Back in 2002, I had the wild idea of rounding up all five Bond actors for a Variety 40th anniversary tribute article, which later expanded into further reporting with the arrival of Daniel Craig as the sixth 007. But the first thing I was told, of course, was forget about getting Sean Connery — he never talks Bond. I said, “Never say never,” and, through a combination of persistence, patience, and luck, I got Connery on the phone in Prague on the set of — what turned out to be his final movie — “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.”
With the passing of Sir Sean Connery, the actor who invented Bond onscreen and redefined masculinity (a more dangerous Cary Grant), it turns out that my 30-minute conversation was his last extensive reminiscence of 007 in print: “They were exciting and funny and had good stories and pretty girls and intriguing locations,” he said of his six official and one off-franchise appearances. “And it didn’t take anything for granted.”
Connery was frank, in good spirits, and full of pride discussing Bond and his legacy. There was none of the bitterness often exhibited in his post-Bond interviews, except when it came to his salary. “Apart from the payment, which was puerile, they were bringing in a lot of science-fiction stuff [in reference to ‘You Only Live Twice’ in ’67, his penultimate franchise appearance].”
When asked why Bond took off with “Dr. No” in ’62, particularly in the UK, Connery responded that the franchise offered a way out of the dreary “kitchen sink” dramas of the late ’50s: “It was refreshing and had a certain kind of style, although it didn’t cost anything because we only had a million to make the picture,” he said. Plus, the key ingredient was humor, which balanced nicely with the constant threat of death as a defense mechanism. “Well, I took it seriously on one level, which was one had to be menacing, one had to be strong enough to do all this stuff,” he added. “Or seem old enough to do it. And the humor was one element that was missing from the books of Fleming himself.”
Perhaps the biggest surprise was how much credit Connery gave to director Terence Young (“Dr. No,” “From Russia with Love,” “Thunderball”) for informing his role of Bond. In fact, the debonair Young was the true creator of the onscreen Bond persona, molding the 31-year-old raw yet charismatic Scottish actor. “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.
“And also he understood what looked good — the right cut of suits and all that stuff, which I must say was not that particularly interesting for me,” Connery said. “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 had the most fun on the first three movies — “Dr. No,” “From Russia with Love,” his personal favorite, and “Goldfinger,” which introduced him to his lifelong love of golf — but then playing Bond became a drag. “Well, once you had done the first two, you just moved forward because the rules were established,” he said. “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. I think if anyone maybe Timothy [Dalton] made the mistake of thinking that it was going to be easier than it is. You have to work very hard to make something look easy. The movement, the fights, and whatever else are certain absurd situations.”
Long live Bond. Without Connery, though, he certainly wouldn’t have lasted this long. But did Connery think Bond would endure? “No, I didn’t,” he said. “And anyone who says he did is a liar.”