In His Own Voice

My word. It’s my Bond.

When I woke up Saturday morning to find that Sean Connery had slipped the Bonds of this world and turned in his licence to thrill, my writer brain refused to go anywhere else for a few minutes. It shouldn’t have been startling, I suppose, to find that a 90-year-old actor who hadn’t taken a movie role in 17 years had reached his time to leave. But it was.

After all, this was Sean Connery.

And Connery had a way of redefining any space he walked into.

Before Sean Connery, author Ian Fleming always saw James Bond as looking something like the musician Hoagie Carmichael. After the movie version of “Dr. No,” not only was the Carmichael description gone, but the literary Bond was forever half-Scots.

Before Sean Connery, anyone who thought of “The Untouchables” likely thought of either Eliot Ness or Al Capone. After the film version, an Irish cop who promised “he sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue” was indelibly stamped on popular memory.

Before Sean Connery, who ever thought about Indiana Jones having a dad? (Or, for that matter, that a bewildered bookworm could still make the whip-toting adventurer call him “sir?”)

We watched him. We loved him. And in many a role, we chuckled at one indelible part of the Connery legend.

Because you see –  how do I put this kindly? – while his acting range encompassed a huge variety of characters, one thing always remained constant.

His voice was always Sean … same Sean.

When the English king Richard Lionheart returned from the Crusades in “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves,” it was with a one-of-a-kind Scots burr.

When a Lithuanian sub commander fled the USSR for the United States in “The Hunt for Red October,” it was with a one-of-a-kind Scots burr.

When an Irish-American cop walked the streets of Prohibition-era Chicago in … well, you get the idea.

Sometimes it made sense. Sometimes it was written into the background. Sometimes it just was what it was – a rough, commanding burr with an ever-so-slight lisp that traveled across time and space.  Unlike many actors, Connery rarely, if ever, bothered styling his voice to fit the character.

And unlike many actors, he could get away with it, turning what could have been a distraction into a strength.

He was who he was. No compromises. No apologies.

And the audience loved it.

Critics sometimes lambast an actor for “only playing themselves.” Actors know that every actor plays themselves – it’s just that some actors have more “self” to play than others. If you dip from too shallow of a well, sooner or later interest will run dry.

But if you’ve got enough inside of you to pull from – enough experience, enough confidence, enough willingness to explore – the audience won’t care if they see you inside the mask you’ve built. In fact, it may well be part of the draw.

It certainly was for Connery.

And it’s not a bad lesson on or off the stage.

All of us are more than the glimpse that others may see (or even ourselves). All of us also have something that goes to the core of who we are. Examining, expanding and even transforming that self without compromising the heart – that’s a life’s work for an actor. Or for a self-aware human being.

Finding your voice is not easy. But it’s worth it. You not only discover an identity, but also a resonance – the pieces of yourself that echo in others, and vice-versa. And that’s the start of building a closer world.

In fact, you might even say it creates a Bond.

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