by Jason F. Koenigsberg
Retirement can be a great thing. All people that work hard in their lives deserve to relax and put their feet up if they want to. Acting is a peculiar profession. Once you make it big if you are wise with your money you do not have to work. Marlon Brando blew all of his money and had to come back to acting in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
There are some actors that love their jobs and work well into their golden years taking whatever roles they can. Eli Wallach, Christopher Lee and Hume Cronyn all acted until the day they died. De Niro, Pacino and Morgan Freeman all seem to be on this path taking roles in three or four films each year. Others choose to step away from the spotlight and have a private life during their time as a senior citizen. They certainly have earned their right to privacy after years or sometimes decades in the public eye. But when a beloved actor with a long and prolific career chooses to step away, it leaves millions in their fanbase scratching their heads and wondering, or even salivating if they will re-emerge from their private sanctuary and step in front of the camera either for several roles or one last hurrah that we can all remember them by.
Many people were relieved a few months ago when Jack Nicholson announced that he will come out of his self-imposed semi-retirement to star in an American remake of Toni Erdmann. This was especially gratifying for me since I did not want his final acting credit to be a small role in the James L. Brooks rom-com dud How Do You Know (2010). He has not acted in seven years and it will be nice to see him star in a role that should give his acting chops a chance to show the world how talented he is. Jack certainly should be well rested and hopefully is not rusty after a long hiatus.
This made me think about other actors that have quit acting and what it would take for them to be lured out of retirement. Let’s take a look at their big breakthrough roles, their best roles and what as of now is their final role. Most have outstanding legacies in motion pictures and it would be nice if their final role was more on par with the great swan song of Richard Burton’s in 1984 and not Orson Welles in the stinker Someone to Love or a voice acting role in The Transformers: The Movie both released in 1987.
Part 1: Sean Connery
One of the best and most iconic screen actors of all time, Sir Sean Connery has carved out a career that will never be duplicated. Rather than waste time and list a bunch of forgettable films that he had bit parts in during the late 1950’s, his career really got a boost with Walt Disney’s Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959). Not many people alive today can say that they worked with Walt Disney, Alfred Hitchcock and John Huston. Sean Connery can.
That film earned him a lot of attention, the most important person to notice him from that film was Albert R. Broccoli’s wife who remembered and recommended her husband and his producing partner Harry Saltzman screen test Connery for the role of James Bond since the big movie stars like Cary Grant and James Mason were not interested in signing on to play the spy for more than one or two movies. The rest is history. His big breakout role was playing Agent 007 in Dr. No (1962) and he would portray Ian Fleming’s super spy seven more times over the next twenty years. It gave Connery international success as a movie star.
His greatest role is a tough one to determine. Most still regard him the greatest actor to play James Bond so any of those roles could count. He won a well deserved Best Supporting Actor Academy Award in Brian De Palma’s The Untouchables (1987). Many consider that to be the crowning achievement of his career. However I think his raw talent was on display even more in the smaller and more intimate dramas The Hill (1965) where he played an army officer and prisoner of war subjected to cruel torture, or The Offence (1973) as a police detective interrogating a child murderer who has seen too much over his years on the force and has finally reached his breaking point. Coincidentally both those films were directed by Sidney Lumet who obviously saw Connery as more than just a handsome action star. But if I had to choose the single best role of Sean Connery’s career it would be his role in the action packed thrill ride The Rock (1996). The perfect bookend to his career which started with James Bond, a role that was a blessing and a curse since he never really emerged from the shadow 007 cast over his entire career. He was perfect in The Rock as an older James Bond type and starring opposite Nicolas Cage and Ed Harris delivered one of his finest performances.
If The Rock were his final role, he would have gone out on a high note and it would have been a storybook ending to a prolific career. After The Rock, Sean Connery worked on a handful of other movies in the late 90’s but none amounted to a huge success and some were forgettable. As movies started to change in the late 90’s and early 2000’s Sean Connery found trouble selecting what roles to take. He famously turned down the role of Morpheus in The Matrix (1999) and the role of The Architect in its sequels. Reason why, he said he did not understand it. He turned down the role of Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, the reason why, he said he did not understand it and he did not want to spend eighteen months shooting on location exclusively in New Zealand. Both of those films turned out to be massive critical and commercial hits and would have been great notches on Sean Connery’s belt. So when he was offered the lead role of Allan Quatermain in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), even though he did not understand the script, he accepted. It ended up being a role he would regret. The film was doomed with a troubled production, the worst flooding in Europe destroyed some of the sets, Connery and director Stephen Norrington constantly fought and the final product was an incoherent mess. The whole time watching The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen I just wanted to shout out “Stop!”, walk onto the set, give Sean Connery a hug and say “let’s go, you don’t need this”, and walk him away. Connery stated he hated making the film and it probably contributed heavily to his decision to retire.
Since then he has been offered many lucrative scripts and turned them all down. Nothing can seem to lure him away from the beach, the golf course, or spending time in his beloved Scotland. Not even his biggest offer. The chance to reprise his role as Dr. Henry Jones for another Indiana Jones adventure film, which had to be re-written without his character and turned into Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull (2008). If Steven Spielberg, George Lucas and Harrison Ford, three very powerful and influential figures in Hollywood that Sean Connery enjoyed working with could not coax him out of retirement then I do not think anything will. It is too bad that The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen will most likely be his final screen appearance. He is 87 and as each year has passed since 2003 the chances of Mr. Connery being coaxed to come back and act again seems less and less likely.