Whether pretending to be a renowned genealogist in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service or a notorious Cuban Colonel in Octopussy, James Bond has impersonated many people throughout the 007 film series. In the real world, however, it takes more than a dubbed voice and a fake mustache to successfully imitate someone.
Last week, I spoke with two professional Bond lookalikes – one Daniel Craig, the other Pierce Brosnan – about their unique experiences portraying the iconic secret agent. This week, I wrap up the series by interviewing a pair of remarkable Sean Connery impersonators. While you and I can only dream of stepping into Bond’s gadget-equipped shoes, these two gentlemen know just what it feels like.
John Allen’s uncanny resemblance to Sean Connery has made him one of the most popular 007 impersonators in the business. A self-described “tribute artist,” John has spent the past fifteen years delighting Bond fans around the world with his witty portrayal of Ian Fleming’s classic hero.
Matthew Chernov: When did your interest in James Bond begin?
John Allen: It started with the Bond films when I was a kid. Like any young man growing up, it was pretty romantic to go to the movies and see Bond do his thing. I mean, that’s what guys like! Girls, cars, guns and bad guys! Bond was the biggest hero back in my day. The ones today, whether it’s Jason Bourne or Mission: Impossible, they’re good characters, but I think they’re basically just knockoffs of James Bond.
MC: How did you make the transition from casual Bond fan to professional Bond lookalike?
John: I was eating dinner in a restaurant and a guy came up to me and said “Hey, I can make you a lot of money.” So I looked at him carefully and said “What do you want me to do?” And he said “I want you to dress up like James Bond, beat up some guy and throw him in Donald Trump’s swimming pool.” I asked how much it paid, and he said fifteen hundred bucks. So I said “I’m your man!”
MC: He wasn’t the first person to notice your resemblance to Sean Connery, correct?
John: I used to go to this restaurant every Friday night, and my friend who worked there would tell everyone that Sean Connery comes in on Friday nights. So I’d go in and people would buy me drinks! I had one guy walk over with a bottle of Champagne. He put it down on my table and said, “I don’t want to bother you, sir, but I really love every movie you ever made. I’m your biggest fan, so please enjoy the Champagne and the rest of your evening.” And then he walked away!
MC: I notice that you’re able to imitate Connery’s Scottish accent, too.
John: I didn’t have the voice when I first began working as a lookalike. That came later. In the celebrity impersonating business, if you’re going to step it up, you need to develop the voice. It helps people believe that I’m actually Sean Connery. Sometimes I get a little embarrassed when they start talking to me like I’m really him. But I’ll usually just say something gracious and nice, and get myself out of the jam.
MC: What type of events are you hired for?
John: I typically do a lot of fundraisers and charity functions all over the world. In fact, I just got back from Saint Thomas, and we raised half a million dollars for cancer research. The events are held in such elaborate, fantastic places. Castles and mansions, and the world’s best hotels. And the night is always grand. They have gambling, auctions, fine dining, martini bars, you name it. Lots of luxury. And it all helps them raise money for their cause. I did an event recently at The Broadmoor Hotel in Arizona, and they hired Sheena Easton to sing Bond songs! They had acrobats drop from the ceiling on ropes dressed as ninjas!
MC: It sounds like you really enjoy the work.
John: It’s just been a blast. To go anywhere and be treated like James Bond is incredible. I’ll arrive at an airport and the security guys will walk me to the gate. The airlines upgrade me to first class with free drinks. They all want pictures taken. One time, I flew to San Francisco and the flight attendant asked me to get on the microphone and say “Welcome to The Rock!” in my best Sean Connery accent. It was fabulous.
MC: When you’re hired for an event, what type of things do you do?
John: I take pictures. I interact with people. I do a lot of Bond shtick. I’m pretty quick on my feet with the improv stuff. In this business, the key is to just go with the flow. You need a lot of charm and charisma to portray James Bond. What you have to remember is that these events are the client’s biggest night of the year. It’s either an annual awards show, an important presentation of some kind, or a major charity function. So I try to make every occasion special. That’s always been important to me. I was a professional actor when I was a child, and I toured with theatrical shows. So when I was discovered later in life for this lookalike career, it was something that was already inside me.
MC: I notice that you favor the white dinner jacket version of Bond, rather than the usual black tux.
John: The white jacket is the signature look for me. I have a Giorgio Armani black tuxedo, but the clients have never requested it in the 15 years I’ve been working. They always want me to wear James Bond’s classic white tuxedo.
MC: There’s a photo online of you shaking hands with Sean Connery himself. Where did that take place?
John: That picture was from a commercial that I filmed with Sean in the Bahamas. It was for a tea company. He was paid a million dollars a day, and I got a lot less… but I got that picture! It was amazing.
MC: What’s the best thing about resembling the world’s greatest secret agent?
John: No door is ever closed to me when I’m dressed as James Bond. When I arrive at a restaurant that’s overbooked, they set up tables for me. I’ll tell you a story. One time I was doing a private party at the Bellagio Hotel, and a security guard approached me asked if I’d walk into their VIP area and say hello to the guests. So I’m walking around their VIP area, and all of a sudden this woman comes up to me and says “You know, I told my husband that the only guy I’d ever cheat with was Sean Connery.” And then she grabbed my butt and said “And you’re as close as I’ll ever get!”
With his white tuxedo, immaculate beard and authentic Scottish brogue, Dennis Keogh’s Sean Connery impersonation has helped hundreds of charity organizations raise money for worthy causes. Available to host corporate functions, social parties and all types of publicity and promotion, Dennis’s class and professionalism can turn any Bond-themed event into something special.
Matthew Chernov: Do you recall your first experience with 007?
Dennis Keogh: I saw my first Bond film when I was a boy scout. It was very cold, and we were camping at Valley Forge in Pennsylvania. In fact, it was so cold that the troop leader decided to take us to see a movie. So my very first experience was seeing Goldfinger when I was 14 years old. And I was hooked! You can imagine seeing those images when you’re 14. That girl painted gold! So, from then on, I followed the Bond films, never once realizing that I’d end up impersonating Sean Connery. I find it fascinating that Bond is still so big after all these years. Everyone around the world knows him. And they always tell me that Sean Connery is still their favorite.
MC: I imagine that he’s your favorite, too. What other actors who’ve played Bond do you admire?
Dennis: My second favorite is Pierce Brosnan. I thought he did a very good job, but in the end they sold him out. Daniel Craig is awesome. He’s a rough, brutish Bond. Very much like Ian Fleming wrote him. I’ve met Brosnan, but haven’t met Sean Connery, unfortunately. I’ve met most of the actresses who’ve played Bond girls, however.
MC: When did people first start noticing that you looked like Connery?
Dennis: As a young man with a mustache I was often told that I resembled Sean Connery, but I paid no attention to it. Then when I was about 42, I started hearing it more and more frequently. And by the time I turned 50 and was getting ready to retire, I found an ad for a Sean Connery lookalike. So about 15 years ago I did my first appearance locally in Phoenix.
MC: What was that experience like?
Dennis: It was for very little pay, but it was fun! So I decided that I’d go to Las Vegas and see what kind of work I could get. I love that I can make people smile and laugh. They get such a kick out of it! I have a very quick sense of humor, so I use improvisation when I’m portraying Sean Connery. I can speak just like him, which is a big plus. Over time, I’ve had to learn to say “hello” and “goodbye” in about fifteen different languages, so if I meet people from another country I can at least address them.
MC: It makes sense that you’d go to Vegas, since Bond and gambling go hand in hand.
Dennis: In my experience, Las Vegas puts on the biggest productions. There are times when these events just blow me away. They have Bond girls and ice sculptures. They have martini bars and people dressed up as villains. It’s a lot of work to pull one of these shows off.
MC: It seems like Bond-themed events are always in demand.
Dennis: I’ve done over a thousand events. I’m going to Fort Lauderdale next week to shoot a video for a big company.
They’re going to have me, plus a Pierce Brosnan lookalike and a Daniel Craig lookalike. So it’s amazing! If I looked like Brad Pitt, that’d be great. He’s a handsome guy. But aside from a Hollywood themed event, what would I get hired for? But with Bond… it’s limitless! I get hired for trade shows, jewelry shows, auto shows, vodka ads and all kinds of parties. It runs the gamut.
MC: Sounds like you do a lot of traveling in this business.
Dennis: San Francisco and Las Vegas are my two favorite places for lookalike work. The thing about San Francisco is, whenever I’m there, people ask me to imitate Sean Connery’s scenes from The Rock! I get stopped on the street if I wear a black overcoat in San Francisco. The looks I get are amazing. They think Connery’s come back for a sequel!
MC: Have you worked overseas?
Dennis: I’ve had calls to work internationally in Hong Kong, Dubai and Cairo, but they never quite pay enough to make the trip. I’ve performed in Canada several times, along with the Bahamas, Mexico and Acapulco. I guess they have their own Bond lookalikes in Europe.
MC: What kinds of reactions do you get when you walk into an event dressed as Bond?
Dennis: First of all, they stare at me and whisper “Is that Sean Connery?” And then when they hear me speak in his Scottish accent they say “That can’t be a lookalike!” They want to believe in the illusion. Then, of course, people want to take pictures with me, and that just takes forever! I’ll be pulled into photo booths, smiling for people with cell phone cameras. And the whole time you have to be gracious. Because you have to remember that this is all just a fleeting moment. It will be in the past soon enough, so I just try to love every second of it!
MC: Do the reactions vary between men and women?
Dennis: As the saying goes, all men want to be Bond, and all women want to be with Bond. But I’m strictly professional on the job. I use Bond’s humor when I’m speaking in front of a thousand people at these events, but I stay away from topics like religion and politics. No offensive comments, of course. Number one rule is, never believe that you’re the real guy. You’re just someone who’s fortunate enough to look like him.
MC: Do you have a ritual, or some kind of trick you use to get into character before an event?
Dennis: I call it mental preparation. It’s similar to what marathon runners have to do to psych themselves up before a big race. As soon as I walk out of my hotel room in that white dinner jacket, I can hear the Bond theme music playing in my head. And by the time I exit the elevator, I’m ready to be James Bond.
MC: In some ways, the lookalike profession sounds as lavish as the world of 007.
Dennis: I’ve been picked up in a Rolls Royce and white limousines. I’ve had Jacuzzis at the foot of my bed. They’ve booked me in suites at the Mandalay Bay overlooking the pool. I’ve had bodyguards. It’s incredible. The people you work for at these Bond events are top of the line. Maybe in five or six years I’ll write a book about it! Let me tell you, it’s a great gift to look like an icon.
Interview by Matthew Chernov
About the Author:
Matthew Chernov is a journalist and screenwriter in Los Angeles. His work can be read at Variety, and his films have premiered on NBC, the SyFy Channel, the Lifetime Network, Spike TV and the Hallmark Channel. His favorite Bond is Sir Roger Moore. Follow him on Twitter at @MatthewChernov.