For a man who redefined the spy as a playboy and an action star with his James Bond roles, Sean Connery had once surprised the world declaring he was no great fan of the British superspy.
“I’ve only read two Bond books, I found Ian Fleming himself much more interesting than his writing,” Connery had stated, in an article that The Guardian ran in December 1971.
That was the era when Connery ruled the mindset of Hollywood fans the world over with his back-to-back hits as Agent 007. It was almost a decade since his first bow, “Dr No”, created global impact upon release in 1962. By December 1971 Connery had already starred in four other Bond blockbusters that continue to define the original essence of Bond — “From Russia With Love” (1963), “Goldfinger” (1964), “Thunderball” (1965), and “You Only Live Twice” (1967). In December 1971 he was gearing up for the release of “Diamonds Are Forever”, the last of his outings as Bond in the official series of films. He would return again years later, for a final shot in the 1983 release, “Never Say Never Again”.
Connery’s Bond fatigue could perhaps be explained by the need to escape an image trap. Or, maybe, he realized the overwhelming glamour and sheer screen presence that defined everything he did before the camera was too good a trait to waste on just one role.
Between 1962, when “Dr No” released, and 1971, when he was out with “Diamonds Are Forever”, Connery did try other roles. But with the possible exception of Alfred Hitchcock’s “Marnie” (1964), there are not many other films in this phase that automatically draw recall as Sean Connery-starrers for the regular movie buff. Then again, “Marnie” will always be a Hitchcock flick first.
Connery needed to get out of Bond’s tux, in order to be the Hollywood star he intended to be.
Most of his great roles have actually happened after his exit as a fulltime Bond in 1971. With Roger Moore stepping in and successfully tweaking the Bond image with trademark wry humor, the audience was beginning to identify a new hunk as James Bond. Connery found space to explore other roles.
He is an exception, in this context, to the notion that franchise stars cannot carve a career once they step out.
His overwhelming charisma was perhaps a reason he could never really explore characters in the offbeat or arthouse terrain, and it also explains why most of his great films have primarily been entertainers. Connery, after all, belonged to the currently fast-fading Hollywood ilk of larger-than-life superstars — the stars people went in to watch their aura and style more than realistic portrayals.
Yet, he did win an Oscar for his role of Jimmy Malone in Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables”, as Best Supporting Actor. Despite maintaining the basic Sean Connery mannerisms as the fictional Irish cop Malone, he incredibly imparted an element of realism to the role.
Connery would also win two Baftas and three Golden Globes in his career. The jewel in the crown of his illustrious life came in 2000, when he was knighted by the Queen.
Connery announced his retirement in 2006 at a ceremony hosted to felicitate him with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the American Film Institute.
He had collected the trophy saying: “I have retired for good.”