The true story of how Sean Connery became James Bond

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From a youthful energy to his Scottish ancestry, the character of James Bond owes more than you may know to Sir Sean Connery…

Over the weekend — at the age of 90, and resting easy on a cinematic legacy that defined the 20th century — Sir Sean Connery passed away. To this day, he remains the only official 007 actor to win an Oscar (for 1987’s The Untouchables), and was knighted by the Queen two decades ago for his services to drama. But his most valuable contribution to the silver screen will always be Dr. No — the film that sparked Eon Production’s 25-strong, still-running James Bond film franchise.

But how did a young man from Edinburgh, whose first job was a local milkman, come to embody the iconic superspy — and become one of the most famous actors in the world as a result?

Connery’s first passion was not acting. Instead, it was the iron-pumping, muscle-sculpting art of bodybuilding. It was an interest he developed during his teenage years; a hobby maintained during a stint in the Navy and a slew of subsequent, singular jobs including lifeguard, artist’s model and coffin polisher. And it would be this brawny, powerful pastime that would introduce Connery to the acting profession.

In 1953, the young Scotsman found himself in London attending a bodybuilding competition. A fellow muscleman mentioned that the King’s Theatre was holding open auditions — for a production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific. Connery went along, was initially placed in the chorus, and worked his way up to understudy of the lead. He was a natural talent.

Over the next decade, Connery picked up bit-parts in many diverse films — from thriller Time Lock and adventure epic Tarzans’s Greatest Adventure to 1961 comedy caper On the Fiddle. But, while the Scotsman was busy making a name for himself, producers Harry Saltzman and Albert R. “Cubby” Broccoli were busy wrangling a man of their own.

That man’s name was James Bond. Saltzman and Broccoli, already seasoned producers, had won the rights to Ian Fleming’s popular 007 novels — and just received authorisation from United Artists to bring Dr. No to the big screen. (Plans to use Thunderball as the first film fell through due to legal disputes.) The newly-minted Eon Productions began work in earnest, laying the foundations for a franchise and searching for that most important, most elusive piece of the puzzle; their protagonist.

After due consideration, Cary Grant was chosen — and given the part. The contract was written up, and all but signed, when the Hollywood leading man revealed he would only make one film. Grant was already 58-years-old, and refused to commit to a series of pictures. Saltzman and Broccoli, however, still envisioned Dr. No as the first film in a franchise — and were forced to drop their top choice for Bond.

Other names were kicked around — including Patrick McGoohan of The Prisoner fame and David Niven (who was also over 50-years-old at the time). The director hired to helm Dr. No, Terence Young, was pushing for Shakespearean actor Richard Johnson to take the role. Even Roger Moore, a future 007, was considered — although Broccoli considered him “too young, and perhaps a shade too pretty”.

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