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James Bond made him a major star, The Untouchables made him an Oscar winner and Saturday Night Live made Sean Connery a late-night regular.
Portrayed by Darrell Hammond, Connery was a constant fixture on the popular sketch “Celebrity Jeopardy,” where he had an uncanny ability for lewd misreadings of categories (“I’ll take ‘Anal Bum Cover’ for $7,000”) and an inexplicable bone to pick with host Alex Trebek, played by Will Ferrell.
Hammond talked to The Hollywood Reporter about his well-known impression of Connery, who died on Saturday at the age of 90: “It’s one of these instances where the stars were in alignment.”
Do you have a favorite Sean Connery performance?
I think I’m going to say The Untouchables. But I say that with an asterisk, because the seven times, in seven movies, that someone says to him, “Hey, what’s your name?” and he says, “Bond. Jame Bond,” that’s the best. You can’t really beat that. But there are some of those marvelous [lines] from The Untouchables: “Mr. Ness, I am just a poor beat cop.” People were captivated by the guy in the same way they were captivated by [President Bill] Clinton. They couldn’t get enough. People couldn’t get enough.
When I was doing shows at colleges, kids from many countries would hold up signs with their favorite “Celebrity Jeopardy” lines. I say to people it’s the most popular thing I ever did, but I feel like I almost did nothing. And I am not doing false modesty here when I tell you that. The writers were Emmy winners, the hair and makeup were Emmy winners, the costumers are Emmy winners. Nobody looks less like Sean Connery than me and they made me look a lot Sean Connery. So I always would tell myself, just go out there and speak trippingly.
Had you done a Sean Connery impression prior to SNL or was that just like a thing that came to you in the moment?
It was like a last-ditch effort on a Tuesday night around four o’clock in the morning because I had nothing to turn in or sell to any of the writers. I was always taught that an audience needs to understand your premise and kind of agree with it in order to laugh. In other words, you can’t educate or show them something new and get them to laugh at the same moment. So I thought, nobody’s going to believe Sean Connery doesn’t know things, or nobody’s going to believe that he hates Alex Trebek. The premise doesn’t make any sense. And yet it’s one of these instances where the stars were in alignment.
Was your impression based on any performance? Or would you listen to anything to make sure you got it right?
It was “Mr. Ness. I am just a poor beat cop.” That enabled me to find the voice quickly. But I remember when I started doing it, especially in rehearsal Lorne [Michaels] was like, and “Now you’ve duplicated him. Let’s exaggerate him. Let’s italicize him. Let’s do a Hirschfeld painting of him.” This sounds silly, but I had Hirschfeld pictures in my office and I would sit and look at them and go, “That’s what I’m trying to do today. I want to exaggerate him. I want to blow him up. I want to be a ludicrous premise but carried out in earnest.” I mean, all the stuff that I’ve heard acting coaches say. But the moment I said the words. “I’ll take ‘The Rapists’ for $5,000” or whatever it was, it took my breath away. Because you’re walking out there going, “This can’t work.” And yet it was the single most successful thing I ever did as a performer.
When did you know it was going to be a hit with the audience?
I thought it was the first time I said, “I’ll take ‘The Rapists.’ ” And that’s not the biggest laugh he ever got by a long shot. You can hear [the audience] hesitate and want to dip their toe in the water, and then they did a little bit. I’d say we got about 60 percent of the room, and it was a delayed reaction that took place in like a split second, but later in the sketch, they were ready. They knew what the premise was and they wanted more of it. He’s one of those guys like [President Bill] Clinton that’s so popular — someone actually said this once of Daffy Duck, as well — the character is so popular that you can do anything. You can do slapstick with Sean Connery, you could do drawing-room comedy with Sean Connery — there’s no kind of comedy that you can’t do when people are so eager to hear from that person.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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