Contributed by: The James Bond Movie Encyclopedia by Steven Jay Rubin

(August 25, 1930–October 31, 2020; birth name: Thomas Sean Connery): Legendary Scottish leading man, the first actor to play 007 for the big screen—and, for many, the best of all possible Bonds. Early in his career, he developed a unique screen presence and a dashing romantic manner—à la Cary Grant or Errol Flynn—that became overwhelmingly appealing to both men and women. It was that quality that led to the enormous success of the early James Bond films, both commercially and critically. In many ways, he paved the way for dozens of Commonwealth actors—from Wales, Scotland, Ireland, England, New Zealand, and Australia—who have become top leading men in Hollywood in the intervening decades.

What Connery brought to the character of Bond was a sexual magnetism that few actors possess, combined with a palpable sense of danger. Screenwriter Tom Mankiewicz once said, “When Connery walks into a bar, you know he could probably kill somebody if he had to. When Roger Moore walked into a bar, you knew he would probably say something glib to get out of the situation.”[1] Both actors were successful 007s, but Connery’s was the tougher, more serious-minded secret agent.

Although a London newspaper poll at the turn of the 1960s picked Connery as the perfect actor to play Bond in a feature film, it was his appearance in two earlier movies that brought him to the attention of the producers. Albert R. Broccoli spotted him in the Walt Disney fantasy Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959), while Harry Saltzman caught him in the British service comedy On the Fiddle (1961), playing opposite British comedian Alfie Lynch. Saltzman had screened the latter film upon the suggestion of editor Peter Hunt, who was friendly with On the Fiddle producer Benjamin Fisz.

The odds were against Connery, who was referred to at that time by American film executives as “that limey truck driver” (Connery had driven a truck at one time in his native Edinburgh). But Broccoli was especially impressed by Connery’s stature and the fact that for a big man, he moved “like a cat.” For Broccoli, Bond had to be an Englishman who was good with his fists—a combination he felt he could sell to US film audiences, who were used to the two-fisted handiwork of American detectives like Mike Hammer and Sam Spade.

When Connery was eventually signed to a seven-year contract, he underwent a transformation, courtesy of director Terence Young. Having grown up in the Fountainbridge slums of Edinburgh, the very rugged and wild Connery was hardly Fleming’s dashing upper-class hero. Young brought him to his own tailor and carefully outfitted him for the role of Bond.

Connery may not have been Fleming’s prototypical 007, but from the fans’ point of view—and there would be millions—he was the best possible choice for the film series. Serious, sexy, deadly, and unbeatable, he was also extremely glib with writer Richard Maibaum’s throwaway humor, a factor that contributed to the series’ long-standing success (although throwaway humor has almost completely disappeared from the contemporary Bonds).

In an interview with the BBC during his Bond tenure, Sean Connery evaluated the experience. “It’s very good entertainment. They obviously like it. And one every year or fourteen months is a healthy issue. I came straight to London because I doubt anyone in Scotland would have employed me. They employed me for other jobs, but certainly not as an actor.”[2] From 1962 to 1967, Connery appeared in five films in the series: Dr. No (1962), From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965), and You Only Live Twice (1967). Then, tired of the extremely long shooting schedules that prohibited him from doing more than a handful of non-Bond films, plus the grueling pressure of being an international media star, Connery departed the series.

But following George Lazenby’s solo performance as 007 in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), United Artists lured Connery back to the role. UA exec David Picker offered to back two of Connery’s personal film projects, in addition to giving him a salary of $1.4 million plus profits for the next film in the series. Connery was back as Bond for Diamonds Are Forever (1971), donating $1 million of his fee to the Scottish International Education Trust, a charity he founded to aid deprived Scottish children. Connery left the series again after Diamonds Are Forever, ushering in the Roger Moore era. However, thanks to producer Jack Schwartzman and his breakaway Never Say Never Again project, Connery returned to play 007 one more time in 1983.

Connery is the son of Euphemia McBain, a cleaning lady, and Joseph Connery, a factory worker and truck driver. Connery, living in difficult economic times, worked many jobs before entering the acting ranks—including the aforementioned truck driver, milkman, laborer, artist’s model, coffin polisher, and bodybuilder. He also briefly served in the Royal Navy, and considered a career in professional soccer.

He made his credited big-screen debut as Spike in director Montgomery Tully’s British crime drama No Road Back (1957). In addition to Darby O’Gill and the Little People and On the Fiddle, Connery played a villainous member of Anthony Quayle’s band of murderers in Tarzan’s Greatest Adventure (1959), director John Guillermin’s terrific adventure film, which starred Gordon Scott as the title hero.

In between Bond roles, Connery worked for directors Alfred Hitchock in Marnie (1964), Sidney Lumet in The Hill (1965) and The Anderson Tapes (1971), Irvin Kershner in A Fine Madness (1966), and Martin Ritt in The Molly Maguires (1970). Post Bond, Connery’s roles increased in stature and quality, including Murder on the Orient Express (1974), again for Sidney Lumet; The Wind and the Lion (1975); The Man Who Would Be King (1975); A Bridge Too Far (1977); The Great Train Robbery (1978); Time Bandits (1981); Highlander (1986); Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989); The Hunt for Red October (1990); The Rock (1996); and Finding Forrester (2000).

In 1987, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences rewarded him with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for director Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables. Connery’s Chicago street cop Jimmy Malone was cut from the same two-fisted, no-nonsense playbook as his James Bond.

[1] Tom Mankiewicz, interview by Steven Jay Rubin, Los Angeles, November 7, 1977.

[2] Special features, Dr. No, James Bond Ultimate Edition (1962; MGM, 2006), DVD.


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