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2.11.2020
Sean Connery (1930-2020)

Sean Connery as James Bond in Dr. No (Terence Young, 1962)

Last week, Scottish actor Sean Connery (90) has passed away. Connery was the very first James Bond. He made his breakthrough with Dr. No and then played in six other Bond films. Although his name is forever linked to the secret agent, Connery played in many major productions. He receiced a BAFTA for The Name of the Rose (Jean-Jacques Annaud, 1986) and an Oscar for The Untouchables (Brian De Palma, 1987).

In 1965, Sean Connery accepted a long interview with Playboy about the James Bond saga, a character to which he was ambivalent. “Though he told one reporter recently that ‘Bond’s been good to me, so I shouldn’t knock him,’ he confessed that he’s ‘fed up to here with the whole Bond bit.’”1

 

Playboy: How do you account for the phenomenal success of the Bond books and films?

Sean Connery: Well, timing had a lot to do with it. Bond came on the scene after the War, at a time when people were fed up with rationing and drab times and utility clothes and a predominately grey colour in life. Along comes this character who cuts right through all that like a very hot knife through butter, with his clothing and his cars and his wine and his women. Bond, you see, is a kind of present-day survival kit. Men would like to imitate him ... or at least his success ... and women are excited by him.

Would you like to imitate him yourself?

His redeeming features, I suppose. His self-containment, his powers of decision, his ability to carry on through till the end and to survive. There's so much social welfare today that people have forgotten what it is to make their own decisions rather than to leave them to others. So Bond is a welcome change.

Have you acquired any of these traits since you began playing him?

I like to think I acquired them before Bond. But I am much more experienced as a film actor; that's for sure. And I do play golf now, which I never did before. I started after Dr. No, not so much because Bond and Fleming were golfers, but because I couldn't play football as much as I used to, and golf is a game you can play until you're 90.

Do you share any of Bond's other sporting tastes?

Well, I gamble ... not chemin de fer, however; poker mostly, which I played hard when I was touring in South Pacific. And, like Bond, I'm fond of swimming, but on the surface. All this stuff underwater with bottles of oxygen strapped to one's back in Thunderball doesn't thrill me to bits. I have a fear of sharks and barracudas, and I have no hesitation at all in admitting it. It's not that I'm allergic to them ... it's just plain fear.

Do you have any expertise, as Bond has, with guns and cars?

Well, I've driven competition cars and I've had experience with guns, because I was an armourer in the navy. But I know nothing about espionage and sniperscopes and that sort of thing. What had to be seized on, in playing a special agent like Bond, were certain immediates such as dress, physical ability, humour, coolness in dangerous situations...

And masterfulness with women?

Well, yes. I've had a certain amount of experience in that field, I suppose. But I've never been a womanizer, as Fleming called Bond. Of course, one never loses the appetite or appreciation for a pretty girl, even though one does not indulge it. I still like the company of women ... but then, I like the company of men, too. They offer a different sort of fun, of course. But I do not have a retrospective appetite for the women in my past.

There are critics of Fleming who claim that Bond's appeal is based solely on sex, sadism and snobbery; yet his defenders, most notably Kingsley Amis, find Bond a repository of such admirable qualities as toughness, loyalty and perseverance. How do you see him?

He is really a mixture of all that the defenders and the attackers say he is. When I spoke about Bond with Fleming, he said that when the character was conceived, Bond was a very simple, straightforward, blunt instrument of the police force, a functionary who would carry out his job rather doggedly. But he also had a lot of idiosyncrasies that were considered snobbish ... such as a taste for special wines, etcetera. But if you take Bond in the situations that he is constantly involved with, you see that it is a very hard, high, unusual league that he plays in. Therefore he is quite right in having all his senses satisfied ... be it sex, wine, food or clothes ... because the job, and he with it, may terminate at any minute. But the virtues that Amis mentions ... loyalty, honesty ... are there, too. Bond doesn't chase married women, for instance. Judged on that level, he comes out rather well.

Do you think he's sadistic?

Bond is dealing with rather sadistic adversaries who dream up pretty wild schemes to destroy, maim or mutilate him. He must retaliate in kind; otherwise it's who's kidding who.

 

As incredible as may sound, Sean Connery also directed a film, a documentary about the labor crisis in the Glasgow shipyards in 1967; the year when the Scottish emigration skyrocketed due to one of the worst economic meltdowns in the history of the country. From the BAFICI catalogue: “Yes, beret aside, Connery grabbed a camera and went out to film his homeland with an eye pointed at the dismantling of the heavy industry and the impact new government policies had in a town, but he does so without ever loosing that dandy-like, slick quality that’s so typical of him (and for which he surely was targeted for criticism at the time of the film’s premiere). Because whether his acting or denouncing, Connery is still Connery, and that seems to be the first thing that comes to you when watching The Bowler and the Bunnet: the fact that cinematographic seriousness and social commitment can also be rethought against all prejudice.”

Sean Connery in his The Bowler and The Bunnet (1967): “There are some things you can’t cure with deflation.”

 

Scene by Scene interview by Mark Cousins for BBC: Connery watches scenes from his films, talks about how they were made, and his life. 

 

Leonardo DiCaprio watching Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger (Guy Hamilton, 1964) in Catch Me If You Can (Steven Spielberg, 2002)

 

Who better to promote the great City of Edinburgh “which seems to have been built as a film set” than one of its most famous sons, Sir Sean Connery. This film, sponsored by the City of Edinburgh District Council in 1983, is aimed at the tourist trade and was distributed by the British Tourist Authority.