By Vikas Datta
He is perhaps the best symbol of cinema’s transformative power – a rugged-looking, working-class man who became the first to portray — and define — an urbane and debonair secret agent licensed to kill. Though most identified with James Bond, the role which made him a global star, there was much more in Sir Sean Connery’s near half-century-long acting career.
Playing Bond in the first five film adaptations — and the seventh after winning over the producers and even creator Ian Fleming, Connery, who turns 87 on Friday, has many other iconic roles, performed with equal panache and flair.
With his height, powerful and deep voice and presence, he was well-suited to playing tough heroes — monarchs, senior military commanders or police officers, and even a Moroccan bandit who picks up a fight with the US.
While Connery had an ambivalent response to “Mr Kisskissbangbang” — as Italian fans termed 007 — once saying: “I have always hated that damn James Bond. I’d like to kill him” and that he would only escape being identified with him when “I go in the box”, there were some coincidences in their lives.
Born in Edinburgh to factory worker Joseph Connery and cleaning woman Euphemia McBain on August 25, 1930, Thomas Sean Connery, soon began to be known as Sean to distinguish him from best friend Seamus (the Gallic form of Thomas), began working as a milk delivery man when he turned 14. One his beat was Fettes, where Bond was said to have studied after being expelled from Eton.
Then, he served in the Royal Navy — like Bond. And then once when he became an actor, he was stopped and booked for speeding. The policeman was Sergeant James Bond.
Discharged from the Navy after a three years on medical grounds in 1949, he worked as a lorry driver, a lifeguard at a swimming pool, an artist’s model and a coffin polisher before drifting into theatre to make some money. While he worked backstage, he grew interested in performing too and soon obtained bit roles and then slightly bigger parts. He also began his film career in 1954.
But there was nothing very notable on both fronts until his leading role in fantasy “Darby O’Gill and the Little People” (1959) — which helped him getting selected for Bond. And aptly, two women had a key role.
After all the actors considered by producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, as well as Fleming, turned out unsuitable or unavailable, Broccoli’s wife, Dana, who was impressed by his performance in “Darby..”, suggested his name.
While the producers later agreed he had the right moves, Fleming remained doubtful, saying the “unrefined” and “overgrown stunt-man” was “not what I envisioned of James Bond”, but his girlfriend told him that Connery had the requisite sexual charisma, and the author changed his mind after the success of “Dr. No” (1962).
Connery’s transformation into the suave Bond owed to director Terence Young, who took him under his wing, and trained him “how to walk, how to talk, even how to eat”, as per Louise Maxwell, who played Moneypenny. This, coupled with his own physical grace, not only made Connery one of the greatest male sex symbols, but also enabled his many other roles beyond his seven outings as Bond – including one unofficial.
These span the understanding publisher hero in Alfred Hitchcock’s psychological thriller “Marnie” (1964), the rogue Raj-era NCO whose ambition comes to a bad end in “The Man Who Would Be King” (1975), Moroccan rebel Raisuli in “The Wind and the Lion” (1975), and a British paratrooper general in “A Bridge Too Far” (1977).
Then, there is portrayal of a Sherlock Holmes-type monk William of Baskerville in medieval mystery “The Name of the Rose” (1986), a hard-bitten Irish-American cop in 1930s American crime drama “The Untouchables” (1987), which won him an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, the hero’s father in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989), a rebellious Soviet submarine skipper in “The Hunt for Red October” (1990) and a publisher drawn into espionage in “The Russia House” (1990).
He was offered Gandalf’s role in “The Lord of Rings” trilogy but declined, saying he had not understood the book.
Declining any further appearances since 2003 to live a retired life since in Spain and then the Bahamas, Connery, who had several run-ins with the movie establishment, couldn’t resist using Bond, of whom he had grown to have a more nuanced view, to explain.
“There’s one major difference between James Bond and me. He is able to sort out problems!” (IANS)