The Sunday Times

February 02, 2003

My name's not Bond
It can’t be easy being Jason Connery. But will going naked in The Blue Room really help him shake off his father’s fame, asks John McKie

Before his 40th birthday, Sean Connery had played James Bond five times and handed over the reins to George Lazenby. Last month his son Jason hit 40 after barely gaining parts Lazenby would turn down. After two decades of near-misses, Connery Jr is about to star in a 20-week tour of The Blue Room, due in Edinburgh in April.
It is no run-of-the-mill play. Arthur Schnitzler’s take on sexual politics was closed down by Vienna police when first performed publicly in 1921 as La Ronde. Sir David Hare’s 1998 liberal adaptation, renamed The Blue Room, was no less startling. Nicole Kidman took the lead female role, disrobed on stage and ended up on the cover of Newsweek, helping sell $4m in ticket sales before it reached Broadway. Kidman’s co-star, Edinburgh’s Iain Glen bared all, too: the first serious actor to be praised by the critics for cartwheeling naked on stage.

Actors have used revivals of The Blue Room to give their own cred a much-needed lift. The Sydney production, for example, featured Elle Macpherson, a model turned actress whose CV largely consisted of being known as “The Body”, launching her own range of lingerie and playing Joey’s flatmate in Friends. The Blue Room is that rare creature — a project where the actors go for thespian gravitas by taking their clothes off.

The latest gambling on earning their acting chops by showing copious amounts of flesh in the play’s latest incarnation are Tracy Shaw and Connery. Hare’s last West End play, The Breath of Life, teamed up Dames Judi Dench and Maggie Smith on stage for the first time. His latest film script, The Hours, features Meryl Streep, Kidman and Julianne Moore, and was this week nominated for 12 Baftas. Shaw and Connery are hardly Hare stalwarts.

For the past seven years, Shaw has played hairdressing assistant Maxine Peacock in Coronation Street, who was recently murdered in front of 17m viewers. Her pop career (two singles, respective chart positions: 46 and 82) went the way of her twitching corpse. With The Blue Room, you feel, she has nothing to lose but her clothes.

For her co-star, things are different. With an erratic body of film and TV work behind him, Jason still has to shake off his father’s shadow. At 40, he can no longer be considered the “Man Most Likely To”, and he is well aware of the “innuendoes” shaken and stirred into every article about him. But yet, as the son of the world’s most famous Scotsman, success is still expected.

New Hollywood is awash with actors who have succeeded like their parents — Michael Douglas, Charlie Sheen, Goldie Hawn’s daughter Kate Hudson, Colin Hanks, Scott Caan — and others set to surpass their parents’ achievements — Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Aniston, Ben Stiller, Freddie Prinze Jr and the recently Golden Globe nominated Linus Roache (son of Ken Barlow).

Connery does not fit into either category. Last year, he described Hollywood meetings as a succession of “I’ve worked with your dad, I know your dad, I like your dad or I hate your dad” remarks. On an American chat show, he was asked by the presenter whether all his parts were a result of nepotism. “I could tell by the way he asked it, that he thought that was the case,” Connery reflected. “So I said, ‘Yeah, dad calls the production and says, ‘I have some money, just pay him.’ That’s how it usually works.”

Connery’s testiness has been simmering since even before his parents’ divorce in 1973. He has often talked at length of the upset his parents’ frequent squabbles caused him. Nowadays, although reconciled with both, he spends more time with his mother, the Australian actor Diane Cilento, who spent Christmas with her son at his Victorian stone cottage in Liliesleaf, Hawick. These days he says he’s “pretty matey” with his dad and they play golf together in the Bahamas.

Connery started on stage early when he appeared as Rumpelstiltskin, aged 12, at his boarding school, Millfield. At first it was suggested he would be a swimmer after being tutored to Olympic level in the sport, but his interest faded. He left Millfield at 15 after discovering a schoolmate who had hanged himself, and moved to Gordonstoun. It was there he decided to take acting seriously and even directed Prince Edward in a school production. Leaving school without A-levels at 17, he studied for eight months at Bristol Old Vic but quit to perform six plays in six months at Perth Repertory Theatre.

After co-starring with his mother in the film The Boy Who Had Everything, Connery got his first big break. Michael Praed left for Dynasty and Connery was cast in the lead role in Robin of Sherwood’s third series. With his blonde hair and blue eyes, and 21,000 fan letters a week, Connery looked set for next-Bond status. The public, though enamoured of Connery, had tired of Sherwood Forest and the show was axed after its third series.

His career is littered with might-have-beens. After Robin, there were bit parts in Doctor Who and Casualty and some unsuccessful American TV movies, before the Bond echoes he was so keen to escape returned when he was cast in the lead role of 1990’s The Secret Life of Ian Fleming.

His next notable part didn’t arrive until 1995 when he co-starred with Michael Caine in two updates of the Harry Palmer films, Midnight in St Petersburg and Bullet to Beijing. It was then he met his now ex-wife Mia Sara, best remembered as Ferris Bueller’s girlfriend Sloane Peterson, and he married her in the same Las Vegas chapel as Michael and Shakira Caine. His mother and father did not attend. “Neither of our parents get on, so we wanted a wedding without any guests,” Connery explained of the hush-hush 1996 wedding.

Michael Caine, who had starred with Sean in 1975’s The Man Who Would Be King, threw Connery and Sara a party at his restaurant Langan’s Brasserie. A son, Dashiell Quinn, was born a year later. A self-confessed “chicken with no head” when he came to LA, where he is mainly based, Connery’s film career is a litany of near-misses. He refused to promote 1997’s Macbeth (with Helen Baxendale as Lady Macbeth) until it was re-edited with proper sound. It then failed to get distributed properly in spite of a reasonable critical reception. The same year, he starred as Merlin in a pilot modelled on Xena: Warrior Princess. (In another Bond hangover, the female lead was played by Roger Moore’s daughter Deborah.) Merlin: the Magic Begins started, but was never made into a series.

His father may have made his share of bad films but Connery’s filmography outstrips the crimes of The Avengers or Never Say Never Again: since 2000, atrocities include a bit part in Jackie Chan’s Shanghai Moon, the voice of the butler in the cartoon featuring sickly US teen starlets Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and a starring role in Wishmaster 3:Devil Stone.

“It’s been a tough couple of years,” he admits, “as my mind has been on sorting out the divorce.” The divorce, in the last couple of years, came with the usual showbusiness denials: nobody else involved, Connery is still single and the couple are amicably sharing custody.

His son will join him during the play’s run — they are never apart for longer than a month — but the divorce is bound to emit awkward reverberations of his past.

Newspapers are bound to be titillated by the play’s content — “a daisy chain of sex scenes” according to one critic. Still, after recent luck, things can only improve for Jason Connery. The last film he made, The Return of the Thief of Baghdad, is still struggling for a release — like the people who made it. “We made it in India and the second week they were there, the director and producer were thrown in prison. Things went downhill from then.”

The Blue Room was a massive success for Kidman and Glen in London’s West End and Broadway. The stage may be the place to earn your spurs — Madonna, Woody Harrelson and Paltrow last year acted on the London stage — but it is no guarantee of success. Gillian Anderson received scathing reviews for her role in What The Night is For. It closes next week.

The provocative nature of the play may not work in their favour either. It’s true that Sopranos actress Edie Falco and Big Night star Stanley Tucci are currently garnering critics’ plaudits in Broadway after going full frontal nude in Frankie and Johnny at the Clair de Lune. But what about Michael Higgs and Claire Power? Who? Exactly. They were cast in the first London revival of the play, which opened last October. The play closed before the end of November.