On this day in 1963, Dr No premiered in the US. It would change the face of UK and global cinema. Up until then, Brits on screen were still generally perceived internationally as nice posh chaps – quite possibly dashing but certainly not rippling with animal magnetism. Connery changed all that and yet, behind the scenes, he was the one who went through the greatest transformation of all, from being plied with alcohol to help his nerves, to often shooting each scene one line at a time. His first on-screen girlfriend and long-term Moneypenny co-star both describe the struggles of the actor in the beginning – and how quickly he adapted to the role and his new-found fame.
Bond author Ian Fleming was vocally horrified when Bond producer Cubby Broccoli started championing an unknown Scottish former boxer for the role of his suave English secret agent, but the visionary producer held firm – buoyed by the reaction of women in public to Connery.
Moneypenny actress Lois Maxwell said: “I had first met Sean in Cubby’s office back at the beginning. He had that wonderful atmosphere of menace and moved, as Cubby said, like a panther. But he was still a poor young actor in rumpled corduroys who looked like he lived in a bedsit.
“He had been taught everything from how to dress and where to buy his shirts to table manners. His Scottish accent was ironed out. In Dr No they had to film his dialogue one line at a time.”
Maxwell described the difference a few years would make: “By 1964, however, when we had the party at the Dorchester for the third film, Goldfinger, he was very much his own man…
“I went over to get some caviar. Sean was eating the caviar with a big serving spoon. I said: ‘Sean, you mustn’t eat from that’. He just turned round and said quite pleasantly: ‘I can have caviar whenever I want now.’
“I think he was serious. I don’t think he was drunk. I’ve never seen Sean drunk.”
Alcohol, however, was definitely involved during the filming of Dr No and one crucial scene in particular.
Dr No also introduced Bond’s girlfriend Sylvia Trench, played by Eunice Gayson. It was originally meant to be a recurring role throughout the franchise, but director Terence Young soon realised that an unattached 007 could have a lot more fun.
Gayson was a West End stage star, appearing in The Sound of Music when she was cast in the first Bond movie. She had known Connery for years as he took minor theatre and TV roles (and occasional babysitting gigs) while he sought his big break.
Gayson said: “In the beginning, Sean didn’t think he was going to get the part. He did the test which was terrific… We all knew that one day that Sean would make it big, big time. He just needed that break… But none of us knew what a break this was going to be.”
Sylvia and Bond first meet in a casino and she is the one who actually sets up what would become one of the most iconic lines in cinema history.
Their eyes meet across a gambling table and she introduces herself as “Trench, Sylvia Trench.” Bond then replies playfully in the same fashion.But when it was time for the cameras to roll, Connery repeatedly fluffed the line.
Gayson said: “It sounds an easy take, but it wasn’t.” Tensions on set had been high all day and then Young had decided he didn’t like the holour of Sylvia’s dress. A new one had to be cut and hastily pinned together by the wardrobe team.
The actress said: “It was just a piece of fabric held together with clothes pegs. By this time everybody was nervous, Sean above all, bless his heart.”
When filming resumed, everybody was on edge and Gayson later recalled how Connery stumbled repeatedly over the classic line, saying: “Sean Bond, Connery James…”
Gayson added: “In the final take, he was so easy and assured but in order to achieve that I was seconded to take him into the restaurant and have a drink or two. As he’d been on the wagon for several months before filming started, I was worried how it would affect him.”
“Oh ho, it did affect him but in a nice way because he came back full of the Bond image. He said it (the famous line) in the most wonderful way. Every woman in the world wanted to meet Bond, James Bond after that.
“The director Terence Young said ‘That’s exactly what I want, I want you to play it just like that.’ Sean said to me, ‘The trouble is I can’t remember what I did!’”