As an actor who also happened to be the son of Sean Connery, Jason Connery has spent a great deal of the last 30-plus years trying to make a name for himself, both in front of and, more recently, behind the camera. He broke out as an actor on the mid-’80s British television telling of Robin Hood “Robin of Sherwood” and has appeared in dozens of films and television series since then, including a 1997 telling of MACBETH, SHANGHAI NOON, WISHMASTER 3, “Smallville,” and so many more. But in 2009, he also began directing smaller horror/sci-fi films like THE DEVIL’S TOMB, PANDEMIC, and 51, as well as his most recent work, the sports drama THE PHILLY KID.
But with his latest film, TOMMY’S HONOR, Connery has entered a new realm as a director, selling both the beginnings of the modern gold game, a beautifully crafted family drama, and a romance into the the telling of story of the Morris father and son “Old Tom” (Peter Mullan) and “Young Tommy (Jack Lowden),” two of golfs most impressive players and innovators, and national heroes in their native Scotland, which makes the movie another point of pride for Connery, since his father is both Scottish and an avid golfer to this day. In addition to changing the game of gold, Tommy Morris also began the tradition of players getting paid real money for their effort and not just a fee for their services for richer men. Anytime you see an athlete in any sport get millions of dollars per season, you can thank/blame Young Tommy.
I had a chance to sit down with Connery last week to talk about TOMMY’S HONOUR (and his father’s reaction to it), and he was an absolute gentleman and a joy to chat with. Please enjoy my talk with Jason Connery…
Capone: Hi, Jason. Good to meet you.
Jason Connery: Good to meet you too.
Capone: If someone had told me this story, and I didn’t know it was real, I would say “You’re overdoing it. There’s too much plot here. And I realize there are probably some things you’ve changed from the real story, but by and large, how committed were you to telling the actual story of this family?
JC: Well, very committed in the sense that there are a number of things that were the irrefutable facts, in the sense that they’re historically noted. Obviously, he won the three years in a row, then he lost. So those sort of things were not really an issue. It was more about the emotional journey between him and his father, and of course, during their time together, very often it was just them, and it wasn’t documented as such. So we used a lot of our own experiences. And I didn’t recognize it as much, but obviously I have a famous father and I was doing the same profession as him for a while, well for 30 years, and still do, but now I’m directing, so your perspective changes when you change from being an actor to being a director, because as a director you’re looking at the story as a whole rather than just from the character’s point of view, and you also start much earlier because you’re getting the script hopefully honed out.
But for me, things like Old Tom was never allowed in the clubhouse, The R&A [Royal & Ancient Golf Club], so for me a physical representation of that change is his son going into the club knowing it’s not allowed. That never actually happened, but for me it’s a representation of him pushing the system and saying “I’m trying to make change.” But stuff like the telegram [about Tommy’s wife giving birth] arriving and Old Tom playing the last three holes without giving it to Tommy, and the fact that they took the boat rather than train, and the fact that his wife died in childbirth and so did his daughter, and then he died on Christmas day—all of those things are all real.
It was very important to me on an emotional level to have the underlying love between the father and son never be in question. There are a lot of layers to that, though. And I have a 19-year-old son who thinks he knows everything and I try to guide him and he says, “I don’t agree with you.” And I’m sure with my father, if you asked him, he’d say, “He was a knucklehead. He did this, and he did that. But I was able to hopefully impart this.” It’s finding that rhythm with their relationship, and of course for me, showing Tom and Nancy in the light of their marriage and then the new generation of marriage which was Megan and Tommy. I think each generation has a very different relationship to their parents but also to each other. Now we’re in an age where everybody’s talking about how amazing the communication level is in one sense, and yet you can have five people all together, and none of them are talking to each other who are actually physically there. So yeah, the communication is great, and I can Skype with my son if he’s in a different country, and I can see him, and I can talk to him, and it’s amazing, but then the actual interaction between us as humans, which I think is tremendously important, is becoming more and more distended.
We had an adage above the writing desk, the writers and I, which was “Every new idea starts as a blasphemy.” And for me, that happens so often in the film with young Tommy saying, “I want to do this.” And he’s like “Well, you can’t do that. It’s not how it is.” And he goes, “Well why?” So that’s what I think is the universal story in this that I think that’s all the way through, from the beginning of time, been the case.
Capone: I have a feeling that a lot of golfers that get paid hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars for what they do don’t realize the reason that happens is because of Tommy.
JC: Yeah, absolutely. I’ve mentioned that, and it’s fascinating to me, the idea of that. I work hard at saying this isn’t just a film about golf, because I feel that it has more dimension than that, but in essence, what was intriguing to me is it’s also the beginning of certainly the modern game of golf. For me, I’ve had people come up to me and talk a bit almost as a gateway for them. The game is so complicated now with so many rules and people talking Chinese as far as the person who’s sitting there watching golf on TV and they’re saying “There’s a par and a bogie, and he’s going to lie the ball down here, and he can’t put it two club lengths from…” And they’re sitting there going “What are they talking about?” Then, there were 13 rules of golf. The crowds were right next to the players. They were gambling, they were fighting, they were smoking, they were drinking, and it was viscerally very different but also very simple.
And we were able to show things like Tommy with the golf bag, or the golf quiver as it was originally called; the backspin; the fact that the game has changed exponentially, but that’s where it started. And people go “You know what? I thought golf was boring. I never watch it, I can’t stand it. But I was fascinated because it was the beginning.” It’s a very polarizing game. People hate it and people love it, and there’s not many in between. I’m hoping at least the film will appeal—I think the people who go there initially will probably be a lot of golfers, but I hope that they through word of mouth can say there’s more there.
Capone: Golf clubs in Scotland became news here for a little while thanks to our president, so it made me think then I saw those scenes of the rowdy crowds, and they’re kicking his ball. “Is that how it is there? Is that how it is now?” You see people holding signs up today and you can’t help wonder, “Is it just like that in Scotland?”
JC: There’s certainly is a very competitive spirit and a rich history of rowdy behavior. Wonderfully in a way, the shot of the fight in the bunker was the bunker that that fight really took place in. It’s right next to Mrs. Forman’s Pub, which is still there, and it’s all been modernized so we didn’t shoot in it. But that’s exactly what happened. They beat the shit out of each other and then they went and had a drink while it was all calming down and then went back to playing. For me, that’s so interesting compared to what we see these days on these perfectly manicured greens and this polite crowd clapping and this deferential distance where the golfers are like on their own—not that it’s bad, but it’s different. For me, that feels separating. If you’re right there next to the player, I think viscerally it’s much more connected.
Capone: Never having been to Scotland I just imagine that there are statues of Peter Mullan on every street corner, because to me so much of what I know about Scotland is what I’ve seen in his movies. What do you learn form working with someone who has that level of experience?
JC: He’s a wonderful actor. What you learn is actors are all very different in their process, and his process is very intriguing to me because he literally talks until you say “Action.” He’s telling stories, he’s laughing and joking, and initially you think “Is he doing it consciously?” But I don’t think he is. He’s an amazingly affable guy, which I’m sure is shocking to you because most people when they see him in any number of performances, he’s really scary because he’s got this intensity in his eyes and he’s lazar focused. As a man, he’s the most affable, lovely, charming and funny and a great storyteller. But literally, he’s talking and you say “Action,” and he’s in it.
And it’s fascinating because it’s like he’s doing nothing. And then when you watch the dailies, you’re like “Oh my god.” There are wonderful moments—because I watched the film when I was editing it, and I love the editing experience although it’s a slog, but when you start really honing performance, you look at every take and you pull bits out of every take, every take he’s there. And in the background, he’s completely there. There are moments when he’s watching his son that make me weep. It’s so beautiful the way he’s watching his son, and it’s pure.
Capone: I can’t imagine anyone else playing that character. Was there anyone else in your mind?
JC: I literally rang him and I couldn’t understand him. He was sounding a bit groggy, and I thought maybe he was having a nap, and then I found out he was in New Zealand and I didn’t realize. I worked with him on “Shoebox Zoo” when I was acting. So I said “Are you okay?” He said, “I’m in New Zealand.” I said “Oh my god, I’m so sorry. Look, I’ve got this script, and you’re the person to play it. You’re the only person.” And I meant it, because sometimes you say that… Anyway, he called me the next day. He said, “If you want me, I’m in.” And that’s the kind of guy he is. He’s very simple, Peter, in the sense that he’s very strong and direct, so if he says something, for instance, he’s got younger kids and he’s like “I will work these hours, then I need to see my kids.” And you go “Okay.”
Capone: I can’t imagine he would pass up many opportunities to work in Scotland.
JC: There’s a film we made on the making of the film. It’s called FAR AND SURE. It’s on the website, tommyshonour.com, and he talks about the fact that he doesn’t shoot in Scotland that much, and he hasn’t shot in that part of the country before, and for him, it was a real revelation. He said it’s so beautiful, I mean the light. Very often, he’s in the city as well. TRAINSPOTTING was in Edinburgh. And he said “To be out in the country to be out by the sea, in the sea in his case, it was just, literally and figuratively, a real eye opener at how beautiful and the colors and the light were,” and he talks about it in the making of.
Capone: How did you find Jack? He’s about to have a huge year or two. I just saw him in A UNITED KINGDOM and a couple of other things, but not in this high profile a part. So what did you see him in?
JC: I think this is his first real lead role. I saw him in a film called ’71 and he just did a very small part. I like Jack O’Connell as well, and I was actually looking at the film before Jack O’Connell, and I saw Jack Lowden and I was like “This guy’s really interesting.” So I Skyped with him. Ironically I was in America, but I have a cottage in Scotland that’s literally 10 miles away from his family home. But I Skyped with him in Scotland, and he was very intense and he was nervous I felt. He was sitting in his parents’ dining room. It was quite funny. He was very nice and everything. I just thought “I’m not really getting Jack”
So I said something silly or I swore, and he relaxed. And he suddenly was laughing and was really animated, and I saw that whole thing, that whole energy, and I thought this could be the guy. And he was fantastic. He was so different from Peter in his energy. And they talked all the time and worked together so beautifully. It was a joy to see that growth and to see them. Those scenes between them just they’ve got so much nuance going on, and he’s got this energy that jumps out at the screen somewhat. And he had a very strong idea of Tommy and this little bit of bravado and okay with who he was.
Capone: Best of luck with this. Thank you so much.
JC: Thank you so much. Thanks for your insight; it was good to talk to you.