After his discharge, Connery shoveled coal, polished coffins, laid bricks, and posed for art students at the Edinburgh Art School. He took up bodybuilding and competed as “Mr. Scotland” in the Mr. Universe competition in London. It got him his first role in the chorus of a touring show of the musical South Pacific, which is where he met Caine in 1954. Connery chose acting over his plan of becoming a professional soccer player because it offered more longevity. Connery made up for his missed education by studying Shakespeare, Ibsen, Brecht.
Connery had bit parts on London productions until he was cast in Agatha Christie’s Witness for the Prosecution at Q Theatre in 1955. This led to several roles at the Oxford Playhouse. Connery’s TV debut came in with a small role in the series The Square Ring. He played multiple roles in the series The Condemned. In 1956, Connery played a criminal in the “Ladies of the Manor” episode of BBC Television’s Dixon of Dock Green. His first starring role on TV came in April 1957, when he played Mountain McLintock in BBC Television’s production of Requiem for a Heavyweight.
Connery’s film debut came in 1957 in the film No Road Back, directed by Montgomery Tully. Connery played Spike, a gangster with a speech impediment. He also had roles in the films Hell Drivers, Action of the Tiger, and Time Lock that year. He played a war correspondent to Lana Turner’s journalist in Another Time, Another Place in 1958. His first leading role came in Robert Stevenson’s Walt Disney Productions film Darby O’Gill and the Little People (1959).
Hot off his performance in a 1961 television adaptation of Anna Karenina, Connery auditioned for James Bond producers “Cubby” Broccoli and Harry Saltzman. Connery was not author Ian Fleming’s first choice to play Bond. He’d wanted James Mason. The studio also auditioned or considered David Niven, Trevor Howard, Cary Grant and Richard Burton. After Dr. No premiered, Fleming began writing Bond as half-Scottish in his books.
Connery made five more Bond films over the next 10 years, including From Russia with Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964), Thunderball (1965) and You Only Live Twice (1967). He skipped On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), allowing George Lazenby to marry Diana Rigg, but returned to the role in Diamonds Are Forever (1971). He made one last appearance as 007 with the non-official Never Say Never Again (1983), when he was 52.