In June 2006, Sir Sean Connery was awarded the AFI Life achievement award, and Daily Variety magazine devoted four articles across seven pages to the former James Bond 007:
AFI LIFE ACHIEVEMENT AWARD: SEAN CONNERY
[Note from Stephen Spielberg]
For you, they should have named it the "Bigger Than Life-time" Achievement Award.
Beyond Bond, Connery found his inner King
For a while there in the 1960s, it looked like cinema’s biggest sadist was trying to become its biggest masochist. The suave spy who with a curl of his lip could ingeniously dispatch the most beautiful or grotesque of foes with a blood-curdling pun was, in between his popular murder sprees, saddling himself with a pathologically unstable wife, getting on the bad side of a sadistic guard while incarcerated in a desert prison and risking a lobotomy for the sake of an unfinished poem of dubious quality-
These characters were, of course, Sean Connery’s now-legendary attempts to break free of the bonds of 007 and expand his expressive range. These days, you hardly ever see a star take that kind of chance, but Connery stuck at it, at least for a couple of decades.
‘What Sean was doing in the Bond movies is the best of high-comedy acting. It wasn’t the exploitation of a persona. It was real acting.’
— Sidney Lumet
During that time, he produced a gallery of memorable characters while exploiting the creative tumult in filmmaking that took place during the 1960s _ and ’70s. And, in 1975 and 1976, he appeared in a trio of movies that would help define a filmmaking era and provide three overwhelming examples of just what star acting is all about.
Connery's first step away from Bond came between “From Russia With Love” and “Goldfinger,” and it was a big one: Alfred Hitchcock’s “Marnie” in 1964. Widely dismissed at the time, this study of a psychopathic personality, for which the director revived and updated techniques from his silent days, has gradually received the recognition it deserves. Connery plays a wealthy Philadelphia businessman who falls in love with a mercurial young woman (Tippi He-dren), whom he recognizes to be a compulsive thief. When it is discovered that her kleptomania is only the beginning of her psychological problems, the leading man is alternately infuriated and moved — especially infuriated. Connery provides a harsh variation on the Hitchcock hero, particularly in the wake of Cary Grant and James Stewart, and his performance gives “Marnie” much of its unique, uncomfortable edge.
Photo: BREAKING AWAY: Between Bond films, Connery turned in iconic performances in “Mamie,” top, and “Robin and Marian" helmed by, respectively, Alfred Hitchcock and Richard Lester.
In between “Goldfinger” and “Thunderball,” Connery hooked up with Sidney Lumet for what would turn out to be the first of their five pictures together,
“The Hill,” in 1965. In contrast to the suave 007,
Connery plays an army lifer, the rough-hewn Joe Roberts, imprisoned in a North African prison camp run by the British for their own court-mar-tialed soldiers during World War II. Where Bond dispenses violence, Roberts disdains it, even when pushed to the breaking point. For fans of the spy, this seething, tough trooper would be a revelation. If only they had bothered to check him out.
Connery’s coolest picture of this decade is 196fi’s “A Fine Madness,” directed by Irvin Kershn-er, who was a crucial voice in the development of a counter-Hollywood. Conneiy plays an unapolo-getically violent misanthrope who directs a particular ire at women — an ire that doesn’t keep him from seducing each one he meets (including, memorably, Jean Seberg). Connery delivers a balls-out performance in a film that has both remained as hip as it ever was (in its nonconformity) and dated badly (in its sexism). He also shows conclusively how well he can fit into an ensemble cast.
‘As long as you’re not full of crap, Sean’s your best ally in the making of a movie.’
— Peter Hyams
Connery made “You Only Live Twice” in 1907, then gave up Bond for good — for the first time. Three years later, he starred in Martin Ritt’s “The Molly Maguires,” an epic story of unionism, terrorism and company repression in the Pennsylvania coal mines of the 19th century. The movie has its share of virtues and drawbacks, but Connery, who portrays a quiet man opposite the verbose Richard Harris, demonstrates that he plays off another strong leading man — whether friend or foe — like few others.
Some diddling followed: a caper film (“The Anderson Tapes” with Lumet) and then back to Bond (“Diamonds Are Forever”) before quitting 007 this time absolutely forever.
Meanwhile, writer-director John Milius had a project, “The Wind and the Lion,” about a Berber desert chieftain who, in 1904, kidnaps a wealthy American woman and her two children, takes on the U.S. and those European nations occupying Morocco and charms his hostages in the process — who turn out not to be his hostages at all, but his guests. Mulay Achmed Mohammed el-Raisuli the Magnificent is a role as magnificent as the name itself.
Photo: OSCAR CALLS, FINALLY: Brian De Palma ami Kerin Costner teamed with Connery on “The Untouchables," which brought the actor his first, and only, Academy Award nom and win, in 1988.
Milius certainly gave Connery the best entrance of his career: The still of a morning in the Tangier foreign quarter is broken by rampaging horsemen who charge through the grounds and home of Candice Bergen and her kids. Milius is too good a filmmaker to deliver five minutes of noise and clutter without modulated action and character bits. Nevertheless, there’s an awful lot of noise and bloodletting before all is calm and the camera carefully approaches a solitary figure sitting by a fountain, dressed in desert indigo and facing away from the camera. At just the right moment, he turns and we see, yes, it’s Sean ... er, Raisuli the Mag...
We see that there’s something between Sean Connery and El Raisuli the Magnificent. We see, in other words, a real movie star. Not someone the marketing department says is a star, the featured player in a series of adolescent spy capers, not an actor struggling to find his voice, but an honest-to-goodness movie star.
Connery’s performance in "The Wind and the Lion” is nothing short of superb. It’s perfect, in fact, the first of three perfect performances in a row. His El Raisuli is ingenuous without being a fool, brave without being naive, a fearless and accomplished warrior without being a facile superhero. Connery marshals his considerable charm in a way he never had before, maybe because he’d never played so charming a character.
It sounds strange, but a hallmark of Connery’s post-Bond performances is their increased physicality. True, he doesn’t throw so many punches, but his gestures now count for more. In the second of the three brilliant features made in 1975-76, the actor essays a man who, at one point, likes to carry a golden arrow around with him. He holds it behind his back, slaps his knee with it, scratches his beard with it and generally uses it to point as if he were still on the old drilling ground in 19th-century India.
The character is Daniel Dravot in John Huston’s classic “The Man Who Would Be King.” Connery’s taciturn Dravot, and Michael Caine’s talkative Peachy Carnahan stride from the pages of Rudyard Kipling to emerge as one of the great adventure teams of all time.
But Connery not only did something else, he did it right
away. Richard Lester’s “Robin and Marian” is a scathing and soothing elegy to love that finds the legendary lovers back together 20 years after the story we all know has ended.
Lester gave Connery a strong leading lady, Audrey Hepburn, to go along with a strong ensemble and again, despite the actor’s rich baritone, it’s the physicality of his performance that sticks with you. In one scene, back in Sherwood Forest with Marian and the remnants of his Mer-rie Men, Robin wakes, old and scarred in his 40s, grunting and limping as he rises from his bed. But the pains are replaced by playfulness, and soon the whole troupe is up and about, riding off, exultant over having eradicated all sense of age. It’s a wonderful example of director and cast working together, and the whole sequence is unimaginable without Connery.
Photo: PERFECT PERFS: It was a very good two years. In 1975 and '76, Connery starred in “Robin and Marian," “The Man Who Would Be King" and, above, “The Wind and the Lion."
Sadly, but perhaps inevitably, Connery would never match these heights again. As the actor aged, he grew increasingly fond
of a particular type: the man of the world, very wise, physically adept if not superhuman, usually possessed of some arcane knowledge. Couched within a good script and under the direction of, say, a F red Schepisi, this formula could work, as it did in 1990’s “The Russia House.” There, Connery’s convincing portrait of an imbibing publisher who puts his life where his mouth is may be the last of his first-rate performances. Not coincidentally, he also passes muster as a romantic lead with a much younger actress, Michelie Pfeiffer.
And the likes of John McTiernan could shape the type into a fluid module in a larger, elegant action outing with “The Hunt for Red October,” also from 1990. But too often, Connery’s appearances in his films were just that: appearances. After swearing off 007 for good again — no really, for good with “Never Say Never Again,” in 1983 — he came darn close to doing Bond one more time in 1996’s “The Rock.”
Perhaps it all goes back to “The Untouchables” in 1987. After getting no recognition from the Academy for all his previous work, Connery won an Oscar for playing a simple-minded policeman in a simple-minded movie.
Henry Sheehan is president of the L.A. Film Critics Assn.
Sir Sean takes politico high road
By ANNA STEWART
The world’s favorite Scot, the Scot with a Licence To Kill... and recently voted the U.K.’s Sexiest Pensioner, Sean Connery, 75, is renowned for his ardent support of the Scottish National Party and the movement to create an independent Scottish state.
In England, Connery’s political activism has become as much a part of his persona as the 007 character he last played in 1983. But there are a couple of wee flies in the ointment: One, he lives in neither the Highlands nor the Lowlands, but in the Bonnie Bahamas; and, two, Scots back home have heard it all before. And Scots don’t confuse acting ability with political acumen.
In a nutshell, Scotland has had its own Parliament since 1997, but make no mistake about it, the non-Scots of Great Britain consider Scotland a bit of windblown heather just up the motorway, the northern end of the island known as England. Scottish Parliament has responsibility primarily for education, health and prisons within its own borders — just about as much autonomy as Orange County, Calif.
Understandably, many independent and ambitious Scots chaff under the yoke of the Queen’s Parliament at Westminster. The Scottish National Party’s goal is full independence — membership in the United Nations, the European Union and all. In other words, a country named Scotland with, by the way, a lot of North Sea oil.
Connery not only bears the title of Knight Bachelor bestowed upon him by Queen Elizabeth II in 2000, which entitles him to be called Sir Sean, but also the more valuable title of Tax Exile, granted him by British tax collectors some 20 years ago.
This designation does not carry the stigma that a tax evader might incur in America, it’s just the way super-rich Brits have alw’ays avoided the merciless top tax brackets. “You spent all but 90 days outside our homeland? You don’t owe us a cent, mate, and good on ye.”
“Throughout his life, Sir Sean Connery has been an ardent supporter of Scotland,” reads the Web site SeanConneiy.com. “... His commitment to Scotland has never wavered ... Politics in the United Kingdom has more intrigue than a James Bond plot... Sir Sean campaigned hard for the yes vote during the Scottish referendum (1997) that created a new Scottish Parliament ... Scotland will be independent in his lifetime."
“All I ask is equal treatment for Scotland, and we haven’t had that for 300 years,” Connery said in an interview'. “For the first 100 years after union, Scotland went into decline. It is still run by Westminster. Scotland is just seen as great for shooting, golf and tugging your forelock."
Connery has put his money where his mouth is. He has contributed up to £50,000 ($94,000) a year to the SNP, a significant amount for the cash-strapped local patty. His contributions hit a snag a few* years ago when the laws changed and Connery wTas prevented from making political donations because he was not a U.K. voter (Connery had a flat in London but had not registered to vote).
‘All I ask is equal treatment for Scotland, and we haven’t had that for 300 years.’
- Sean Connery
It was reported on Guardian Unlimited that Connery said he has paid about $6.5 million in tax since 1977, despite living abroad. “I am an easy target because of my political opinions, but I defy anyone in Scotland to find one detail where I knowingly ever did anything that wTas to the detriment of Scotland. It gets up my nose.”
It is undeniable that outside the United Kingdom the celebrity Sean Connery is the most persuasive voice for Scottish independence among the movers and shakers of the world that may not have otherwise heard of the SNP or the movement.
But if public opinion is reflected by Scottish newspapers and their political editors, Connery, like Thatcher and Blair, may garner more respect for his political stance in foreign lands than in his own. At best, in Scotland he may be preaching to the converted.
“In terms of Scottish voters, they don’t pay too much attention to what Sean says politically,” says Paul Hutcheon, the Scottish political editor of the Sunday Herald. “They admired his acting skills, and they recognize that he’s been in a number of good films, but there is a tendency for people to roll their eyes when he enters the political arena.”
Hutcheon continues: “He’s said the same things politically for decades now. It’s not as if he surprises anyone. His political view's don’t really have much impact on elections or Scots.” “Our view as a newspaper,” says Ian Pope, assistant newrs editor of the Daily Record, “would be clearly skeptical of Sir Sean’s support of Scottish nationalism. The fact that he is able to espouse independence for Scotland while living (abroad) hasn’t escaped many of the readers of our paper.
“That is a criticism which is often leveled at him. His response to that might be, ‘The second Scotland does gain her independence, I’ll be on the first flight home.’ He has perhaps a chocolate box (picture postcard) view of Scotland.”
Dave King, a political editor at the Daily Record, adds, “there is a growing resentment here. ‘Why should we listen to somebody who’s spent most of their adult life living elsewhere. He’s never lived in this country for more than 90 days for the last 20 years.”
“He is a strong believer in Scottish independence, and he’s argued the case many times,” says Manish MacDonell, political editor of the Scotsman. “He feels very very strongly about it. (But he) is living as a tax exile, and perhaps, when he backs a party, that takes away a bit of the message.
“There is a certain amount of backlash, but it doesn’t go as far as negating his influence. He’s admired for being the most famous Scotsman in the world, but I think his intervention in Scottish politics would carry more weight with more people if he lived here. And there is a certain tendency in Scotland to have ‘a bit of a go’ at success.” “The Scottish National Party has really traded on their links with him,” Pope sums up. “During the general election last year, they had prerecorded phone messages from Connery. You would get a phone call as you were sitting tucking in to your tea. It was his voice: Nobody can do it the way he does it. ‘Hi, it’s Sean Connery. Don’t hang up. It really is me. Please vote SNP.’”
Actors call Him mentor and praise his moxie
Rob Brown on ‘Finding Forrester'
Brown got his first acting gig starring opposite Sean Connery. In Gus Van Sant’s “Finding Forrester,” he plays a Bronx kid who stumbles across a reclusive old novelist — and earns himself a surly mentor in the process.
“People make him out to seem like a grumpy old man, but he’s not really like that at all,” says Brown. “He’s just a really cool guy. Our apartments were on the same floor, and he sat me down one weekend and told me about the business and how everything works, the reason being, he said, there was nobody who told him when he was coming up. He really mentored me.”
Brown remembers all of Connery’s advice — “A lot of it wasn’t about film work per se, it was about life” — and says he still hears from his co-star from time to time:
“The first thing he stressed to me was to stay in school, and he reinforced that when ‘Coach Carter’ came out. He gave me a call to make sure I was still in school.”
Brown, who’s currently a senior at Amherst, says he tries to follow Connery’s example both in life and onscreen.
“In terms of any actor I’ve worked with, I learned the most from him,” he says.
Harrison Ford on ‘Indiana Jones’
There’s nothing in the first two Indiana Jones movies to suggest Ford’s character is Scottish, but when it came to casting “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” the whip-wielding star says, “We were looking for someone who could be Indiana Jones’ father, and we wanted a person with some cojones, and apparently they grow ’em big up there in Scotland.”
Ford says Connery’s casting helped convince him to embark upon “The Last Crusade.” “I thought the opportunity to meet Indiana Jones’ father would be a reverse engineering of character development," he says. “He brings such manliness and a gravitas, as well as a playful aspect to him. I always consider these things comedies, and the fun of seeing Indiana respond to his father’s hectoring gave us a gold mine of comic opportunity.” The filmmakers crafted the role with Connery in mind, Ford says. “Sean has considerable knowledge in history,” so Henry Sr. became a historian. “What makes actors interesting is their capacity to take what is particular about themselves and somehow weave that into their characters. Sean built his character on the established character of Indiana Jones, and he took full advantage of what could be there.”
Nicolas Cage on ‘The Rock’
After “Leaving Las Vegas,” “The Rock” was a complete change of pace for Cage. It was a risky choice for the Oscar winner—not necessarily as career decisions go, but in terms of the danger.
“That was really my first experience on an ac-tion-adventure film,” Cage recalls, “and Sean explained how to be aware and how to be safe, and at the same time to take the chances that were necessary during the stunts. He taught me many things.”
Cage had been a Connery fan as long as he could remember. “My first movie, I think, was ‘Dr. No,’ so it was a huge experience to work with him,” he says. “I have always modeled my approach and my career after Sean Connery. He was always willing to try different genres and characters while maintaining his presence as a viable star."
One lesson in particular helps define Cage’s acting choices to this day. It was Ed Harris’ death scene in “The Rock,” and Cage couldn’t decide whether to play the frustration or shift his attention to finding the last missing rocket.
“I was going around in circles, and Sean whispered in my ear, ‘Go with the priority.’ That really helped me find the precise action for that given moment, and I’ve used it ever since.”
— Peter Debruge
Connery on JAMES BOND 007
The spy made him famous, but that doesn’t mean they’re good friends
“ ‘Diamonds Are Forever’ was a very good 18 weeks’ work, but I don’t think I would like to do any more.” -1975
“Maybe the snobbish, eccentric, gourmet facet of the character has an appeal to a cross section of people everywhere.” — 1983
“I had many problems with the series, apart from the greed of the producers. I was in conflict with them from the beginning.” - 1989
“Because of the disenchantment of making ‘Never Say Never Again,’ I just didn’t do anything for two years.” - 1993
Helmers tap into charisma — and wigs
Sidney Lumet on ‘The Offence' and ‘The Hill'
Lumet directed five Sean Connery movies — none of them Bond pictures. Their first collaboration, “The Hill,” is widely regarded as one of Connery’s best performances. It was also a deliberate attempt to distance himself from 007.
“What Sean was doing in the Bond movies is the best of high-comedy acting,” Lumet says. “It wasn’t the exploitation of a persona. It wras real acting, so when ‘The Hill’ fell into my lap, the idea of Sean for it was sensational. I knew he wras one hell of an actor.”
Connery continued to alternate serious acting roles with fresh installments in the Bond franchise, reteaming with Lumet in the early 1970s on “The Anderson Tapes” and “The Offence.” Lumet recalls, “UA wanted Sean to do two or three more Bonds, so they were negotiating, and he said, ‘Look, what I’d like is to produce a picture, maybe two, but they’re ‘put pictures.’ In those days, what a put picture meant was the company had nothing to say about it. A budget wras picked — in this instance, it wras $1 million — and then whatever Sean wanted to do for that million, he could do. They would have no approvals of script, director, cast, what have you, and that’s how ‘The Offence’ happened.”
“The Offence” is a serious actor’s movie. Connery plays a veteran police detective wrho snaps.
In the opening scene, he beats a suspected child molester to death, then goes home and screams at his wife.
“Not your average Christmas picture,” Lumet says with a laugh. Nor was it the work of someone worried about alienating his fan base. “There was never a moment’s discussion of that crap. Sean knew exactly what he was getting into and went, shut his eyes and dived off the board without checking w: hether there was any water in the pool.”
Rather than letting the movie find its audience, UA opened “The Offence” at the Odeon Leicester Square, a massive theater in London. “They were exploiting James Bond,” Lumet sighs. “The only thing missing from the ads was him with a pistol in his hand.”
The movie closed after four days, stalling the U.S. release for more than a year. When it finally did open, the distrib buried it at “a bad house that played Indian movies mostly.”
They would go on to make two more movies together, “Murder on the Orient Express” and “Family Business,” but Lumet still regrets that “The Offence” never got a chance.
“I’m very prejudiced about Sean, because I adore him personally and love his talent,” he says, “but I think it’s his best acting job, period.”
John McTiernan on ‘The Hunt for Red October’
Producer Mace Neufeld wanted Connery to play the captain in “The Hunt for Red October,” but the studio had issues with the actor’s Scottish accent.
“Don’t worry about it,” McTiernan told them. “The authority with which he speaks is more important than a specific accent.” They relented, and “Hunt” became the first of two movies McTiernan made with the star (following up with “Medicine Man” two years later).
Accent aside, Connery had his own wTay of making his relationship to the Russian submarine crew look convincing.
“The first morning, Sean demanded that the a.d. come to see him at the edge of the set, and he just screamed blue murder at the a.d.,” McTiernan says. “Sean doesn’t have outbursts, but it terrorized all the little Russian kids, so that from then on, whenever Sean walked within five feet of them, each one of them involuntarily tensed up, like his sphincter went tight, which worked perfectly.”
Part of Connery’s authority came from the special brush-cut hairpiece (inspired by playwright Samuel Beckett) that McTiernan had to convince Connery to wear.
"After Bond, he wrent through this sort of honesty phase where he had to demonstrate to everybody that he was bald,” says McTiernan. Where other actors sometimes operate on insecurity, Connery was just the opposite, incredibly comfortable in his own skin. “He didn’t w’ant to be one of those guys getting old and denying his age. It’s a much deeper vanity about the nature of his character, his nature as a man.”
Peter Hyams on ‘Outland’
“The key to Sean is zero guile,” says Hyams, who directed the actor in “Outland” and “The Presidio.” “He’ll look you in the eye, and as long as you’re not full of crap, he’s your best ally in the making of a movie that you could ever have.”
But first, you have to earn his respect. Regarding “Outland,”
Hyams says: “One of the first days that we were working together, we were shooting a very important close-up. I had a 20-watt bulb at the end of a stiing, and as wre were blocking it, Sean said, ‘What’s that string for, boy?’ and I said, ‘Well, half your face is in shadow’, and what I wrant to do is catch a pinspot of light reflected in your eye.’ He (grunted), didn’t say a word.
“The next morning, he said, ‘I want to see dailies.’ I said, ‘Fine,’ and he said, ‘I want to see them now, boy.’ When he came back, I was setting up the shot, and he turns to me and says, ‘Where’s your light bulb, boy?’ And then he actually stopped calling me ‘boy’ and started calling me ‘coq’ ” — a sign that he’d moved up in the actor’s esteem.
Irvin Kershner on ‘A Fine Madness’
“I was the one who worked with him right after he quit doing Bond,” Kershner says. Sean Connery had just wrapped “Thun-derball” and was looking for something very different, so Kershner convinced him to do ‘A Fine Madness,’ a zany comedy about a womanizing poet in New York.
“There were a lot of other actors who wanted to do it,” he says, “but Sean had charisma, and I needed a poet. I learned that he loved poetry, wrote poetry, so it sort of fit together.”
Warner Bros., on the other hand, was expecting something very different.
“Jack Warner didn’t understand the picture at all,” Kershner says. “Before I went to New York, he called me into his office and said, ‘OK, kid, plenty of it,’ and he held up his fingers like a gun — pow, pow. He thought we were doing another Bond picture. This was as far away from Bond as possible. It was a very peculiar story, quite funny in places and weird, with a chimpanzee and a crazy doctor, you know, the whole thing.”
Kershner remembers a hot-tub scene Connery shared with Jean Seberg. “Jean came in, and she was wearingtights with little black things over the nipples. It looked ridiculous. Sean called me over, and he whispered in my ear, ‘Get me a cold champagne bottle and two glasses,’ so I sent out for it. They got out of the tub, and they just talked and drank. I came back, everything was fine. He talked her out of everything. This is Sean.”
Kershner and Connery remained friends, and when Connery had the chance to remake “Thunderball” through Warner almost two decades later, he asked for Kershner. Ironically, the man who had once helped him distance himself from Bond would be the one to direct his last 007 outing, “Never Say Never Again.”
“I wras never a Bond fan,” Kershner says. “I loved Sean, but that kind of action didn’t get to me, and so I tried to make it more of a character piece, which is very difficult to do with Bond. Have you ever read an Ian Fleming book? They’re lousy stories, not very good. But Sean was a pleasure to work with. The man is the pro of all time.”
— Peter Debruge
[Source: Daily Variety. 6/8/2006, Vol. 291 Issue 48, pB1-B8. Copyright © 2006, Daily Variety, Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier, Inc. All Rights Reserved.]