At 90 years old, Sean Connery has this physical status:
Seeking to supplement his income, Connery helped out backstage at the King's Theatre in late 1951. During a bodybuilding competition held in London in 1953, one of the competitors mentioned that auditions were being held for a production of South Pacific, and Connery landed a small part as one of the Seabees chorus boys. By the time the production reached Edinburgh, he had been given the part of Marine Cpl. Hamilton Steeves and was understudying two of the juvenile leads, and his salary was raised from £12 to £14–10s a week. The production returned the following year, out of popular demand, and Connery was promoted to the featured role of Lieutenant Buzz Adams, which Larry Hagman had portrayed in the West End.
While in Edinburgh, Connery was targeted by the Valdor gang, one of the most violent in the city. He was first approached by them in a billiard hall where he prevented them from stealing his jacket and was later followed by six gang members to a 15-foot-high (4.6 m) balcony at the Palais de Danse. There, Connery singlehandedly launched an attack against the gang members, grabbing one by the throat and another by the biceps and cracking their heads together. From then on, he was treated with great respect by the gang and gained a reputation as a "hard man".
Connery first met Michael Caine at a party during the production of South Pacific in 1954, and the two later became close friends. During this production at the Opera House, Manchester, over the Christmas period of 1954, Connery developed a serious interest in the theatre through American actor Robert Henderson who lent him copies of the Ibsen works Hedda Gabler, The Wild Duck, and When We Dead Awaken, and later listed works by the likes of Proust, Tolstoy, Turgenev, Bernard Shaw, Joyce, and Shakespeare for him to digest. Henderson urged him to take elocution lessons and got him parts at the Maida Vale Theatre in London. He had already begun a film career, having been an extra in Herbert Wilcox's 1954 musical Lilacs in the Spring alongside Errol Flynn and Anna Neagle.
Although Connery had secured several roles as an extra, he was struggling to make ends meet and was forced to accept a part-time job as a babysitter for journalist Peter Noble and his actress wife Marianne, which earned him 10 shillings a night. He met Hollywood actress Shelley Winters one night at Noble's house, who described Connery as "one of the tallest and most charming and masculine Scotsmen" she'd ever seen, and later spent many evenings with the Connery brothers drinking beer. Around this time, Connery was residing at TV presenter Llew Gardner's house. Henderson landed Connery a role in a £6 a week Q Theatre production of Agatha Christie's Witness for the Prosecution, during which he met and became friends with fellow-Scot Ian Bannen. This role was followed by Point of Departure and A Witch in Time at Kew, a role as Pentheus opposite Yvonne Mitchell in The Bacchae at the Oxford Playhouse, and a role opposite Jill Bennett in Eugene O'Neill's play Anna Christie.
During his time at the Oxford Theatre, Connery won a brief part as a boxer in the TV series The Square Ring, before being spotted by Canadian director Alvin Rakoff, who gave him multiple roles in The Condemned, shot on location in Dover in Kent. In 1956, Connery appeared in the theatrical production of Epitaph, and played a minor role as a hoodlum in the "Ladies of the Manor" episode of the BBC Television police series Dixon of Dock Green. This was followed by small television parts in Sailor of Fortune and The Jack Benny Program (on a special episode filmed in Europe).
In early 1957, Connery hired agent Richard Hatton who got him his first film role, as Spike, a minor gangster with a speech impediment in Montgomery Tully's No Road Back alongside Skip Homeier, Paul Carpenter, Patricia Dainton, and Norman Wooland. In April 1957, Rakoff – after being disappointed by Jack Palance – decided to give the young actor his first chance in a leading role, and cast Connery as Mountain McLintock in BBC Television's production of Requiem for a Heavyweight, which also starred Warren Mitchell and Jacqueline Hill. He then played a rogue lorry driver, Johnny Yates, in Cy Endfield's Hell Drivers (1957) alongside Stanley Baker, Herbert Lom, Peggy Cummins, and Patrick McGoohan. Later in 1957, Connery appeared in Terence Young's poorly received MGM action picture Action of the Tiger opposite Van Johnson, Martine Carol, Herbert Lom, and Gustavo Rojo; the film was shot on location in southern Spain. He also had a minor role in Gerald Thomas's thriller Time Lock (1957) as a welder, appearing alongside Robert Beatty, Lee Patterson, Betty McDowall, and Vincent Winter; this commenced filming on 1 December 1956 at Beaconsfield Studios.
Connery had a major role in the melodrama Another Time, Another Place (1958) as a British reporter named Mark Trevor, caught in a love affair opposite Lana Turner and Barry Sullivan. During filming, Turner's possessive gangster boyfriend, Johnny Stompanato, who was visiting from Los Angeles, believed she was having an affair with Connery. Connery and Turner had attended West End shows and London restaurants together. Stompanato stormed onto the film set and pointed a gun at Connery, only to have Connery disarm him and knock him flat on his back. Stompanato was banned from the set. Two Scotland Yard detectives advised Stompanato to leave and escorted him to the airport, where he boarded a plane back to the United States. Connery later recounted that he had to lay low for a while after receiving threats from men linked to Stompanato's boss, Mickey Cohen.
In 1959, Connery landed a leading role in director Robert Stevenson's Walt Disney Productions film Darby O'Gill and the Little People (1959) alongside Albert Sharpe, Janet Munro, and Jimmy O'Dea. The film is a tale about a wily Irishman and his battle of wits with leprechauns. Upon the film's initial release, A. H. Weiler of The New York Times praised the cast (save Connery whom he described as "merely tall, dark, and handsome") and thought the film an "overpoweringly charming concoction of standard Gaelic tall stories, fantasy and romance". He also had prominent television roles in Rudolph Cartier's 1961 productions of Adventure Story and Anna Karenina for BBC Television, the latter of which he co-starred with Claire Bloom. Also in 1961 he portrayed the title role in a CBC television film adaptation of Shakespeare's Macbeth with Australian actress Zoe Caldwell cast as Lady Macbeth.
Connery's breakthrough came in the role of British secret agent James Bond. He was reluctant to commit to a film series, but understood that if the films succeeded, his career would greatly benefit. Between 1962 and 1967, Connery played 007 in Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Goldfinger, Thunderball, and You Only Live Twice, the first five Bond films produced by Eon Productions. After departing from the role, Connery returned for the seventh film, Diamonds Are Forever, in 1971. Connery made his final appearance as Bond in Never Say Never Again, a 1983 remake of Thunderball produced by Jack Schwartzman's Taliafilm. All seven films were commercially successful. James Bond, as portrayed by Connery, was selected as the third-greatest hero in cinema history by the American Film Institute.
Connery's selection for the role of James Bond owed a lot to Dana Broccoli, wife of producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, who is reputed to have been instrumental in persuading her husband that Connery was the right man. James Bond's creator, Ian Fleming, originally doubted Connery's casting, saying, "He's not what I envisioned of James Bond looks," and "I'm looking for Commander Bond and not an overgrown stunt-man", adding that Connery (muscular, 6' 2", and a Scot) was unrefined. Fleming's girlfriend Blanche Blackwell told him Connery had the requisite sexual charisma, and Fleming changed his mind after the successful Dr. No première. He was so impressed, he wrote Connery's heritage into the character. In his 1964 novel You Only Live Twice, Fleming wrote that Bond's father was Scottish and from Glencoe in the Scottish Highlands.
Connery's portrayal of Bond owes much to stylistic tutelage from director Terence Young, who helped polish him while using his physical grace and presence for the action. Lois Maxwell, who played Miss Moneypenny, related that "Terence took Sean under his wing. He took him to dinner, showed him how to walk, how to talk, even how to eat". The tutoring was successful; Connery received thousands of fan letters a week after Dr. No's opening, and he became a major sex symbol in film.
Following the release of the film Dr. No in 1962, the line "Bond ... James Bond", became a catch phrase in the lexicon of Western popular culture. Film critic Peter Bradshaw writes, "It is the most famous self-introduction from any character in movie history. Three cool monosyllables, surname first, a little curtly, as befits a former naval commander. And then, as if in afterthought, the first name, followed by the surname again. Connery carried it off with icily disdainful style, in full evening dress with a cigarette hanging from his lips. The introduction was a kind of challenge, or seduction, invariably addressed to an enemy. In the early 60s, Connery's James Bond was about as dangerous and sexy as it got on screen".
During the filming of Thunderball in 1965, Connery's life was in danger in the sequence with the sharks in Emilio Largo's pool. He had been concerned about this threat when he read the script. Connery insisted that Ken Adam build a special Plexiglas partition inside the pool, but this was not a fixed structure, and one of the sharks managed to pass through it. He had to abandon the pool immediately.
Although Bond had made him a star, Connery grew tired of the role and the pressure the franchise put on him, saying "[I am] fed up to here with the whole Bond bit" and "I have always hated that damned James Bond. I'd like to kill him". Michael Caine said of the situation, "If you were his friend in these early days you didn't raise the subject of Bond. He was, and is, a much better actor than just playing James Bond, but he became synonymous with Bond. He'd be walking down the street and people would say, 'Look, there's James Bond'. That was particularly upsetting to him".
While making the Bond films, Connery also starred in other films such as Alfred Hitchcock's Marnie (1964) and Sidney Lumet's The Hill (1965), which film critic Peter Bradshaw regards as his two great non-Bond pictures from the 1960s. In Marnie, Connery starred opposite Tippi Hedren. Connery had said he wanted to work with Hitchcock, which Eon arranged through their contacts. Connery also shocked many people at the time by asking to see a script, something he did because he was worried about being typecast as a spy and he did not want to do a variation of North by Northwest or Notorious. When told by Hitchcock's agent that Cary Grant had not asked to see even one of Hitchcock's scripts, Connery replied: "I'm not Cary Grant". Hitchcock and Connery got on well during filming, and Connery said he was happy with the film "with certain reservations". In The Hill, Connery wanted to act in something that wasn't Bond related, and he used his leverage as a star to feature in it. While the film wasn't a financial success it was a critical one, debuting at the Cannes Film Festival winning Best Screenplay. The first of five films he made with Lumet, Connery considered him to be one of his favourite directors. The respect was mutual, with Lumet saying of Connery's performance in The Hill, "The thing that was apparent to me – and to most directors – was how much talent and ability it takes to play that kind of character who is based on charm and magnetism. It's the equivalent of high comedy and he did it brilliantly."
In the mid-1960s, Connery played golf with Scottish industrialist Iain Maxwell Stewart, a connection which led to Connery directing and presenting the documentary film The Bowler and the Bunnet in 1967. The film described the Fairfield Experiment, a new approach to industrial relations carried out at the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Glasgow, during the 1960s; the experiment was initiated by Stewart and supported by George Brown, the First Secretary in Harold Wilson's cabinet, in 1966. The company was facing closure, and Brown agreed to provide £1 million (£13.135 million; US$15.55 million in 2021 terms) to enable trade unions, the management and the shareholders to try out new ways of industrial management.
Having played Bond six times, Connery's global popularity was such that he shared a Golden Globe Henrietta Award with Charles Bronson for "World Film Favorite – Male" in 1972. He appeared in John Huston's The Man Who Would Be King (1975) opposite Michael Caine. Playing two former British soldiers who set themselves up as kings in Kafiristan, both actors regarded it as their favourite film. The same year, he appeared in The Wind and the Lion opposite Candice Bergen who played Eden Pedecaris (based on the real-life Perdicaris incident), and in 1976 played Robin Hood in Robin and Marian opposite Audrey Hepburn, who played Maid Marian. Film critic Roger Ebert, who had praised the double act of Connery and Caine in The Man Who Would Be King, praised Connery's chemistry with Hepburn, writing: "Connery and Hepburn seem to have arrived at a tacit understanding between themselves about their characters. They glow. They really do seem in love".
During the 1970s, Connery was part of ensemble casts in films such as Murder on the Orient Express (1974) with Vanessa Redgrave and John Gielgud, and played a British Army general in Richard Attenborough's war film A Bridge Too Far (1977), co-starring Dirk Bogarde and Laurence Olivier. In 1974, he starred in John Boorman's sci-fi thriller Zardoz. Often called one of the "weirdest and worst movies ever made" it featured Connery in a scarlet mankini – a revealing costume which generated much controversy for its unBond-like appearance. Despite being panned by critics at the time, the film has developed a cult following since its release. In the audio commentary to the film, Boorman relates how Connery would write poetry in his free time, describing him as "a man of great depth and intelligence" and possessing the "most extraordinary memory". In 1981, Connery appeared in the film Time Bandits as Agamemnon. The casting choice derives from a joke Michael Palin included in the script, which describes the character's removing his mask and being "Sean Connery – or someone of equal but cheaper stature". When shown the script, Connery was happy to play the supporting role. In 1981 he portrayed Marshal William T. O'Niel in the science fiction thriller Outland. In 1982, Connery narrated G'olé!, the official film of the 1982 FIFA World Cup. That same year, he was offered the role of Daddy Warbucks in Annie, going as far as taking voice lessons for the John Huston musical before turning down the part.
Connery agreed to reprise Bond as an ageing agent 007 in Never Say Never Again, released in October 1983. The title, contributed by his wife, refers to his earlier statement that he would "never again" return to the role. Although the film performed well at the box office, it was plagued with production problems: strife between the director and producer, financial problems, the Fleming estate trustees' attempts to halt the film, and Connery's wrist being broken by the fight choreographer, Steven Seagal. As a result of his negative experiences during filming, Connery became unhappy with the major studios and did not make any films for two years. Following the successful European production The Name of the Rose (1986), for which he won a BAFTA Award for Best Actor, Connery's interest in more commercial material was revived. That same year, a supporting role in Highlander showcased his ability to play older mentors to younger leads, which became a recurring role in many of his later films.
In 1987, Connery starred in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables, where he played a hard-nosed Irish-American cop alongside Kevin Costner's Eliot Ness. The film also starred Charles Martin Smith, Patricia Clarkson, Andy Garcia, and Robert De Niro as Al Capone. The film was a critical and box-office success. Many critics praised Connery for his performance, including Roger Ebert, who wrote: "The best performance in the movie is Connery ... [he] brings a human element to his character; he seems to have had an existence apart from the legend of the Untouchables, and when he's onscreen we can believe, briefly, that the Prohibition Era was inhabited by people, not caricatures". For his performance, Connery received the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor.
Connery starred in Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), playing Henry Jones, Sr., the title character's father, and received BAFTA and Golden Globe Award nominations. Harrison Ford said Connery's contributions at the writing stage enhanced the film. "It was amazing for me in how far he got into the script and went after exploiting opportunities for character. His suggestions to George [Lucas] at the writing stage really gave the character and the picture a lot more complexity and value than it had in the original screenplay". His subsequent box-office hits included The Hunt for Red October (1990), The Russia House (1990), The Rock (1996), and Entrapment (1999). In 1996, he voiced the role of Draco the dragon in the film Dragonheart. He also appeared in a brief cameo as King Richard the Lionheart at the end of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991). In 1998, Connery received the BAFTA Fellowship, a lifetime achievement award from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts.
Connery's later films included several box-office and critical disappointments such as First Knight (1995), Just Cause (1995), The Avengers (1998), and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003); however, he received positive reviews for his performance in Finding Forrester (2000). He also received a Crystal Globe for outstanding artistic contribution to world cinema. In a 2003 UK poll conducted by Channel 4, Connery was ranked eighth on their list of the 100 Greatest Movie Stars. The failure of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen was especially frustrating for Connery. He sensed during shooting that the production was "going off the rails", and announced that the director, Stephen Norrington should be "locked up for insanity". Connery spent considerable effort in trying to salvage the film through the editing process, ultimately deciding to retire from acting rather than go through such stress ever again.
Connery turned down the role of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings films, saying he did not understand the script. He was reportedly offered US$30 million along with 15% of the worldwide box office receipts, which would have earned him US$450 million. He also turned down the opportunity to appear as Albus Dumbledore in the Harry Potter series and the Architect in The Matrix trilogy. In 2005, he recorded voiceovers for the From Russia with Love video game with recording producer Terry Manning in the Bahamas, and provided his likeness. Connery said he was happy the producers, Electronic Arts, had approached him to voice Bond.
When Connery received the American Film Institute's Lifetime Achievement Award on 8 June 2006, he confirmed his retirement from acting. Connery's disillusionment with the "idiots now making films in Hollywood" was cited as a reason for his decision to retire. On 7 June 2007, he denied rumours that he would appear in the fourth Indiana Jones film, saying "retirement is just too much damned fun". In 2010, a bronze bust sculpture of Connery was placed in Tallinn, Estonia, outside The Scottish Club, whose membership includes Estonian Scotophiles and a handful of expatriate Scots. In 2012, Connery briefly came out of retirement to voice the title character in the Scottish animated film Sir Billi. Connery served as executive producer for an expanded 80-minute version.