Agent 007 accepts mission to produce

Sean Connery is creating a new role for himself in Hollywood: producer. Fountainbridge, the production company run by executive Rhonda Tollefson, currently has five projects in the pipeline at 20th Century Fox, Warner Bros., Disney and Columbia, several more on the way, and a new first-look deal at Disney. All movies willl have the Sean Connery stamp.

Fountainbridge movies will star Connery – in roles that he helps to create. “He tends to get locked in Bond-like roles,” says Tollefson. “Having this company allows him to explore beyond that particular genre.”

Connery is still focusing on action-adventure – but these movies will also involve serious character development and sophisticated plot twists. “At the end of the day, he doesn’t really need a production company,” explains Tollefson. “He does this because he has a passion for filmmaking. It’s a passion about the entire production. The more he’s involved from the embryonic stage, the more control he has.”

Connery, by all accounts, has a vision of movies that goes far beyond his own character. In movies such as “The Rock” and “Just Cause,” he did more than play the lead, helping to develop the script and keep the production moving.

“He knows more about production than a lot of producers,” says Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced “The Rock,” in which Connery played a British secret agent who has been imprisoned in Alcatraz for work he did serving the British government. “He can walk on a set and within ten minutes can tell who’s doing their job and who’s not. He cares about seeing movies done properly. He doesn’t like to see waste.”

In “The Rock,” Connery developed his character from a simple felon into a British secret service agent whose government turns its back on him when he is arrested during a spy mission.

Mysterious presence

“He gave the movie an air of mystery,” says Mike Stenson, who oversaw “The Rock” at Disney. “He’s extremely smart in terms of what makes a movie an intelligent movie, beyond your average blockbuster.”

“The Rock,” which was made for around $65 million, has grossed in excess of $300 million world-wide. Disney signed the deal with Connery as “The Rock” was being completed. “We’ve already done well with Sean,” says Touchstone president Donald De Line. “He’s a huge international star. We all know how much the international market means to us these days.”

On the set of “Just Cause,” Connery smoothed out tensions between the director, Arne Glimcher, and producer Lee Rich. The movie had script problems that were still being worked out when shooting began, according to DreamWorks executive Bob Brasseo, who oversaw the movie while at Warner Bros. “Sean focused on where work needed to be done to be ready for the next day’s shooting,” says Brasseo.

“Entrapment,” which Fountainbridge expects to start shooting this fall in a deal with Fox, is a love story caper in which Connery plays a cat burglar that “you never think of as a villain,” according to Fox executive Elizabeth Gabler. “There are lots of twists and turns. You think he’s one thing, then you find out he’s another. He and the female lead (still to be cast) fall for each other – despite themselves.”

Fountainbridge and Fox are currently looking at directors. “Sean looks for originality in shooting style,” says Gabler. “He doesn’t say we have to have someone who’s won eight Academy Awards. He’s interested in new talent.”

Sweet deal

The other movies in the pipeline are “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir” a remake of the 1947 film for Fox:, “Do Not Go Gentle,” about an astronaut haunted by the mission he aborted, for Warner Bros.; “Absolute Zero,” about an elite special forces team, for Disney; and an untitled picture at Columbia. Tollefson says she plans to pitch several more ideas to Disney in the next few weeks.

“I would have liked to have that deal,” says DreamWorks’ Brasso. “I think it’s going to be a very productive deal for Disney.”

Indeed, Sean Connery the producer is a lot like Sean Connery the actor. He knows what he wants, says Ron Bass, the scriptwriter on “Entrapment.” “It’s very impressive to see someone so tuned in. He doesn’t have to make 20 decisions reversing other decisions just to prove he can do it another way. He’s authentic. You don’t always get that. He has the kind of virility that doesn’t need any swagger. Very few people wear that so naturally and so confidently.”

Besides, adds Bass, when Sean Connery makes a call, he gets a call back immediately. “It’s like having an 800-pound gorilla,” says Bass. “You know you’re going to get what you want.”

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