In ’61, Ian Fleming thought him “too uncouth” for the 007 tux, but, after one interview and a quick demonstration walk, Dr No producer Harry Saltzman insisted. Pre-Bond, Connery left school at 13 and dipped in and out of odder and odder jobs – including a brief stint in the Royal Navy – before pumping up his pecs for the Mr Universe contest (he came third). He spluttered into acting on a whim, notching up the odd tele-film and best-forgotten rent-settler (Darby O’Gill And The Little People), before cashing in on the body-building and pocketing the first of many Walther PPKs.
Nearly 40 years later, the Bond franchise trundles on (without him) and Connery, armed with one of the rosiest CVs in the business, can pretty much nod and shake at his roles. Over the next few months, he’ll be acting his age in the interpersonal tangle of Playing By Heart (married man confesses ancient indiscretion – with tempestuous results) before seamlessly moving on to the flirty, odd-couple popcorn fodder of Entrapment (in which he gets to lock tongues with Catherine Zeta Jones).
When you made the first Bond film – Dr No, back in 1961 – how did you see your career progressing?
I didn’t have anything resembling a great game plan. Everybody claimed they knew that the James Bond films were going to be a successful series – it’s just not true. The same goes for myself. If you had asked me when I was 28, I definitely wouldn’t have imagined I’d still be acting at 68. I’ve never been one for long-term planning. I prefer a more personal approach – impulsively taking or not taking a role, liking or not liking it. Oh, and travelling a lot. It’s really about doing what I think I can do well in the kind of movies that I would like to see.
As for looking to the future, I always wanted to be an old man with a good face, like Hitchcock or Picasso. I’m incredibly lucky to still be around at 68, doing all the things I want to do and getting extremely well paid for it all. There’s a parallel with golf – a lot of it is in the mind, and the moment you start to lose the enthusiasm or appetite, it affects your judgements and decisions. And then you stop performing well. I think enthusiasm and appetite are more important than anything.
So what advice would you give to an acting newcomer today?
The problem is always the same. As a beginner, you crave experience, but you can’t get any jobs to get the experience. These days, there’s such a strong appetite for celebrity – it’s the Andy Warhol 15-minutes-of-fame thing. Now, there’re people who make a movie and have tremendous success with it and then suddenly their price goes from zilch to zillions. So it’s more difficult for the person who’s had a lot of rejections to keep themselves balanced and to go on with any certainty. Some steady success isn’t enough – you need a lot of initial success. In America, things come in cycles. You see it with the major sportspeople – all the deals have to be renegotiated and they end up so, so compressed. Somebody like Michael Jordan, he can say: “I’m only going to do this number of games this year. How much money will that be?” With actors, it’s even more iniquitous and misleading, so it’s very difficult for a young actor to get any real grounding for themselves. I think you have to strip it down and seriously ask yourself: what do I want to do? Mainly television? Film? Radio?
Do you see any of your young self in someone like Ewan McGregor?
Well, he’s from a similar background, but... It’s all up to Ewan, how long it lasts. There’s absolutely nothing to stop Ewan doing as well, if not better, than myself, because he has a very international quality. I met Ewan for the first time at a big Scottish party in Paris for the World Cup – which was a disaster for Scotland, but that will all change next year. He’s very bright, he’s got a good fan base; he has a lot of ingredients in his favour. He also has great enthusiasm and is a bit of a risk-taker. I even enjoyed A Life Less Ordinary. I’d certainly love to do something with him.
Shall we get The Avengers out of the way?
Well, from the beginning, I always tried to have humour in any film I do. I’ve always felt that to to find it is the most important and sometimes the most difficult thing. I thought there was quite a bit of humour in The Avengers, and I had a bit of fun – until they put the film together. And if ever there was a licence to kill, I would have used it to kill the director and the producer. But eventually they’ll be found out.
Your character in The Avengers, Sir August De Wynter is knighted. Yet in real life you’ve been nominated, but refused.
It makes you wonder what exactly is needed to qualify. I wasn’t surprised that I didn’t get it, so I’m not angry. But I am disappointed in the government’s behaviour – I think it lacks class on their part. It’s ironic that Margaret Thatcher’s government had recommended me, but I was turned down by a Labour government. But it’s all because I’ve been involved with the Scottish National Party for over 40 years and I’m not about to change now. For me, it’s simple: if it’s called the United Kingdom, then it should be united. I don’t think that between England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland, there should be anything less than an equal partnership – which there is not.
How’s the Edinburgh studio plan going?
As you probably know, it’s a joint venture involving Sony and Scottish Screen and... Well, I’ll give you one sentence and then I have to move on, because it’s a little premature to be talking about it. It’s moving along well – “in development”, as it were.
The reason I want to open a film studio in Scotland is simple: there isn’t one. And there’s no British film industry to speak of either. It would be a great starting point to have a triangle of Pinewood, Shepperton and an international state-of-the-art studio in Edinburgh. Hopefully, it would act as a massive boost to the industry and I very much want to be involved in that.
You’ve always kept your accent, regardless of the role. How do you get away with it?
I remember going to the Old Vic years ago, and they were doing Julius Caesar. I knew the play, but I couldn’t understand half of what was being said, because it was put together in a kind of chant that didn’t please my particular ear. I think you have to march to your own drummer. I can easily be less Scottish-sounding than I am, but there’s a certain music for me in words, which is one of the reasons I always work on a script with the director or writer in terms of speech patterns. At the end of the day, emotions are international anyway. I always felt that whenever I was attempting to go too far away from my kind of speech pattern, then I lost the picture of what I was trying to do, so I made an early decision not to do that.
In your latest film, Playing By Heart, you play a married man who confesses to a long-gone affair.
There was nothing autobiographical about that. I’m not as articulate as that character in real life. I’m also not as smart, so I wouldn’t have thought of it. But I took that role because I fancied something different. It’s unusual to see a movie about two old-age pensioners who’ve had a 40-year relationship; it’s not a concept that easily lends itself to the normal kind of American movie. It shows that life is a dance, as it were. It shows that intimacy and romance don’t end when you reach a certain age.
Some reviewers have said that it’s “too romantic”, but how can a movie be too romantic? It says something about where we are, I suppose. Most people assume that, after the age of 40, you sort of drift into dementia or whatever and kind of disappear.
Finally, the inevitable... Would you ever consider playing Bond again?
There is talk about this at the moment, but I’m not initiating it. Sony has the rights to remake a version of Thunderball, but certainly not with me playing Bond. But there’s no way I would be playing James Bond again – it’s finished for me. If there was an offer, of course I would entertain it like any other offer. I doubt if they could afford me, but I’d be willing to listen.