Terry Gilliam Says Sean Connery Was Originally Written Into 'Time Bandits' as a Joke, Yet "Saved My Ass" on Fantasy Film

Time Bandits (1981)- Sean Connery
Handmade Films Ltd./Photofest

The director also says the final scene in which Connery reappears as a fireman only came about because of the actor's "tax problems" and a trip back to England to meet his accountant.

Among Sean Connery’s handful of decidedly un-James Bond performances, playing ancient Greek King Agamemnon in Terry Gilliam’s hit 1981 fantasy comedy Time Bandits has to be up there.

But the actor — who’d long since completed his first run of five 007 films and had moved onto serious roles with the likes of The Man Who Would Be King, Robin and Marian and A Bridge Too Far — was only ever written into the script as a joke.

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, Gilliam explains that he and co-writer Michael Palin were working on the scene in which Agamemnon defeats a Minotaur in battle and victoriously pulls off his mask, with the two jokingly adding that he "reveals himself to be none other than Sean Connery or an actor of equal or cheaper stature."

Naturally, this was only really supposed to be a bit of fun among the filmmakers and he had little hope of actually casting Connery. Yet Denis O’Brien — George Harrison’s manager, who had recently co-founded The Beatle’s groundbreaking HandMade Films production banner — just so happened to be playing golf with the actor.

"He mentioned the possibility of being in this film, and Sean liked the idea. I guess he was a [Monty] Python fan," says Gilliam, who also claims Agamemnon’s role in the film as an adoptive parent (briefly to the central, time-traveling character Kevin), was also appealing.

"I'm convinced the reason he said yes was that he was having some guilt feelings about having been an absent father," Gilliam says. "And here was a chance to be a surrogate father."

On the first day of the shoot in Morocco, which Connery knew well having shot The Man Who Would Be King there several years earlier, Gilliam says the star’s presence proved critical.

"He literally saved my ass," he says.

In extreme heat, with pages and pages of storyboard to get through, and with Time Bandit’s central 10-year-old child star Craig Warnock, in his movie debut and now standing opposite James Bond, having frozen, Connery stepped in.

"Sean looked at my storyboards, and says, 'Forget about that, you’ve not gonna get this done, kid,' " claims Gilliam. "So I started throwing pages out. Anything he said, it was ‘Yes, sir.' I suddenly felt like I was in the hands of an incredible actor with great experience. And we got through that first day thanks to his pragmatism and not my ambition."

One of the elements Connery insisted be removed was the moment, after defeating the Minotaur, where he was due to mount his horse. But this time it was more about saving face than saving time.

"He said, no, I’m gonna look like shit. Here’s what I’ll give you: I’m going to be standing in the stirrups and I’ll sit down," Gilliam laughs. "I just think he didn’t think it’d be elegant."

At the end of Time Bandits, as part of a Gilliam-style "it was all a dream, or was it" final scene, Connery reappears briefly as a fireman. The moment appears perfectly planned, but the filmmaker admits it was a last-minute addition that only came about as a result of "Sean’s tax problems."

Having run out of time with Connery in Morocco, the intended reappearance of Agamemnon leading a team of archers into a battle royal (alongside knights and cowboys) had to be scrapped.

"But Sean said something when we were first talking about the part, and he’d said, 'Oh, it'd be so great to come back as a fireman at the end.' And luckily, I remembered that moment," says Gilliam, who grabbed Connery during a brief trip back to the U.K. as the production was drawing to a close.

"He was back in England for, I think, a day meeting his accountant. And I managed to get him to come out the middle of nowhere to just put on a fireman's helmet, wink and get in the truck and go, and that was it. And it ended up this brilliant ending that wouldn't have been there if it hadn't been for Sean and his tax problems."

Gilliam — who says he was a huge Bond and Connery fan long before landing the icon for Time Bandits (his favorite films being The Hill and The Offence) — last saw the actor on the London set of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

"[Steven] Spielberg’s doing his stuff and I’m just taking to Sean. And the thing that Sean was talking about was how proud he was that he was the first and only actor at that time who got his money directly from the studio," he says.

"Whereas normally it goes to the agent, they take 10 percent and then pass it on, Sean got the money directly. And he was really proud. He was always still a working class guy. And he was Scots and you know, always feeling he’s being fucked by the English."