PROFILES IN POWER
SIR SEAN CONNERY
In case you had not heard, this was an important week for SIR SEAN CONNERY. He had a big birthday. It’s hard to believe this timeless, ageless actor now has such a distinguished number of miles on the clock. That’s partly because he ALWAYS seemed to play older than his years and yet somehow remain ageless in sheer physical presence and power. Let’s explore the secrets to the success of one of our finest actors (who just happened to be a movie star, too).
Women LOVE him. That’s why 1999’s ENTRAPMENT works well, opposite Catherine Zeta Jones. 1995’s FIRST KNIGHT by contrast does not work. Julia Ormond’s Queen Guenevere clearly fancies Sean’s King Arthur more than Richard Gere’s Lancelot, contrary to the script’s demands; (her beautiful eyes give it away; trust me I paid them very close attention when watching the film).
Connery’s James Bond was a veteran from day one and every subsequent actor in the role arguably played Bond better when they too aged things up a bit. Sean set the template. The more world weary and rugged, the better your Bond. Daniel Craig is great in SKYFALL partly BECAUSE his age is factored in. Pierce Brosnan benefited from WAITING to play 007 until his 40s over his initial casting as a boyish 30 something. Timothy Dalton turned the role down initially aged 25, only accepting the part once he had the veteran’s edge. And Sir Roger Moore gave his best performances as his Bond aged (SPY WHO LOVED ME; FOR YOUR EYES ONLY). In short: they all learned from the first man to define the part. Connery outgrew Bond, but the series has never quite jettisoned his panther like shadow.
Connery was never a slave to vanity. He would not wear wigs in his downtime; only for a role. And whilst he did play both action heroes and romantic leads well into his sixties, it never felt forced. Indeed, he excelled at playing the mentor figure. THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987) won him the Oscar and bought him over a decade of similar parts: distinguished, stern, tough yet balanced by a warm sense of humour and paternal power. Today, Liam Neeson has arguably inherited the same mantle and adopted a similar strategy with it (also does not bother with accents save occasional exception: it’s the character that counts).
Sir Sean is a man of contradictions that somehow match up, logically, via old school movie star charm. His style is at once blunt and articulate. One could imagine playing a round of Golf with him and relaxing over a drink in the clubhouse over ‘man talk’, whilst also pondering the meaning of life. A consummate professional, Connery had exacting standards throughout his career.
The sheer attention to detail always paid off. INDIANA JONES AND THE LAST CRUSADE (1989) would simply not have been as brilliant without his input (he insisted Indiana Jones’ Father be just as dynamic as Harrison Ford’s Indy, whilst keeping the comedic touches). For 1996’s THE ROCK, Connery brought in his old script doctor team of Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais to inject some punchy wit and literate humor and the film is more substantially satisfying for that, whilst retaining the Michael Bay visuals and pace.
He also worked extensively to protect his own creative and commercial independence. Connery is not a man to mess with, either creatively or commercially. Some detractors might say ‘litigious’. I’d say ‘assertive': he’s nobody’s Patsy. If you knew your job and did it well and had an original way of playing a genre then a collaboration with him would be most rewarding. THE HILL (1965) and THE OFFENCE (1973) show his determination and grit as a character actor. See also: MARNIE (1964), THE RUSSIA HOUSE (1990) and FINDING FORRESTER (2000).
He’s great in political satire, too (MAN WITH THE DEADLY LENS; aka WRONG IS RIGHT : 1982) and CUBA (1979). Also ideal for historical adventure. 1979’s THE MAN WHO WOULD BE KING is an adaptation of the Kipling story from Director John Huston; also starring Sir Michael Caine: simply a MUST SEE movie. These are unselfish, crafted and hard working performances.
It is that spirit of endeavour that defines the man and his distinguished body of work. Indeed, he passed it onto others, via the SCOTTISH INTERNATIONAL EDUCATION TRUST. Sir Sean founded the Trust in 1971 and has since provided invaluable help for many students. You can find out more about how to get involved here: http://www.scotinted.org.uk/ A truly worthy cause. As Sir Sean himself understands: it is education that guarantees a good future, via empowerment of talented and dedicated individuals.
2003 was the last time that we saw the man head up a major feature film as a leading man. It’s a shame in some senses as there must surely have been roles in the last decade to which Sir Sean was suited and movies that would have benefited immeasurably from his input, even in cameo? Well, yes and no. The fact is he had played just about every type of role going in his body of work. And sentiment is no reason to hang around in movies. If your job is done: enjoy retirement! I have no idea where this myth of ‘actors never retire’ originated. Why the hell shouldn’t they?
Sure, Sir Sean missed a few great roles in his career (Hannibal Lecter; Gandalf: both creative and commercial ‘what ifs’). And was absent from a few tailor made genres (the Scottish independence historical epics of the mid 90s: BRAVEHEART and ROB ROY; Golf themed TIN CUP and LEGEND OF BAGGER VANCE). But on the whole he had in many senses said all he needed to, creatively. There were few challenges left, having both played against type on occasion and maintained a movie star gloss, whilst building a lasting power base and legacy.
There were some hints about a return to James Bond. He did do some fun voice work on the FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE computer game but we never got him playing a villain or mentor to a new 007 or even making a cheeky cameo in the new Bond films. The INDIANA JONES team tried luring him back for 2008’s KINGDOM OF THE CRYSTAL SKULL (he was very diplomatic in his statement explaining why he did not take up the offer; but any draft scripts I read simply did not do justice either to Connery or his character). Sylvester Stallone wanted Connery to be one of THE EXPENDABLES, too (never too late: there might be part 4!).
So nowadays, Sir Sean can be found enjoying life, sport, family, charity interests and history (see his book ON BEING A SCOT: it’s a fascinating read). Public appearances are rare but then he never seemed to crave the limelight. I’d still like to think that the right role could lure him back to big screen action.
But let’s face it: ALL the great movie star masculine force of nature icons are buying themselves a few years of fun post amazing careers. They’ve earned it. If Sir Sean came back, then one would also expect another film from the likes of Gene Hackman (another actor with a similar portfolio of roles who excelled as the action hero mentor; now busied with writing novels).
Even Jack Nicholson has gone a little bit quiet. Clint Eastwood directs one movie a year but then plays Golf (has he ever played Sir Sean? Who would win?). Maybe someone could unite them all in one big blockbuster? Perhaps Jennifer Lawrence (it was her Birthday too recently) could work her magic? She has sometimes cited a frustration at the lack of old school, masculine leading men in the Humphrey Bogart mode. Hope springs eternal.
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, SIR SEAN CONNERY.