In the wake of Sean Connery’s passing, former Saturday Night Live star Darrell Hammond opened up on his popular portrayal of the legendary actor on the show’s Celebrity Jeopardy skits. Back in 1996, the SNL writers were putting together a new Celebrity Jeopardy! parody sketch with Will Ferrell as Alex Trebek. At nearly the last minute, Hammond suggested he play Sean Connery in the bit, making the cut for the segment along with Norm Macdonald as Burt Reynolds and Martin Short as Jerry Lewis.
The rest, as they say, is history. Depicting Connery as very cruel and insulting with an unexplained disdain for Trebek, Hammond’s impersonation was very well-received by Saturday Night Live viewers, turning the segment into an instant hit. Celebrity Jeopardy! then became a recurring sketch on the show for years, consistently bringing back Darrell Hammond as Connery to continue the Oscar-winning actor’s long-running feud with Trebek. Both Hammond and Ferrell reprised the roles for the Saturday Night Live 40th Anniversary Special in 2015.
Speaking about the origins of the Sean Connery impersonation on SNL to Rolling Stone, Hammond says it was late at night when he thought of the concept of an angry Connery competing on Celebrity Jeopardy!. Expecting it to be the “biggest flop” of his run, Hammond also admits that the premise makes no sense on paper and seems perplexed as to why it caught on the way it had.
“I was always told when I was coming up that audiences had to understand your premise and kind of agree with it in order to laugh. And I remember thinking to myself, ‘They’re not gonna understand this premise. They’re not going to agree with it. It makes no sense that Sean Connery doesn’t know the answers on Jeopardy!. It makes no sense that Sean Connery hates Alex Trebek. And it makes no sense that he’s a homophobe.’ He accused Alex Trebek of being – what was it I said to Will Ferrell that night? [Connery voice] ‘Not a fan of the ladies, are you Trebek?’ It doesn’t make any sense. And yet it’s easily the most popular thing I’ve ever done.”
Hammond also explains that when he first began impersonating Connery, he was trying to mimic the actor exactly, but things took a turn for the silly once the SNL writers began to put the sketches down onto paper. Again stressing that it “made no sense” for Connery to quarrel with Trebek on a weekly basis, Hammond says his impression only elicited some polite chuckles from the writers’ room that night and nobody knew that they had a hit on their hands until the sketch made it to air.
Perhaps Hammond’s impressions are a bit nonsensical, but fortunately, Connery had a sense of humor about them. Hammond also explains to Rolling Stone that Connery had some kind words to say about the skits. He also shifts the credit to the SNL writers for coming up with his quotable lines as Connery, saying that he got to do the easy part by merely reciting them.
“I heard he was very kind and complimentary to me on The Tonight Show. I mean, I just feel like I didn’t do anything. You had all these marvelous, Emmy Award-winning writers writing these brilliant lines, and I just had to make sure people heard the words clearly. Because, when you’re doing Sean Connery, people are already interested.”
Connery passed away at the age of 90 last week at his home in the Bahamas. You can read more of Hammond’s interview at Rolling Stone.