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Sean Connery has been inundated with a wave of flattering praise to mark the Scottish actor turning 90 years old today (August 25). He is best known as the star who breathed life into Ian Fleming’s fictional British spy James Bond, in a portrayal that would forge a now 58 year franchise of 25 films – with another, ‘No Time To Die’, due for release in November. Connery launched it with ‘Dr No’ in 1962 and went onto reprise the role another six times before he passed his license to kill onto actors that have included Sir Roger Moore, Pierce Brosnan and Daniel Craig. Resurfaced accounts from the release of the first hit reveal the actor’s take on the role and his damning thoughts on Bond’s outdated nature.
Far from its worldwide success today, getting the first James Bond flick off the ground was no easy task after a number of abandoned scripts and rejection from directors, including Mr Fleming’s hopeful choice Alfred Hitchcock.
The decision of who to cast in the titular role was widely debated at the time and many in the industry perceived Connery to be an unusual choice.
Michael Caine said at the time: “I was amazed! I was sure they’d give it to Rex Harrison because he was your living image of upper-crust good-living.”
The late actor Robert Hardy, who starred in ‘All Creatures Great and Small’, deemed him an “oddball” casting but went on to exclaim that this was a “tremendous compliment”.
He continued: “Everyone banked on something contrived and Englishy, but Sean Connery presented one with an entirely fresh perspective on British cult heroes.”
Even Connery himself had doubts about the role – as he considered himself as a “romantic lead” rather than a “character actor” and was fearful of a lengthy acting contract in his thirties, which he believed were his prime years.
Mr Fleming was uncertain too but Michael Feeney Callan who penned the 1983 book ‘Sean Connery: The Untouchable Hero’ highlighted that the pair had “more in common than many realised”.
He wrote: “Compared with Connery’s upbringing, Fleming’s childhood was crème de la crème – county seats, town houses, Eton, Sandhurst.
“But both men shared an ambition which, to some, was almost ugly in intensity. Both enjoyed risk taking, both acquired sophisticated tastes.”
Connery first met producers Albert Broccoli and Harry Saltzman at a party where they “liked his look” and “enjoyed his thick accent”.
Mr Broccoli also noticed his “wife’s enthusiastic response” to seeing him onscreen and observed how many found his “macho aura inescapably attractive”.
When invited for an interview, Connery who had “been through the casting maze too many times to believe that cheerful grins won any prizes” entered with a doggish determination.
Mr Callan wrote: “He wore a brown shirt, brown suede shoes and no tie – garb befitting The Buxton (pub) on a Friday night, hardly a million-dollar movie audition.”
Inside, his knowledge of Mr Fleming’s book ‘Live and Let Die’ impressed them, they were also hopeful that he considered a movie series “viable” and himself as an actor “yet to find his niche”.
Mr Callan added: “The warm and candid tone of the chat altered only when Broccoli queried Connery’s style and dress sense.
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“At one juncture he told the producers, ‘You either take me as I am or not at all’…[while they] had reservations…they found Connery’s authority a definite plus.”
Mr Saltzman recalled: “He pounded the desk and told us what we wanted…we agreed.
“He walked out of the offices and we watched him bounce across the street like he was Superman. We knew we had got our James Bond.”
As the film approached its release, Connery boasted to friends that the film was “bloody good” despite doubts from the industry and fears that it would not make a return in the box office.
In a pre-promotion interview with the Daily Express, he said: “I see Bond as a sensualist – his senses are highly tuned and he’s awake to everything.
“He likes his wine, his food and his women. He’s quite amoral. I particularly like him because he thrives on conflict – a quality lacking in present-day society.”
Connery addressed concerns about the role ruining his career if the film didn’t succeed.
He said: “I’ve been asked if I’m worried about getting tagged as Bond… Bond is a ‘bracket’ for me.
“It’s a one-million-dollar production and the people who set up and cast the film have a healthy respect for a pound and dollar tag.”
Upon its theatrical release, the critics were impressed – The Times dubbed it “carefully, expertfully made” and the News of the World added that it was “magnificent mayhem”.
One magazine, Films and Filming, thought it heralded a new era for the UK: “There hasn’t been a film like Dr No since… when? There’s never been a British film like Dr No since… what?”
Mr Callan explained that the actor’s performance “reversed anything ever breathed in blasphemy about Connery’s talent”.
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