GQ July 1989

All Together, Now: Sean Connery Is an Icon!


Cover Story By Diane K. Shah

Sean Connery is wearing a light-blue caftan, which he keeps fussing with, and sitting at the end of a long pastel-print couch, here at his house in the Bahamas.  There is a second home in Marbella, Spain, and a condo in West Los Angeles, but it is to this one, in the exclusive, gated community of Lyford Cay in Nassau, that Connery has repaired early this spring.  You see, specifically, the house is located on Lyford’s eighth green.

He is here to recuperate from throat surgery and to play golf, not necessarily in that order.  The surgery, to remove benign polyps from his vocal cords, was hysterically reported in the British press as cancer of the worst kind, which Connery did not bother to refute. "In three weeks I'll go back to do the Academy Awards," he says sardonically, "which will signify that I'm not dead."

Dead! At 58, the man looks as if he could plow the north forty, throw back a couple of beers, then, checking the sun, say, "Well. Time to go dam up the river."

It is onscreen that he has aged, choosing as he has to play older than he is. In Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, he is father to 46-year-old Harrison Ford, and in the forthcoming Family Business, to 51-year-old Dustin Hoffman. In The Untouchables, playing the Chicago cop Jimmy Malone and running after a Capone bootlegger at the Canadian border, Connery, looking heavy, huffing and puffing, finally catches the guy, panting, "Enough of this running shit!"

But here in the living room, high-ceilinged and airy, with peach-colored walls adorned with canvases painted by his wife, the furniture overstuffed and pastel, the old screen image is much intact. Standing in the doorway, he fills it totally, as if he were a portrait fitted into a wooden frame. He is six feet two, 215 pounds, but his large face, with its clean, chiseled features, makes him seem bigger somehow. He moves with the lightness of a dancer.

Connery clears his throat. "Before I had the surgery, a specialist suggested I try thirty days of silence to cure the problem," he relates. "Well, that was a pill. I had this pen, which I wore around my neck, and every time I wanted to say something, I wrote it down on the back of old scripts. I wrote hundreds of pages, and I should have kept them, because it was so crazy. It was lots of non sequiturs, because you never knew the question. Like there would be, 'How the fuck do I know!' "

A housekeeper enters bearing freshly squeezed grapefruit juice. Through a large picture window, Micheline, Connery's second wife, whom he married fourteen years ago, can be glimpsed in a bikini, sunning herself on a chaise longue.

"Anyway," says Cannery, "I printed up cards saying 'I'M SORRY I CANNOT SPEAK. I HAVE A PROBLEM WITH MY THROAT. THANK YOU.' And ten out of ten would look at the card and say, 'Why! What's the matter!"'

He rolls his eyes. "And when I would write out what I wanted to say, half the people would take the pen and write their answers back. You realize very quickly that the world is full of idiots."

In a business that feeds on youth and beauty, Connery has turned the tables. His film log - forty-eight movies in thirty-three years - ranges from huge box-office hits to pictures only a film historian would know. As James Bond, he took what could have been a cold, humorless character and made him a heart-stealing rogue, with his charm, his wit and that devilish arched eyebrow. But like something of a Cary Grant with a Beretta, he was given little credit for the skill the role demanded or for turning what might have been a one-night stand into a twenty-year love affair. Just as Grant never received an acting award, so Connery never received one for playing Bond. "I suppose people feel you made enough money," Connery says. "That's your award." It's only now that he is beginning to be appreciated as one of the most gifted actors of his time.

"There are seven genuine movie stars in the world today," says Steven Spielberg, who directed him in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, "and Sean is one of them. I won't name the others, because some of my best friends wouldn't be among them."

At a time when most actors go round unshaven and T-shirted, tilting at garden-variety woes, cutting movies down to people-size, Connery aggrandizes his characters, ennobling them with the kind of toughness and romanticism you rarely find on-screen anymore.

"If you were casting High Noon today," says Family Business producer Larry Gordon, "who could leave Grace Kelly behind and walk down the street like Gary Cooper did! I think only Sean Connery could."

If Gene Hackman is beloved for portraying the ordinary man, Connery is worshiped for being the man other men want to be. References to Cooper and Grant, Spencer Tracy and Clark Gable, are not by accident. In many ways, the Scottish-born Connery seems a throwback to the American man of the past, the tough individualist who lives by his own set of ethics and his wits, who knows exactly who he is and how far he can go. A man who will fight for what he believes in, a dreamer who is never deluded by what is not possible.

"He's the kind of guy you want by your side," says Gordon, "even though you know he'll probably steal your girl."

He is an actor playing the Gary Cooper roles as real life.

If his celebrity peaked during the Sixties, when, as 007, he shared the world spotlight with only the Beatles ("and there were four of them to kick it around," he once pointed out), he is now more in demand than ever. In the past three years, he has made six movies and was scheduled to start filming Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead in May, but backed out at the last minute. "In fact, we had a parting of the ways, Stoppard and I," Connery says. "It was a $4-million picture, and I was going to work for $70,000.  But with my throat uncertain, I suspended everything. And Tom became rather unpleasant, maybe thinking it was over the money. Which it wasn't." (In mid-May, however, he did begin filming a lead role in the adaptation of Tom Clancy's The Hunt for Red October, playing Marko Ramius, captain of Russia's most advanced submarine.)

Top billing, top dollar, or not, Connery makes his presence felt. In The Untouchables, he stole the film from Kevin Costner and Robert De Niro and won an Academy Award for best supporting actor. In Indiana Jones, he just kind of took over the whole movie.

In their first meeting with Connery, Spielberg and producer George Lucas talked only in theory about the role of Professor Henry Jones, refusing to hand over a script. Connery went away feeling "there was a reluctance on the part of George for me to play the part."

Which was true." George wasn't thinking in terms of such a powerful presence," Spielberg says. "His idea was for a doting, scholarly person, an older British character actor. But I had always seen Sean Connery. Without a strong, illuminating presence, I was afraid Harrison would eradicate the father from the movie. I wanted to challenge him. And who could be the equal of Indiana Jones but James Bond?"

In the original script, Henry did not appear until page seventy. Then, there he was on page fifty. Before long, Connery had four additional scenes written for him. Of course, in the finished product, his endearing, witty portrayal of Harrison Ford's estranged father provides more pyrotechnics than motorcycle chases, exploding planes, thousands of dead Nazis and even Indy himself.

Family Business, scheduled for release in the fall, tells the story of three generations of a family from New York's Hell's Kitchen and the squabbles that erupt when they decide to pull a million-dollar crime. It was the first time Hoffman and Connery had ever worked together, and the fear was that sparks might fly when the very strong-willed but experimentally oriented Hoffman met up with the very strong-willed but discipline-oriented Connery. But according to the film's director, Sidney Lumet, who has worked with Connery on four other movies, “Sean met Dustin improvisation for improvisation.”

Theirs is a respect that lingers. Says Hoffman, relating the events of Academy Award night 1989, "I'm there holding the Oscar and there's this amazing standing ovation. And I'm looking out into this sea of people and the only person I saw was Sean Connery. I'm not kidding. He's in the fifth row, looking like a leprechaun on steroids, with those pointed ears and that sweet smile of his, and I could read his lips: 'I told you.' "

Not that Connery was one to tolerate any foolishness on the Family Business set. According to Matthew Broderick, who plays Connery's grandson in the movie, "He just kind of let you know he didn't want some smart-ass kid in his face all the time." Nevertheless, Broderick often performed over-blown impressions of Connery as Bond behind the actor's back. When an assistant told Connery what was going on, he said, “Well, why doesn't Matthew do it for me?”  Informed that Broderick was afraid to, Connery replied, "Good. He should be afraid."

Which brings up another side of Connery. Although he's one of the most beloved of figures in Hollywood these days, he's also one of the most unhesitatingly outspoken. For instance, in an age of canned quotes and back-scratching publicity pablum, how many other actors would say of a costar-in this case, in The Presidio, a 1988 bomb-"I suppose [Mark] Harmon could have been stronger.  You know, like Costner, or that chap Don Johnson."

Or say of the seemingly innumerable lawsuits he's initiated against Hollywood studios, "I think Paramount's the only company I haven't sued. They all steal."

Or say, when talking about how he and Michael Caine went after Allied Artists for money due them from The Man Who Would Be King, "As usual, I had found them stealing, and it cost me $90,000 to sue them, only to prove what was already true. I bankrupted them, I'm thrilled to say."

A few years ago, in what may have been his best performance to date, he went mano a mano with Barbara Walters, when she, rather ill-advisedly, tried to accuse him of being a male chauvinist on national TV.

Citing a twenty-year-old Playboy quote in which Connery had said, "It's not the worst thing to slap a woman now and then," Walters, thinking she was doing women's lib a favor or something, righteously declared, "You are a male chauvinist, aren't you!"

Connery, unflappable, answered, "Am I? And what is a 'male chauvinist'?" Sending it back into her court. Only Walters, unable to volley a bit, to have some fun with it, ended up sounding tongue-tied and banal. Later, as the interview wound down, Connery, not letting her off the hook, got in the final shot.

"Finish this for me," said Barbara sweetly. "Sean Connery is...”

And he, grinning, replied, "Almost a male chauvinist pig."

He couldn't believe the reaction the next day, as he drove down Pico Boulevard to Paramount, the way men would raise their fists, right on!, and the woman at the stoplight who gave him the finger.

"I'm talking about a slap on the face and that you could do much, much worse damage to a woman, or a man, by totally demoralizing them, by taking away their whole identity," he says now. "This case in New York, Steinberg and Nussbaum, is a typical example - I'm not talking about that. I'm saying if one of the couple is intent on having a physical confrontation, it's impossible for it to be avoided. It's emotional, it's passion. And passion lacks thinking. Therefore, it will explode. And that's all I'm saying, without getting into a three-act play."

A pause. "But if we had discussed it for four hours or fourteen, Barbara wouldn't have gotten the answer she wanted."

The doorbell rings. In walks a repairman, come to fix the satellite dish.

"How was church?" inquires Connery pleasantly.

"Fine," says the man. “I prayed for all the sinners.”

"Did you?" says Connery. "I'm surprised you're not still there."

Contrary to what some might imagine, that the no-nonsense Connery is of the acting school that stresses "Show up on time, and don't bump into the furniture, " he is a true student of the craft.

"While I'm inclined to wing it, says his good friend Michael Caine, "I've always had the feeling that Sean's known his lines for weeks. He comes to the set so well rehearsed, it's as if he'd spent hours in his bedroom going through all his moves.

Connery's use of body movement, which he has indeed spent hours perfecting, is one thing that helps distinguish him as an actor. "I won't even take a role until I work out the body techniques," he says. Although naturally athletic, Connery, at the urging of his first wife, actress Diane Cilento (best known as the lusty Molly in Tom Jones), took an intensive course in movement from a ballet dancer named Yat Malgrem years ago in London. He still refers to his dog-eared copy of Malgrem's textbook, sharing it with his only child, 26-year-old Jason, who is an actor. And with anybody else.

"Look, if this were a set," says Connery getting up from the couch and walking toward the center of the room, "and suppose you had a glass curtain, you should be able to follow something of the drama by the walk and the body language without having to understand what the people are saying."

He turns. "If, for instance, you wanted to see a character who was all head and no body, it would be Cassius in Julius Caesar, the lean-and-hungry look they talk about. He's just all manipulating, whereas Mark Antony is very much a weight person, charismatic. This usually starts with the body, because that's our first impression and it's what makes people respond or not respond."

It was certainly what the producers of Dr. No responded to when Connery burst into their London office in 1961, determined to be Bond. At the time, Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli were considering more polished contenders - Patrick McGoohan and Roger Moore, among others - when in came Connery with that walk of his, a kind of fluid swagger once described as "the threatening grace of a panther on the prowl. " Poorly dressed and with his thick Scottish burr, he delivered his theory of Bond, pounded the desk to make his points, then swaggered out, leaving the two men dumbfounded.

"I used strong and commanding movements," says Connery, “not with weight, but to show how Bond is always in control of a scene.”

At every level of film-making, Connery is there, offering his thoughts. The scene in The Untouchables in which he and Kevin Costner (as Eliot Ness) take a blood oath was originally set in the street. “But I thought it should be done in a church,” Connery says. "When you're making that kind of declaration about the Chicago way-you know, 'Capone puts one of yours in the hospital, you put one of his in the morgue,' all this kind of dialogue-if you put it in a church, it suddenly becomes something different."

The scene-shot in a church-became one of the film's most memorable.

Connery also believes that if tensions exist between characters in front of the camera, they should exist off-camera as well. "He was always so respectful toward me," Costner recalls.  "But at the same time, he was always taking shots at us, keeping a little tension going."

"I kept them very much on a wire by snide little remarks, digs at America, what have you," Connery concedes.

"I remember one night when he really got me," Costner says. "I was talking about my favorite movie in the world, Hombre, and I was doing it to the nth detail, doing all the parts, all the voices, and finally I say, 'Then this bitch gets in front of Paul Newman, and she won't move. This bitch ends up getting him killed.' And Sean just looks at me and says, 'That bitch was my first wife.' "

Almost twenty years ago, Connery established an organization called the Scottish International Educational Trust to help poor but gifted Scottish boys. Today he remains pretty much the sole support for the fund, donating, for instance, his entire $1.2-million salary from Diamonds Are Forever and the settlement he received when two unauthorized biographies were published in 1983 and Connery, typically, sued.

It's a charity straight from the heart, for the man who would one day play the debonair 007 came out of a most unlikely background. Industrial Fountainbridge is Edinburgh's wrong side of the tracks, and the hardworking people who live there rarely find a way out. Connery's prospects were dimmer than most. The older of two sons of a rubber-factory worker, he was driving a milk wagon at 13, making deliveries before school. When the schools closed due to World War II, Connery went to work full-time, helping to support his parents and younger brother. "There was no question I wanted to get out," he says. "The problem was what equipment one had to get out. The Navy seemed almost like an inspiration."

At 16, he signed up for twelve years, but after; three, developed ulcers and was discharged: "I went back to driving a horse." He also trained as a tailor, an upholsterer, a carpenter, a barber, a furniture craftsman.

Persuaded by a friend to enter the Mr. Universe bodybuilding contest, Connery took off for London in 1950. He didn't win any prizes, but someone suggested that a good-looking guy like him might get a job in the theater. Cannery wound up in the chorus of South Pacific, where someone else brought up the idea of acting. "I said, ‘Acting? What do I know about acting?' " Connery recalls. "I told him, 'I can sing "Nothin' Like a Dame," I can do handsprings on the stage.' Frankly, I was happy just to get my £14 a week and drive around."

But eventually Connery bought a tape recorder, one of those big boxes they had back then, and every day, as South Pacific was touring, he'd work on his voice, trying to get rid of that thick Scottish accent. In the afternoons, he would visit the local library. He read Dostoyevsky, Turgenev, all of Shakespeare, all of Shaw and Thomas Wolfe. He read Proust and Oscar Wilde. He bought a dictionary and read that, too. Then he pored over Hemingway and Stephen Crane. He also went to repertory theater and met the actors. "I always felt they were so clever, so erudite, so world-wise," Connery says. He grins. "Of course, I've learned differently."

All this time, Connery has barely moved from the couch. Except for fussing with his caftan, shifting the material this way and that, he rarely gestures. Nor does his voice ever seem to carry dramatic overtones. He makes eye contact only intermittently, staring across the room instead. He occasionally flashes that nasty little Connery smile, but it always comes a beat too late, as if he has stopped to replay what he just said and found it suddenly amusing.

The phone rings.

Micheline, who has come into the house to answer it; sticks her head into the room, saying, "Excuse me, but Bob Hope would like to speak with you."

Connery hesitates. "Take a number. I'll call him back."

A moment later, Micheline returns. "Sorry, Sean. Did you call Bob Hope! He says he's returning your call."

Connery darkens. “He's a liar then. He's here to do a special and he's going to try to wangle me onto his show." He stares coldly at his wife, who retreats.  “That's how he does it,”  Sean Connery says.

What seems amazing, looking back, is that more than twenty years elapsed between Cannery's first Bond picture and his last. Each time he "came back"-in Diamonds Are Forever (1971) and Never Say Never Again (1983)-his popularity soared. But for all that Bond brought him, Connery was never at peace with the role.

"I had many problems with the series, apart from the greed of the producers," he says. "I was in conflict with them from the beginning. Even they had to divorce and couldn't stay married, because they would be sitting opposite each other at the table thinking, That asshole's got my other thirty million."

For Connery, the series became a strait-jacket. The films often did not start shooting when they were supposed to, and it was impossible to get a finish date, so Connery never knew when he might be free to make a non-Bond movie. And he desperately wanted to.

"If you were his friend during those days," says Caine, "you didn't raise the subject of Bond, ever."

Says Connery, "The problem was that Bond was so popular, the public only wanted to see me doing that....All I can do now is what's interesting and rewarding for me. To try to erase the image of Bond is almost impossible."

After Diamonds Are Forever, he gave splendid performances in such films as The Great Train Robbery, Lumet's The Offence (his work in this movie about a burned-out cop, considered by some to be his finest, was seen by about three people) and perhaps his favorite movie, The Man Who Would Be King, directed by John Huston and costarring his good mate Michael Caine. Fond memories of that experience still linger.

"We were in this little town at the edge of the Sahara, and there was nothing to do at night except go to this disco," Caine says. "But it was men dancing with men because women weren't allowed out at night. So we're standing at the bar watching all these guys dancing, when Sean leans over and says to me, 'Do you mind if I dance with your driver? Mine's too ugly.' "

Still, despite the solid work, Connery's career languished. In 1982, after three straight box-office duds (Time Bandits, Outland and Wrong Is Right), he began reading of Roger Moore's contract problems (he was supposedly demanding $5 million to play Bond in Octopussy), as well as reports that a producer named Jack Schwartzman had secured the film rights to an Ian Fleming story and was interested in casting Connery. If Roger could get that much money, figured Connery, surely he was worth more.

So, at 52, and for a reported $5 million (Moore got $4 million), Connery became 007 for the seventh time. In the dueling Bonds of the summer of 1983, Octopussy earned $34 million in domestic rentals, Never Say Never Again $28 million.

But the experience was enough for Connery to finally say never again. "Schwartzman was totally incompetent," he says, "a real ass. In the middle of everything, he moved to the Bahamas with an unlisted number. It was like working in a toilet." Connery was so upset, he didn't work again for nearly three years. "I should have killed him," Connery says.

Micheline, still an eyeful in a bikini at 53, watches her husband leave the room. "Sean is always shocked by people," she says. "He has such high ideals; he's a totally genuine man. I have tried to teach him cynicism. 'Don't be shocked,' I say. 'The world is like that.' "

Micheline Roquebrune met Connery at a golf tournament in Morocco in 1970. Born in Nice and raised in North Africa, Micheline, also a skilled golfer, had arrived with her then-husband for a four-day international competition. But after two days, her husband, who was playing badly, left.

A rare moviegoer, Micheline had seen only one Bond film and, unlike almost anyone else in the Western world, was not prepared to be impressed. She and Connery met on the medals stand, both having won their tournaments. "In the morning we played golf," she recalls. "Then we were introduced. In the afternoon, we did something else....I think I was madly in love with him from the first look."

Although they spent a day or two together, Connery, still married to Diane Cilento, said nothing of being unhappy, and Micheline returned home convinced she had seen the last of him. "Then, three months later, he called. He said it was urgent that he see me. He said he could not forget me, that he was in love with me. We spent one week together, and then we both started working on divorces."

It is noon now, and Connery wants to hit the links. His handicap, he says, ranges from 7 to, on the tougher L.A. courses such as the Bel-Air Country Club, 11.

But there is one last question before he goes, one last question for the man, the hero-hell, the icon-who both onscreen and off, through his dash, wit, sophistication and grace, merely set the standard for a generation of American men. And by his response, you would think it's one he's never considered.

"Do you have, well, any flaws?" For a frighteningly long moment, Connery is silent. "I have a flaw?" he says, sounding baffled. "Hmm, a flaw."

More silence. Then, "You mean, what is my worst flaw? Well, I could be more organized."

More organized? That's it?

"Yeah, I could be more organized," Sean Connery says.