One of the few movie "superstars" truly worthy of the designation, actor Sean Connery was born to a middle-class Scottish family in the first year of the worldwide Depression. Dissatisfied with his austere surroundings, Connery quit school at 15 to join the navy (he still bears his requisite tattoos, one reading "Scotland Forever" and the other "Mum and Dad"). Holding down several minor jobs, not the least of which was as a coffin polisher, Connery became interested in bodybuilding, which led to several advertising modeling jobs and a bid at Scotland's "Mr. Universe" title. Mildly intrigued by acting, Connery joined the singing-sailor chorus of the London roduction of South Pacific in 1951, which whetted his appetite for stage work. Connery worked for a while in repertory theater, then moved to television, where he scored a success in the BBC's re-staging of the American teledrama Requiem for a Heavyweight. The actor moved on to films, playing bit parts (he'd been an extra in the 1954 Anna Neagle musical Lilacs in the Spring) and working up to supporting roles. Connery's first important movie role was as Lana Turner's romantic interest in Another Time, Another Place (1958) -- although he was killed off 15 minutes into the picture.
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After several more years in increasingly larger film and TV roles, Connery was cast as James Bond in 1962's Dr. No; he was far from the first choice, but the producers were impressed by Connery's refusal to kowtow to them when he came in to read for the part. The actor played the secret agent again in From Russia With Love (1963), but it wasn't until the third Bond picture, Goldfinger (1964), that both Connery and his secret-agent alter ego became a major box-office attraction. While the money steadily improved, Connery was already weary of Bond at the time of the fourth 007 flick Thunderball (1965). He tried to prove to audiences and critics that there was more to his talents than James Bond by playing a villain in Woman of Straw (1964), an enigmatic Hitchcock hero in Marnie (1964), a cockney POW in The Hill (1965), and a loony Greenwich Village poet in A Fine Madness (1966).
Despite the excellence of his characterizations, audiences preferred the Bond films, while critics always qualified their comments with references to the secret agent. With You Only Live Twice (1967), Connery swore he was through with James Bond; with Diamonds Are Forever (1971), he really meant what he said. Rather than coast on his celebrity, the actor sought out the most challenging movie assignments possible, including La Tenda Rossa/The Red Tent (1969), The Molly Maguires (1970), and Zardoz (1973). This time audiences were more responsive, though Connery was still most successful with action films like The Wind and the Lion (1974), The Man Who Would Be King (1975), and The Great Train Robbery (1979). With his patented glamorous worldliness, Connery was also ideal in films about international political intrigue like The Next Man (1976), Cuba (1979), The Hunt for Red October (1990), and The Russia House (1990). One of Connery's personal favorite performances was also one of his least typical: In The Offence (1973), he played a troubled police detective whose emotions -- and hidden demons -- are agitated by his pursuit of a child molester.
In 1981, Connery briefly returned to the Bond fold with Never Say Never Again, but his difficulties with the production staff turned what should have been a fond throwback to his salad days into a nightmarish experience for the actor. At this point, he hardly needed Bond to sustain his career; Connery had not only the affection of his fans but the respect of his industry peers, who honored him with the British Film Academy award for The Name of the Rose (1986) and an American Oscar for The Untouchables (1987) (which also helped make a star of Kevin Costner, who repaid the favor by casting Connery as Richard the Lionhearted in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves  -- the most highly publicized "surprise" cameo of that year).
While Connery's star had risen to new heights, he also continued his habit of alternating crowd-pleasing action films with smaller, more contemplative projects that allowed him to stretch his legs as an actor, such as Time Bandits (1981), Five Days One Summer (1982), A Good Man in Africa (1994), and Playing by Heart (1998). Although his mercurial temperament and occasionally overbearing nature is well known, Connery is nonetheless widely sought out by actors and directors who crave the thrill of working with him, among them Harrison Ford, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas, who collaborated with Connery on Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), where the actor played Jones' father. Connery served as executive producer on his 1992 vehicle Medicine Man (1992), and continued to take on greater behind-the-camera responsibilities on his films, serving as both star and executive producer on Rising Sun (1993), Just Cause (1995), and The Rock (1996). He graduated to full producer on Entrapment (1999), and, like a true Scot, he brought the project in under budget; the film was a massive commercial success and paired Connery in a credible onscreen romance with Catherine Zeta-Jones, a beauty 40 years his junior. He also received a unusual hipster accolade in Trainspotting (1996), in which one of the film's Gen-X dropouts (from Scotland, significantly enough) frequently discusses the relative merits of Connery's body of work. Appearing as Allan Quartermain in 2003's comic-to-screen adaptation of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the seventy-three year old screen legend proved that he still had stamina to spare and that despite his age he could still appear entirely believeable as a comic-book superhero. Still a megastar in the 1990s, Sean Connery commanded one of moviedom's highest salaries -- not so much for his own ego-massaging as for the good of his native Scotland, to which he continued to donate a sizable chunk of his earnings. ~ Hal Erickson, Rovi