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Why Sean Connery broke his promise to never play James Bond again

·Senior Editor
·5-min read

On this day on 27 September, 1982, Sean Connery taped on his James Bond toupee one last time to start filming Never Say Never Again on the French Riviera. 

Boasting an all-star cast that included Kim Basinger, Max Von Sydow, Klaus Maria Brandauer, Barbara Carrera, Bernie Casey, Rowan Atkinson, and Edward Fox, Connery’s 00-seventh Bond film would also shoot in the Bahamas and Elstree Studios.

Actor Sean Connery on set of the movie James Bond: Never Say Never Again
Sean Connery on set of the movie James Bond: Never Say Never Again, directed by Irvin Kershner. Source: Bob Penn/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

It had been 12 years since his last outing as 007 in 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever, after which he’d sworn he would ‘never again’ play Ian Fleming’s secret agent, but he’d been tempted back for one last mission with a deal that offered more than just a huge payday.

His return in the unofficial, non-canon Bond film came with a side dish of revenge that would leave the producers of the official 007 films shaken and stirred.

 Sean Connery relaxes on a red lounge.
Sean Connery relaxing between takes on the set of 'Diamonds Are Forever', USA, 1971 Source: Anwar Hussein/Getty Images

What happened?

Having left the role behind in 1971, Connery felt he was getting too long in the tooth for the rough and tumble required of the Bond blockbusters. 

But in the early 80s, the Scottish star had found himself backed into a corner by a series of movie flops and an ongoing legal dispute with a former accountant which had bled the coffers dry.

Enter Kevin McClory — the enterprising Irish filmmaker who had been a thorn in the side of the producers of the James Bond films for decades —who was ready to make Connery a deal he simply could not refuse.

Kevin McClory pictured with his wife Frederica Sigrist having a celebratory drink in a pub bar
McClory celebrating after winning his High Court case against Ian Fleming. Source: Harold Clements/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

To play Bond again in Never Say Never Again, Connery asked for — and reportedly got — $5m, casting and script approval, and a share of the profits. 

On top of the money, the film also represented an opportunity to get revenge on Albert R ‘Cubby’ Broccoli, the producer of the James Bond films, who Connery felt had cheated him out of millions when he refused to make him an equal partner on the films in the 1960s.

But for Never Say Never Again, Connery wouldn’t have to deal with Broccoli (he’d split from Saltzman in 1971 over another money issue) as McClory had the rights to make a Bond film without him.

From the James Bond archives (MGM/Eon)
L-R: Cubby Broccoli, Sean Connery, Ian Fleming and Harry Saltzman. From the James Bond archives Source: MGM/Eon

Having helped Ian Fleming formulate the story for his 1961 Bond book Thunderball — which crucially introduced Bond's nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld — the Irishman had gone to court to claim co-authorship of the book and any film adaptations.

Broccoli and co-producer Harry Saltzman made a deal with McClory to make Thunderball starring Connery in 1965, and McClory agreed to not adapt it again for at least ten years. 

With that moratorium over McClory had been doggedly trying to remake Thunderball for years (and had blocked the use of Blofeld in the official films) when the Connery situation reached critical mass.

Actor Sean Connery and actress Martine Beswick in boat on set
Actor Sean Connery and actress Martine Beswick on the set of "Thunderball". Source: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

So not only would Connery earn a fortune with a guaranteed box office hit, and give him the chance to have a hand in production on a Bond film for the first time ever, it would be a chance to settle an old score. 

Never Say Never Again would go toe-to-toe with Octopussy at the box office giving Connery the chance to prove to Cubby that he was bigger than Bond and not the other way around.

What happened next?

Actor Roger Moore surrounded by women on bed on set of film
Actor Roger Moore on the set of "Octopussy". Source: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Legal battles continued behind the scenes, with Broccoli’s lawyers doing all they could to delay or block the release of Connery’s 007 swansong.

But in 1983, after a myriad of production issues and escalating budget, Never Say Never Again was ready to go up against Octopussy, the official, Cubby Broccoli-produced, James Bond film starring Connery’s friend Roger Moore as 007. It was dubbed in the press as the Battle of the Bonds, but neither actor was prepared to bad mouth the other in the press.

Roger Moore and Sean Connery smile while posing for a photo
Roger Moore and Sean Connery Source: Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images

Released in June 1983, Octopussy was first out of the gate and grossed over $182 million worldwide. Later that year, in October 1983, Never Say Never Again was met with warmer reviews, and enjoyed a bigger opening weekend in North America, but grossed less than Roger Moore’s Bond film overall, taking $160 million.

Financially, Never Say Never Again lost the battle, but ultimately James Bond fans were the real winners having two 007 adventures to enjoy in 1983.

Actor Sean Connery and actress Barbara Carrera sit at bar on set
Actor Sean Connery and actress Barbara Carrera on the set of "Never Say Never Again". Source: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

McClory continued his battle long after Never Say Never Again, mounting plans to remake Thunderball again throughout the 80s and 90s, and even approached Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan to return as Bond after their tenures ended, but all efforts were blocked in the courts.

Eventually James Bond distributors MGM acquired the rights to Never Say Never Again in 1997, and then following McClory’s death in 2001, his family sold his claim over Thunderball back to Eon Productions, paving the way for the return of Blofeld in 2015’s Spectre.

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