For a chap once voted Sexiest Man in the World, Pierce Brosnan fights pleasingly shy of narcissism: certainly, he takes one look at the hotel room in which we’re meeting and moves his chair so that it sits beneath a large, gilt-framed mirror rather than facing it. “I don’t want to talk about myself and look at myself at the same time,” he says, his voice affably tinged with Irishness.
His loss, really: what he would have gazed upon is a handsome, bronzed 56 year-old, a few flecks of grey at the temple, wearing a black Tom Ford jacket with silver buttons, a black Tom Ford shirt, black Ralph Lauren trousers and a pair of brown suede brogues from Gucci.
It’s a pretty soigne look and one befitting a man whose global fame has revolved around his portrayal of suave and dashing types — James Bond, Thomas Crown, Remington Steele, Sam, the overpoweringly good-looking architect-cum-Casanova of Mamma Mia! But it’s also a look that seems to speak of an old-fashioned film star rather than an actor. Which is he?
Brosnan chuckles lightly, perhaps nervously — he certainly chews at the inside of his mouth a lot and frequently pushes the tip of his tongue firmly into his left cheek. “Well,” he answers, that tongue in overdrive, “I think the pendulum is swinging back to being an actor once more. I’ve done my bit in the limelight as a movie star.”
But did he like being a movie star? “Oh, I liked it all. Because I wished it, I wanted it, I desired it. And I revelled in it, in my own way. But then…” He trails off, reflects. “Then how do you get out of that corner? How long does it last? These are questions I never really ask myself in too much detail.”
Maybe. Or maybe this amiable fellow just has a sensibly solid take on the way the movie world works. He has, for instance, just shot a film, Remember Me, with Robert Pattinson, currently the world’s teen heart-throb.
“Lovely lad, lovely lad,” Brosnan says. “Just caught up in the vortex of fame. There we’d be, on the streets of New York, and I’d come out of my trailer and there’d be hundreds and hundreds of young girls. And I’d get a lovely round of applause and waves and photographs and I’d trip up the steps of the Plaza [Hotel, where they were shooting], feeling chuffed that I still had the juice. And then — then Robert would appear and I’d hear this bedlam of beauties, this monstrous, monstrous cacophony of screams and shouts.”
He shakes his head, wryly. “And the circle grows,” he says, portentously, “the circle grows. And you move on.”
Brosnan does have a tendency to invoke fate and say, sonorously, that things just weren’t meant to be. And indeed to remind me that the first film he saw in England was Goldfinger and say of the time Shirley Bassey came upon him, smoking a cigarette, at the premiere of GoldenEye: “Ah! The old Jungian synchronicity! It happens time and time again. And you hope to have more of it before there’s less of it, especially the good stuff” — which ranks high in the league of opaque utterances.
It’s an opacity that’s eminently suitable for a politician, which is what Brosnan plays — very well — in Roman Polanski’s excellent thriller, The Ghost (Titled The Ghost Writer outside Europe). Brosnan plays Adam Lang, a former British prime minister, reviled at home yet feted in the United States, under legal pursuit for his part in prosecuting an unpopular war and trying to knock his memoirs into shape with the help of a ghostwriter, played by Ewan McGregor.
The film’s adapted from a novel by Robert Harris, who was once a great friend of Tony Blair. “This man Lang’s a rock star, he’s a craze — it’s all Tony Blair. All roads lead to one man,” Brosnan says. “So I began to play tapes of Tony Blair as PM.” The result, he says, is “a sketch of what it was, a light brush.” A brush he’s applied acutely: as one reviewer put it, Brosnan plays the part with ‘toothy insincerity’.
Polanski affected to see things differently. Brosnan was ‘intrigued beyond words’ as to why Polanski wanted him for the part. “But I never asked the question. I just asked: ‘Where do I stand in regards to playing Tony Blair?’” To which Polanski replied — and here Brosnan adopts a nasal, whiny mittel-European accent — “‘No, no, no, no, you’re not playing Tony Blair. Don’t worry about that.’ So we got that out of the way, fairly quickly. And then we talked about life, children, love...” He takes a beat, thinks, I presume, about the death of his first wife, Cassie, and continues, “and losing wives. He spoke briefly and tenderly about Sharon [Tate, Polanski’s murdered wife], and that she was the light of his life.”
Which doesn’t alter the fact that on Brosnan’s first day of shooting Polanski was a pain. As a director, Brosnan says, Polanski’s ‘all-encompassing’. “The actors, the way the camera moves, the props, the make-up, how the blood was going on when I have my brains blown out. He was futzing,” he says. Futzing?
Well, Brosnan’s first day was a Monday and his first scene was one of his longest, most psychologically complex. “And I’m: ‘S*** me; this is not good. I’m walking into the lair’ — and, you know, this man is mischievous.”
The scene takes place on a plane: “So we run through it, and I’m ready, seconds out. And Roman begins to talk about what sort of computer my secretary [in the film] should be using, and he begins to futz with the luggage, and he begins to futz about the gun my security man has, he begins to do anything but point the camera and shoot. But the energy’s still going and at five minutes to one, he gets out his viewfinder — he always has this viewfinder, burnished with age, he’s obviously had it since Knife in the Water — and he’s looking through it and he says: ‘Ah, this is good. The camera goes right here, we do a 27 lens on Pierce — after lunch.’ And I thought: ‘Is he messing with me? Is this something to throw me off?’ And I look at Ewan and I say: ‘Has it been like this all the time?’ And Ewan says: ‘Oh, yeah. I’m so glad you’re here — I’ve had three weeks of this.’”
In due course, the scene is shot, and Polanski says how marvellous it is — save for one thing. Brosnan has to laugh and Polanski tells him he has to laugh “from a certain part of my anatomy. From beneath. From the lower regions. From the top of my groin. And I think: ‘Oh, b***** me! I don’t care! Bring it on, man!’ And we did it again, and I laughed from my groin. And I said: ‘Will that be OK?’ And thereafter, we got on.”
Brosnan has spoken to Polanski since ‘the troubles’, most recently via conference call to the Swiss house where he’s under arrest. “And his spirit is indomitable. His humour never leaves him. He said: ‘Just speak to the press about me as the man you know. Tell them I’m a genius!’
Does Brosnan think Polanski should be taken back to Los Angeles for trial? There’s a long pause. “It looks like he could be taken back.” He sighs. “And, er, I think it would be good to see closure for this man and his family, and this woman. For this man, 76, that’s a long road to hoe. Oh, it was wrong in every way, what happened, but I think he’s done his time, in many regards.”
He clears his throat, chooses his words carefully: “I can see where there could be a deep fragility of the spirit and mind. And a time when everything was possible, and the revolution in sexuality was in full bloom, next to the intoxication of drugs and music, and the shiny, glittering claws of that town [Hollywood]. So I think there was a certain breakdown in his judgment. A deep, deep grief in his life, so brutally played out in the media.” He pauses. “I don’t know. It’s none of my business — except that he’s a magnificent director.”