at least a year. So my agent said, ‘If you do this movie called Family Business, the director Sidney Lumet is a stickler for schedule, so he will shoot it in 32 days, you will get paid a lot of money – and then you can be away doing your Shakespeare’. That’s literally the reason I did it.”
He then added, “…but did think that Sean Connery was the perfect actor for Sidney Lumet. I like Sean, but Sean didn’t like to do more than two takes because he likes golf. He gets his takes early, while it takes me longer. So he would get it done the way Lumet wanted it so he could go and spend part of the day playing.”
Lumet – “Sean can’t stand dopes! He’s impatient with inadequacy. Things are very simple with Sean – very cut-and-dried. He can smell a fake. He knows in a minute if a director or a cameraman doesn’t know what he’s doing. He’s very bright, and he can’t stand people who don’t know their business as well as he knows his.”
“I never grouch,” he said. “I have nothing but respect for everybody and anybody who works professionally—whether it’s the clapper boy, the grip, or the carpenter. And anybody who’s worked with me would know it. The only problem I have is with arses who create more problems than they solve. I have no ego when I’m making a picture. I expect everybody I’m working with to give 100 percent because I do.”
Connery was set to accept the Life Time Achievement Tribute Award from the British Academy of Film & Television Arts. His old friend Michael Caine was there. After Connery had played Harrison Ford’s father and then Dustin Hoffman’s Dad, Caine remarked to his pal, “Y’know, Sean, if only y’d kept up with the weight training, you could’ve gone on to play Arnold Schwarzenegger’s father!”
The Hunt For Red October (1990)
Based on Tom Clancy’s best-selling novel, a Soviet submarine captain (Connery) in command of a innovative stealth capabilities, abandons his orders and heads for the United States. Is he defecting or about to unleash a war? CIA agent Jack Ryan (Alec Baldwin) is sent to find out the captain’s motives for his strange behavior and potentially stop his attack. The film also stars, Scott Glenn, Sam Neill, James Earl Jones, Jeffrey Jones and Tim Curry.
Directed by John McTiernan, The Hunt For Red October gave Connery another opportunity to bring his distinctive voice to playing another nationality – and not be bothered to change it at all.
Oddly enough, Connery was not the original choice to play Marko Ramius. Klaus Maria Brandauer, Connery’s nemesis in Never Say Never Again, was first cast, but then had to pull out due to a scheduling conflict, at which point Connery stepped in.
When Connery first got the offer he almost turned it down feeling the story was dated given the recent political landscape. “I thought this kind of Cold War intrigue might be dated because of recent events. It turned out that the studio had failed to fax the first page of the script, which explained that it took place before Gorbachev.”
John Milius’, who had directed Connery in 1975’s The Wind and The Lion, ended up doing uncredited work on he script as a request from Connery. In 2003, Milius said Connery requested, “Make it about me”. He said the he “wrote all the Russian stuff – everything that’s Russian in that movie.”
McTiernan – “I knew I was doing alright with hime when he began calling me ‘boy’. That’s sort of his mark of approval. At the end of the night he’d say, ‘Good night, boy’. Sean loves movies, really knows a lot about them. And he really liked my style of working, the way I like to shoot. So it was very easy to work with him.”
Baldwin reflected on his time working with Connery, “He was very kind to me. He was very supportive to me. I was completely overwhelmed to be in a movie with him. He knew – he’s like all those people at the level – where they stand there very patiently and wait for you to process for about 10-15 minutes the kind of overwhelming feeling that you’re with these people.”
“Sean had that ability to stand there for five to ten minutes. He was like, ‘Yes, it’s me. I’ll wait for this feeling to pass over you.’ I don’t mean that in an arrogant way. It had nothing to do with him. It was all about me and my reaction to him. But then we shot these scenes and he was very, very generous and very wonderful to work with.”
“You’d think that [his] character in Hunt For Red October is very driven and very fanatical in a way. He played it exactly the opposite. He played it as a man who had to remain calm and he had to remain focused and he had to remain in control in order to rally all of these people to do this crazy thing that we’re going to do.”
Baldwin told Rolling Stone magazine about Connery, “He’d give me advice, but he’d never push anything on me. He asked me ‘Are you going to the rushes, boy? The dailies – are you going to go see them?’ I told him, ‘Well, no, I wasn’t planning on going.’ ‘Oh, you must! You must go to the rushes boy! How will you ever learn?!’ And I thought, wow. You know, he wasn’t chatty – he was there to work. But he was happy to help you get the job done. He’d been through what I was going through….Sean was always the most impressive combination of actor and star that I’ve ever seen.”
According to IMDB, $20,000 was spent on Connery’s toupee. Connery’s hair actually caused a bit of tension between McTiernan and Connery. Without consulting his director Connery arrived his first day on set with a hairpiece sporting a ponytail. McTiernan later said he was “livid” with Connery’s hair decision.
Being ‘Sean Connery’ if he wanted to wear a ponytail as a Soviet submarine captain he was going to wear it. It was only during filming the second day when director of photography Jan De Bont was laughing during the dailies telling Connery his ponytail looked like a “limp swinging dick”. At that point Connery relented and gave up the ponytail for another hairpiece more to McTiernan’s liking. McTiernan joked that the reported cost of $20,000 for Connery’s hairpieces on the film was mainly for that pony tail wig, his hair seen in the final film was only, “a ten dollar bargain from a thrift shop”.
Despite some concerns of the Cold War story, one rival studio executive said at the time, “…[Paramount] is very nervous about it. The world has changed. Gorbachev was Time’s Man of the Decade. Defection is no longer an issue.”, The Hunt For Red October was a big success.
On a budget of $30 million The Hunt For Red October got rave reviews and grossed over $200 million worldwide.
Also in 1990 Connery’s son Jason embraced some of this father’s legacy with a 1990 acting role.
Jason Connery had first expressed an interest in acting as a teenager. He attended drama school at the Bristol Old Vic. He first appeared in 1983’s The Lords of Discipline at age 20. His most famous acting role was in the drama series Robin of Sherwood he appeared in during its third season in 1986. Along with acting, Jason would also later venture into directing.
When he decided to pursue an acting career he said his father offered this advice – “My Dad basically said, ‘Look, the thing about acting is, it’s a tough profession. If you really don’t want to do it, you’ll find out soon.’ I know what that means because it’s tough going into a call room and sort of exposing yourself, so to speak, the way you do when you are auditioning and stuff.”
In 1990 he was cast to play James Bond creator and author Ian Fleming in the 1990 television movie Spymaker: The Secret Life of Ian Fleming. The film came just one year after another television movie about Fleming – Goldeneye (not that one) starring Charles Dance as Fleming.
The connection of a ‘Connery’ playing Bond author Fleming was not lost on anyone.
Promoting Red October, Connery sits at a press conference for an hour and fields questions from reporters
The Russia House (1990)
Based on the best-selling novel by John le Carré, Connery plays an alcoholic, jaded, jazz-loving British publisher Barley Blair who is sent a manuscript by a mysterious Russian woman (Michelle Pfeiffer). The manuscript contains secrets of the Soviet Union’s capability of waging nuclear war.
The CIA and MI6 discovers the author of the manuscript is actually a Soviet physicist Klaus Maria Brandauer). They recruit Blair to get close and learn about the physicist and while on his mission falls in love with Pfeiffer).
The film also stars Roy Scheider, Klaus Maria Brandauer, James Fox, John Mahony, Michael Kitchen and J.T. Walsh.
The Russia House was directed by Fred Schepisi and much of it was filmed on location in the USSR. It was released only one year after the release of the novel, which ended up becoming a best-seller. The movie went into development while the novel was still in its manuscript stage.
The budget for The Russia House was said to be about $21.8 million, which sources reported roughly half of that was spent on the book rights and the salaries for “two superstars plus a major director”.
The Russia House was the first time a US film was not a co-production. It was permitted to film in the Soviet Union and was not required to undergo script approval or worry about Soviet censorship. The government gave permission for filming very quickly. Filming would take place in Leningrad, Moscow, Zagorsk and Peredelkino over the course of twenty-six days.
Working with Russian crew members Connery said, “we discovered that they go at a more leisurely pace, which is, I guess, what Gorbachev is trying to change. Something that takes them a few days to build might take our people a couple of hours.”
Producer Paul Maslansky, said, “I think day by day we are turing the Russians around and they are starting to respond to the need to keep things moving quickly.
Oddly enough, Maslansky had actually worked with Connery in the country back in 1969 filming The Red Tent. Connery said filmmaking in the Soviet Union was the same but different from the last time he worked there.
“In one sense, there`s a complete transformation, and in another, it`s as stagnant as it was then. The basic difference is that the curtain has been lifted, and one is suddenly exposed to all the deficiencies. Before, it was a well-oiled machine that no one questioned, from the traffic lights synchronized in special fast lanes for the big, black, sleek, sinister government cars to the guy at the gate of the film studio who had the fur hat and machine gun.”
”Now under Gorbachev, it all looks like something wonderful to the outside world. But the ironies are exposed. There they are up in space with the Japanese guy, and they can`t feed their people. That tells you something. But the filming was much, much easier in terms of support. I can truthfully say that the Russian police were the smartest film-operating police I’ve ever been involved with. All the bureaucracy still prevails, but it didn`t really restrain us in any way.”
Pfeiffer said filming there was not much of a problem since the average Soviet citizen couldn`t have cared less about the making of a Hollywood film. ”They didn`t really want to know anything about us. They didn`t recognize me. But they did know Sean, of course, from James Bond. He`s more famous than God.”
”If we were shooting Sean Connery and Michelle Pfeiffer walking down any main street in Pittsburgh or Philadelphia, it would be a major traffic-stopper,” says Maslansky. ”Even though the Soviets recognized Sean, there was never any fan mobbing or anything like that. They have other things on their minds. Like a full stomach.”
When Connery was asked about the character of Barley Blair, he said, “‘I suppose you might say he`s like a gelding-a horse with no future. But mainly through the Michelle Pfeiffer character, he really finds himself. I think the capsule is that to be a hero, you just have to behave like a really decent human being. That, in essence, is the story.”
Director Schepisi, enjoyed his time working with Connery. “Sometimes what people are in life doesn’t carry to the screen. Sean is one of those rare people whose qualities in life do translate onto the screen. He has a fantastic energy, a bonhomie. He has a largess – and a largeness – which carries to an audience. There is a strength in him, a solidity. There’s a rock there, you know?”
Actor John Mahoney told Variety that he signed up for the film because of a “lengthy interrogation scene” he had with Connery in the original script. He then learned his character was eventually severely trimmed. When he was told of this he considered dropping out of the film.
Connery made sure his friend Brandauer got a part in The Russia House. Originally Brandauer was to have played the Marko Ramis in The Hunt For Red October, but when he was forced to pull out of the role Connery signed him up. With The Russia House, Connery had casting approval as part of his contract. He was the reason why Brandauer got the role of Dante, the Soviet physicist in the film. They clearly must have gotten on well together after first working together in Never Say Never Again.
“I should like to believe that one improves at one’s craft as one gets older,” Connery added, measuring his words carefully before spilling them. “But whatever improvement that comes, that’s a direct function of however much enthusiasm one is willing to invest in the craft.”
British playwright Tom Stoppard acknowledges. “He’s not the most tolerant person. It’s a cliche, but he really doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He’s a capable person, and he expects others to be capable, too.”
“My time is limited. You have two choices when you’re on the set. You can do it the way it’s planned, or you can mess it up. I prefer to do what we came to do. It’s not a waste of time if everybody is doing what they’re supposed to be doing, with everybody working to get results. And anybody who screws up should be fired!”
When asked about how audiences would respond to the film, Connery said, “I don`t know what the audience response to the film will be because of the political factor. I don`t know whether the young audience is aware of how much the Cold War meant. It calls for a certain kind of attention to watch the film, and if it doesn’t grab you efficiently, then I don`t think it will be particularly interesting. But my feelings were the same when we did The Hunt for Red October. I felt we had-figuratively-missed the boat. Which has proven absolutely wrong. It`s still going, $120 million later.”
Connery and Pfeiffer were applauded for the performances, but the film received generally mixed reviews from critics and there was a feeling of indifference audiences had towards it. The film was not a hit at the box office only doing modest business.
Highlander II: The Quickening (1991)
Conor McCloud (Christopher Lambert) returns. This time the immortal is aging – it’s the future world of 2024 – the Earth’s ozone layer has been destroyed – the earth is encased in an artificial shield – we learn the immortals are actually aliens from the planet Zeist – there is a new villain that needs to be defeated – a storyline that is nonsensical and daffier than fans could ever have imagined – and somehow after being beheaded and killed in the original film, Connery’s Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramirez is alive and well, opening the door for Connery to earn another quick big Highlander paycheck!
The film also stars, Virginia Madsen, Michael Ironside, John C. McGinely and Allan Rich.
It took awhile, but the first Highlander film had eventually gained a cult status and a fanbase. Once the potential of Highlander becoming a successful film franchise, a sequel began to be worked on.
The sequel was pre-sold to overseas distributors that had raised the money for the budget mainly based on Connery’s name and his return. They weren’t interested in a brief Connery cameo in the film like he had done in Robin Hood. Connery had to be a major principal character in the film for them to back the film.
Connery’s promised association with the sequel was essentially a ‘make or break’ deal. No Connery, no movie. The filmmakers needed Connery back as Ramirez to get the film made. So, once again they contacted him and were prepared to pay handsomely for his services.
Connery was sent a script and an offer but declined saying he was unhappy with the lack of humor to Ramirez. This went back and forth for a long time. After 30 weeks of rewriting and re-submitting the script to him, Connery was satisfied. He finally committed and signed up for Highlander II: The Quickening.
According to the documentary ‘Highlander II: Seduced By Argentina’, Connery was getting paid $3 million for six days work. Some other sources have said that Connery agreed to work ten days for that $3 million. Whichever number is correct, it was going to be a huge Highlander payday for Sean and he was only giving a very limited amount of his time.
Director Russell Mulcahy’s (who also returned for the sequel) goal was to include at least twenty minutes of Connery into the final film. As they did with the first film, they would have to strategically schedule Connery’s time to get the most footage of him possible in order to make him a significant character in the sequel. Not the easiest thing to do while filming a complex big-budget science fiction action film. The challenge was on!
The film would be shot in Argentina. The location was not the filmmakers first choice and ended up causing multiple problems, one of which was monetary. Initially, it was thought that the film’s budget would go further in Argentina. However, at the time, the exchange rate of local currencies fluctuated wildly against the American dollar during production.
“It got to the point where banks closed for five days, and no retailer would sell us vital raw materials because the price could double tomorrow”, The Quickening’s production designer Roger Hall saiid at the time.
Add to that language barriers, a lack of available local film professionals, equipment and simply the lack of capabilities of filming a big-budget film in the country. The film was forced to bring in their own supplies and talent to Argentina for filming. The production became a never-ending series of problems that needed to be solved.
When he arrived on set Connery brought his straight forward work ethnic to the production. Bill Panzer of Davis-Panzer Productions the firm that was making The Quickening, said at the time, “When somebody is on a short shooting schedule like Sean, you have to plan extremely carefully. Sean comes to work…He is a no-nonsense professional. he is here to do a job and get it done, and he wants everyone around him to have the same attitude.”
Madsen was excited to land a part in The Quickening. It wasn’t so much of the honor of being a part of the second big-screen Highlander story that lured her to the role. It was reported she did the film for only two reasons – it being a chance for her to travel to Argentina and the opportunity to work with Sean Connery.
When Virginia Madsen was hired she was told that Connery supposedly had instituted a written policy that demanded no one ever speak to him about James Bond. Anyone who did could be fired. Madsen thought it was ridiculous and didn’t believe this ‘No Bond Rule’. “The first day that Sean came to work, I went up to the set and I said, ‘Oh God! James Bond!’ And he turned around, a big smile and hugged me.”
Ironside has said, “…I showed up for work, and they glued a full mane on me, give me a cape, leather boots that go to my thighs, and a four-foot stand that I can cleave people in half with. How can you not want to work, you know? That was an absolute joy! And then I get to hang out with Sean Connery?”
Mulcahy said that Connery was much more fun on the second film than the first for whatever reason. Maybe this time his Ramieriz got to show off more humor, maybe he was still feeling good after his Oscar win. Connery “anybody who’s professional has no problems with me.”
Connery said at the time, “I don’t think anybody is terribly good at predicting whether a film is successful. I think it’s successful if you make the film that you thought it was. If you think a project is interesting, if you think it’s a challenge, if you think it helps you progress in some way, then you go ahead. If not, then there’s not really a great deal of point in doing it.”
“If you just want to be commercial – well, that’s a main reason I got out of the James Bond thing.”
Perhaps Connery was being gracious when talking about The Quickening OR maybe there was indeed something he found personally challenging and satisfying in returning for the sequel. Maybe something special with his character or story or something. If you’ve seen the film you might find it difficult to see what attracted him to the film other than a big payday.
According to IMDB, Michael Ironside didn’t mince words about The Quickening and freely made his feelings known. Supposedly he said that he, Connery and Lambert hated the script and that they all only signed up for the film for the money. He even added to say that the script was, “like it was written by a thirteen-year-old boy!”.
The original budget for The Quickening was $22 million, but it ended up ballooning to $34 million.
Production problems during filming and the bonding company’s interference could be said ‘beheaded’ Highlander II. The bonding company took over the film completely. At that point, Lambert was said to have wanted to walk off the film, but fulfilled his obligations and finished filming.
The original editorial staff was fired, a new team was hired and their focus was less the creative side and more simply to get the film completed and released. Mulcahy, said, “The film was not in my hands anymore.”
Mulcahy was said not to be happy with the finished film. “It was not quite the film that was planned.” It’s been reported that he walked out of the premiere disgusted after just fifteen minutes. Fans were not happy with the more ‘sci-fi’ elements and less ‘fantasy’. with the ‘immortals’ being aliens. Special effect shots were slapped together and the film became a patch work of ideas, none of which made much sense.
They ended up getting plenty of footage of Connery. They even put him on the movie poster, but it didn’t much help the second Highlander film. Critics lambasted the film and the box office returns were extremely disappointing.
In his review, Roger Ebert wrote that Highlander II: The Quickening, “is the most hilariously incomprehensible movie I’ve seen in many a long day – a movie almost awesome in its badness.”
In 1995 Mulcahy was able to revisit The Quickening and make a director’s cut of the film. Known as ‘The Renegade’ version, it was an attempt to restore the film closer to the original vision. In 2004, producers William Panzer and Davis worked on yet another version of Highlander II which has been dubbed the ‘Special Edition’.
Mulcahy later said, “It’s weird how they built a huge franchise off of the first film. I can’t quite understand it. It’s like they say in the film ‘There can only be one’. In a genre film you can create any scenario you like, but once you break your own rules, the audience feels betrayed, which is what happened with Highlander II.“
The Highlander franchise would continue with another sequel and a television series, but Connery bid adieu to his part of Highlander with The Quickening. He never reprised his role of Ramirez.
It is worth noting that Ramirez is the only character, other than James Bond, Connery would play more than once on the big screen.
“Some careers are longer, some are shorter. I’ve been able to work since 1960 – that’s 30 years….If the material is good stuff, it takes me along.”
I’ve never heard which version of Highlander II: The Quickening Connery preferred….if any.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
The English folk hero of Robin Hood has his story tole once again – is there an official number of how many Robin Hood projects there have been. This time Kevin Costner stars as Robin Locksley. He will romance Lady Marian, battle the Sheriff of Nottingham and shoot plenty of arrows.
The film stars Morgan Freeman, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio, Alan Rickman, Christian Slater, Michael McShane and Brian Blessed.
Robin Hood Prince of Thieves was a huge box office hit when it was released in the summer of ’91. It ended up being the second largest grossing film of the year, right behind Terminator 2: Judgement Day. The theme song ‘(Everything I Do) I Do It For You’ by Bryan Adams soared on the charts and was a constant of the radio for the rest of the year.
When audiences went to see Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves they were treated to a surprise uncredited cameo appearance by Connery who shows up at the end of the film as King Richard.
Back during this time, secrets and endings of films didn’t make the rounds so easily as today, where any surprises a film might contain makes it’s rounds on social media instantaneously to millions of people. His cameo did get leaked, but unlike today, the spoiler surprise didn’t have the far reach of social media. So Connery’s appearance at the end of the film caught many audiences off guard and was a real surprise treat to see.
Sometimes I wonder if The Crying Game would have become such a popular film and become such a talking point if it was made today. Would’ve left the same impact on audiences. Somehow I envision audiences going in to see it knowing full well it’s big surprise.
According to IMDB Connery was first offered the cameo role of Lord Locksley, but passed on it, feeling he had been playing too many fathers recently. For an appearance as King Richard he was game to do. He donated his $250,000 salary from his role as King Richard in 1991 to charity.
Medicine Man (1992)
Connery plays a brilliant research scientist who’s been living in the Amazon jungle determined to find the cure for cancer – and he believes he managed to make the discovery! The pharmaceutical company that funds him sends biochemist Lorranine Bracco to check on him. The two opposites will butt heads, argue and eventually fall for each other. Meanwhile, that cure for cancer is threatened when mercenary villains are getting ready to destroy the one place one earth where the ingredients for the cure can be found.
Before filming had started Connery told a reporter about his next project – “My next film is as yet untitled. [Screenwriter] Tom Schulman — he’s the fellow who wrote ‘Dead Poets Society,’ y’know — is more concerned with getting the story right than with coming up with a catchy title that the studio heads would probably want changed anyway.”
I find it somewhat funny, that the eventual title of ‘Medicine Man‘ is exactly how Connery described what Hollywood would want. It’s short, catchy and would look good on a movie poster.
“But it’s a story about a doctor — that’s my part — who’s on a research expedition into this jungle. Along comes a woman on a similar venture. They wind up getting involved more than professionally, out there in the jungle. We wind up a lot like Jane and Tarzan. I’ve always wanted to play at being Tarzan, so all that remains now is to see whether I can make such a portrayal work at this ‘advanced’ age of mine!”
Connery is once again directed by his Hunt For Red October director John McTiernan. Connery was also executive producer on Medicine Man.
McTiernan later described the difficulty of shooting in the jungle – “We had all sorts of rigs mounted in the trees, all over the jungle. We probably spent three weeks working 125 feet above the forest floor.”
McTiernan recalled a funny moment during filming – When the rain machine had moisturized Lorraine Bracco’s hair, to the point that she was always asking before a shot, “How’s my hair?’. Connery busted the crew up by initiating Lorraine and asking before a shot, “How’s my hair?'”
Connery gave an interview during the production that created a bit of a stir. He said he was extremely uncomfortable during filming. He described the food as “appalling”, complained that everybody but himself got sick and lamented that there was nowhere to go near the set except for a tennis court, which he likened to “the beach at Dunkirk”. He also expressed disdain for the “noise of the insects and wildlife,” and reportedly abandoned the set three days early, leaving the filmmakers to finish without him.
It was also reported that Connery was also supposedly unhappy with McTiernan’s direction of Bracco’s. (although I can’t find any quotes verifying that).
McTiernan defended the conditions on the set, arguing that, unlike the ill-fated productions of Werner Herzog’s Fitzcarraoldo and At Play In The Fields of the Lord, no crew members had been lost to serious illnesses. He refused to comment on Connery’s accusations that he had failed to guide Lorraine Bracco’s performance.
Bracco was handpicked by Connery to be his leading lady and she would receive most of the vitriol from critics. Supposedly even during filming the crew knew her casting was a detriment to the film. After six weeks of filming in the Mexican jungle the crew nicknamed it ‘Who’ll Stop Lorraine?’.
Medicine Man was meant to be be something of an African Queen/Romancing The Stone kind of jungle-romance, but critics weren’t impressed. The biggest target of criticism was not surprisingly Bracco’s performance. Many felt she was badly miscast. While she was terrific in Goodfellas, in Medicine Man she came off annoying and amateurish. Her Bronx accent was also a major talking point. Her voice became grating for audiences hearing her yell lines, like, “You said I could cry all I want!”. Owen Gleiberman described her performance and voice as “like a trumpet blaring in your ear”.
Medicine Man ended up grossing around $40 million.
Soon after the films release cancer researcher Ferguson sued Connery, his agents and the makers of Medicine Man for $100 million, claiming the story was based on the doctor’s life and he was never compensated for it.
I wonder how Connery felt being on the other end of a lawsuit. It didn’t last very long. Ferguson didn’t win his suit after documents produced in court showed that the movie was inspired by a different researcher in a completely different jungle.
On the upside, Medicine Man gave Connery an opportunity to wear a ponytail wig he wasn’t allowed to wear in The Hunt For Red October. And later in the year, Bracco’s performance earned her a Golden Raspberry Award for Worst Actress.
It would be in 1992 Connery would form his own Hollywood production company named Fountainbridge Films, named after the place he grew up in Edinburgh, Scotland. It would produce Just Cause, Entrapment and Finding Forrester.
That year he would also join the Scottish National Party, which seeks independence for Scotland from Great Britain.
An interview and look at the life of Connery in 1992 from 60 Minutes Australia
Rising Sun (1993)
A woman is murdered in the Los Angeles office of a large Japanese. Veteran detective John Conner (Connery), is a worldly-wise and leads a fellow police officer Web Smith (Snipes) through a murder mystery while instructing him on the subtleties of Japanese culture. Culture clashes hinder the investigation and the pair discover the case involves a deeper conspiracy the more they investigate.
The film also stars Harvey Keitel, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, Mako, Tia Carrere, Steve Busemi and Ray Wise.
Philip Kaufman’s directs the adaptation of Michael Crichton’s best-selling mystery novel, which had been controversial when it came out. The book brings forth a series of arguments against Japan’s unscrupulous predatory business practices. Crichton argued his book was more critical of the U.S. for selling out to Japan, but many didn’t see it that way and felt Rising Sun was racist towards the Japanese.
20th Century Fox didn’t seem that worried about the controversy and set Rising Sun as one of their big tent pole releases in the summer of 1993, giving it a $40 million budget.
Crichton always imagined Connery in the role of detective John Conner, patterning the character after the actor – which is why the character’s name is so similar to Connery’s.
Connery took the fact that Crichton wrote the Connor role for him as a great compliment. “I do seem to have become this kind of old guy who teaches or guides,” he muses. “It’s quite flattering, but I don’t think it’s true of me. I would like to think that I’ve learned something over the years, and obviously I have, but as time goes on, it would appear from the mistakes I make that I haven’t learned that much.”
Kaufman said, “Sean brings this incredible believability. The way that Sean inhabits a character gives him an aura of believability. He moves through an area with a certain sureness and initiates us into the world. And in the way that this character brings wisdom to the story – it’s the perfect thing for him to do.”
Giorgio Armani was hired as the costume consultant, but because he had such respect for Connery and director Kaufman, he agreed to outfit Connery’s character with the season’s newest released fashions. Connery also again served as the films executive producer and would again play the older sage mentor figure. It had become his specialty during this period in his career.
Changes were made for the film version of Rising Sun. The white policeman Conner is partnered with was given to Snipes and the murderer was changed from a Japanese executive to a white character.
Crichton wasn’t happy with the casting of Snipes, saying, “Casting Wesley Snipes puts an additional burden on the picture. In a movie about U.S.-Japan relations, if you cast someone who’s black, you introduce another aspect because of the tension between blacks and Japanese.”
Before the films release 100-member L.A. advocacy group Media Action Network for Asian Americans met with Fox executives asking for an on-screen disclaimer saying that the film wasn’t implying that “all Japanese people are trying to take over America”. Fox president Strauss Zelnick rejected their request saying it was unnecessary and could possibly damage “the film’s commercial potential”. He also refused to screen a rough cut for the organization.
Kaufman agreed with the decision saying, “I don’t see any reason why I should show a movie to every little small group of people who want to come in and apparently censor the movie.”
The controversy surrounding Rising Sun got a huge amount of attention. It became the focal point of interviews with the actors and the filmmakers. There were countless articles, interviews and news segments about the film. At press junkets, reporters were given a photocopied statement of counter-arguments from the studio disputing the Asian-American racist allegations citing examples from Crichton’s book and the film, saying it was far from that. They were anticipating what questions the actors and filmmakers were going to be faced with.
An interview of Connery promoting Rising Sun
Connery said his character is “the voice of reason” of the film and his appreciation and respect for the Japanese culture is a telling argument against the accusations that Rising Sun is simply ‘Japan-bashing’.
“It’s a dangerous precedent calling [this film] Japan-bashing,” Connery said, “because it’s not…. What it’s really about is what’s happening realistically in the United States. What Crichton’s book was saying was that the Japanese and the Americans were in bed together whether they liked it or not, but there is a culture clash and there has to be a bridge to cross it. A lot of people are inclined to blame the Japanese for the fact that American productivity is lower than theirs. What they should really be doing is like Ross Perot says—they should say, ‘Well, if they’re that good, why don’t we try and match it?’ That’s what the old American axiom was.”
Tagawa admitted he did share some of the concerns of the controversy Rising Sun had drawn. “Are there things in this film that I would like to have changed? I think so, only because I’ve played a lot of stereotypes…But the angst from all the violence, and the fear that we as Asians feel everyday leaving our door in America wondering whether we’re going to come home, all that kind of angst is being dumped on Rising Sun.”
Mako said about the film, “There aren’t enough Japanese elements in Rising Sun…to lead to any sort of enlightenment about Japanese culture or corporate structure. What you see is a superficial glimpse.”
The film included several elaborate action set pieces including martial arts sequences. Connery said of co-star Snipes, “He can get his feet in places where I can’t even get my hands.”
“I think Rising Sun is a good movie, which has worked out very well, so that’s given me a gee-up enthusiasm. My films tend to go in cycles of three and it looks now as if I’m about to enter another cycle of three or maybe four movies.”
Director Philip Kaufman said about Connery’s popularity, “It’s a mysterious thing, really. Steve McQueen had it. Cagney had it. If an actor has it, it means that he can be taking stuff out of a supermarket freezer and there’s something special about it. There’s a sense in which people go to films to learn how to behave; the fact is people are very attracted to the way Sean behaves. They have an empathy with him – or they would like to have empathy. They would like to feel that they have his qualities, his grace under pressure.”
A reporter compared the action in the film to his younger years as James Bond. Then he was asked if he’d ever do a 007 film again. Connery replied, “To be honest, I’m too old.”
Despite the controversy surrounding the negative depiction of Asian-Americans, a supposed bomb threat toward Fox in connection to the film and some protests, Rising Sun was a hit upon its release. It grossed more than $60 million in the U.S. and more than $40 million internationally.
In October 1993, the international press buzzed with rumors of throat cancer, reports of Connery’s declining health and false stories of his death.
Connery explained he didn’t have as serious a condition that the press were making out. “What happened was that I polyps on my vocal cords for about six years. I had them layered off each time. But then I had a little twinge of a problem while I was doing Rising Sun. I couldn’t get the timbre of my voice right. I couldn’t get the variation and enunciation as comfortable as I wanted. So I went back to the doctor and he suggested radiation. I went for six weeks and didn’t have any side effects or problems. Then I made the announcement that I had done radiation treatment. The publicists said not to do it, that it would set off an explosion. But I thought, if you do radiation and it’s a success, why not speak about it?”
To help quiet down the rumors, stop the gossip and reassure fans he was fine, Connery made an appearance on The Late Show With David Letterman. He made a memorable entrance 007-style flying in on a jet-pack. When Letterman asked him how he was doing, Connery said, “I’m doing quite well, but I’m really here to quell these rumors about my death.”
Connery explained, “We talked on the phone, Letterman and myself, and came up with the idea of coming in on that thing. And that was it. Now everyone knows I’m alive.”
A Good Man In Africa (1994)
A British diplomat (Colin Friels) travels to Africa and must deal deal with a different collection of characters and issues, amongst which he meets an altruistic doctor played by Connery – the title character.
The film also stars John Lithgow, Diana Rigg, Louis Gossett Jr. and Joanne Whalley-Kilmer.
The film was based on the novel by William Boyd, who also wrote the script. The comedy drama quietly came and went in theaters. I can find no interviews from the cast at the time of its release and very little information about the production, which is unusual with the recognizable names in the cast. It was clearly a smaller affair than the usual bigger budget films Connery was typically doing. I’m guessing he took a smaller salary to do the film.
The one quote that I can find about the film is from director Bruce Beresford, who did not have nice memories of the film. When asked about A Good Man In Africa he said, “God, that was horrible. That was the worst film experience I ever had. It was cast wrong, the crew was all strange. We were filming in the wrong place. We filmed in South Africa, it was set in West Africa. Which is like shooting in Alaska when it’s set in New Orleans. And I realized that although the novel that it’s based on is terribly funny, it was anecdotal. It had no narrative. I think on about the second day I realized it was never going to work, because the scenes don’t link. I thought, ‘I’m sunk! I’m never gonna get out.'”
From the information I’ve found the film only grossed around $2 million upon its release. Since then it appears to have fallen into the cinematic cracks of everyone’s careers, including Connery’s.
Just Cause (1995)
Paul Armstrong (Connery) is a Harvard law professor who is staunchly against the death penalty. He travels to Florida to investigate the conviction of a death row inmate (Blair Underwood) for rape and murder. Skeptical at first, he gradually suspects the confession was coerced from a corrupt sheriff, evidence has been suppressed and that a psychotic serial killer is the true guilty one of the crime.
The film also stars Laurence FIshburne, Kate Capshaw, Ned Beatty, Daniel J. Travanti, Kevin McCarthy, Ed Harris and a very young Scarlett Johansson.
Just Cause is based on the novel John Katzenbach. Connery turned down the role of King Edward in the film Braveheart in order to star in Just Cause. The film marked Connery’s 61st film, who was now age 65.
Director Arne Glimcher, said about Connery’s enduring appeal, “As Sean’s gotten older, he’s become much more subtle. He can say more with a raised eyebrow than most actors can with a whole a paragraph of dialogue.”
Producer Lee Rich, said about Connery, “He’s a leading man in his sixties. How many other actors can say that?”
When production started there was some consideration the Connery would don a new addition to his long line of toupee’s he had worn in films, but he decided against it and went with his natural bald-headed look.
“I threw the blasted thing in the waste can. There I was in the Florida Everglades, running around alligators in temperatures up to 100 degrees, and I was supposed to worry about a hairpiece, too? Not bloody likely.”
Glimcher said, “We tried some test with the hairpiece. It did make Sean look younger, but he’s a good looking guy anyway. He doesn’t need hair. When Sean comes on the set, he takes the light. It’s like Moses parting the Red Sea.”
Connery for his part said he was never bothered by his hair loss and it actually made it easier for him to age more easily onscreen and in roles. “I think the fact that one’s hair disappeared early made it easier. I never had a ‘transition problem’. I’ve always played older. I played Harrison Ford’s father and Dustin Hoffman’s father. And this year, I’m going to be 65. I’m hardly going to get into weight program and do Tarzan. I could have the best body sculpting in the world, but I’m never going to be James Bond again.”
Fishburne and Connery had different acting styles. Fishburne said, “Sean likes to come in, hit it and go home. He prepares everything before he comes to the set. I’m a method actor. I like to come in and mess with it.”
“But Sean is quite a guy. It looks like he’s doing nothing, and then you look at the screen, and he’s stolen the scene.”
I unearthed some behind-the-scenes drama of how Connery ended up in Just Cause. According to the book Powerhouse: The Inside Story of CAA, Hollywood super-agent Mike Ovitz was representing Glimcher, who had become a close and powerful connection to him in the art world. Glimcher had helped Ovitz amass a world-class art collection.
After directing his first film The Mambo Kings in 1992, Glimcher decided that Just Cause would be his follow-up film.
Ovitz was also Connery’s agent. He was said to have played a part in convincing Connery to do Never Say Never Again and pushed him into doing The Untouchables, since Connery did not want to play, “the old guy”. Of course the role of Jimmy Malone helped revitalize Connery’s career and won him an Oscar.
Anyway, Ovitz told Glimcher that Connery would star in Just Cause. This promise was more to stay in the good graces of Glimcher and keep that door open and friendly to his powerful art dealer rather than believing it was a good project for his actor client Connery. Essentially Ovitz was using Connery’s promised casting to please his art dealer.
The real rub was that Ovitz supposedly never told Connery that he signed him for Just Cause or got his approval for the deal. After Connery found out he was signed to the film he was infuriated. During a conference call Connery said, “that this movie is a piece of shit”.
According to the story, Ovitiz managed to get Connery to do the movie by sacrificing his agency’s commission for it, thus giving him a larger paycheck to do the film.
Filming was troubled and it got even worse when Connery saw the final scenes and was outraged over. He demanded that the ending be redone and Glimcher refused. Connery then threatened not to do any pre-release publicity or interviews for the movie.
Studio boss Terry Semel made an angry call to Ovitz. “It is very important that you support Sean because he believes that all you care about is your fucking art dealer”, he supposedly told him.
Connery won out. As promotion for the film began, the film returned to the editing room for weeks of recutting. This satisfied Connery and during the promotion and interviews with him promoting the film, he never revealed the issues that occurred behind the scenes.
Connery later said, “This caused an extraordinary breach between me and Mike. I have done something that is not in keeping with who I am. I have kept my mouth shut. I have not said a word to any member of the press. I have behaved myself. If you knew me better, you would know just how hard that is.”
Just Cause ended up grossing $37 million, making it a modest success.
First Knight (1995)
Director Jerry Zucker gives a fresh interpretation of the Arthurian legend. Connery stars as King Arthur, Richard Gere is Lancelot and Julia Ormond is Guinevere.
First Knight was originally to have been directed by Terence Young, Connery’s old Bond director, mentor and friend. It would have been the first time since 1965 for Thunderball the two would’ve worked together.
However, during pre-production Young died. Connery attended a memorial service held for Young on November 10, 1994 where he was visibly affected by the loss of his friend and mentor. Connery would always credit Young as the main person who helped him shape his performance as James Bond.
First Knight doesn’t adhere to the legendary story and there’s changes to it. Zucker explained, “I decided to tell the story the way I wanted to tell it and not be bound by legend because, after all, the story is not historical. It’s not a story about Winston Churchill where you have to stick to the facts.”
In First Knight, Connery was top billed, but doesn’t appear for the first thirty minutes of the film. His role really is more of a supporting part, but not surprisingly his face was prominently placed on the posters for the film.
Ormond, was thirty at the time playing the wife of sixty-five year old Connery. She had his attractiveness had not diminished at all. When she was asked if she thought he was sexy, Ormond answered, “Sexy? God, yes! As a kid, he was always my favorite Bond. Then you meet him, and he has this very powerful presence. He’s totally in command. But he’s also very gentle.”
During filming there supposedly was some tension between Connery and Gere. Details of what occurred between the two are sketchy, Connery only said about it, “There was nothing that couldn’t easily be settled.”
One report suggested the problem was due to Gere’s tardiness on set that angered Connery. Gere was late, the cast and crew were waiting for him, finally Gere arrived. Connery confronted him and growled, “Where have you been? You want to get a move on!” in front of the cast and crew.
They filmed the scene, but being the target of Connery’s anger was supposedly too much for Gere to handle. Afterwards Gere fled to his trailer and broke down. Being too scared to confront Connery, Gere sent his assistant with a message about his distress of being yelled at by him. Connery didn’t think much of it, saying, “A fuss about nothing. You get this on film sets.”
Gere for his part didn’t really speak much about any drama on the set and when asked what it was like to work with Connery said, “He’s like Mount Rushmore. When he comes on the set, he totally commands it, but that is appropriate to Arthur, so it worked. He is very much the king. Although I am in love with his wife in this film, we never go at each other straight ahead. When he’s upset, I understand why, and I’m trying to work with his emotions and help him to understand what really is happening. There is no big confrontation scene between us.”
Maybe the only confrontation Gere wanted to address between the two was in the context of the story, but the rumors say there was more heated exchanges while the cameras weren’t filming.
With a budget of $75 million, domestically the film only earned $37 million. Fortunately, internationally it grossed $90 million putting First Knight into the black.
A disillusioned knight (Dennis Quaid) meets the last living dragon named Draco (voiced by Connery). Rather than killing each other, the two team up at first to scam villages. When the country is threatened by an evil King the knight and dragon decide to try to stop him even if it means their own deaths.
The film also stars David Thewlis, Pete Postlewaite, Dina Meyer, Jason Isaacs and Julie Christie.
The CGI revolution had made a huge leap with the effects of Jurassic Park. Building off the cutting edge computer work bringing dinosaurs to life, Dragonheart would use the technology and artistry to bring Draco the Dragon to the screen. Many of the same VFX artists who worked on Jurassic Park would work on Dragonheart.
Director Rob Cohen said the only voice for Draco they considered was Connery. His voice was “unique” and “instantly recognizable”. “What [Connery] stood for in life as an actor and as a man that most related to what I wanted for Draco”
Connery recorded his Draco dialogue in three sessions.
It wasn’t only Connery’s voice that went into Draco’s creation, but also his appearance. Animators studied Connery’s previous films and used his face as a guide for Draco.
Most notable was Connery’s distinctive and expressive eyebrows. Rob Coleman, Dragonheart’s co-supervising character animator, explained, “he has an amazing range in his eyebrows. He actually has independent control over them – he will raise one eyebrow and drop it dow to the other one. It was always about, how do we make the dragon be Sean Connery.”
Incorporating Connery’s look and performance into the character became a long, grueling process of creating Draco. The animators would complied something of a library of Connery from his previous movies. Basically studying scenes of Connery expressing different emotions they could use as a reference of how Draco would look.
Paul Giacoppo, the lead digital character molder on Dragonheart, said, “I knew we had nailed it when I was at dailies one day and we were watching the scene where Draco has taken Dina Meyer’s character away and he’s trying to convince her he’s not dangerous and he says, ‘You should never listen to minstrels’ fancies. A dragon would never hurt a soul, unless they tried to hurt him first.’ In this shot, every little beat and eye motion and all the Conneryisms came through – I think I sort of lost it when I saw that shot.”
In an interview taling about the film Connery said, “It’s not like just kind of a voiceover. The logistics involved in making it are unbelievable. Just from the voice they had to go on to recreate digitally on the screen where a space has been left for me as the dragon. It’s next generation Jurassic Park really.”
Made for $57 million, Dragonheart grossed $115 million worldwide. While it was not as popular as hoped, since its release Dragonheart has become something of a cult classic, with a devoted fanbase. It has spawned a series of sequels. Connery’s vocal duties was a ‘one and done’ deal. He never returned to the series.
READ MY REVIEW OF DRAGONHEART
The Rock (1996)
A rogue U.S. General leads his squad to take over Alcatraz island, take tourists hostage and threaten to launch a nerve gas onto San Francisco if the government does not meet their demands. A chemical weapons expert and a Navy SEAL team will attempt to infiltrate the island and stop them. They recruit the only inmate to have ever escaped Alcatraz the mysterious John Mason (Connery).
The film stars Nicholas Cage, Ed Harris, Michael Biehn, John C. McGinley, John Spencer, David Morse and William Forsythe.
Directed by Michael Bay, the script for The Rock happened into Connery’s hands at the right moment. Connery was said to have been looking for a big action film that he could headline in and one that could potentially be successful. He hadn’t done one in awhile. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer got the screenplay to Connery, but Connery wasn’t sold on it. Changes had to be made to satisfy him.
Connery requested screenwriters Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais (who did some uncredited rewrites on the script for Never Say Never Again) make some changes to The Rock, particularly his character. The pair said they were tasked in making the character of John Mason more British and bringing more humor out. Basically they made Mason more Bond-ish. It was hard not to miss with him saying at one point in the film that he was trained by “British Intelligence”.
The allusions to James Bond certainly worked. Decades after its release, fans have enjoyed the nifty internet parlor game of speculating that John Mason was actually Connery’s James Bond.
Connery went over the script meticulously with Bay. Bay recalled, “I think we went through every single line in the script, every character, every plot movement, changed things, rewrote things until we finally got to a place where he said he’d do the movie. It was a long process and I learned a lot, just with his knowledge of good movie making, good storytelling, development of terrific characters.”
Ultimately Connery was satisfied with the script. He signed on for the role and also became an executive producer on The Rock.
The Rock would be Bay’s second film. Most of his experience came from directing music videos and commercials. The Rock would be a challenge. It had a larger budget, cast and more complicated a production than anything he had done before.
Connery imparted some advice to the young Bay during filming, suggesting that he “needed to rehearse more and just slow down in the morning.” Bay took his advice.
Bay recalled Connery, “just taught me a lot. His work ethic was amazing. He’s just a consummate actor. He would come to the set about an hour early before the crew call. He’d have his breakfast. he’d go over the scene.”
“First of all, he’s a very tough actor and I had worked with many, many tough athletes – some of the best in the world – from Jordan on down doing Nike commercials. So I was used to working with very tough people. But remember, I was very young doing that movie. I remember the very first day [Connery] is dressed dark in long hair and he’s in an interrogation room. And I remember I was so scared to give him my first bit of direction. I said, ‘Uh, Mr. Sean, could you do that a little less charming?’ That was my first bit of direction to him, and he goes, ‘Sure, boy.'”
Connery was not always too keen with some of Bay’s direction. “One day I had to get him underwater holding his breath with a fireball coming over him. I think the word ‘fuckhead’ came out into the air.”
It’s been said that it was in Connery’s contract, his scenes would be filmed first each day.
Bay told a story that he was having problems with Disney executives and getting the money he needed to finish the film. Bay told Connery this and he offered to help.
During a break in filming, Bay is eating lunch in an elementary school classroom with Disney representatives when Bay announces that Connery is coming in.
Bay has spoken of a story of the influence Connery could have. During filming Bay was having some difficulties with Walt Disney Studios. Connery asked him where he was off to and Bay explained he was on his way to meet some of the studio executives, to which Connery asked if he could join him. He did.
Waiting in the conference room, the executives were shocked to see Connery following in behind Bay for the meeting.
As Bay described it, “Sean comes in, sits down across the open-mouthed executives. In classic Sean Connery style, he belts out in his Scottish brogue: ‘This boy is doing a good job, and you’re living in your Disney Fucking Ivory Tower and we need more fucking money!” Without missing a beat, they responded, ‘Ok. How much?”
From then on Bay had no trouble from the studio during filming.
At the age of 66 Connery still proved he was a big-screen action-hero and The Rock was a massive hit. With a $75 million budget, The Rock would go onto gross $335 million worldwide. It would be Connery’s biggest hit since The Hunt For Red October.
The Avengers (1998)
The beloved 1960’s British spy television show gets a big-screen treatment. Evil genius Sir August de Wynter (Connery) has a machine that can control the weather. Rather than using it to benefit humanity, Wynter threatens the world with it unless they pay him vast sums of money or he will destroy them. Only secret agents John Steed and Emma Peel can stop him and save the world.
Director Jeremiah S. Chechik’s goal was to “respect the iconic, ironic weird sensitivity this so much of what The Avengers is”. Unfortunately, for Chechik and fans that is not what ended up happening with the film.
Originally the famous character of Emma Peel was to have been played by Nicole Kidman. However, she was busy working on Eyes Wide Shut with Stanley Kubrick. Chechik wanted to wait a year until Kidman became available, however Warner Bros. didn’t want to. They were anxious to get the movie made and ready as one of their big summer releases. As Check said the studio told him, “We really need this movie. We really want this movie.”
With no Kidman, Thurman ended up getting the part of Emma Peel
Luring Connery to the project apparently wasn’t that difficult. Chechik recalled, “I said, ‘Let’s get Sean Connery to do this.’ and everyone said, ‘You’ll never get him! He’s never gonna do it and he’s too expensive!’ I just got the studio to send him a script and then he called me at home with that incredible voice and accent. And then got on a plane, flew to Spain, we met and he committed.”
According to Chechik Connery was a joy to work with during filming. “He was great. He loved the shoot. We had, and I say this with absolutely no bullshit, it was one of the most joyous shoots ever. We had so much fun. Sean was brilliant. He was fun, engaged. We would go out, drink at night. We would just have a lot of fun.”
Probably the most memorable thing in the film is the famed ‘teddy bear scene’. The villainous Connnery hosts a meeting with his co-horts while they’re all dressed up in teddy bear costumes.
The teddy bear scene was written in the screenplay by Don McPherson. According to Chechik, “The teddy bear scene made me wanna direct the film.”
The scene must of made Connery chuckle as well. In one interview he described the ‘teddy bear scene’ – “The teddy bears were an extraordinary idea. It gets into the teddy bear’s picnic and uh all the themes and different colors. You’ve never seen anything until you see a table with eight teddy bears and I’m the head teddy bear counseling them. And I have my two sidekicks with me so there’s eleven of us in this room. It’s a great big room. If you can visualize this the teddy bear’s head is that big. So I take mine off, because I say you all know who I am and I know all of who you, but you can’t know each other. So they all sit there and it’s all so surrealistic and hilarious.”
The filming of The Avengers had no issues and everyone seemed to be happy with it and had a great time working together. It was when shooting ended when problems arose.
“So, post-production was very, very difficult, but the production itself was a joy.”
As Chechik neared the end of shooting he said he was caught between two studio executives – one who wanted to make the film and the other who didn’t. The one pro-Avengers exec was fired and replaced by the one who didn’t want to make the film. “It began a cascade of disasters for me, because I knew then that the studio, by the time I got to the cutting room, politically it was not very supportive. The head of the studio really didn’t want it to succeed, I felt, because it wasn’t his film.”
Chechik cut the film, “It was 20 minutes longer. All of the absurdity of it was connected in its own logic.” But then Warners took hold of the film and made their own version. “You could understand it. But by the time the studio was done with it, they had cut out of all the internal logic, and it was chaotic and absurd, I thought.”
Chechik, said additional problems arose when Warners test screened the film “in front of a Mexican audience in Phoenix, who all complained the movie was too English. And it went on and one and on.”
“So, whether or not the movie would have been good or not, I’ll leave to whoever. But the movie that was finally released was not the movie that I made, and the problem finally is that you’re in too deep, and you’re the one who is going to wear it. So, wear it I did.”
The studio’s 90-minute edited version of The Avengers was not previewed for critics (never a good sign). Upon its release the film film was a box office disaster. The Avengers did not recoup it’s $60 million budget. It crawled to a $55 million worldwide gross.
The Avengers ended up getting nominated for several Razzie Awards at the end of the year – Worst Picture, Worst Director, Worst Screenplay, Worst Supporting Actor (Connery), Worst Actress (Thurman), Worst Actor (Fiennes), Worst Screen Couple (Fiennes and Thurman) and Worst Original Song (‘Storm’).
It ended up winning only one Razzie Award – Worst Remake or Sequel.
Several UK critics noted that as an American production, the film fatally misunderstood the symbols of ‘Britshness’ central to the success of the Avengers tv-series.
Chechik – “Oh it was brutal. Its was brutal. I mean, it made me question everything about my choices in directing and what I wanted to do and who I was. It was extremely hurtful. I was devastated by it. And I knew it was coming, but I was still devastated by it. Because I was wearing…listen, maybe the movie would have been dreadful with my cut. Maybe it wouldn’t have been commercially successful with my cut. But unfortunately we’ll never know. And because of that, it was a stillborn and I was blamed. I mean, I’ll wear it. It’s what it is. But it still really, really hurt. So I literally had to kind of stop working – whether by choice or by market – but I just, I really went on a several year walkabout all over the world.”
There’s the occasional rumor that crops up of a so-called ‘Directors cut’ of The Avengers, restoring the lost footage and allowing the film to be presented as Chechik envisioned, but this has yet to happen. It’s pretty unlikely Warner’s will ever devote any more time or money on the film.
Playing By Heart (1998)
Connery is just one of the ensemble of actors comedy drama about several stories of love at different stages of life. The seemingly unconnected characters are in the midst of a range of different relationships with problems and issues to overcome.
The film stars a big cast of actors – Gillian Anderson, Ellen Burstyn, Anthony Edwards, Angelina Jolie, Jay Mohr, Ryan Phillippe, Dennis Quaid, Jon Stewart and Madeleine Stowe.
Connery plays the role of TV Producer Paul opposite Gena Rowlands as his wife, who is a television chef. Over the course of one evening a secret from the past is reveled threatening their trust and 40-year-long marriage.
Writer/director Willard Carroll’s film was a small affair budgeted with only $14 million. The cast were all paid the same salary – $60,000 – a far cry from the usual paychecks Connery was earning starring in bigger films. When he learned Rowlands was to play his wife he signed onto the film.
He didn’t see view his part in Playing By Heart as much of departure from the usual type of films he was making at the time. “I don’t see it as such of a departure. I find it refreshing”, he said.
“It’s obvious I think that I never really think in the terms of career moves because some of the movies I made. I think I find something I like then I want to do it.”
Carroll spoke about working with Connery – “Sean was wonderful. I sort of found it hard to believe he wanted to do this movie to be honest just because he could probably do anything he wants of course and this movie was not made for a lot of money and everyone was paid exactly the same, which is considerably less than what he makes on the bigger films. But he was very supportive of me and really, really responded to the material and he also very much wanted to work with Gena. He had only met her once before about twenty-five years ago.”
“We had met socially at (actor) Edmond O’Brien’s many years ago”, Rowland said.
Carroll continued, “One of the sort of cultural movie aspects of Sean’s career, has been certainly in the last few years, he’s always paired with women considerably younger women than he. And this was an opportunity that he actually relished. It was one of those things that come more from external forces than his desire to be paired with younger women. Because he loved the idea of acting opposite someone his age. And also in a movie which says passion is a part of life not matter how old or young they are.”
Connery and Rowlands were both 68 at the time they made Playing By Heart. He said he did welcome the chance to play a man in a relationship with a woman matching his own age. “It would appear that it’s such a sort of nip-and-tuck culture that you’re not going to anybody [in the movies] past 30, even if they’re 60, you know what I mean? That’s what the dream is, I suppose. But when it’s written like this one, I think that it might change a bit. Even if it doesn’t, it means there will more parts for us.”
“And I suppose that if you go back over the movies the past five years or so, I don’t think there’s been any marital relationship about people in their late 60s. It’s just not filmically exploitable, I guess.”
Connery and Rowlands said they would welcome the chance to act together again. They never did.
Playing By Heart came out quietly and grossed only $4 million at the box office.
An interesting note is the film was scored by eleven-time James Bond composer John Barry. Much of it which unused in the film, but appeared on the soundtrack CD.
On, June 7, 1998 Connery won a Tony Award as one of the three producers of the Best Play winner ‘Art’
Sean Connery was honoured with the BAFTA Fellowship at the 50th British Academy Film Awards in 1998. Awarded in recognition of “outstanding achievement in the art forms of the moving image”, the award was presented by friend and fellow Scot Billy Connolly. Sean Connery was visibly moved when giving his acceptance speech.
Insurance investigator Catherine Zeta-Jones poses as a thief – or is she – to get close to master thief Connery. Together they plan to pull off a hi-tech heist and steal $8 billion at millennium midnight in Malaysia.
The fim also stars Will Patton, Ving Rhames, Kevin McNally, Maury Chaykin, Terry O’Neill and David Yip.
Originally, Entrapment was to have been directed by Antoine Fuqua. The original script by Ronald Bass had large scale action sequences that would have had a budget of more than $100 million. Connery felt Fuqua was trying to turn Entrapment into The Rock and believed it wouldn’t work for the picture.
Connery demanded changes to the script. He said, “Ron Bass’ movie was a caper tale and I wanted it to have a love story as well as a heist. It needed much more conversations with the actors.” The script went through several rewrites. The action was downscaled, an extended car chase was eliminated and an intricate escape was streamlined. Connery and Fox were happy with the rewritten script, but Fuqua wasn’t.
Only weeks before filming was set to begin, Fuqua left the film. At the time the official reason Fuqua left was because of the frequent Hollywood term ‘creative differences’ and it was a mutual decision between Fuqua and Fox to part ways. Sources close to Fuqua said he left the project because it had become a different project from the one he’d originally signed on for.
According to an article in Variety at the time, it said ‘both sides agree that Fuqua’s exit can be attributed to the restricting of the script from a big-budget, action-laden heist pic to more of a character driven romantic thriller with a heist backdrop’. The original budget with Fuqua was said to be around $75 million, but with his departure and the script rewrites the film would cost somewhere in the $60 million neighborhood.
Years later in 2018 while promoting The Equalizer 2, Fuqua had a different perspective about his short time on Entrapment. “I was fired from directing Entrapment, and later from directing American Gangster. People say ‘creative differences’ force people to ‘walk away from each other’, but at the end of the day I call that being fired.“
“It was a tremendous set back”, recalled Connery about Fuqua leaving. His departure delayed filming by nearly two months. Jon Amiel then stepped in.
Connery handpicked the then 29-year-old Zeta-Jones to be his leading lady in Entrapment.
Zeta-Jones said at the time of being cast, “They flew me on one of these whistle-stop things to Rome to meet with Sean and see how he and I felt together. I got to the hotel, had my hair done and met Sean in a hotel by the Spanish Steps. He was very honest about how they were seeing a lot of people and the studio wanted a name. Later I did a screen test to see that the age difference wasn’t too much.”
Connery was 68 to Zeta-Jones’ 29. Connery apparently wasn’t bothered by it, but how did Zeta-Jones feel about the large age gap? She said, “That was right in the front of my mind all the way to Rome. I knew I wanted to work with him, but for the movie to work, we had to look right. There had to be that spark. Well, when I met him, I went, ‘Oh yes, I think we’re going to be just fine’.”
Zeta-Jones felt honored to be starring alongside Connery. “I’d wake up in the morning scared, brushing my teeth in the mirror, thinking, ‘I’ve got to cry on-screen for the next two days’. Then I’d get to the set, look at Sean and feel honored to be sharing an experience with someone like him. And even after shitting myself with fear onto set, I’d go back to my room at night, slip into the tub and go, ‘Yeah. I actually did it’. Working with Sean was the best time I’ve ever had on a movie.”
Of course, reporters and movie magazine asked Zeta-Jones about ‘what was it like to kiss Connery’, and she not surprisingly answered, “Sean is a good kisser”. In an interview with Movieline magazine in 1999, she touted his sexiness even at more than double her own age.
“Sean is the sexist man I’ve ever met. His body is so great, it’s unbelievable. Do you know, he’s the most youth-oriented person? He knows who’s number one on the music charts, which I don’t. He knows every single band on MTV, which I don’t watch. Like, he said, ‘Kid, who’s that Welsh band that was on the MTV Awards?’ I’m like, ‘Hmm?’ He’s intensely charismatic. I find all that sexy. And his forearms? The best. The very best.”
Zeta-Jones described Connery as “not only a wonderful actor, but a great friend of mine…He’s just a living legend.”
Connery’s own Fountainbridge Films would produce Entrapment. Foutainbridge was created in 1992 after Connery met Rhonda Tollefson while making Medicine Man. The company’s first feature was Connery’s 1995 thriller Just Cause.
Connery named his new Hollywood production company from the area he grew up in. Not surprisingly, a reflection of his lifelong affection to Scotland and his past.
“We lived at 175 Fountainbridge. There was no hot water and no bathroom. The communal lavatory was outside, four floors down. For years we had only gas lighting…We moved three times within the one building and each time was an advancement. We ended up on the second floor with a view on to the street. I remember my excitement at seeing the length of Fountainbridge from the window.”
“When I came to form my own Hollywood production company, I named it Fountainbridge Films – an idyllic-sounding name derived from that salubrious district which I still remember with great affection.”
The destitute conditions in which he grew up in stayed with his for the rest of his life. He would have a frugal perspective on superfluous expenses, even when it came to making films. With the responsibility of being one of the producers of the film, he was determined to keep costs down.
Connery felt filmmakers needed to show “responsibility to the parent company” and the best way to do that is “lead by example” on important matters.
“Getting the script as right as we can, never wasting money and rehearsing on Saturdays” are necessary, he said. “There’s nothing worse than getting on a set and there’s nothing happening.”
“It’s the old-fashioned stuff that works – like preparation,” Connery said. “The old fashioned way was to get the jokes in the script right and then use that as your blueprint to make the movie.”
Entrapment ultimately came in $2 million under budget, which is a rarity in Hollywood. Much of the credit went to Connery, who avoided what he felt was unnecessary expenditures and cut costs any way he could during production.
Co-producer Rhonda Tollefsen credited the cost cutting measures taken to Connery’s thrifty Scottish ways. Rather than having a driver, Connery drove his own car and flew on commercial planes, instead of using private ones. “His attitude is, if it’s not necessary to spend the money, let’s not spend it. We believe every penny should be up on the screen,” Tollefson said.
He also took it upon himself to make sure details were in place ahead of time.
Fox production President Tom Rothman acknowledged that having a movie like Entrapment come in under budget is “unusual” and attributable to nothing less than “good luck–which really means having no bad luck–and having a well-managed show.”
“Sean was a huge part of it in two ways,” Rothman said. “He’s a very, very experienced and savvy film professional who was very helpful in all the logistical planning in advance. And he was extremely helpful in the making of the movie.”
“He’s very efficient and is able to tell you things like simpler ways to do a stunt. And he’s very low maintenance. He’s about the work.”
Rothman said that while studios are always “fighting the inevitable battles with cost containment,” it was refreshing to work with Connery, “who took his producing job very seriously and was bound and determined that the movie he produced come in on budget.”
An associate of Connery’s said that even on films he is not officially producing, he has been known to take things in his own hands – literally. He once took a storyboard out of the hands of a director when the movie was heading out of control.
On April 13, 1999, in conjunction with the upcoming release of Entrapment, Connery had his hands and footprints set in cement at Hollywood’s Manns Chinese Theatre in Los Angeles.
At the ceremony Leonard Maltin asked Connery if he still enjoyed acting. Connery replied,
“Oh, absolutely. As long as one retains the appetite. I find it stimulating and interesting and as long as you do, then you can get better.”
“You’re still interested in getting better?” Maltin asked. To which Connery replied, “Yes, I think that’s really what it’s all about, isn’t it? I mean, why is one doing it? It’s comfortable, yes. You’re well paid for it, but if it was just a case of being well-paid then one would make different choices.”
“You take your work seriously”, Maltin said, to which Connery replied, “Yes, but then, life is a serious business.”
Entrapment had its UK premiere in Edinburgh on June 30, 1999. The May-December romance of 69-year-old Connery and 29-year-old Zeta Jones became something of a topic. Some took issue with Hollywood’s unusual matchmaking casting, noting how male actors can be unrealistically paired up with much younger actresses, but never the reverse.
It didn’t bother movie audiences. Thanks to the marketing of Connery being in a James Bond reminiscent-type of role and Zeta-Jones wearing tight leotards slinking her way through a web of laser beams and the hot topic of the new millennial, Entrapment was a box office hit. The film went onto to gross $212 million worldwide.
READ MY REVIEW OF ENTRAPMENT
The same year The Kennedy Center honored Connery.
Connery sold his villa in Marbella in 1999, after which 72 luxury apartments were built on the spot, getting him involved in a real estate fraud scandal. In 2014 the Spanish court said there was no evidence Connery had been involved in any illegal real estate dealings and dismissed all charges against him, but 50 others were convicted. Many other celebrities own properties in Marbella, George Clooney recently acquired a house in the seaside town.
Finding Forrester (2000)
After writing a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel four decades ago, author William Forrester (Connery) has become a mysterious recluse. He finds an unlikely friendship with a young student (Rob Brown) who has a gift for writing. Forrester ends up tutoring him in writing, literature and life and learns a few things himself and gets an invigorated perspective.
Directed by Gus Van Sant, Finding Forrester also stars Anna Paquin, F. Murray Abraham and Busta Rhymes.
The script for Finding Forrester by Mike Rich began as a submission in a writing competition sponsored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Out of over 4,500 submissions, the script for Forrester ended up as one of the five finalists. Word was out in Hollywood about the impressive script.
It was purchased by Laurence Mark Productions, which was based at Sony Pictures Entertainment’s Columbia Pictures – which was also where Connery’s Fountainbridge Films was based. The script ended up in Connery’s lap and he was immediately taken by it.
Connery’s interest went beyond just playing the role of Forrester. Connery not only did he want to star in the film, he and his producing partner Rhonda Tollefsen at his production company Fountainbridge Films agreed to join Laurence Mark as producers on Forrester.
Connery and Tollefson founded their company, Fountainbridge Films in 1994, expressly to give him an opportunity to develop material in which he would star and also allow him to play a significant role in the development of the screenplay and the production. Previously Fountainbridge produced Just Cause and Entrapment. Now with Finding Forrester, Connery would again play a major role in many decisions.
“In the eight years that I’ve worked with Sean, I’ve noticed that seldom can you discover a role for him as an actor that isn’t something he’s already played before,” Tollefson says. “The character of Forrester immediately stood out as something different. Sean loves literature. The idea of playing a Pulitzer Prize-winning author held a lot of appeal for him. The fact that the writer was a recluse and a bit of a misanthrope made it even more interesting.”
“This is the kind of film I like: a contemporary drama that tells a constructive story about friendship,” Connery said. “The last film I did about friendship was The Man Who Would Be King, and that was more than 25 years ago. I also think the literary motif is original and very entertaining, too.”
There was clearly a J.D. Salinger influence on Connery’s Forrester character. As he said at the time, “It’s difficult not to think of Salinger when you’re creating a character like Forrester. Salinger’s ‘Catcher In The Rye’ has worked for every generation since it was written in 1951. I’m not playing Salinger, but his ghost was always near at hand.”
Connery said Forrester had two main inspirations. “I based him on J.D. Salinger and William Burroughs, literary favorites of mine.”
With Connery in the role some aspects to the character had to be changed around to fit the casting of him, along with his own ideas he incorporated into the role.
First-time screenwriter Rich, had to rework some of his screenplay to tailor it for Connery. “I thought writing the screenplay was the hard part. Little did I realize that my work was really just beginning. I hadn’t written the role with Sean Connery in mind. Now I had to further refine the character. The first thing to do was to fill in the Scottish background, but there were other aspects that Sean came up with that never occurred to me.”
“We made him more reclusive, more eccentric, more compassionate. This is a guy who’s ingratiating on one page and infuriating on the next”.
Producer Mark echoed the sentiments about Connery’s involvement on the creation of the character. “Sean’s character notes were amazing. It was all in the details. For instance, it was Sean’s idea to make Forrester a birdwatcher. Birdwatching is the reason he’s always looking out his window at the world, and why the world below sees him looking and wonders why.”
Working alongside director Van Sant on the script brought out Connery’s own personal quirks to the character of Forrester. One interesting bit he brought onto the character was his own philosophy on socks. “Since I was in the Navy, I have worn my socks inside out, so we put that in the screenplay. The more expensive the socks are, the thicker the seam. Why should that be against your toes?”
“Of course, it doesn’t always work because my wife can’t bear to look at me wearing my socks with the wool hanging out. But I tell you, the comfort is worth it.”
Tollefson said at the time, “Sean is brilliant at nuancing character.”
Forrester was something of a departure for Connery. While he would often play action-oriented tough roles, he always welcomed playing different types of parts to showcase his talents. Van Sant believed the role of Forrester was different for Connery, but that he could handle the challenges of the role. “Sean’s vulnerable qualities haven’t been seen very much. Although he plays an authority figure in the film, the drama in the story comes out of the way in which Forrester and Jamal become dependent upon one another. They need each other. Sean hasn’t done a lot of this on screen. He’s showing a side of himself that will surprise people.”
To play the role of the teenager opposite the imposing Connery, an unknown actor Rob Brown was cast. He had no acting experience and initially only wanted to land a part as an extra in the film in the hopes to pay off his cell phone bill. He surprised Van Sant with an audition and was able to hold his ground during readings with Connery. Despite never having even taken an acting lesson, he was cast as Connery’s young protege.
Connery was quite impressed by the unknown. “It was a dilly finding an actor who could play this part. We saw hundreds of kids who could play basketball and were good students, but to find one who could play it… Rob had a certain gravitas, a more immovable quality that made me want to go with him. It was obvious from our first run-through together that he had lots of marvelous instincts.”
For two weeks before filming the Van Sant had the cast rehearse. Connery and Brown rehearsed their scenes for five days in Toronto where Forrester’s apartment set was be shot. Connery was always a believer in the rehearsal process. “I’m a big believer in it. I feel that if you take the time to rehearse, block, go over all the bits and pieces and iron out the wrinkles, then everything is a bonus when you get to filming. Hard work and preparation really pay off.”
According to director Gus Van Sant Connery was an ideal collaborator on the film. “We spoke the same language. He likes to do one or two takes, and so do I. He’s quite powerful as an actor. It was nice to always have that power right there.”
Connery was glad Van Sant wanted to tell the story the same way he envisioned it. “I didn’t want it to be sentimental at all, and Gus agreed with that. And the handling of the black-white situation could always get kind of dodgy, so we wanted to deal with that immediately and go on form there into a relationship that developed believability. And we didn’t want to get bogged down with the educational stuff or the literacy of the script, but find a way to play it dramatically and get humor out of it.”
Connery got along very well with the inexperienced Brown. Like his character Jamal, Brown was a good student and a basketball player. Connery said about his young co-star, “Rob was a pro. Apart from the fact that he’s a very intelligent kid, he’s got very, very good instincts. He fills the role completely. The similarity between him and the character of Jamal are quite striking. He’s a straight-A student who’s a lord of the court. I really think he’s quite amazing.”
In 2008, Brown reflected on his time working with Connery – “He sat me down and made it a point to say, ‘No one told me this when I was coming up so I am going to tell you’. One of those things that he told me was to finish my education and get my degree because that’s something he never did. That’s another reason I didn’t just up and leave and go to L.A. and try to just make it because Sean Connery told me not to. He told me the movies will come. Get your education and I feel as though that’s why we had so much chemistry because, you know, it was largely on him. I was just a kid. I figured I could do no wrong. They’ll just tell me if I am doing wrong, which is what happened. I just did whatever I wanted till they said no. And you know, I had all the confidence in the world because Sean basically had to approve me. Upon getting his approval, his overwhelming approval, then, you know, how could we not then have any chemistry? Then we just show up to work and have fun.”
Veteran actor F. Murray Abraham, who previously worked with Connery on The Name of The Rose, was still impressed by the power he brought to the screen. “He is a different school, he’s Sean Connery. There are some people who, from the minute they step in front of the camera, that’s where they belong. He has amazing presence.”
“There’s one confrontation scene we have toward the end of the picture. It’s an over-the-shoulder shot, and I was acting – you know, the thing I do – and in the middle of the scene, I swear to God, I thought, ‘Hey, that’s Sean Connery!’ like the rankest amateur.”
Connery was asked at the time if he relished the privacy and solitude that Forrester has, he answered, “I’m quite lucky that I don’t live her and I don’t live in London, where these things take place.” Connery was living in Spain at the time. “I am famous everywhere, yeah, but I walk anywhere I go in the world. I go to soccer matches and boxing; anywhere in New York, I walk, and when I’m in London. I walk. I think that there are pluses and minuses to it, but when you have secure roots in terms of a career, I don’t think it’s that much of a problem.”
A little trivia about William Forrester’s portrait that hangs in the posh Manhattan Academy in the film. It is the same photo of Connery featured in the 1958 film Another Time, Another Place.
One piece of fan oddity is when the trailer for the film was first released it featured Connery’s line “You’re the man now dog!”. A fan seized on that memorable line and created a website yourethgemannowdog.com – YTMND – becoming one of the earliest memes on the internet. I’m not sure if Connery was ever aware of its existence or how his delivery of the line became so often repeated and immortalized.
“It’s a bit of a change of pace for me. But this is the kind of movie that I like to go to see. It’s about relationships. And it’s an intelligent film that also happens to be very witty.”
“I really hope people will see the movie, especially young people. Literacy is an important issue these days. We have a generation that doesn’t read nearly enough anymore. I’ve talked to people whose teenage children discovered the joys of reading. They all say the experience changed the relationships they have with their children. That’s the power of literature. I hope our movie makes people re-discover books.”
Roger Ebert interviews Connery about Finding Forrester
There was some Oscar talk for Connery’s performance, an honor that he said he would welcome. “Well, it would be very nice. I’m very refreshed by that kind of talk about the movie, and I especially like it because I feel that the movie has a completeness in terms of the cycle and it has an emotional impact, because it is the kind of movie that is very easy to go off line with in getting the wrong nuance.”
Finding Forrester didn’t earn any Oscar nominations, but did gross $80 million worldwide.
Here’s the trailer where you can hear Connery yelling “You’re the man now dog!”
Of course while promoting Finding Forrester interviewers asked him about James Bond. Connery was apparently keeping up with the Bond series, he said, “I saw The World Is Not Enough and I thought Brosnan was very good. It’s amazing, but I think that they will still be doing them for another ten years before they find another actor, and they will develop other stories.”
“With Pierce, they’ve gotten close to what they originally wanted in that sense. But they’re still very much into the high-tech stuff, which puts me off.”
One reporter asked him about the rumors that perhaps he would play a Bond villain in an upcoming Bond movie. Connery’s response – “A villain? No, no, no. They could never afford me.”
Finding Forrester would end up being the last film made by his Fountainbridge Films. In May 2002 Connery announced he decided to shut down his film production company. Fountainbridge had produced Just Cause and Entrapment for the actor. At the time Fountainbridge was planing a $20 million production of the life of Mary, Queen of Scots.
The announcement of the closing of Connery’s production company came as a surprise to many and was the death knell for his plan to set up a multi-million pound film studio on the outskirts of Edinburgh with the Rangers Football Club owner David Murray.
“Fountainbridge Films is no longer a company,” Connery’s agent said.
“Sean took the decision to shut down the company because he just wants to concentrate on acting. He just had enough.”
Despite his agent insisting the decision was due to the then 71-year-old Connery wanting to concentrate on his acting, one source close to Connery said the demise of Fountainbridge came about after a series of disputes with his business partner Rhonda Tollefsen and they had been in conflict for many months.
The source was quoted as saying, “Although, he’d had enough and wanted to do more acting there was a lot of speculation that he and Rhonda were having a few too many clashes.”
“There has been a clash of egos between the two for some time now – it’s the nature of the industry. In this business there are a lot of people with high opinions of themselves who find it hard to accommodate the wishes of others.”
Sean Connery was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II at an investiture ceremony at Holyrood Palace in Edinburgh on July 5, 2000. He attended the event in full highland dress and was accompanied by his wife Micheline and younger brother Neil.
The newly knighted Sir Sean Connery said to reporters after the ceremony that it was “one of the proudest days of my life. It means a great deal for it to happen in Scotland. I consider it as much an honor for Scotland as it is for me.”
Connery had been nominated for a knighthood in 1997 and 1998, but these were reportedly vetoed by the ruling Labor Party due to Connery’s political views, his support of the Scottish National Party and being a vocal campaigner for the cause of an independent Scotland.
On August 25, 2000, a double-bill screening of Dr. No and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was held in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle. The evening was called ‘A Knight Under The Stars’. It was organized by the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and Edinburgh International Film Festival to honor Connery on his 70th birthday.
In February 2001, anti-nuclear protestors blocked the entrance of Britain’s main Trident nuclear submarine plant to a standstill. Located on the west coast of Scotland, the naval base was home to four of Britain’s nuclear submarines, which demonstrators argued are illegal because they cannot distinguish between military and civilian targets.
Protestors formed a human chain to try to block the main gates of the base.
While he wasn’t present, Connery was publicly in support of the demonstration. In a phone call Connery told former Scottish National Party head Alex Salmond – “I cannot be with you in person because of filming commitments. But be assured that I am with you in spirit and give you best wishes for your demonstration and your just cause.”
Over 300 people were arrested.
April 2001, Connery made some remarks at the U.S. Capitol Building after receiving the Wallace Award from the American Scottish Foundation on April 5, 2001. Connery, a Scot, joined an official Scottish campaign to entice U.S. visitors back to the country in the wake of the foot-and-mouth crisis.
Connery traveled to Greece for the opening of an art exhibition of his wife Micheline. Connery was portrayed in two of her twenty-seven paintings that were displayed.
Two thousand people queued outside. On one day at the Pieridis art gallery Connery found himself surrounded by a crowd of children. He stood in the middle of them and asked them if they knew who he was – they answered: “James Bond!”.
It was Connery’s first visit to Greece. Upon visiting the Acropolis he allegedly exclaimed, “Oh, my God, what an unbelievable place. Why did I come so late?”
He visited the Acropolis with director Jules Dassin and composer Vangelis Papathanasiou.
What impressed him most was the Parthenon and its monuments. When learning that some of the sculptures were missing and were kept in the British Museum he promised to do whatever he could to help restore them to their proper place and joined the campaign to return the Parthenon Marbles. He discussed the issue of the Marbles – known in Britain as the Elgin marbles – with the Greek Culture Minister Evangelos Venizelos.
Connery told Venizelos he was “confident that the British government will change its position.”
“The return of the Marbles should be a common goal of all countries that will participate in the Athens Olympic Games in 2004. So by the time the Games are here, they will be in their rightful place. The British had the Sculptures for two centuries and should return them.”
Connery purchased a luxurious house on the ‘Greek Riviera’ of Porto Heli and would often visit.
The Elgin marbles still remain in British Museum in London.
In June 2001, there was an unconfirmed reports Connery would star alongside Paul Newman in the Warner Bros. film ‘The Damnation Game’. The film would be an adaptation of Clive Barker’s supernatural horror tale. Ed Harris, Kim Basinger and Maggie Smith were also rumored to be attached to the film.
Obviously, this never went any further than just rumor and the film never happened.
More rumors sprouted that Connery would re-team with his Goldfinger co-star Honor Blackman and appear in the third Austin Powers movie. It was believed that Connery and Blackman would play the parents of Mike Meyer’s shagadelic spy.
Director Jay Roach said at the time, “We’ve always wanted Sean Connery to do something. We’ve tried talking to his people, but they were very polite – schedules and stuff – but he may just not want to go there.”
Connery and Blackman participating in Austin Powers 3, which would become titled Goldmember never went any further than the talking phase. Austin’s father did appear in the film, played by Connery’s old friend Michael Caine.
There were also rumors that the Bond series was attempting to lure Connery back in a cameo role in 2002’s Die Another Day. Connery’s return appearance in the Pierce Brosnan 007 film never happened.
There were even more rumors that Connery was considering doing advertisements for the Czech car-maker Skoda. Being a pitchman for the automobile never materialized. While filing The League of Extraordinary Gentleman in Prague he was asked about it – “I was interested but first of all I’d never seen…I mean let’s face it, Skoda was not a great car. When they sold the car they used to have built in rust, you didn’t have to wait for it. Seriously, I was not going to do a commercial about a car until I could at least sit in the car, drive the car. They sent me a faxes but they were all black…if I could not connect nor see, there was no way I was going to do it. They have had a fantastic response. Unfortunately no one can afford to buy them here.”
Do you want some more rumors that were making the rounds? OK! There was talk that Connery was going to star in a film called ‘Embers’ that was to have been filmed in Prague. Milos Forman was going to direct it.
‘Embers’ was based on a 1942 novel about two old men, that were to have been played by Connery and frequent co-star and friend Klaus Maria Brandauer, who were once friends. Both were from different social backgrounds, but became friends in military school. After one married the girl they both loved they parted ways.
They reunite after 41 years in an old castle to discuss the woman who came between them all those decades ago. The woman would have been played by Winona Ryder. It is through her diaries we are told the story.
‘Embers’ was set to start filming in 2004. Everything was set, but then Connery had a disagreement with Italian producers Robert and Michael Haggiag and withdrew from the film. Forman was so convinced that Connery fit the role so well he didn’t want to shoot it without him. Forman cancelled the project altogether a few days before shooting was to start.
The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (2003)
An evil villain is on the loose in the 19th century and London decides to assemble a team of highly unique group of individuals to stop him. Legendary literary characters are not just confined to their pages, but are flesh and blood heroes! Allan Quatermain (Connery), Captain Nemo (Nasseruddin Shah), Mina Harker (Peta Wilson), Dorian Gray (Stuart Townsend), Tom Sawyer (Shane West), Dr. Henry Jekyll (Jason Fleming and an invisible man’s special talents are all brought together to save the world!
The film (which Connery also co-produced) was loosely based on the first volume of the comic book series of the same name by Alan Moore and Kevin O’Neill. Connery’s fee was reportedly $17-million, which left little money in the $78 million budget to attract other big name stars for the ensemble cast.
After appearing in over sixty films, in an acting career spanning nearly fifty years, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen would be the final time audiences would see Connery in a film. It was probably not the film he had hoped to end his film career with.
Connery HATED making the film and like he typically was known for, did not hold back on his dissatisfaction with the production. On the upside, the making of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen makes for a very compelling story to hear about. I just love stories of chaotic film productions.
The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (also known as LXG) was an adaptation of Alan Moore’s graphic novel. Producer Don Murphy had bought the rights to the graphic novels and was setting out to make a film based on them, even before the comics were published. Murphy felt a major component to the comics success was its Britishness. “The more British I could keep this, the better”, Murphy said. So he hired British comic book writer James Dale Robinson to write the script for the film.
This ‘British’ philosophy would be overruled by 20th Century Fox, when they demanded changes to the script and wanted to make it more ‘Americanized’. Robinson was under pressure from them to make certain changes, foremost by adding the character of Tom Sawyer, who does not appear in the graphic novels. Robinson said, “I think 20th Century Fox felt more comfortable making a movie that was very expensive knowing that there was a young American character.”
It’s funny, it’s something of a similar situation to what happened with 1998’s The Avengers. Englishness is a vital component to the story and characters, yet an American film studio wanted to strip the film from having that distinctive flavor that made it so popular in the first place. Hollywood can be quite crazy sometimes.
Anyway, Murphy stuck with his British focus by hiring English director Stephen Norrington to direct the film. Norrington had a success adapting another comic book property a few years prior – Blade.
So, who will play these extraordinary characters? Illustrator Kevin O’Neill claimed to have based the character of Allan Quatermain on Connery. So who better to get to play him in the big-screen version of the comic than the man himself.
Director Norrington met with Connery, offered him the role and he agreed. It didn’t appear Connery was attracted to the material as much as he didn’t want to make another mistake of not signing onto what could potentially be a successful movie and film franchise as he had passed on in the past.
He was quoted as saying, “I got offered The Lord of The Rings, and I turned it down because I didn’t understand it. I was offered The Matrix – twice – and I turned it down because I didn’t understand it. I don’t understand this movie, but I’ll be damned if I’m going to turn it down.”
Connery added, “My first response to the script was that it was a bit far-out. But that never stopped me before. It didn’t stop me from doing Zardoz.”
Connery had some power over his character and some aspects of the production. It’s said one of the first things he wanted to change from the graphic novel was Quatermain being an opium addict. That, he insisted would be dropped.
Things started out badly as soon as filming began on the sets in Prague, which was doubling for Venice in the film. The city was hit by the worst floods in over a century, which destroyed the $7 million sets that were constructed. Captain Nemo’s submarine set was submerged under five feet of water and another set outside the city was washed out.
A production spokesman at the time said, “We don’t yet know the full extent of the damage on these sets, but the shooting schedule will be affected by the flooding.”
Connery himself was forced to evacuate his suite in the Four Seasons in Pague due to the flooding. He had to leave so quickly it was said the only item he was able to save of his was his prized golf clubs.
Rather than filming being sped up, production started a slow, grueling crawl. Clashes between Connery and Norrington became a daily occurrence on the set. One insider working on the film was quoted as saying, “This director doesn’t know what he wants. He shoots an enormous amount of film. he’ll do ten set-ups when you usually only do two. Most of this movie is going to end up on the cutting-room floor – if it ever gets finished.”
When asked about the rumors of troubled production Connery told a reporter, “Oh, yes, it’s been difficult. Very, very difficult. There’s no question about it.”
Pretty quickly, the haywire production of LXG was picked up by the media. Reports from the set were awfully tasty with feuding and mayhem. It all sounded like the film was a disaster in the making.
Connery later told the British Times about Norrington, “On the first day I realized he was insane.”
Bad weather and the added time crunch weren’t the only problems. There were also problems with the special effects, that resulted in the filmmakers forced to quickly look for another effects shop to complete the desired work they needed done.
One notorious day during filming led to one of the many “shouting matches” between director and star, and this time Connery and Norrington almost came to blows – while some witnesses claimed actual punches were indeed thrown. The altercation came about because of gun prop.
According to reports, with shooting resuming on newly built sets, Norrington felt an elephant prop gun didn’t look quite right. This somehow prompted him to shut the set down for the day. Connery was enraged and threatened to have Norrington fired. One source said Norrington yelled at Connery, “I’m sick of it! Come on, I want you to punch me in the face!”. Connery recalled that Norrington said to him, “Do you want to hit me?”, to which he relied, “Don’t tempt me.”
The confrontation ended with Connery walking off the set. Norrington never explained what exactly was wrong with the elephant gun.
Connery was quoted as saying, “There have been differences of opinion about almost everything. Professional differences, personal differences, you name it. But my philosophy has been to shoot the movie and talk about right and wrong afterwards. To be honest, I just want to complete the picture. That’s all I want right now.”
The mood on the set became very bleak and stressful. One stagehand said, “I’ve never been on a set as tense as this. Everybody just wants to go home.”
One co-star who didn’t want to be identified said about the conflicts between Connery and Norrington, “They both have really powerful personalities. Sean has strong feelings for how he wants things to be. He wants to get the shoot done.”
“Stephen hasn’t been around as long, but he’s a quasi-genius. He likes to change thing on the spot and try stuff out. And he doesn’t care if it’s Brad Pitt or whoever – he wants to stick to his way.”
Another crew member said, “Connery isn’t very pleased with how this is going. He’s not used to being kept waiting on a set. I mean, he’s 72 years old. And he’s Sean Connery.”
I think it’s also worth noting, while filming LXG Connery was in the midst of filing one of his many lawsuits during his career. He filed a $17 million lawsuit against Mandalay Pictures and principal Peter Guber over a proposed CIA spy thriller titled ‘End Game’ he agreed to star in for $17 million.
Connery committed to star in it in 1999. Two years passed and nothing moved with Mandalay who were unable to come up with the financing for it. Connery said they strung him along for two years and that Guber misled him about their ability to finance the film. In 2003, both parties settled in undisclosed terms. It was said Connery would continue to develop ‘End Game’ as a starring vehicle. Nothing ever came of the film.
Back to the set of LXG, there were apparently some bright spots during the filming of LXG. The then twenty-five West spoke positively about Connery and his time with him. “Well, around Sean you gotta be smart. You have to be on your toes or else he’ll hound you for the rest of the shoot. But he’s a softie. He really is. He took us out to dinner a lot. He was always there if you had questions, but you had to make sure the questions were smart enough. But I had a lot of teachers like that growing up. He’s very much a gentleman. He’s very responsible. he knowns how things should be done.”
Jason Flemyng recalled there were some laughs on set and he got along great with Connery. “In fact people on set would give Sean their phone and ask him to speak to their mates all the time. A memo came through asking us not to do this because it was a pain in the arse for him. I had a banana in my hand and I cheekily asked Sean if he’d have a word with my mate. Sean took it and said “So, you’re a friend of Jason’s – that certainly makes you unique”. He was laughing with his friends, and I took it back from him and talked into it, saying “Yeah, he’s a silly old fool, he talks to bananas!”. We got to the point where we could all rip on each other all the time. We had a good time together.”
Naseeruddin Shah who played Captain Nemo, also spoke highly of Connery, recalling “All us co-actors were certainly in awe of Sean, but he never displayed any sign of entitled behavior. He didn’t need to, he was perfectly happy sitting around in his undershirt sans his wig, with us all and scratching himself and breaking wind.”
“He often asked us things about ourselves, which was touching. Celebrities are never interested in others. They’re always waiting to be asked things about themselves and are happy to hold forth about themselves seen if not asked! Sean was an exception.”
As nice as it might have been to be working with Connery, Nasser was also one of the many who were not happy with the way the production spiraled out of control or the final results saying, “That was one of the most boring experiences I have ever had. The shooting dragged on for six months, but I was making so much money out of it that I didn’t complain too much. The film itself was unbearable; I could not sit through it.”
In contrast to all these horror stories, when the film was released on DVD Peta Wilson and was promoting it and said the reports about the film being a chaotic production and the Connery/Norrington feud was overblown. “To be honest, I think it was all media stuff. I think that this is something that there is always a bit on every film.”
One last thing about the production of LXG, Moore blamed part of the movie’s trouble’s on the alleged demands of Connery. Alan Moore – “The film cost 100 million pounds because Sean Connery wanted 17 million of that – and a bigger explosion than the one he’d had in his last film”, Moore claimed. “It’s in his contract that he has to have a bigger explosion with every film he’s in. In The Rock, he’d blown up an island, and he was demanding our film that he blow up Venice or something like that. It would have been the moon in his next movie.”
This quote by Moore has made the rounds. I don’t know whether it’s true or not. It’s especially odd coming from Moore, who notoriously is adamant that he not be involved with adaptations of his work anyway. So how would he know about Connery’s contract or squarely blame Connery and his love of big explosions on the film’s failure? I would think he wouldn’t care if the film failed or not. But who knows. I’m just throwing this quote out there just because I think it sounds pretty funny. Connery wanted a bigger explosion in every subsequent film he made? I don’t remember many explosions in Finding Forrester.
After the dust settled and LXG was finished, Connery followed through on his obligations to promote the film and give interviews to the press. At a Las Vegas premiere held for the film at the Venetian in Las Vegas Connery showed up, but Norrington didn’t even attend. When Connery was asked where the film’s director was, he answered, “Check the local asylum.”
LXG made its release date in July 2003 and got horrendous reviews from the critics. Yet, while today it’s often described as a ‘flop’, the film did manage to gross $179 million, so it wasn’t the cataclysmic box office disaster it’s remembered as being. It didn’t earn enough to make anyone start to green light a sequel (which I imagine would have had West’s Tom Sawyer in the lead), but it’s somewhat startling it earned as much as it did after all the drama that unfolded during its production. Connery’s 1998’s The Avengers performed much worse than LXG. That film was a straight up flop. Or look at Meteor’s box office take.
With the film now behind him, it had its effect on Connery. “The experience had a great influence on me, it made me think about showbiz. I get fed up dealing with idiots.”
After the trauma of making The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Connery’s enthusiasm to return to acting had bottomed out. The production certainly cooled him on returning to potentially another long arduous frustrating process of making another film.
Connery promoting LXG. He talks about turning down The Matrix and Lord of The Rings. He doesn’t sound too enthusiastic about the film – no surprise.
One last film that might’ve been
Yet, LXG was almost not Connery’s final appearance in a live-action film.
Connery had been signed to earn $17.5 million to star in a film called ‘Josiah’s Canon’. Let’s note the staggering payday he was still commanding at age 73!
In ‘Josiah’s Canon’, Connery would play an aging thief (one of his specialties) and Holocaust survivor. He recruits a team of crooks to rob a highly secure Swiss bank that is filled with Jewish treasures and valuables deposited by Jews before WWII.
The premise sounds intriguing and certainly a film that would have fit nicely on Connery’s resume. However, he left the project.
The official word was that Connery pulled out of the film to spend the time focusing on writing his memoirs. He had just signed a seven-figure deal with HarperCollins, but he would later pull out of that deal as well. He wouldn’t get around to writing his autobiography and it finally got published in 2008.
After Connery’s death, screenwriter Brian Koppelman shared a more enlightening tale of what went wrong with Connery and ‘Josiah’s Canon’. Koppelman and his collaborator David Levien were hired to do rewrites of the script to accommodate Connery’s vision of the story. After the rewrites the screenwriters and Connery were happy with the changes. Koppleman described working with Connery as “One of the very best working relationships we ever [had].”
“And then the director gets involved.”
Koppelman continued, “There’s a tricky action sequence underwater, that the director wants to do. We set a call to discuss how to write it, what it should be. Sean asks the director how he’s planning to shoot it. Director says, ‘I’ll use movie magic.’ You could hear the silent anger on Sean’s end of the phone. ‘I started making movies before your daddy started pleasuring himself. I want to know, shot by shot, how you will execute this?”
Connery agreed to have an 11am phone call later that week with the director where he would discuss the sequence in detail, going through it shot by shot. By 11:15am on the scheduled day the director hadn’t called. Connery called the writers.
“Sean says, ‘Where the fuck is the director?’ We say, we don’t know. And then suddenly, we hear a sigh. ‘Ahh Chrissakes! I just turned on the tele and there he is!’ ‘There who is?’ ‘(Director’s name). He’s in a goddamned female player’s box at the fucking French open. I’m afraid, boys, I agreed to do a movie directed by a fraud. You’ve done very well. But I am quitting this thing. Today.’”
And so ended Connery’s film career. Koppleman never named the director that drew Connery’s ire, but there’s strong indications the director in question was Brett Ratner.
After Connery’s death, Ratner wrote his recollection of missing out on a chance to work with the actor, but he left out the details of Connery’s angry departure from the project and the reason for it.
Despite, being Britain’s highest-paid actor, it was believed it was unlikely that Connery would ever return to film screens. It appeared that his cinematic career was over. The bad taste from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was a sign that perhaps he should retire.
He told a reporter he was done with acting, less because of his age than because of the “idiots making films in Hollywood….the ever-widening gap between people who know hot to make movies and the people who green-light the movie.”
He added, “I don’t say they’re all idiots. I’m just saying there’s a lot of them that are very good at it [being idiots]. It would almost need a Mafia-like offer I couldn’t refuse to do another movie.”
Connery did do some voice work. In 2005 he returned to the character of James Bond lending his voice and allowing his likeness for the third-person shooting video game From Russia With Love. He recorded his final 007 dialogue at Compass Point Studios in Nassau.
It was rumored he was paid $1 million for his voice and young likeness to be used in the game.
Executive producer Glen Schofield said Connery agreed to do the voice of 007 for two reasons – From Russia With Love was his favorite Bond film, and his grandchildren love video games.
Also in 2005, Connery found himself on the other side of a lawsuit when an eye doctor who lived below him in his New York penthouse apartment sued the actor for $30 million.
Dr. Burton Sultan and his family lived in the lower four floors of a six-story 1869 Tudor townhouse on Manhattan’s East Side, while Connery and his wife were occupying the top two floors, which was owned by his stepson Stephane.
Sultan accused Connery of allowing workers to create a deafening noise, fumes, dripping water and an infestation of rats, along with playing loud music at all hours of the day and night.
Sultan claimed construction work had “wreaked havoc on (his) collection of museum-quality Victorian and early 20th-century wicker furniture…irreparably damaged by water, falling plaster and black soot and grime”.
Sultan accused Connery of trying to force his family off the premises so he could acquire the property at a knock-down price. It was claimed Connery was using ‘bullying’ tactics, by blasting loud music and stomping around at all hours. Did I mention the foul orders too?
The New York Daily News described a somewhat surreal confrontation between Sultan’s daughter and Connery after she knocked on his door to request if he could turn his music down.
“Connery himself answered the door in his bathrobe, unkempt and disheveled. Scarcely, or in any event, no longer ‘the sexiest man alive’ portrayed in the tabloids and bearing no resemblance to the super spy who announced himself as Bond…James Bond’. Connery’s appearance and behavior was that of a rude, foul-mouthed, fat old man’. “Cursing and otherwise using indecent language…(he) refused to lower the noise and slammed the door in her face.”
Connery’s publicists said the claims were “ridiculous”. She confirmed the apartment is owned by his son Stephane, but insisted Connery lived in the Bahamas. “Sir Sean does not own any property in the United States and is rarely in New York. Anyone can sue for anything. That does not mean that the suit has any merit. The claims are ridiculous.”
Connery and his wife countersued Sultan saying his complaints have delayed needed repairs to the roof and raising the renovation costs.
This is quite the bizarre tale. Considering Connery famously lived overseas, I can’t understand why he was spending so much time in New York, or if his stepson was the owner of the apartment why he wasn’t the one being sued. It’s awfully strange. Sultan insisted Connery was staying there and his stepson had moved to Westchster. It’s hard to make sense of it.
Connery retorted to a reporter about the situation, “I’m still having to share a building with some ugly bastards. The only difference is here I’ve got my own toilet – and I don’t think I would be afraid to go back to the rough area I grew up in.”
Apparently the back and forth between Connery and Sultan went on for quite some time. By 2007 each side had filed at least six lawsuits against one another. It got to the point a State Supreme Court judge lost patience with this drama – who could blame her. She tossed out many of Sultan’s claims and “slammed the Connerys for what she called their ‘blunderbuss’ legal salvos.” She said, “Regrettably, both parties to this dispute have engaged in a slash-and-burn litigation strategy that has at times been duplicative and exceedingly burdensome to their adversaries and the courts.”
This back and forth of between Connery and the Sultans dragged on for years with accusations of toilets intentionally being clogged with paper towels by Stephane to Connery being described as an ‘ogre’.
I’m unsure of the final outcome of this bizarre tale or is the Sutlan’s or Stephane still reside in the building.
A documentary about Connery in 1991 when he was awarded the Freedom of the city of Edinburgh
On June 8, 2006, at age 75 was the recipient of the American Institute’s Lifetime Achievement Award. He was also voted the ‘greatest living Scot’.
With an introduction accompanied by bagpipes and drums Connery walked onto the stage and did a little dance. He said, “I had not idea this was such a big deal. I mean that sincerely. I am here and I’m happy you are all here. It’s been a long journey….my feet are tired, but my heart is not.”
It was at the ceremony that he confirmed he was officially retired from acting.
Connery’s ex-wife Australian actress Diane Cilento released her 2006 autobiography My Nine Lives. In it, she described incidents of physical abuses by Connery during her eleven year marriage to him. She described graphically how Connery “bashed my face in with his fists”. Cliento’s revelations once again raised questions and a spotlight on Connery’s attitude towards women.
He would be asked about the recent allegations and again be asked about his remarks from the notorious 1965 Playboy interview. Connery always maintained that his words were taken out of context and denied ever hitting Cileinto. He ended up cancelling an appearance at the Holyrood Festival of Politics because he was worried that he would be questioned about Cliento’s claims, the alleged abuse and his views on women. He stated – “My view is I don’t believe that any level of abuse against women is ever justified under any circumstances. Full stop.”
In February 2007 Connery traveled to India. It was the first time he had visited the country. What was meant to be a quiet ‘business trip’ turned into a frenzy with fans lining up outside the five-star hotel where he was staying. There he spent Valentine’s Day with wife Micheline at the Taj Mahal.
Connery said, “I shall never forget this day, when I spent Valentine’s Day in the company of my wife in the forecourt of Taj Mahal.”
Connery strongly considered the request to appear in the fourth Indiana Jones film, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. He had some creative differences with Spielberg about the character and the direction of the plot and ultimately decided to pass on the role. In a statement on his website he said, “If anything could have pulled me out of retirement, it would have been an Indiana Jones film. But in the end, retirement is just too much damned fun.”
He told another interviewer “I don’t think I’ll ever act again. I have so many wonderful memories, but those days are over.”
‘Being A Scot’
In August 25, 2008, Connery appeared at the Edinburgh International Book Festival to launch his memoir Being A Scot. The book is one part Connery’s life and career and a personal portrait of Scotland and its achievements.
“I said I never would [do an autobiography] and then I thought about it and I said, ‘I’m going to do it.’ Then I started.”
Back in 2003, Connery was initially going to write his memoirs with author and childhood friend Meg Henderson, but pulled out of the agreement. Henderson alleged that Connery wanted to keep nearly all the proceeds himself. He also allegedly said he didn’t want to rehash the physical abuse claims made by his ex-wife.
Two years later he had a deal with Harper Collins and Beatles biographer Hunter Davies, but he again nixed it returning the $1.7 million advance he was paid. Davies regretted collaboration with Connery feeling they would have produced an enthralling book.
Connery had said, “Yeah, and it cost me a stinking amount of money not to do it – because I’d already put the wheels in motion.” Connery returned the money when he realized Davis wanted to do a probing ‘warts-and-all’ book about him.
At the time a source was quoted as saying about Connery’s last minute refusals about writing his memoirs – “Sir Sean doesn’t need the money, everyone knows that. The book was always about setting the record straight. But looking back on your life when you are aged 74, is a very emotionally demanding thing to do.”
Now at age 78, Connery felt it was time. With his memoir and his version of his life and past events, it brought out others who told a different version of Connery.
With Connery’s life story in the headlines, his ex-wife Diane Cilento alleged that he wasn’t planning on leaving any money from his fortune to their son Jason. She said at the time, “Sean has a problem about relationships, as everyone around him knows.” When asked about Cilento’s remarks Connery only said, “Diane is insane”.
Pop star Lynsey de Paul had a fling with Connery during the late 1980s and said, “I tried to keep our relationship platonic but he pursued me relentlessly. He wasn’t my type at all because I’m not usually attracted to the macho type.”
She said their affair began in 1989 when they met at a party while she was sitting next to Connery’s wife. Lynsey came out about their affair after Cilento revealed he had beat her and Connery’s past comments about hitting women. “I wasn’t aware of Sean’s violent side when I was with him, but I was quite horrified when I read that he had said it was OK to hit a woman. And if what Diane said wasn’t true, then why has he never denied it?”
The affair lasted for several months, during which time he would phone her from the set of The Russia House. They met for the final time and the relationship ended abruptly and without any indication. She said Connery told her he would call her the following weekend and he never did. She never heard from him again. Lynsey died in 2014.
In 2010, a nude paining of Connery was found in a Scottish Border’s artists collection. It was put on public display for the first time. The oil canvas was discovered by the relatives of artist Rab Webster who died the previous year. The painting would be part of an exhibition in Mr. Webster’s home town of Selkirk.
Painted in 1951, it was painted when Connery was working as a nude model for Edinburgh students years before his breakthrough in acting.
The painting was part of a pile of works found stacked in Webster’s studio. Nick Bihel who was married to Webster’s niece Heather recalled Webster talking about Connery posing for students, also saying, “He said Connery treated it just as a job and that he didn’t say very much.” He also added, “There were a few sketches of Sean Connery which are distributed among the family so to speak.”
Webster’s painting of the then unknown Connery was put on public display for the first time in 2011. The value of the painting was undetermined.
In June 2010, Connery returned to the street he was born in Edinburgh 80 years earlier. He was the honoree to unveil a plaque in the regenerated area.
The original site of his home, 176 Fountainbridge, was demolished in the 1960s. The plaque had been erected at Springside, a new housing and office development only yards away from Connery’s childhood home.
The plaque reads – ‘Sean Connery, Born Fountainbridge, (25 August 1938), Oscar winning actor, International film star’
Looking at the changes that had happened to the area since his youth, Connery said, “Now it is a much more pleasant area in which to live, visit and work, with new homes, offices, businesses and open spaces replacing the old factories and tenements. And I am sure that the community spirit I remember will be maintained throughout this transformation.”
While in Edinburgh, he visited the newly-created Centre for the Moving Image, which brings together the city’s Filmhouse and the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
Connery added, “I am honored that the Centenary of Cinema plaque recognizes my work in the world of film. And it is fitting that film, which has played such a major part in my life, will play an important role in the regeneration of Foutainbridge.”
Even as late as 2011, there was hope that Connery would return to an acting role. His good friend Michael Caine reassured everyone that Connery would not be back on film screens. He said, “He won’t make another film now. I just asked him. He said, ‘No, I’ll never do it.'”
In 2012, Connery did briefly come out of retirement to lend the voice of the title character in the animated movie Sir Billi (also known as Guardian of the Highlands) . He also served as producer for the extended version of what began as a 30-minute short film in 2006.
Writer Tessa Hartmann and director husband Sascha Hartmann convinced Connery out of retirement to lend his voice as the title character, a skateboarding, grandad who drove an Aston Martin DB5.
Tessa Hartman recalled flying to the Bahamas to record him – “When we arrived at the airport in the Bahamas, my husband and I were planning to just jump in a taxi to take us to the B&B. But then we heard ‘beep, beep’ and there was Sean Connery. He was driving an old Toyota. We were used to seeing as Bond, but this car was so modest.”
“He just fell in love with the project. We were very much the underdog. Animation is controlled by the Americans and I think he liked how we were punching above our weight. Sean and that production put us on the map and for that we will be eternally grateful.”
It would be Scotland’s first CGI feature film. It was not a success and the negative reaction to it was well publicized in the British press. One critic described it as an “ignominious” end to Connery’s career. It would be the final film project that Connery was a part of.
Connery’s last public appearance was in September 2012 when he turned out to support fellow Scotsman Andy Murray at the US Open.
It was also in 2012 that rumors surfaced that Connery would appear in the James Bond film Skyfall alongside Daniel Craig. Connery’s return appearance to the series would be a celebratory nod marking the sixtieth anniversary of the film series. It’s uncertain if Connery was approach with the offer. It probably wouldn’t have mattered anyway, the odds were he would have declined it. The role of Kincade was played by Albert Finney.
As a national referendum on independence approached in 2014, Connery wrote an opinion article for The New Statesman arguing in favor of it.
“As a Scot and as someone with a lifelong love for both Scotland and the arts, I believe the opportunity of independence is too good to miss. Simply put – there is no more creative act than creating a new nation.”
Because his primary residence was not in Scotland, Connery was not eligible to vote.
Connery had said, “The media already attempts to assassinate my character in Scotland when I’m there, so my position is much more effective if I’m outside Scotland.”
Connery’s exile status was a source of criticism. Although being very vocal about Scottish independence and vowing he would return home when it was achieved, many felt him living abroad negated his passionate pleas for his home country. He never returned to Scotland to help rally voters on the issue.
He never renounced his citizenship, but him living abroad was a matter of math. During his James Bond days, he paid the government as much as 90% of what he was earning. The appeal of living abroad and saving a huge chunk of his earnings was too good a one for him to resist.
In 1998, Connery and his wife moved from Marabella Spain to the Bahamas. Connery was unhappy with the increase of new homes in the areas that ruined the privacy and remoteness the property gave him. He said at the time, “These people are not going to see me in my underpants, I am leaving Marabella.”
There had been an investigation in the sale of their property and possible property fraud by local officials. The investigation was named ‘Operation Goldfinger’.
After the sale of their Spanish property, Casa Malibu, the Connerys got involved with a development company that built more than 70 luxury apartments on the site without permission from local authorities. A huge portion of profits was supposedly sent abroad to be stashed away in tax havens.
Although Connery initially claimed that he was willing to cooperate with authorities, he also threatened to sue for damages.
In 2015, Connery was cleared of any charges, but wife Micheline was officially charged as part of an alleged plot to defraud the Spanish treasury of millions of euros in property taxes.
Micheline denied any involvement in the scam. As of 2021 the case is still pending.
On October 31, 2020, Sean Connery died in his sleep at his home in the Bahamas. Tributes, remembrances and condolences by friends, fans and those who worked with him poured in from around the world.
One tribute came from the milk store that Connery had worked for as a child. The company posted on Facebook – “Deeply saddened to hear the news that Sir Sean Connery has died. Undoubtedly our most famous former employee, in 1944 Thomas Sean Connery, 13 started work as a barrow worker in the St Cuthbert’s dairy. He left his role as a milk horseman in 1959 to pursue his acting career.”
Several days after his death his son, Jason Connery said:
“We are all working at understanding this huge even as it only happened so recently, even though my dad has been unwell for some time. A sad day for all who knew and loved my dad and a sad loss for all people around the world who enjoyed the wonderful gift he had as an actor.”
Connery’s wife would later revel that the final months of Connery’s life he suffered from dementia. Micheline who was married to him for 45 years said, “It was no life for him. he was not able to express himself latterly. At least he died in his sleep and it was just so peaceful. I was with him all theme and just slipped away. It was what he wanted.”
Connery was cremated in the Bahamas. His wife said, she hoped to hold a memorial service for him in Scotland once coronavirus restrictions are eased. His ashes would be scattered there as it was “his final wish”.
“We are going to bring Sean back to Scotland. That was his final wish.”
“If I were to go back and think of how far I’ve come, how much fame one’s had, how much money one’s made, how much traveling one’s done, one would think—well, it wouldn’t be physically possible, considering where I’ve come from.” – Sean Connery
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