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The Scottish actor will be remembered for his legendary portrayal of British spy James Bond, known by the code number 007. He breathed life into the character during the film debut in 1962, with the film Dr No. Sir Sean, whose death at the age of 90 was confirmed this morning, played James Bond seven times before he retired from the role in 1983. But early accounts from the star’s life reveal he nearly blew his chance of taking on his now-synonymous role.
Prior to his interview for James Bond, Sir Sean was “slaving away at theatre” as a young and hungry actor – using the classical roles he obtained as “a kind of anchor in the storm”.
Sir Michael Caine noted that the future star was a “struggling young fella” who was “unknown outside his profession” and “looking for the right break”.
Far from his poor upbringing in the Fountainbridge tenements, in Edinburgh, where he took a job at the age of nine to support his family, he was now an emerging talent in London.
James Bond would propel him to international stardom and his portrayal defined the legendary film role – performances many would argue have yet to be improved on the big screen.
Biographer Michael Feeney Callan explained that Sir Sean and Ian Fleming, who wrote 12 Bond books, had very different upbringings but “shared an ambition” that was “almost ugly in its intensity”.
In his 1993 book Sean Connery: The Untouchable Hero, he explained that they “both enjoyed risk-taking” and had “acquired sophisticated tastes”.
Producers Harry Saltzman and Albert Broccoli initially struggled to finance the film, but were adamant it would be a success.
They believed audiences longed for an “antidote to the post-Fifties malaise” and to break away from memories of the aftermath of World War 2.
Mr Saltzman said: “[They wanted] something different, strong plots with excitement, fast cars, bizarre situations, drink and women.”
Sir Sean first became a contender for the role after Mr Broccoli met the future star at a party – where he “liked his looks” and “his thick accent in particular”.
Another thing the producer noted was his wife Dana’s “enthusiastic response” to the actor, who found his “macho aura inescapably attractive”.
While Mr Fleming longed for a big name to bring the British spy to theatre screens, the producers felt Sir Sean would be an ideal fit and invited him to an interview.
By this point the star was said to have “been through the casting maze too many times to believe that cheerful grins won any prizes”.
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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 audience.”
Sir Sean impressed his interviewers as he had read Mr Fleming’s 1954 book Live and Let Die, believed a Bond series was “viable” and felt as an actor he was “yet to find his niche”.
Mr Callan wrote: “Connery’s answers came pat, in the perfect animal burr Broccoli found riveting.”
However, after Sir Sean faced criticism over his appearance, the star’s blunt response risked him being discarded as a potential candidate to launch the Bond Franchise.
Mr Callan wrote: “The warm and candid tone of the chat altered only when Broccoli queried Connery’s style and dress sense.
“At one juncture he told the producers, ‘You either take me as I am or not at all.’”
This fierce reply may have led Mr Saltzman to have doubts, according to a former associate, who explained that he “liked his subordinates to know their place”.
But Mr Broccoli considered Sir Sean’s authoritative and strong response to be a “definite plus” and recalled: “He pounded the desk and told us what he wanted.
“We agreed, he walked out of the office and we watched him bounce across the street like he was Superman. We knew we had our James Bond.”
The first 007 film Dr No would go on to launch the franchise and eventually made Sir Sean an internationally renowned star – but even before he accepted their deal, he had reservations.
Mr Callan claimed the star feared “signing his services away” during the “crucial period of most actor’s lives – their thirties”.
In a 1964 profile in the Saturday Evening Post, Sir Sean admitted he had “put on a bit of an act” during his audition.
But ultimately, he felt compelled to the role of James Bond – which he hoped would help him to break into Hollywood and achieve international fame.
Due to his age, Sir Sean felt his chances of becoming a star were vanishing and admitted that during his early acting parts he felt like “a man walking through a swamp in a bad dream”.
Michael Feeney Callan’s 1993 book Sean Connery: The Untouchable Hero was published by Virgin Books and is available here.
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