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Bond legend Sean Connery will never escape his most famous role


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This month marks the eighty-seventh birthday of Sir Sean Connery, a man whose name will forever be associated with one iconic role.

Ian Fleming had always wanted his James Bond novels turned into films. If you read any of his work, which describe the adventures of a glamorous spy who must foil the evil plans of dastardly villains and then retire to the embrace of beautiful women, you will see they were crying out for adaptations.

Fleming’s dreams were soon realised, but his ambitions as to who should play his hero were mercifully ignored. He had wanted flamboyant playwright Noel Coward to play Bond, a casting choice which would have doomed the series to ignominy. Producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli unimpressed him initially by choosing Connery, although Fleming was soon won around and even re-wrote his character’s back story to give him a Scottish heritage.

Sean Connery lived the rags-to-riches story that is a cliché of so many Hollywood movies. Born in a two-room ground-floor apartment in the industrial district of Fountainbridge in Edinburgh, his father worked 12-hour days in a rubber mill and his mother as a cleaning lady, and could never dream of the success their son would enjoy. The young Connery himself worked many undignified roles, from a lifeguard to a road sweeper, before finally getting a foothold in acting.

His first part, in a touring production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, came over a decade before he was projected to international fame with his appearance in the first James Bond film, Dr. No, in 1962. Connery’s Bond was close to the Fleming character, combining a tough and often thuggish attitude to work with an elegant and sophisticated attitude to drinking and womanising. Although Fleming was to die just as the Bond films exploded into a phenomenon with 1964’s Goldfinger, Connery was to ensure that his dreams of turning them into a successful film series were realised.

Yet the star was always reluctant to commit to a series, soon expressing his boredom with the role and announcing that his fifth 007 film, You Only Live Twice, would be his last. The producers had mixed success replacing him, George Lazenby’s follow-up dividing audiences and critics, and so managed to poach Connery back into playing the role once more for the then-unheard of sum of one million pounds, every penny of which he donated to a Scottish children’s charity.

In the 1970’s Connery had acquired lasting global fame but continued to feel somewhat trapped in the role that it had given him it, starring in a number of films, such as The Man Who Would Be King, some of them more successful than others. By the late 1970s Star Wars had eclipsed Bond as the most successful adventure series and Connery’s career seemed to have dwindled alongside it. In fact, however, it was the part he so resented that was to rejuvenate his career, as Connery returned to play Bond for a final, final time in 1983’s non-canonical Never Say Never Again.

Though the film itself is quite bizarre (it features Rowan Atkinson in an early incarnation of Mr Bean), Connery’s portrayal as a more grizzled and knighted Bond allowed him to transform himself into a new type of character actor, playing, older, wiser and more paternal roles in films such as The Name of the Rose, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Entrapment. Without this boost he may have retired much earlier, and may also have missed out on being dubbed the ‘Sexiest Man Alive’ in 1999, aged 69.

Connery is famous for many other things besides his acting, such as his often-imitated voice, which he kept while playing everything from Irish-Americans in The Untouchables to Russians in The Hunt for Red October. He is known to be a keen supportor of his home country’s independence, being both the chair and only member of the Bahamas Branch of the SNP. His tetchy attitude towards the press is also well-known, specifically when he is quizzed about his most famous role.

It is difficult to determine why Connery has always resented James Bond, it obviously being more than just a common actor’s reluctance to be to commit to something too career-consuming. Some argue that it is because he felt the role was cartoonish (though it would have been up there with Tom and Jerry had Noel Coward got the part), others pointing out that in Bond he was largely playing himself – gruff, manly, and impatient. This is perhaps why in later years he was more attracted to roles that were eccentric and divergent, and why he avoided almost all associated with Bond, once admitting in an interview that he’d ‘like to kill him.’

Connery has long since retired from the film business and is only occasionally seen wandering the streets of New York, and occasionally cheering on Andy Murray at the terraces in Wimbledon. Although he may want to point at the many prestigious awards he has won and various characters he has played, it is for his breakout role as Bond that Connery will always be remembered, and no number of birthdays will change that.

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