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Before his passing the late, great Sir Sean Connery was named the greatest James Bond ever in an online poll. Starting with 1962’s Dr. No, the Scottish actor made the role of Ian Fleming’s super spy his own over the course of seven Bond films, with his final screen appearance as 007 coming in 1983’s unofficial Never Say Never Again.
Although always reverential of, and grateful for, the role, he never seemed comfortable to promote the film series after his departure, in the way that Sir Roger Moore or Pierce Brosnan were, and rarely participated in anniversary events or retrospectives (although Connery voiced Bond for the 2005 video game From Russia With Love). And why should he? Connery transcended the role, making a career for himself in Hollywood without being typecast, appearing in many iconic films and winning many awards, until his retirement from acting in the noughties.
However, thanks to author Mark Edlitz’s excellent new book The Lost Adventures of James Bond (out now), it’s been revealed that Connery was happy to reprise Bond for one last time in front of cameras in the 1990s, as a birthday treat for a future James Bond star.
Read more: Connery's widow: 'He was a model of a man'
Here, in an exclusive extract from the book, Edlitz reveals the amazing – but sadly thought to be lost – final time Sean Connery played James Bond on a Hollywood film set.
Sean Connery is James Bond
When Sean Connery played James Bond in 1983’s Never Say Never Again, it appeared that it would be the last time that the actor would utter the signature phrase, “Bond, James Bond” in front of a movie camera. Yet fifteen years later, Connery stood on a set as the cameras rolled on the set of a big-budget motion picture while cameras rolled and he introduced himself in the spy’s distinctive manner.
The unexpected moment took place during the filming of the 1998 spy action-adventure The Avengers, based on the British sixties television series that featured several actors who would later appear in the Bond film franchise, such as Diana Rigg (On Her Majesty’s Secret Service), Honor Blackman (Goldfinger), and Patrick Macnee (A View to a Kill). Given the show’s influence on Eon’s series, casting Connery as its Bondesque villain was a considerable coup.
In the adaptation, Connery played the evil scientist Sir August de Wynter, who is scheming to control the weather. In it, a kilt-wearing Connery threatens, “The weather is no longer in God’s hands but in mine.” His performance as de Wynter is the closest fans would ever get to seeing the actor playing a Bond villain, albeit a parodic one. Later, Connery nearly anticipates the title of the twenty-fifth Eon film when he snarls, “Time to die.”
During the production of The Avengers, the movie’s director Jeremiah S. Chechik asked Connery to record a birthday message to his co-star, and future M, Ralph Fiennes. But Chechik didn’t want to deliver a traditional birthday message – he wanted Connery to perform the greeting in character as James Bond.
For this book, Chechik chronicled how he convinced Connery to play Bond one more time: “The shoot for The Avengers at Pinewood and Shepperton [Studios, in England] was smooth and completely delightful. We were oblivious, me most of all, to the studio political machinations that were going on in Los Angeles.
“Problems between me and an executive, who eventually took over when I returned to finish the film became clear, as he was never a proponent of the film to begin with. The eventual version [that was released] had so much cut out and the music was changed from dark to ‘fun’ that it crushed my dreams.
“But the shooting was a pleasure. One day on Ralph’s birthday, we were shooting with Sean in an interior storm that we had created on a soundstage. Soaked as we all were during this odd sword fight, we were in great spirits.
“Sean was having fun, no easy feat for that curmudgeon, as it was not golf-related. Ralph and I occasionally winked and nodded at each other amazed that we were both working with the icon. Throughout the shoot, Sean and I shared a lot more than a single whiskey together and had a pretty good relationship on and off stage.
“During the day, I approached him when Ralph was off set, to film a small birthday greeting from the James Bond of old (something Sean rarely does/did). So cameras on, rolling, action and out of the mythic Sean Connery’s mouth came the perfectly rendered and captured greeting which included the famous, ‘Happy Birthday greeting, from Bond... James Bond.’”
After reading Chechik’s account, I wanted to clarify how Connery delivered the line. I asked the director, “When Connery said ‘Bond, James Bond,’ was he saying it in character as Bond? Was he performing it, and not merely saying it? I’m asking about that indefinable but immediately recognisable moment when an actor fills his soul and fully embodies a part.”
To my delight, Chechik replied, “Yes, yes, and yes. In character. That's what made the moment.”
Unfortunately, Connery’s performance has never been seen by the public and it is probably lost to time. Chechik explained that he “never knew what happened to that clip.”
Somewhere, there is footage of the first movie Bond uttering the iconic line from a character that changed the cinematic landscape.
With fans waiting for Daniel Craig’s much-delayed 007 swansong No Time To Die, Edlitz’s book proves a welcome distraction for Bond fans, shedding light on a fascinating galaxy of adventures that have been "lost" or unmade, out-of-print, or forgotten by even the most dedicated Bond fan.
The book covers much ground, revealing the stories behind a lost Bond stage play written by Raymond Benson, the history of the animated series James Bond Jr., Timothy Dalton’s unmade third and fourth 007 films, a radically different alternate version of Dalton’s Bond debut film, and lots more.
It’s packed with exclusive new interviews that offer a fresh insight into the Bond canon.
“Six actors have played Bond in Eon’s movies,” Edlitz tells Yahoo. “But I have identified 34 actors who have played the spy in other media, including video games, television, and radio dramas. That’s a lot of ‘lost’ Bond.
Watch: Sean Connery’s wife reveals his final wishes