PIERCE BROSNAN AT THE TOP OF HIS GAME
It’s a gorgeous Malibu day and I’m sitting in the lobby of a luxury beachfront hotel, gazing out the window at a sky so blue and perfect it takes my breath away, and then he walks in. The blue eyes trump the sky in color and intensity, and seem to literally twinkle. The familiar, chiseled face that has stared back at me from the large and small screen is still gorgeous at 56, and although he’s not wearing a tux — and is in fact dressed “Malibu casual” — there is an air of urbane elegance that clings to him like a second skin. There is star quality and then there is movie-star quality and let me tell you, folks, there is a very big difference. Although there are lots of good-looking men in Malibu and vicinity, as well as plenty of good-looking actors all over Southern California, there is only one Pierce Brosnan. As we settle into our booth in the dining room, the previously unflappable concierge blushes to the roots of her hairline and the waitress’s hands tremble as she takes our order. The once quiet room seems to hum with the whispers of the “ladies who lunch,” who have begun to notice his arrival. This is a man who by the very act of entering a room can turn women of all ages into sighing, whimpering masses of jellylike substance, and he’s been doing it for over 25 years. That’s movie-star quality, and Pierce Brosnan has tons of it. He is also funny, charming, self-deprecating, and honest, and I’m proud to say he’s been my friend for many years. This is our first interview together and I’d love to be “unbiased” here, but the fact is I adore him. He’s a brilliant artist, an amazing human being, and he’ll always and forever be my favorite James Bond, because... nobody does it better.
Brosnan was born in Ireland on May 16, 1953, and moved to England at age 11. His father left the household when Pierce was a child and he was raised by his mother, May, and his stepfather, Bill. At age 20, Brosnan began training at the Drama Centre in London. After several years of stage work throughout the U.K., he began to work in television and film. He appeared in films such as The Long Good Friday (1980), in which he played an IRA hitman, and in The Mirror Crack’d (1980). He also played small parts in various British TV programs. His work in the popular 1981 ABC mini-series, “The Manions of America,” brought him to the attention of American audiences. In 1982, Brosnan moved to Southern California and quickly became famous playing the title role in the NBC detective series, “Remington Steele.” When that series ended in 1987, Brosnan went on to appear in several screen projects, including The Fourth Protocol (1987), The Deceivers, and James Clavell’s NBC miniseries, “Noble House” (both in 1988), and The Lawnmower Man (1992). In 1993, Brosnan starred along with Robin Williams and Sally Field in Mrs. Doubtfire. In 1994, amidst much fanfare, Pierce Brosnan was unveiled as “the new Bond.” In the several years that followed, Brosnan starred as the suave secret agent in GoldenEye (1995), Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), The World Is Not Enough (1999), and Die Another Day (2002). Together, his four Bond films have grossed over $1.6 billion worldwide.
In 1996, Brosnan, along with his producing partner, Beau St. Clair, created a Los Angelesbased production company and named it Irish DreamTime. The company’s first film, The Nephew (1998), shot in Ireland, featured Brosnan in a small supporting role. Next up was Irish DreamTime’s first studio project, The Thomas Crown Affair (1999), which was both a critical and box-office success. A sequel is currently in development at MGM. Brosnan played in a wide range of films in between his Bond duties, ranging from Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks!, to The Mirror Has Two Faces alongside Barbra Streisand (both in 1996), to Dante’s Peak (1997), and the title role in Grey Owl (1999), a biopic about Englishman Archibald Stansfeld Belaney who became one of Canada’s first conservationists. In 1997, Brosnan was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Brosnan’s first post-Bond role was in 2004’s Laws of Attraction, produced by Irish DreamTime. That same year, Brosnan starred in After the Sunset with Salma Hayek. For his star turn as Julian in his company’s production of The Matador (2005), Brosnan received a Golden Globe Award nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Motion Picture. He also worked in the Civil War drama, Seraphim Falls (2007), and in 2008 starred opposite Meryl Streep in the smash-hit film adaptation of the Broadway hit, Mamma Mia!
Brosnan has homes in Malibu and Kauai where He also has three grown children from his first marriage to the former “Bond girl” Cassandra Harris, who passed away in 1991.
This spring, Brosnan will begin production on a new film titled Salvation Boulevard, based on a novel of the same name, written by Larry Beinhart. The story follows a former Deadhead-turned-born-again-Christian, who finds himself on the run from fundamentalist members of his mega-church, who will do anything to protect their larger-than-life pastor, played by Brosnan. The film also stars Greg Kinnear, Ed Harris, Marisa Tomei, Jim Gaffigan, and Jennifer Connelly, and will be directed by George Ratliff.
In Shana Feste’s new drama, The Greatest, Brosnan and Susan Sarandon play parents who are grieving for their teenaged son, who was killed in a car accident. It’s a grueling part, and one that Brosnan felt a special kinship with, as he too has experienced grief, not just over the loss of his first wife, but also as a result of almost losing their son, Sean, in a serious accident several years ago.
Here’s what transpired...
Venice: You’re terrific in The Greatest, and there are three other films you’ve done in the last year or so — Percy Jackson and the Olympians, Remember Me, and The Ghost Writer. It seems like they’re all being released around the same time. How did that happen?
I’m so proud of The Greatest. I woke up this morning with an air of contentment and thought how happy I am with how well it turned out now that it’s finally being released. You know we did The Greatest two years ago; we sold it then and the company that bought it [to distribute] kind of collapsed. Then Paladin picked us up and kept us going. It looks like I have been working back-to-back, but there’s been some time in between films. I did Percy Jackson and the Olympians, and you know I played a horse’s ass. [laughs] [Editor’s note: he played a centaur.] I did that for my kids; it’s a great franchise and I love it. Then I went into Mr. Polanski’s world for Ghost Writer, and after that I did Remember Me. That’s the order in which things happened.
How does an actor of your stature decide to work with a first-time director, who also happens to be female, on such a small, intimate film?
I have fallen in love with this woman [filmmaker Shana Feste]. Her writing was so simple in its narrative and yet complex in its emotions. She poured her heart into it, shereally did, and based on how well she’d written the story and the characters, I thought she’d know how to point a camera — and if she doesn’t, I’ll tell her how. [laughs] And of course we had hired the great [cinematographer] John Bailey, and once we got him as the DP, I mean he’s one of the grand masters of cinematography. Plus, Shana’s take on Ordinary People was a solid blueprint to emulate for our film. I thought if we can make something as good and as beautiful as that film was all those years ago, well, then, yes. Then I heard Susan Sarandon was interested and that filled me with confidence. I called her up and left a voice message that said, “Look Susan, Shana’s just left my office and I like this project. I think it’s great and I hear you might want to do it. If you agree to do the film, we’ll come to you, we’ll shoot it in New York, and you and I will get to play together and hang out for a while. Why not?” She called me right back and she said, “You got me at ‘why not?’”
You wear two hats. How do you merge the actor point of view with the job of the producer? At some point, does the actor read a script that he likes and the producer says, “I don’t think so,” or vice versa?
I don’t think of it as two hats, really. I tend to come to it with the emotion and the intuition of an actor. First and foremost I consider myself a working actor. Then I ask the producer- type questions. How much? What’s the package? Where’s the location? How long will the shoot take? How hard will it be? Then you hire the team and hope you don’t get any screamers and shouters; the goal is to surround yourself with good people you admire and respect. You create a haven from that, where you allow yourself to do your best work and have fun. And Beau [producing partner Beau St. Clair] is such a great mate and very talented at what she does, and I always feel so secure with her. I feel like we can do anything.
On the films you produce, you’re in charge of the film as a whole. How is it different when you go into a project where you are simply an actor for hire and you’re not the boss of anything? You’re just “the guy.”
I’ve been “just the guy” all my life. [laughs] I just show up and do it. You know your lines, you keep reading the material, move it around in your head, work on it, dream about it, read it and read it, and think about it. When you’re into the domain of, say, Roman Polanski, it’s an exotic and beautiful and amazing space. He’s a taskmaster; he can be a little ... [laughs] you know he’s a wee man, quite short, but Roman walks like he’s six-foot-five. God, and he can be intimidating. But you’re there to work and you get on with it. I do love that movie [The Ghost Writer], and I am happy for all the accolades it’s received, great reviews and all that.
You actually read the reviews? Most actors I know do not.
I try to stay away from them. There’s a woman from the NY Times, Manohla Dargis; a couple of years ago she cut me to ribbons and kicked me to the ground. I thought, “Wow, you cruel bitch.” [laughs] That particular review was something where she was celebrating someone else and I became the by-product of, “Thank goodness he’s being kicked off this franchise.” It hurt; I admit it. So when her review of Ghost Writer came out, I read it and thought, “Oh, okay. I’ll send you a Christmas card. I love you again.”
I’m guessing that review you’re talking about had to do with the Bond movies. Yet it appears to me that once you stopped playing Bond, it opened the doors to doing a wider variety of roles as an actor.
Yes, I was free. When you are in the restraints of “Bond,” you are in that world. They have you hook, line, and sinker. They have every part of you and that always rankled my head and my heart. But the celebration and excitement of playing such a role was really something very good. It’s just, “How do you get out of it?”
At what point did you get tired of playing James Bond?
I remember starting the first day on that film [Tomorrow Never Dies] in an aircraft, flying a jet, an F-16 fighter plane, and it was 102 degrees and I’m wearing a helmet and sweater, and then I’m being strangled over and over again and I thought, “Oh my God, this bloody character is going to kill me.” The press tour for that film was 22 countries. When I did it I knew the movie wasn’t up to speed; it wasn’t as good as GoldenEye and you have to bang the drum loudly to get the attention.
And yet there is no doubt you came out of the whole “Bond” experience as a better actor. And you’re definitely in demand. How do you explain that?
A better actor? I don’t know if I could say that, but there is a maturity, there’s a gravitas, and this is what I do. I’m as energized now as I was at 25 about the game of acting. I crack the whip with the agents and I say, “Guys, don’t put me up on a pedestal. Let’s be honest about where we are at here, for my career. I have to work and want to work and I love to work, so find me the good stuff. Let’s spread our wings here. Take it that I can do anything, I can play anything, be anything. Let’s start with that.”
And do you feel you’ve proven that with the “post-Bond” work?
It’s been a nice workout, like at the gym. It’s been repertory theater; a bit of this, a bit of that. I just want to shake myself up and to work. Doing The Greatest for me was like a workshop. You get a good script and a bit of money and we’ll get great players and we’ll make a movie.
The Greatest deals with grief head-on, which is such tough subject matter. How do you “get there” as an actor for such gutwrenching stuff?
I used the experience of almost losing my boy, Sean, on a dark, dark night in Malibu. The thought of him being airlifted out, his broken body on a stretcher. Just that was enough. You just keep it in abeyance; you read the scene and think this man has held all this in for all this time. Then you quietly sit on the sofa and just test the waters with yourself, some sense memory and it’s just right there. You keep all this pushed aside until the day comes, and then the night before you work you carry it in your head and you’ll go into battle with this emotional baggage.
In Remember Me, you also play a father. What made you decide to do that film?
Well, it’s like a bookend. It felt right to do; it fit into the time frame of what I could do, scheduling wise, and it was good work — an ensemble piece about this young man, and [whispers] I thought I’d jump onto Robert Pattinson’s coattails.
You’re no stranger to fame and paparazzi. What did you think about all the hoopla that surrounds Robert?
It was amazing. I’d never had that level of celebrity at that age. I came to my little bit of fame and girls screaming out your name much later in life, not as a 22-year-old. So here’s this young lad and you feel rather protective towards him and you want the best for him. He’s a lovely fellow, a charming young man, and you want to help him sort it all out. We’d be shooting in the Plaza Hotel in New York, and at one end of the block were 3,000 girls and I’d walk to set and all the girls would shout and I thought, “Oh, that’s nice, they remember me.” Then as I’m going up the stairs I’d hear this incredibly loud noise, this sort of screaming masses of hysteria, and that would be Robert coming in behind me. [laughs]
Speaking of young and famous, The Greatest also stars Carey Mulligan, who has become quite the “it girl” since then. What advice do you give these young actors?
Just enjoy it. Keep your head about your shoulders, stay true to yourself, be honest, be on time, show up, know your lines, and be prepared.
I read that your son, Sean, is following in your footsteps and becoming an actor. How do you feel about that?
Yes, it’s true, and I’m excited about that. He went to the Academy in London and trained with the Royal Shakespeare and he’s really got the chops. He’s found a producing partner and they’re trying to do some films. It is flattering and I do support him in this as much as I can. We do sit and talk about it, the whole career thing. My youngest son, Paris [age 9], is quite a showman too; he loves an audience. We were out in Santa Monica recently and I look over and he’s break-dancing in the middle of the promenade, just putting on a show for everybody. So, yes, if my children want to be actors, it’s fine with me. I liked hearing Jeff Bridges talk about his dad, Lloyd, and how he celebrated acting. It’s a great profession.
What is your favorite character of all that you’ve played?
Julian in The Matador. I think it’s because he came into my life at the right time and it was such a liberating experience to actually play this guy. To create something that’s big and bold and had a voice and a swagger. On any given day I never knew what was going to come out of my mouth or how it was going to work. Some of it was planned, some of it just happened. I got to have a belly in that film; yes, the belly was relaxed, and I didn’t have to be cool. Also it was a great script, really good writing that I connected to. So yes, Julian was my favorite so far.
And what would be your least favorite?
Bond. I thought I got it right by the end, but it was one of those things I always struggled with. I never felt that I really nailed it. There was always a hint of — well an echo of Sean [Connery] and Roger [Moore] that was so indelible in my own mind. But I’m proud of it too; it’s a small group of men, a prestigious group to be in the company of.
What about making The Thomas Crown Affair? Was there an “echo” of Steve McQueen in that for you?
I tipped my hat to Mr. McQueen every other day. I love that character; we’re going to do it again. I want to do the sequel very much. There was a cinematic alchemy there; it was perfect timing. You know, it started with Beau and me having coffee one morning and talking about Malibu and Steve McQueen and how much we loved him and how cool he was. We ended up talking about Thomas Crown and then we rented the film and we both watched it that night. I knew there was a character in there I could do, albeit differently from the way Steve did it.
There were some pretty great sexy scenes in that film between you and Rene Russo, and yet you’re happily married. Is it difficult to balance your relationship at home with the one onscreen?
[laughs] I just love Rene, so that helps. I love them all, actually. I love Salma Hayek and Halle Berry, Sophie Marceau, and of course, Susan Sarandon. It’s easy to fall for any of these women, in the theatrical sense, onscreen. No acting required. Meryl Streep, I fell in love with her; she was easy to fall in love with. I’ve loved her for a long time as a guy sitting in the audience. Loved her as a woman, loved her as an actress. She just gave of herself. Julianne Moore and Julianna Margulies, they’re so talented and professional. I really do love them all, but you do the work and then you go home.
Julianna Margulies was your co-star on Evelyn, also produced by your company and Beau St. Clair. What are the criteria for the films chosen by Irish DreamTime?
I just said to Beau this morning that we have a little trilogy here with The Nephew, Evelyn, and now The Greatest. They’re three very poignant and personal films. It’s great to work on that type of canvas; you don’t do it for the box-office or the glory, you do it to make worthwhile films you care about. We wanted to make films in Ireland, for several reasons, and Evelyn was something I could really relate to from my own childhood in Ireland, being wrenched away and feeling abandoned.
Why do you think many of the most successful characters you play require you to be handsome, debonair, and, well, glamorous?
Yes, well that’s been my bread and butter [points to his face], the old mug. It scrubs up well and shoulders back, head high, put the twinkle in your eye and play it with a wiggle. [laughs] You get sick of that, too. In The Greatest, there is no vanity; there’s a middleaged man there, having a crisis, and broken and sorrowful and feels forgotten and it’s great to play with all of that. Then you can turn around and put the tux on, and do all the rest.
And do you still want to “turn around and put the tux on?”
You bet I do. Oh yeah, absolutely. It’s worked before and hopefully it will work again. I have no problem with all of that. It’s a wonderful time right now. I feel like I’m just beginning. There’s a real sense of contentment.
Is there any part you’ve taken that you wished you had not? Where, looking back, it might have been a mistake?
No. I have loved them all. There’s the joy of getting the job and then just going there and doing it. It might not be the most money or the location you want or it may not be the best script, but I’m a working actor so you just go out there and do your best.
Are there any roles you’ve turned down that you wished you said yes to?
Yes, there was a film that got nominated for an Academy Award and the director had asked me and I turned it down. There are a few things that have gotten away. I remember earlier in my career, meeting Bob Rafelson and he was doing a movie about the explorer, Richard Burton, and I wanted that so badly and I didn’t get it. I carried the remorse of that one for ages.
What actors have inspired you? Whose work do you most admire?
Robert De Niro, always, Anthony Hopkins, always, Daniel Day-Lewis is a hell of an actor. And Clooney. [laughs] Yeah, I love George; it’s just the way he does his thing.
What director would you most like to work with?
Peter Weir. I’d love to work with Peter Weir; I’ve always just thought he was masterful at what he does. I’d love to work with Kathryn Bigelow; I’d love it if she’d do the next Thomas Crown. I’d love to step out with her. I think she’s fantastic.
What would you do if you couldn’t act anymore? Say the career ends tomorrow — what would you do with your time?
I’d do something in the arts. I’d be in the art world, somehow. I’d get a gallery and paint more. I’d try to make a living with my art.
What do you think the secret is to being a great actor?
Relaxation. Not to push it. It takes repetition and repetition. Some guys have it right from the get go, but for me it’s always been a work in progress. You prepare as much as you can. You do your homework. There is also perseverance. [laughs] I never gave up.