I can remember when a critic went coocoo-bananas that Sean Connery had supposedly started playing father/mentor roles. This was after the release of 1986’s Highlander, in which he played a “Spaniard” from ancient Egypt who trains the protagonist to fight evil; offers the wisdom of the millennia he has lived; and is killed protecting the protagonist’s wife. The role seemed to mean something to the critic about Connery’s entire being that was not sensical—that he could no longer be a leading man, that he was no longer marketable as a sex symbol, that he had lost his edge—unless judged by Hollywood ageism.
The Times today, continuing in that vein, called him, on his death this week, “the irascible Scot who gracefully transformed himself from Agent 007 into one of the grand old men of the movies.”
Connery was plenty old to be a father (32) when he originated James Bond in 1962 and could have been a grandfather (53) when he finished the series in 1983. He also had played at least one supporting fatherly role already, as King Agamemnon in Time Bandits in 1981.
Bond was meant by Fleming to be a cultured brute, a killer, cold and sadistic and sexual. Connery added something more interesting than that, a sense of considering, even fairness, all things considered. And though some leading roles he played after that were not exactly fatherly either, they were often more humanized (Outland , a kind of High Noon in space) and even comic (The Man Who Would Be King , with Michael Caine).
In life, he was often no role model, but there was something good in how he moved in film from Bond, the ultimate lone wolf, to roles where he nurtured others, if only briefly, including The Name of the Rose, Indiana Jones, The Untouchables, and Finding Forrester.
Connery always carried with him, role to role, the gravity of someone who has known poverty and physical labor. (As much as I like Daniel Craig as Bond, he never projects that to me.) Yet Connery carried it in the best possible way—calmly, his eyes still big and even gentle, and his eyebrows as arch(ed) as Jack Nicholson’s. His characters were smart, resourceful, trustworthy if roguish, capable, and experienced.
His characters never fell to the seeming demand now for kitsch and self-abasement. He was of another time, and in that, taught us things about how men wanted to be seen in the past. Even when he played the supposedly effete Henry Jones, Sr., his was no dad bod (in fact Connery was only 12 years older than Harrison Ford), and he was key to winning the day against evil and finding … illumination.
Connery was the kind of actor who created the kind of character you would want to hear from when it was time to make a journey, if only because you figured he had made a few himself. Call it fatherly.
He was said to have felt it was hard to live up to Bond. An anecdote I saw on social media today, from a man who met him, said Connery was told in the late ‘70s, by someone he knew when he was starting out, that he must not get discouraged and should try to stay open to the part of his life yet to happen.
Thinking on it, I see his film personas as men who are always doing just that, defying the reductions of aging and death.