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The magic of small roles creating big moments

11. 13. 20

As a young kid growing up I had a short list of iconic figures in my life.

Bobby Orr was one.
Jack Nicklaus was another.
David Bowie made an impression on me too.

And also James Bond.

The original Bond, Sean Connery, died two Saturdays ago… and it flashed me back to some of the most memorable films of my youth – those six 007 movies starring Connery, starting with Dr. No in the early ‘60s and ending with Diamonds are Forever a decade later.  Each was the full experience for me.  Exotic locations.  Fast cars and non-stop action.  Evil villains.  Beautiful women.  Martinis, shaken not stirred.  And one of the most famous lines in movie history:  “Bond.  James Bond.”

It was a lot to take in.

Strange, though.  When I first heard the news of Connery’s death, my mind went to 007.   But the words that rattled around in my head for much of the day weren’t from Bond.  They were Jimmy Malone’s in The Untouchables.  Here we had a Scotsman playing an Irish cop – giving blunt advice to a young Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) on how to take down one of America’s most notorious gangsters.

You want to get Capone?  Here’s how you get him.  He pulls a knife?  You pull a gun.  He sends one of yours to the hospital?  You send one of his to the morgue.  That’s the Chicago way.  That’s how you get Capone.

The Untouchables was Costner’s movie.  He was the star.  Connery was in a supporting role – Malone dies part-way through the story.   But he ended up winning an Oscar for his small contribution.

It was a peak moment in Connery’s career.

Peak moments don’t necessarily define us, or what we do.   

But they do get remembered and appreciated.  They’re special, gratifying.

They leave a mark.

They’re also a reminder – to you and me – that it can be the supporting roles for which we’re most appreciated.

  • For years, our family vacationed every summer at Patterson-Kaye Lodge.  PKL (as our girls called it) is an all-inclusive family resort on Lake Muskoka.  Ask Julia and Ally about the moments they remember most and it’s not the food or accommodations or the “big” things.  It’s the small ones  – fishing off the dock (and catching the same sunfish a dozen times), taking turns ringing the bell to announce breakfast and dinner, the hokey kids talent show every Wednesday night.  These were all sidelights, not star attractions.  But they’re peak moments, because they get remembered.
  • Augusta National is one of the most stunning golf courses on the planet, and  hosts The Masters again this weekend.  Its legacy is a hybrid of tradition, beauty, pageantry and drama.  But what I’ve treasured most from my few (and fortunate) visits there is lounging on the grass on a sunny April afternoon watching  the infamous Par Three tournament with my Dad and my brothers.  The Par Three is always in a supporting role, never the star.
  • Steve Martin built his career first in comedy, then movies.  When he’s gone, he’ll be remembered for how funny he was.  Yet for the past few months he’s been posting videos of his banjo playing to his Twitter account and YouTube channel… and getting rave reviews.  Is it coincidental he’s doing this during COVID?  I doubt it.  It’s hard to feel bad while listening to the banjo.  This has been a small cameo in Martin’s career.  One with a special feel to it, given our circumstances.

Sean Connery will always be defined by his portrayal of Bond.  All of the obituaries lead with 007.  Still, I’m hard pressed to remember any specific ‘peak’ moment from his films.  The whole body of work was terrific, not one moment in particular.  But that speech in The Untouchables?  It came quickly and vividly to my mind that Saturday morning, word for word.  It was a scene and role that punctuated Connery’s acting career, even though he’ll always be Bond.

The opportunity? If you’re in a “supporting” role, there’s ample room for you to create peak moments.   And if you’re in a “starring” role, you can still play the support role too.  Connery was both 007 and Jimmy Malone.  Steve Martin is both the mega-comedy-star from the ‘80s and the banjo guy posting videos to Twitter 40 years later.

It’s natural (maybe habitual) to focus on our main thing, the thing we’re known for.  The thing that got us here.  But never lose sight of the little things, the “supporting” things.

They just might be peak moments that get remembered and appreciated.

Ask yourself:

  1. Where are your own peak moments in a “supporting” role?
  2. How are you creating them?