Nerd Factor: Connery, Sean Connery
Dr. Mike Robinson ~ UL Communication Studies Professor
To understand the power of the late Sean Connery’s star persona, consider two roles. One made Connery a household name. The other was a role Connery never played.
The first role is, of course, James Bond. Basically, Sean Connery made James Bond into Sean Connery. The character of James Bond had existed before the movies. Ian Fleming’s spy novels were best sellers for about a decade before anyone saw Bond on film.
The story goes that before the movies came out, Fleming had imagined Bond as a very different person, more like actor David Niven. If you are unfamiliar with David Niven, look him up online. I will wait here while you do.
David Niven does not look like James Bond, does he? That is no slight. Niven was an outstanding actor, but we all have trouble picturing him as Bond. In fact, Niven did later play James Bond, in a somewhat strained parodic movie called Casino Royale that was released in 1967. The idea of Niven in that role was meant to be funny.
Cast as Bond, Connery made the character into a debonair killer. Connery’s portrayal suggested in very subtle ways that beneath all that awareness of high class living and the trappings of elegant style that Bond adopted to move in the world of freedom’s enemies there was a lethality that could quickly emerge. Such an outstanding quality is unlikely to work in the real field of espionage, but in the movie world of spycraft, that persona was undeniably popular.
After playing Bond six times on screen, Connery moved on to a different kind of career as the 1970s. Sometimes he chose some strange roles, such as Zed in the surreal sci-fi headscratcher Zardoz (1974). Mostly he played very tough guys in tough situations. And as he aged, Connery specialized in playing older authority figures/mentors who basically stole the movie out from under the younger action stars he appeared with. His Oscar winning role in The Untouchables (1987) is probably the best example.
One role that Conner did not take though was the role of Sybok in Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (1989). For those unfamiliar with the weakest entry in the Trek movie franchise, this film centers on the attempt by Sybok, a previously unheard-of brother of Mr. Spock, to steal the USS Enterprise and take it to the center of the universe to find God.
Yes, you read that correctly.
Spock is another legendary character of popular culture. Messing with his backstory brings tremendous risk of fan backlash. The role went to Lawrence Luckinbill, who I would guess is probably a very nice guy and who does the best he can with the material he is presented in this movie.
At the time, Connery was off playing against type for a change as Dr. Henry Jones, the somewhat bumbling but endearing father of legendary archaeologist and Nazi fighter “Indiana Jones in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” (1989). Had Connery been available for this part, he would have crushed it, applying the full power of his Sean Connery-ness. Just imagine the presence of that star persona on screen, trading lines with popular culture powerhouses Leonard Nimoy’s Spock and William Shatner’s Kirk. Any Trek continuity heresy would have been instantly forgiven.
Also, just imagine Shatner trying to direct that movie. I do not think this particular Trek outing would have ever been great, but Connery would have made it much better just by being there.