|First appearance||Highlander (1986)|
|Portrayed by||Christopher Lambert|
|Teacher||Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramírez|
Nakano the Sorcerer
Connor MacLeod, also known as The Highlander, is a fictional character in the Highlander film series, and appears in the extended franchise of the television programs: Highlander: The Series and Highlander: The Animated Series. In the films and live-action series, he is portrayed by Christopher Lambert. In the animated series, he is voiced by Lorne Kennedy.
The Highlander franchise covers different fictional timelines. Though his fate is different in each of these timelines, generally Connor MacLeod's origins remain the same: he is a man born in the Scottish Highlands in the 16th century who becomes ageless after his First Death in 1536 and learns he is one of several immortals born with an energy called "the Quickening," unable to die unless beheaded. He is taught about his nature and how to fight by another immortal named Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramírez (played in the films by Sean Connery). The movie Highlander III: The Sorcerer revealed a second immortal mentor named Nakano.
The movie Highlander II: The Quickening introduced an alternate backstory that said Connor was an alien, while a later version of the same film said he was born in Earth's distant past before recorded history, then sent forward to the 16th century. Highlander II is generally regarded as outside the canon of the rest of the franchise.
The character of Connor MacLeod and his role as an immortal swordsman was the creation of scriptwriter Gregory Widen. Widen was studying film at University of California, Los Angeles and working on a class writing project. Widen was inspired by a vacation to Scotland and England, as well as the 1977 Ridley Scott film The Duellists. According to Widen, "The idea of the story was basically a combination of a riff on The Duellists – guy wants to finish a duel over years– and a visit I made both to Scotland and the Tower of London armour display, where I thought, 'What if you owned all this? What if you’d worn it all through history and were giving someone a tour of your life through it?' That scene is basically in the movie."
According to William Panzer, producer of Highlander: The Series, "And that's where everything fell into place — the idea that there are Immortals and they were in conflict with each other, leading secret lives that the rest of us are unaware of." Widen's instructor advised him to send in the class project script to an agent. It became the first draft of what would eventually be the screenplay for the 1986 film Highlander.
In a 2006 interview with The Action Elite, Gregory Widen remarked, "I’ve always been amazed that a project I wrote as a UCLA student has had this kind of life. I think it’s appeal is the uniqueness of how the story was told and the fact it had a heart and a point of view about immortality."
Despite having immortality, Widen made MacLeod more relatable to audiences by depicting him as someone who experiences emotional loss and loneliness due to his power, falling in love with people and forging friendships but knowing he will lose them all. He was also an underdog in the story, one who wasn't as old, experienced, powerful, or physically intimidating as the enemy he would have to face.
Kurt Russell was desired for the role but a deal could not be reached. Russell Mulcahy, director of Highlander, became interested in actor Christopher Lambert after seeing a photograph of the 28-year-old actor in his portrayal of Tarzan in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan. At the Neuchâtel International Fantastic Film Festival in 2015, Mulcahy said he saw the photo in a magazine and showed the production staff. "I said, 'who's this?' They had no idea. He couldn't speak English. But he had the perfect look. And he learned English very fast."
In preparation, actor Christopher Lambert spent months working with a dialect coach (four hours in the morning) and sword-training with Bob Anderson (four hours in the afternoon) who had been a Darth Vader stunt double in the Star Wars franchise.
During an interview, actor Christopher Lambert reflected on the character of MacLeod, as well as the characters he played in Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes and Fortress, and remarked these heroes "all have one thing in common: that is that they will never give up. If they have to die for a cause, they would go for it because the purpose is not themselves, it's the other people... You can't win if you don't try, so you've gotta try."
Gregory Widen had originally envisioned Connor as a very serious, grim character following centuries of violence and loss. The film however portrayed MacLeod as a person who has suffers loss and fears new attachment but doesn't deny the possibility of love, maintains a sense of humor about life, and tells his adopted daughter to have hope and remain optimistic. In a 2016 interview with HeyUGuys, Lambert said part of what he found appealing about Connor MacLeod was the man still having humor and hope despite his long life and many losses. "It’s the only role that I have played that is touching on the subject of immortality, through a character carrying five hundred years of violence, pain, love, and suffering on his shoulders, who is still walking around and being positive. That is what amazed me about him the most... It’s difficult living through one life but to see all the people around you dying over and over. How do you cope with that pain? How do you have the strength to keep on walking, to keep being positive and optimistic? To be capable of falling in love again when you know the pain it creates when you lose them."
In a 2016 interview with The Guardian, Lambert said he reflected on Connor MacLeod following the loss of his own brother. "When my brother died of cancer, I had the same feeling I had during Highlander, with its idea that you cannot get the past back – life has to go on. If Connor MacLeod can get through five or six lifetimes, we should be able to manage one."
In the first Highlander movie, it is established that immortals are rare human beings born with "the Quickening." Once they have experienced their First Death, they will stop aging and heal from any wound except the loss of their head. The Quickening connects them to nature and allows them to sense each other, and one immortal can absorb the Quickening power of another if they behead them. For this reason, some immortals hunt each other, a "Game" with only one rule: never fight on holy ground. It is said that when only a few immortals are left, they will be drawn to "a faraway land" to fight for the Prize: the combined power of all immortals before them, granting enough power and knowledge to enslave humanity.
Connor MacLeod is born in 1518 in Glenfinnan, Scotland near the shores of Loch Shiel. In 1536, he enters his first battle when the Clan MacLeod fights the Clan Fraser. An immortal known as The Kurgan allies with Clan Fraser, sensing MacLeod is an immortal and deciding to take his head before the young man learns his true nature and becomes an experienced fighter. Kurgan delivers a fatal wound but is attacked by others of the Clan MacLeod before he can take Connor's head. After he recovers fully healed, Connor's family and lover accuse him of witchcraft and demand he be burned him at the stake. Clan chieftain Angus MacLeod decides to simply banish Connor. The exiled man roams the Scottish Highlands, eventually becoming a blacksmith and marrying Heather MacDonald in 1539. In 1541, he meets the immortal Egyptian Juan Sánchez-Villalobos Ramírez, who teaches him of his true nature and how to fight. While Connor only wants a family and a quiet life, Ramírez informs him immortals cannot have children and argues it is their duty to make sure evil people such as the Kurgan don't win the Prize. "In the end, there can be only one."
While Connor is away one night, the Kurgan duels Ramírez and kills him, then rapes Heather before leaving, thinking MacLeod has moved on from Scotland. After Heather dies of old age, Connor wanders the world, adopting the katana of Ramírez as his own. During World War II, he rescues a young Jewish girl named Rachel Ellenstein from Nazis, adopting her as a daughter. By 1985, the immortal Highlander is living in New York as an antique dealer called "Russell Nash."
In 1985, the Gathering occurs. Connor meets forensics scientist Brenda Wyatt who uncovers his true nature. When the Kurgan and the Highlander are the last two immortals left alive, Brenda witnesses their final battle. Connor wins the Prize, becoming a mortal man who can have children and gaining the power to know the thoughts and dreams of all human beings. Returning to Scotland with Brenda, he is relieved that the Game is over and hopes to unite the world and help people reach greater understanding of each other.
Highlander II: The Quickening (1991)
During filming, the studio took control of the project and the story. Highlander II: The Quickening was released in 1994 and met with negative responses. A director's cut called Highlander II: Renegade Version was released in 2004, altering parts of the story. Both versions contradict parts of the original movie.
1994 Version – The film reveals that Connor MacLeod and Ramírez were originally born 500 years ago on the planet Zeist and were members of a revolution against the tyrant General Katana. Now depicted as a sorcerer-like figure, Ramírez declares MacLeod their leader and creates a bond between them both through "the ancient power of the Quickening," which he explains is magic. He later says not even death can break this bond. Katana captures the revolutionaries and the priests of Zeist exile them all to Earth where they will become immortal (though how is not explained). They can only end their ageless exile by battling each other and winning the Prize. The victor may then choose to either return to Zeist or remain on Earth as a mortal. It is said that while Connor did win the prize in 1985, he has not yet actually chosen whether to remain or not.
Years after Connor wins the Prize, the ozone layer is destroyed by industrial pollution, causing the deaths of many (it is implied MacLeod's wife Brenda died as a result as well but this is not clear). The now-mortal Connor uses his considerable wealth to supervise the creation of an artificial shield around Earth that replaces the ozone layer but also hides the sun and sky from view. Eventually, the shield comes under the control of The Shield Corporation (TSC), which charges countries for protection. By 2024, Connor MacLeod is an old man and society has declined into widespread corruption and poverty. On Zeist, Katana decides to kill MacLeod rather than chance that he will change his mind and return to start another revolution. He sends two assassins to Earth, who become immortal as a result. Killing them, MacLeod regains his youth. The film then follows his fight against Katana (who also comes to Earth) and The Shield Corporation after he discovers the ozone layer has been healed for years. He is aided by political activist Louise Marcus, who becomes his lover, and by Ramírez, who is resurrected when Connor summons him with the mystical Quickening. Ramírez later sacrifices himself to help MacLeod escape a deadly trap. The film ends with MacLeod beheading Katana and deactivating the Shield. Mortal once more, Connor is content to start a new life with Louise.
In the TV cut of this film, Connor's reasons for creating the Shield are further explained. The ending was expanded to show him returning to Zeist with Louise accompanying him.
Highlander II: Renegade Version / Highlander II: Special Edition – In recut versions of the movie, all verbal mention of Zeist is removed. The flashback scenes of Zeist are now said to take place on Earth in a society that once existed but was lost before recorded history. In this version of events, Ramírez and MacLeod are already immortals who can only die by beheading due to each being born with the Quickening. Ramírez is still a man who forms a connection with MacLeod through magic, though he no longer calls it the Quickening. He and MacLeod, along with others, are still revolutionaries opposed to General Katana, now also said to be an immortal. In the revised trial scene, the Priests and their Chief Justice mention that the immortal revolutionaries, as well as other immortal criminals, will be exiled into the far future where they will fight each other in trial by combat. The winner may then remain in the future as a mortal being to live out their days or return to the past with their immortality intact and their freedom restored by amnesty.
The film added footage with MacLeod visiting Brenda Wyatt at her deathbed in 1995. She asks him to save humanity from the destruction of the ozone layer, explaining how he got personally involved in the creation of the Shield. The film also fixed a continuity error in the previous film when two different sword fights were merged into one. A scene is added where Louise and Connor go above the shield and confirm the ozone layer has been repaired. The ending is slightly different, indicating that Connor destroys the shield by releasing his Quickening energy, possibly becoming mortal again in the process.
Highlander III: The Sorcerer (1994)
This film, also called Highlander: The Final Dimension, acts as an alternate sequel to the original movie and erases the canon of Highlander II by confirming Connor was born in 16th century Scotland. The movie says Brenda Wyatt died in a car crash in 1987 after being married to Connor for two years, further underlining this is a new timeline (Highlander II said she died in 1995 from solar radiation poisoning).
The film begins by revealing that after the death of his first wife Heather in the late 16th century, Connor travels to Japan to meet the sorcerer Nakano, a master of illusion and old acquaintance of Ramírez. In a cave in Mount Niri, Nakano teaches Connor how to fight with Ramírez's katana. The evil immortal Kane and two immortal soldiers arrive and kill Nakano, but the sorcerer casts a spell as his Quickening is released. As MacLeod escape, the cave is destroyed and buried, and Kane and his two soldiers are frozen by the magic, effectively removing them from the Game and preventing them from joining the Gathering in 1985. Further flashback scenes reveal MacLeod falling in love with Sarah Barrington in 18th century France, only for her to marry someone else and start a family after she mistakenly believes Connor died during the French Revolution.
In 1994, the cave of Nakano is discovered by archaeologist Dr. Alexandra Johnson (who looks like Sarah Barrington). The cave being disturbed awakens Kane and his henchmen. Kane, now possessing Nakano's sorcery, immediately kills one of his men to gain power while sending the other to track down MacLeod. In Marrakech, Morocco, Connor is raising his adopted son John in peace when he senses a release of the Quickening and realizes the Game is not over. His suspicions are confirmed when he meets and kills Kane's other soldier. Investigating Nakano, Alex finds Connor and realizes he is immortal. When his katana is destroyed in battle, Alex gives Connor refined steel from Nakano's cave and he forges a new katana. Kane later kidnaps John to draw out Connor. The Highlander duels Kane and kills him, gaining his power and finally ending the Game. He then leaves to start a new life with John and Alex.
Live-Action TV series continuity
The live-action TV series takes place after the events of the original 1985 movie while revising it slightly. In this version of events, the events of the original film still happened with one major change: Connor did not win the Prize when he killed Kurgan because there were still several immortals remaining on Earth. Christopher Lambert declined to reprise his role of Connor for a weekly series, and so the show stars new character Duncan MacLeod (Adrian Paul).
Highlander: The Series (1992-1998)
Connor MacLeod appears in the first episode, "The Gathering," visiting series protagonist Duncan and his lover Tessa Noël while pursuing an evil immortal named Slan Quince. The show's first two episodes, along with the later movie Highlander: Endgame, explain that Duncan MacLeod was a boy adopted into the Clan MacLeod roughly 75 years after Connor's birth. Like Connor, Duncan dies in battle only to miraculously revive, leading his adopted father to conclude he is a demon or changeling. Duncan discovers he was adopted soon after but never learns his true parentage. Connor MacLeod returns to Scotland in 1625 and finds Duncan, training him in sword fighting and teaching him what it means to be immortal. The two become close friends though their personalities sometimes clash and eventually they go separate ways, only occasionally reuniting. Duncan later recalls that Connor "taught me how to live."
After the first episode, Connor never appears in the series but is occasionally mentioned with respect. The TV series introduces the Watchers, humans who record the lives and battles of immortals. It is revealed that Connor was studied from afar by many Watchers, including three named Alistair MacDougal, Nathaniel Post, and Dana Brooks. The second season episode "Watchers" (1993) confirms the battle with the Kurgan in 1985 happened in the series canon and reveals that many Watchers were relieved when Connor killed him, fearing that humanity would suffer if the villain had won the Prize.
Highlander: Endgame (2000)
The theatrical film Highlander: Endgame follows the continuity of the live-action TV series. No reference is made to the events of Highlander III: The Sorcerer or to Connor's adopted son John from that film and it seems the film exists in a separate canon. According to the movie, the TV series continuity version of Connor MacLeod has beheaded 262 immortals by the year 2000. Highlander: Endgame shows more of Connor and Duncan's shared past and reveals Connor's mother was persecuted and ultimately executed by the Clan MacLeod soon after his banishment. The night of her execution, Connor tries to save her but fails. Kneeling over her, Connor is startled by a priest he then kills in a rage. The priest's adopted son Jacob Kell later discovers he too is immortal and swears vengeance. Jacob Kell hunts many immortals across the centuries, often cheating by ignoring the rules of the Game.
In 1990, Connor is on his way to visit his adopted daughter Rachel Ellenstein at his old antique shop. Kell uses a bomb to destroy it and Connor's old apartment, killing Rachel inside. Overcome by depression and disillusioned with his ageless life, Connor immediately leaves the Game and the world in general by entering a place called the Sanctuary, where he and other like-minded immortals are kept in a near-coma state, looked after by a group of Watchers who believe there must always be at least two immortals so no one wins the Prize and possibly dominates humanity.
Ten years later when the film takes place, Jacob Kell forces Connor to leave the Sanctuary and the hero once again fights alongside Duncan. Unwilling to see anyone else he loves die and believing that neither he nor Duncan are powerful enough to stop Kell in a proper duel, Connor attacks his clansman, insisting the younger MacLeod take his power and knowledge. Refusing at first, Duncan sees Connor will not change his mind. As Connor says, "Goodbye, Duncan, my true brother," Duncan beheads him. During his subsequent fight with Kell, Duncan momentarily has Connor's voice and appearance. With his newly increased power, Duncan kills Kell. He then buries Connor in the Scottish Highlands next to his first wife Heather.
Some fans have argued the film must take place in 2004 in order for the events of Highlander III to have still happened to Connor, but the film itself makes no mention of taking place in the near future. Just as Highlander III took place in a continuity that doesn't acknowledge the TV series and actively contradicts it, Highlander: Endgame extends the TV series continuity while contradicting the films. The story implies this version of MacLeod never adopted a son named John nor began a relationship with Alex Johnson, both of whom he would've abandoned to live in the Sanctuary during the 1990s.
Highlander: The Animated Series aired from 1994 to 1996, presenting a new continuity and taking place on 27th century Earth, roughly 700 years after the planet suffers apocalyptic devastation from a meteorite impact. After the devastation causes much of human society to fall, all of Earth's immortals decide to stop the Game so they can preserve knowledge, uncover lost history, and guide humanity rather than kill each other. Those who agree cast away their swords and call themselves Jettators (from the French jette, "thrown away"). The only immortal who decides not to give us killing and conquest is Kortan, who is ruler over much of Earth by the 27th century. He is opposed by young immortal Quentin MacLeod (Miklos Perlos), the last of the Clan MacLeod, and the boy's mentor Don Vincente Marino Ramírez (who resembles Sean Connery but is a different character altogether). Quentin has discovered a way to absorb the Quickening of other immortals without killing them, gaining their power and making them mortal in the process. He hopes one day to defeat Kortan.
In the thirteenth episode of the animated series, entitled "The Sound of Madness," a flashback reveals that Connor MacLeod (Lorne Kennedy) and Don Vincente Marino Ramírez were friends in the 20th century and both became Jettators soon after the meteorite fell. When Kortan says he desires conquest and will not take the vow of non-violence, Connor (wearing his trench coat from the original movie) duels the villain, but loses. Realizing he will die in a moment, Connor prophesies that Kortan will be defeated by an immortal of the Clan MacLeod. Connor MacLeod is never seen in the series again.
Books and comics
Connor appears in the TV-series tie-in novel Highlander: The Element of Fire by Jason Henderson, published in 1995. Along with exploring the friendship between the two Highlanders and Duncan's training period, the book introduces an immortal pirate Khordas who haunts them both.
Connor MacLeod is the lead character of Highlander comic books published by Dynamite Comics. Like the live-action TV series, the Dynamite Comics continuity treats the first film as canon but revises the battle with Kurgan to not be the final battle for the Prize. Unlike the TV series, the comics also reference characters from Highlander III: The Last Dimension.
The 13-issue Highlander comic series published from 2006 to 2007 follow Connor on an adventure he experiences after the events of the first movie. Connor is the star of two mini-series that each act as a prequels to the original film: Highlander: The Way of the Sword and Highlander: The American Dream. He appears in the mini-series Highlander Origins: The Kurgan. The comics have met with mixed reception.
- The Telegraph - "There can be only one: Why Highlander will live forever" (2016).
- Bill Panzer, at Thedigitalbits.com Archived 2007-08-14 at the Wayback Machine, last accessed September 4, 2007
- The Action Elite - Interview with Gregory Widen (2016).
- Guardian - "How we made Highlander: Connery opened his homemade whiskey on the plane" (2016).
- Sadlier, Kevin (2 February 1992). "Lambert's Heroes". The Sun Herald. John Fairfax Group Pty Ltd. ISSN 1323-1987.
- HeyUGuys - "Exclusive: Christopher Lambert on 30 Years of Highlander" (2016).
- ShopusMore's Birth of Connor Archived 8 January 2008 at the Wayback Machine
- Cuthbert, Dylan. "Post from I'm Dylan Cuthbert and I worked on four versions of Star Fox and our new game PixelJunk Monsters 2 is out NOW! I'm old and wise :) AMA". Reddit. Retrieved 11 October 2018.