Fifty years after Dr. No, Sean Connery still remains the Bond for many. In real life too, he is very much your larger-than-life character.
The presidential suite on the 14th floor of the most expensive and stylish Century Plaza in Los Angeles, the Avenue of the Stars. The luxury apartment has been booked under the name of Jesse Frye. In reality however, Sean Connery has decided to hold court here for a two-day stint. The production company provided this dream suite so that the star of their newest film can talk to the international media in order to promote…
“You have exactly 20 minutes to interview Mr. Connery,” I was told by the PR man in an oily voice the day before the interview. We'll call him John Price.
“Twenty minutes is simply not going to cut it. I didn't fly all the way over the Atlantic… That wasn't what we agreed...”
“Twenty minutes!” insisted Price, the chubby yuppie.
I make a protest call to my editor. The answer: it's disgraceful, but stick with it nonetheless. We need the interview.
“After exactly 20 minutes, I'll come into the room and you must immediately end the conversation,” repeats Mr. Price the next day as he opens the door to the apartment on the 14th floor. Will Michael Montfort, the photographer I had notified them about, be able to accompany me into the interview? You can forget it today. Mr. Connery doesn't want anyone making any photos.
The suite is as hectic as Malibu Beach in tourist season. An Italian TV-crew has already finished setting up in the living room, members of a British camera crew are situating a chair in front of a Gobelin tapestry, the bathroom is currently being used for a sound check by a broadcasting team from God knows where…
I am escorted into the bedroom (to be alone with Connery in the bed chamber… many of my female colleagues would happily sacrifice a year's pay for such an opportunity).
And then he, my name is Bond, James Bond, he, the Scot who dropped out of school at 15 to pursue a career as a coffin burnisher. He, who has been named “Sexiest Man Alive” nine different times by a US-magazine.
The thespian monument. He springs up from his chair. My very first thought: the man fills up a room. The aura of his unshakable self-confidence illuminates the room. He, now somewhat older, is still a genuinely large person, though now somewhat smaller than one would like to imagine.
Sir Sean shows a friendly interest regarding the long journey I've just made for the sake of this story. A calm, soothing look. He shows me to my seat personally: you'll sit here — I'll sit there. Yes, I'll allow a tape recorder.
We begin. One thing is clear: in Hollywood, wasting time is still considered the worst of all sins. Especially in a situation like this.
But that seems to not apply to Sean Connery. He seems more interested in my recording device.
Sean Connery: Ah yes, an integrated microphone — of course. I get it. And is it able to maintain a high sound quality when recording the high pitches as well?
Ah, okay this is quite okay…
Of course everything is demonstrated. I have a 20-minute audience minus three, four, five minutes… the time continues to tick away. This is probably what it feels like to be sitting on hot coals.
Sorry, Sir, can we please come back to the subject at hand?
Nope, Mr. Connery is now busy investigating something else.
SC: Don't you ever worry that your equipment might fail? I mean, I would constantly be worried. Oh dammit, I know a Swedish reporter, he's well known, and his recorder failed once…
A threatening laugh.
SC: …everything sounded like a successful mix between Chinese and Mongolian… We then had the conversation again the next day.
Unfortunately for me, I wouldn't have such a second chance. My plane back to Europe was leaving in roughly three hours.
The clock continues to tick.
SC: All right, let's go ahead and begin…
He seems to misinterpret my nervous look.
SC: Ah, don't worry too much about everything that can happen to your recorder. We'll do it like this: I'll make sure the wheel is turning, (he points to the tape) and you ask me the questions. Shall we?
How often have you thought about what makes you so famously a hit with the ladies?
SC: …a hit with the ladies? A very odd term. No, no, people like Picasso or Alfred Hitchcock, they really had model characters. Especially as they got older.
But as you've aged it seems that you've only become more of a hit. Even with the younger generation of women...
SC: (slightly amused): Now that is something. But I can tell you that these young women walking around in skirts that are too short for them don't really catch my eye. Women who don't allow their femininity to be short-changed, whom life has made expressive — such women have my attention.
How interested are you?
SC: Interested? I am happily married. Does that suffice?
No sign that he's irritated yet.
The Los Angeles Times recently referred to you as “the hero of secret dreams…”
SC: To be honest with you, I didn't understand that at all. Heroes… heroes… for me, those are my great fellow actors such as John Gielgud — an absolute genius — and Gorbachev. He has my utmost admiration for the way he dealt with everything.
Funny, because as Bond the Soviet Union was usually your enemy…
SC: Yes, the Cold War thing. Politics… I've gotten to know many wonderful Russians in my life…
And as 007 your fair share of Russian women, if I'm counting correctly.
SC: There were of course more, if I'm counting correctly, as 007.
A secret agent, that's the good life. Cigarettes, fast cars, easily impressed women…
SC: I think it's for the best that I've never asked a real agent how he lives.
So, our conversation appears to be rolling.
And so does the time. In fact, it's racing.
“Do you have a 60 minute tape in there or a 90 minute one?” Connery interjects. “In my recorder I can only use 60 minute ones…”
And then…John Price peers into the room through the slightly opened doorway as if he were looking for something specific, and then quickly retreats.
First warning — the audience is preparing for the curtain fall.
Sean Connery doesn't seem to notice the intermezzo at all. He's now reached the topic of his newest film.
SC: …we were working up in the treetops of the rainforest. These days you have to do all the stunts yourself or people will notice that it's not authentic.
In full makeup in the treetops?
SC: (Grins) Only light makeup. My golfer's tan turns to black on the big screen. Everything else is natural, sure, in this beautiful rainforest.
The seven-time James Bond begins to roll into a fiery speech about rainforest conservation when John Price swings the door wide open and tiptoes overdramatically to a nearby dresser where he opens one of the drawers and deliberately searches for something that he'll never find. That means: your time is up you scribbling hack! Get lost!
Sean Connery, The Rock, has now taken notice of the invader out of the corner of his eye. Without hesitation, he continues on in his signature Scottish accent, which is made just a touch more British thanks to the presence of barely noticeable lisp.
SC: During shooting I was shaken to my core. I didn't realise to what extent we rob nature of its resources… I've decided to express my indignation to the world; this is a good opportunity…
Before he can continue, he turns towards our visitor and asks through clenched teeth, “Mr. Price, can I do something for you?”
Little John turns around, his face now a light shade of red, to face his master, Robin Hood. “Mr. Connery, the Italian team…”
“You've offered them coffee, haven't you?” That came off wonderfully underplayed. “Of course you have.”
Connery, the man, the myth, remains a 1 meter 88 centimeter pillar of serenity. “Well then, everything is as good as it can be. Check to see if the gentlemen are in need of anything else. And please, close the door when you leave.” Connery maintains his tone, knowing that this will yield the best results.
Despite that, John Price appears beholden to his certificate of professionalism. “Mr. Connery, the Italians…we have a schedule…”
It seems Connery is deaf to his objections. His interest has already shifted back to my recording device. “Don't you think we should listen to make sure it's all there?” He's already holding the recorder in his hands. Coincidence or perfect dramaturgy — when he pushes the play button Sir Sean's voice sounds off directly at the point where he says: ‘I've decided to express my indignation to the world; this is a good opportunity.'
I wouldn't have missed this scene for the world.
John Price comes in for a last try. “And what should I tell the Italians?” he moans in his retreat.
“Buon giorno,” says Connery laconically.
Check. So, where were we... this time Connery pushes the record button himself.
Now he's really my hero.
We were talking about your stunts…
SC: Yes. I do, of course, have the extra special Bond school training behind me. All the tricks, how to stage everything while still avoiding an accident…
You were, after all, a Scottish bodybuilding champion.
SC: I was many things, but I've always fit into an ordinary suit. Too much heavy muscle would have cost me my favourite sport: Golf! There, it's the swing that matters, not so much the muscle.
Do you remember what went through your mind the moment Ursula Andress emerged from the water in a bikini during the filming of Dr. No?
SC: If I remember correctly, that was in Ocho Rios, Jamaica. I'm not sure that I was actually there when she emerged from the water, but later on we had several of these, how did you say, bikini scenes. I thought what you always think in front of the camera, “Hopefully we don't have to do too many retakes.”
Because it was hot?
SC: I expected that question. Yes, it was hot; we were filming in Jamaica…
May I ask you, what do you look at first in a woman?
SC: As with all people, generally the way they behave.
Did you ever feel restricted by Bond's constantly suave demeanour and good manners?
SC: (with contrived astonishment) Good manners? Bond?! To the contrary, probably speak the numerous people he killed in order to save the world.
Do you know how many on-screen corpses you're responsible for?
SC: No, not really. But they must have used a load of makeup to make it look real. I especially remember one death in Goldfinger — Bond didn't kill her — where a girl was lying in bed with her body completely covered in gold, which I'm sure is what killed her. We had to shoot the scene quickly so that the poor girl didn't suffer the same fate!
I can now only make a guess at how much time we'd taken for the interview — I simply forgot that the 60-minute tape had reached its end and needed to be turned over to side B.
After the interview, Connery escorts me to the front door of the suite — a man of polite manners who acts as my shield against the ill-humoured looking Mr. Price who, although retaining his composure, is now hardly audible.
When photographer Michael, waiting out in the hallway, introduces himself, Connery asks in his amicable tone, “So why are you waiting out here? It's much warmer inside.” (The pall of smog hanging over Los Angeles that afternoon came in at 28 degrees Celsius.)
We were told you've refused to be photographed, according to Mr. Price.
SC: First and foremost, I refuse to be photographed without having been asked first...
He waves the interviewer and photographer into the suite with a decisive gesture of the right arm. We cross the living room once again, passing by the obstinately silent, furious-depressed Mr. Price on our way into the bedroom and out onto the balcony.
How do you want me?
Two or three poses and a photo with the interviewer.
Once again at the front door, Sir Sean keeps it short: “Have a good flight home. I'll possibly be coming back to Marbella… So you'll excuse me, the Italians, they're waiting…”
A certain William Conrad, who gave his roles such as “Canon“ or “Nero Wolfe” or “Fatman McCabe” such substantial stature, once said: “In the film business, you can always spot a truly great person by the way he doesn't put on airs. He'll never play the boor — in contrast to run-of-the-mill actors, such as a certain Telly Savalas.”
Posterity will see to it that a certain Sean Connery is considered to be the greatest of all. Whether as the best Bond. Or the best in the bedroom. Or wherever.