The first movie to adapt Tom Clancy’s “Jack Ryan” novels, The Hunt for Red October (1990) cast Alec Baldwin in the role of the C.I.A. analyst who has to stop a rogue Soviet submarine commander from starting World War III. His costar? No less than the former James Bond himself, Sean Connery. Reached by phone on Saturday morning, Baldwin shared his memories of working with the late Connery on the blockbuster, and the advice the older star gave him.
I had done a number of films by the time The Hunt for Red October came around, but they were mostly smaller projects or ensemble films, a lot of supporting roles — this was the first big movie that I was cast in where I was carrying it. I used to say that if you got on an airplane, you’d see 12 people sitting in first class and eight of them would have a Tom Clancy book in their lap. They were extremely popular, and this was going to be the first movie based off the books… I knew this was a big deal.
So when I got to the set, I was already overwhelmed. And then Connery walked in, and I was just like: “Holy shit!” I just couldn’t believe it. He looked like $50 million stacked up high. They’d put the uniform on him, the hairpiece, the makeup — he was just gleaming. He was the most gleaming movie star I’d ever met in my life.
He’d give me advice, but he’d never push anything on me. He asked me [in Connery voice] “Are you going to the rushes, boy? The dailies — are you going to go see them?” I told him, Well, no, I wasn’t planning on going. “Oh, you must! You must go to the rushes, boy! How will you ever learn?!” And I just thought, wow. You know, he wasn’t chatty — he was there to work. But he was happy to help you get the job done. He’d been through what I was going through.
And he was always full of anecdotes. One day, he came to me and said [in Connery voice], “Alec, I cannot be there for you off-camera this Friday after 6 P.M. I’m very, very sorry.” No problem, Sean. Wait, why can’t you by there on Friday after six? “I have to fly to Vancouver.” You have to fly to Vancouver?! “Yes, I’m a tax exile. I can only be in the United States so many days a year. The people who run Paramount have a place up there, I go up on Friday, come back on Monday.” Oh, what do you do all weekend in Vancouver, Sean? And suddenly, he looks at me like I was a damaged child: “I GOLF! What else do you do on a May weekend in Vancouver, boy!?”
He was always really generous and kind with me. I saw him wearing this jacket and asked him where he got it. [In Connery voice] “The cossss-tume department made it for me.” I said, That’s one of the nicest jackets I’ve ever seen. “Well, they must make one for YOU, too, then! Can you bring the costume man here? This leather brusson, can you make one for Alec?” You got it, Sean, you got it! I had one the next day. He was lovely like that. And like a lot of stars, he knew that people meeting him had to sort of take in the fact that they were talking to “Sean Connery.” But he was nice enough to let you sort of get that out of your system. He’d let you adjust: “Yes, it’s me. I’m Sean Connery. [pause] Now, someone say action.”
Here’s a guy who’d played this incredibly famous character and had starred in a number of roles, but he’d just won an Oscar for The Untouchables right before this … and it was a Best Supporting Actor, which to me means, you’re winning it for the acting. It’s hard to do a star turn in a supporting role. There’s a long legacy of handsome leading men, you know: Redford, Newman, Beatty, Cary Grant, Tyrone Power. They were all stars, and they gave great performances. But to me, Sean was always the most impressive combination of actor and star that I’ve ever seen.
Connery had that trifecta dynamic of knowing where masculinity, sensitivity, and intelligence intersected. You gotta be emotive, you gotta be tough, you gotta be smart. Brando had it in On the Waterfront, Nicholson had it in Chinatown, and Sean had it in, well, almost everything he did. I’m working on a project now, and I’m still thinking: “Well, what would Sean do?” He could economize beautifully on film. He was a great less-is-more actor. He always wanted to make it more real.
I love a lot of Sean’s movies, but I do have a soft spot for The Hunt for Red October, and not because I’m in it. It’s because of what Sean is doing in it. I remember seeing it for the first time and thinking, “This guy is going to hijack a nuclear submarine, where’s the fervor in this character?” Then as it goes on, I realized: Oh, no, this is perfect. Most people would have this guy pacing in his cabin, or wringing his hands. He has him sipping tea! It’s genius. He’s like Tom Brady in the pocket; everyone is coming at him and he’s just calm and cool as a cucumber. I love that performance. In the face of all this drama, he made the decision to play it cool — and no one was cooler. Who could keep his cool better than Sean Connery?