Sean Connery: portrait of a gentleman

From his humble beginnings in Scotland, a poor student in class, Sean Connery born in 1930 has come a long way, becoming a big movie star at the age of 32 when he was chosen as the secret agent James Bond. Sean Connery will continue to distinguish himself in a number of major films, including the one that won him an Oscar, The Untouchables . An unlikely candidate to play Ian Fleming's snobbish 007, and yet Sean Connery is so assimilated to this role, that he almost didn't break out of this mold. Despite many years of work on stage and screen, Sean Connery was still "the guy who played James Bond", until the early 1980s. Yet throughout his career, the headstrong Scot played roles that interested him in the cinema, whatever the image we had of him. To the point where critics now spoke more about his exceptional talent as an actor than his inability to break out of a role. With more than 60 films to his credit, Sean Connery had become one of the hottest stars in the world

Humble beginnings

Thomas Sean Connery began his life in the humblest of environments. He was the eldest of two sons of Joseph and Euphamia Connery, born in an apartment building in Edinburgh, Scotland. During World War II, when he was only 13, he dropped out of school to help his family. “The war was on, all my education was thrown aside,” Sean Connery recalled in Rolling Stone magazine. I had no qualifications for any job whatsoever, and unemployment has always been very high in Scotland anyway, so you take what you can get. I was a milk delivery boy, a laborer, an apprentice butcher, a coffin varnisher... practically anything. After several years, Sean Connery decided to join the British Royal Navy. But it only lasted three years, he was demobilized following a stomach ulcer. Back in Edinburgh, Sean Connery took up bodybuilding and developed his physique. He became a swimming instructor and even a model for an art school. It was this athletic body that allowed him to win third place in the Mister Universe competition in London in 1953. This trip opened many more doors for him: he landed auditions for the comedy South Pacific and took dance classes and singing for a role in the choir

Professional actor or footballer

This role will be decisive for him. At the time, he was hesitant between becoming an actor or becoming a professional footballer. But actor Robert Henderson, who also played in South Pacific , encouraged him on the path to cinema. Sean Connery will follow his advice: as a footballer, you are limited by age while a good actor could play complex roles for life. Henderson became his mentor. In Première magazine, Sean Connery says: “He gave me a list of all these books I had to read. I spent a year in every library in Great Britain and Ireland, Scotland and Wales… I spent my days in the library and the evenings in the theater." In the morning, Sean Connery spent them to meet other actors, met during the year-long tour in South Pacific . “I had a completely different look at things” declared Sean Connery. This did not give me any more intelligence , but revealed the importance of so many things I never would have thought of." It was during this period that he chose his stage name, Sean Connery, after being told his name was too long to put on his pay slips from the musical.

After South Pacific , Sean Connery begins to see the bigger picture. He is notable in his first television role, a British production of Rod Serling's Requiem for a Heavyweight . Critically acclaimed for this role, he obtained several film offers. Between 1955 and 1962, he directed a series of B films, including Action of the Tiger (1957). It was there that he met Terence Young, who was to be the director of the Bond films. Young recalls: “Action of the Tiger didn't have a good image. But Sean was impressive in it, and when it was all over, he came to me and said, in a very strong Scottish accent: "Sir, will I be successful?" Young then replied that this film did not give him a good image, and that he had to continue swimming to give him the opportunity to be successful. Four years later, Doctor No was released.

Sean Connery vs. James Bond

Sean Connery was still making B movies when he was called for an audition to star in James Bond vs. Doctor No , the first James Bond film. But he had matured greatly as an actor and exuded a kind of raw animal strength, which Young compared to a young Kirk Douglas or Burt Lancaster. Producer Harry Saltzman felt he had the masculinity needed for the role. Everyone agreed he was perfect for the role. Connery was signed without a screen test.

James Bond vs. Doctor No was an instant success, propelling Sean Connery into stardom and sex symbol status virtually overnight, a situation the serious and very private Connery resented. Equally painful for him was the way the media treated his transition into this role. In Rolling Stone he commented, " I had been acting since I was twenty-five, but the image the press put out there was of someone slipping into an inappropriate tuxedo and mixing vodka with martini. I had done television, theater, a whole bunch of things. But it was more sensational to present myself as someone who came from a modest background. " Connery also performed several of his own stunts in Doctor No. And he's done it in a lot of his films because it saves production time. One of the stunts in the movie Doctor No almost killed him, in the scene where he goes under a crane.

In 1962, Sean Connery married his first wife, Diane Cilento. She was also an actress, having played the role of Molly in Tom Jones. Their relationship is passionate, but stormy. A friend of Sean Connery, Michael Caine, reported in Rolling Stone magazine: "I remember one time I was with them in Nassau. Diane was making lunch, and Sean and I went out. Of course, we went out and came home for lunch two hours later. Well, we opened the door and Sean said, "Honey, we're home" - and Diane threw the whole meal she had prepared in their faces. I remember we were both standing there, covered in salsa and green beans." The couple divorced in 1974 and their only son, Jason, is also a film actor.

Between 1962 and 1967, Connery directed five James Bond films: Doctor No, Kisses from Russia , Goldfinger (which was, at the time, the highest-grossing film in cinema history), more 10 million dollars in its first months), Operation Thunder and You Only Live Twice . Sean Connery was tired of the hectic pace of a new feature film every year, the constant publicity and the intrusion into his privacy. During the filming of Operation Thunder , Sean Connery worked long days and did press interviews at night. He also argued with the producer of the Bond films, Albert (Cubby) Broccoli, because he wanted to slow down the pace of the series by completing a feature film every 18 months instead of every year. He threatened to terminate the contract after completing You Only Live Twice and agreed to accept a lower than normal salary.

But the UK was Bond crazy and the films were a gold mine. Sean Connery agreed to star in Diamonds Are Forever in 1971, demanding a salary of $1.25 million, plus a percentage. At the time, this was an unprecedented amount of money for such a role. After finishing the film, Connery said "never again" to Bond roles and donated his entire salary to the Scottish International Education Trust, an organization he had founded to help young people in Scotland get an education. (This is not the only example of Connery's generosity to charities. In 1987, he donated 50,000 British pounds to the National Youth Theater in England after reading an article about the failing institution.)

Life after Bond

After his separation from Broccoli, he continued to play various roles in the cinema, seeking above all to find interesting roles. He reportedly offered to be in Bandits for a very modest salary because he had heard that the producer was having financial difficulties. With a few exceptions, however, most of the films Connery made in the decade following Diamonds Are Forever were not very remarkable.

Then, in the early 1980s, a strange thing happened. At the age of fifty-three, Connery was asked to reprise the role he had made famous, in Never Again . The film rights to this film had been won in a long legal battle by Kevin McClory, an enterprising Irishman whom Sean Connery greatly admired for his ability to fight the system. The film was also scheduled to be released alongside Octopussy , a new Bond adventure that Broccoli was producing starring the new 007, Roger Moore. It is also said that Frenchwoman Micheline Roquebrune, whom he met on a golf course in Morocco in 1970 and married in 1975, convinced him to try out for the role.

Sean Connery draws rave reviews as an aging Bond trying to get back into shape for a daring mission. “At fifty-three, he may be reaching the peak of his career,” says Kurt Loder in Rolling Stone. "Sean Connery reminds you again what the qualities of a true star are. He demonstrates it in Never Again .

A talented actor

In the years that followed, his performances became more and more impressive. In The Untouchables , Connery takes the supporting role of Malone, a tired but cunning street cop. "It's a part that gives him ample opportunity to demonstrate his acting abilities in paradoxical roles," Benedict Nightingale wrote in the New York Times, "his talent for being both rugged and gentle, cynical and innocent, hard and soft, hard and almost tender." For his portrayal of Malone, Sean Connery won an Oscar.

Sean Connery was also very strong in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade , where he played the scholarly father to the ever-adventurous Jones, getting into a lot of adventure and intrigue. Peter Travers commented in Rolling Stone magazine that “Sean Connery, now fifty-eight years old, embodied virility in the cinema. Here, in the tweed of his erudite persona, having an undisguised holy horror of scary things... and armed only with an umbrella and a fountain pen, Sean Connery plays his role perfectly.

Likewise, in his other more recent roles - a monk in The Name of the Rose (1986), a deranged Russian submarine commander in Red October (1990), the savvy police detective in Rising Sun (1993), a aging lawyer in Just Cause (1995), King Arthur in Lancelot the First Knight (1995) – Sean Connery continues to prove his versatility and maturity as an actor. At the age of 65, Sean Connery showed he holds his own against Hollywood's newer newcomers with his role as an ex-convict who once escaped from Alcatraz in the action thriller 1996 Rock , with Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris.

Sean Connery has worked hard throughout his career and taken professional risks in his roles. For these efforts he had become a highly respected actor, almost a legend in the screen world. In 1998, Sean Connery received the Fellowship Award , the highest honor of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. Yet despite this, he remains a very conscientious worker, always trying to improve the film he is in rather than sabotaging others' performances to gain advantage. When asked if he could now write his own role when he decides to star in a film, he replied in Première magazine: " I feel like I'm responsible in terms of what's good for the whole painting, and for the actors too, because I've had all this experience, and I've seen a lot of talent wasted . "

Sean Connery passed away at the age of 90 on October 31, 2020 in Nassau, Bahamas. A talented actor, a gentleman who used his success for the most disadvantaged and for young actors.

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