Sir Sean (Tommy) Connery, the first man to play James Bond in the EON franchise of 007 movies, has celebrated an astonishing 90 years of age, and the JBIFC would like to wish the award-winning actor very many birthday wishes.
Sir Sean, whose birthday is 25th August, was born in Edinburgh and remains deeply proud of his Scottish identity.
It is also important to remember that, before he became an actor at the age of 22, Sir Sean – who left school aged 14 – worked very long hours in a variety of very physical jobs, such as driving a milk wagon and delivering churns of milk in all weathers, bricklaying, cement-mixing, steel-bending, as a printer’s assistant, as an art-class model, and even polishing coffins. He also spent three years in the Navy as an Able Seaman, before he was invalided out with ulcers.
The story of his breakthrough into the world of acting has been told many times, but is always worth revisiting, especially as we celebrate his 90th birthday.
As a proud body-builder and weightlifter, one weekend Sean came to London for a ‘Mr. Universe’ competition, and was told by a fellow contestant that the producers of the stage-show South Pacific were looking for extras. Sean had already spent five weeks working as an extra on a stage show in Edinburgh, and had quite enjoyed the experience, so he decided to apply for the South Pacific job. He was given a part, and grew to love it. And after two years on the road with the show, Sean found he was ‘hooked’ on acting.
The rest, as they say, is history. After a series of small film roles, Connery’s ‘big break’ was arguably in the lead role in a TV play called Requiem for a Heavyweight. This brought much praise from the critics. After this, plenty of offers came in, and he was able to try his hand at a variety of roles, some big, some small. Crucially, all this gave him something he had craved – acting craft.
His bond with Young
In one of his earliest film roles, Action of the Tiger, he met Terence Young who, six years later, directed him in his debut as Ian Fleming’s debonair but tough secret agent 007 in Dr. No. Young was impressed at Connery’s passion and eagerness to listen and learn.
Not only did Young help train the rising star to feel comfortable with the high-living and very good sartorial style of Fleming’s creation, but he quickly recognised the huge star potential of the very hard-working Sean Connery, and helped boost Connery’s acting confidence even further. After overseeing Connery in Dr. No and From Russia With Love, and returning for Sean’s fourth smash-hit Bond movie Thunderball, Young said at one point in 1965: ‘There is no doubt about it, that Connery combines the qualities of such different men as Gary Cooper, Marlon Brando and Cary Grant. I have found him pliable and easy to work with. I suppose this is a question of mutual liking and respect…’.
Sean himself, speaking ruefully around the same time about his sudden fame as James Bond, said: ‘An overnight success! Behind that success lay years of hard work. If the opportunity had come when I was younger, I couldn’t have taken it. I learned to play Bond by playing Macbeth’. He added: ‘When Dr. No became a hit, I sat tight and waited. I could have done a couple of those Susan Hayward-type movies, but I said no. I felt sure everything would fall into place. I’d been around a long time’.
Bond… James Bond
Sean also explained: ‘When I took the Bond part, I knew it was going to be a big thing. Up until then, films like these were shot by American companies who brought an American star across to Britain and dubbed him “Canadian”. This was the first time they got a British actor’.
Speaking again in 1965, by which time he was also keen to expand his acting roles much more widely, Sean further elaborated on his thinking about Bond and his movie career more generally: ‘I don’t want to be only known as Sean Connery, the man who plays James Bond. I want to be known as Sean Connery, the actor. Don’t think this is because I don’t like James Bond. l love him. The character has been wonderful to me. He’s made me what I am today’.
Bond creator Ian Fleming, who had some initial reservations about the choice of Sean for the role, soon changed his mind, became a big fan, and saw Connery as perfect for the part. At one point the 007 creator said: ‘He has done it wonderfully. It was a great piece of casting. He certainly looks like 007, and I don’t know who could have done it better’.
As Bond fans know, Sean Connery played the now iconic role of James Bond on seven occasions (six for EON, and a seventh time in an independent production for Kevin McClory). Beyond Bond, Connery also went on to carve out a hugely successful acting career, picking up plenty of awards and accolades, including for his charitable work in helping young Scots break into the world of acting.
Possibly the high-point of Sir Sean’s own acting career was his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor, awarded in 1987 for The Untouchables. He may be a ‘Sir’, but in many other ways, Sir Sean remains the equivalent of acting ‘Royalty’. May we wish him many happy returns!