Brosnan has had a hard road to hoe himself. His father abandoned him and his mother, May, when he was two; May soon left Navan, County Meath, to train as a nurse in London. Brosnan was brought up first by his grandparents and then by other family members. At six, he fell into the hands of the Christian Brothers. “Oh,” says Brosnan, puffing the air out from his cheeks.
“Oh, the Christian Brothers were fairly mangled fellows in Navan. Some men speak highly of them; unfortunately, I never saw that. I just remember the brutality: the paddy-bats, the straps that would fly out of the soutane like vipers’ tongues, the beatings amidst the prayers — whack! Or some boy standing at the blackboard trying to remember the Psalms and being hit across the calves as the s*** ran down his legs. I remember that. I remember that.”
It certainly toughened him up for his next oh-so-sensitive school: a comprehensive in Putney, to which he went after arriving in England on August 12, 1964 — “the same day Ian Fleming passed on” — to join his mother and her new husband
His accent was thick, his nickname ‘Irish’ — “I wore it as a badge of pride”. He ‘jumped school’ at 16, worked as a commercial artist (he still paints) and got involved with fringe theatre, where he learnt to breathe fire, a stunt he pulled off on The Muppet Show when he was Bond.
At 19 he went to the Drama Centre, and then moved into film, television and stage work — an appearance in a duff Tennessee Williams play elicited a telegram from Williams that read: “Thank God for you, my dear boy.”
He fell in love with an Australian actress, Cassie Harris, who was 12 years older than him — she already had two children, whom he adopted after their father died. In 1982, on a “wing, a prayer and Freddie Laker”, they decamped for Hollywood, he yearning to be in the next Scorsese movie. Instead he landed the part of Remington Steele, a roguishly charming former con man.
The show ran on television for five years; he became, he says with a chortle, “Smooth Git No 1”. But is it a chortling matter? Doesn’t he regret the indelible immersion in the soup of suavity? “I don’t regret it. I certainly fell hook, line and sinker into that whole world. But I knew I was going to have a hard time getting out of it.”
Not that he wanted to then: in fact, in 1986 he was tapped to succeed Roger Moore as Bond. “I thought: ‘I’ve become a TV star. It’s time to be a movie star.’ And I did the wardrobe fittings, went to Pinewood, sat with Cubby Broccoli [the Bond producer], took photos outside by his Rolls-Royce — and years go by, and somebody gave me those photos. And I look like such a boy. Such a pretty, moptop lad.”
A lad whose hopes were dashed; he was still, contractually, bound to Remington Steele. ‘Greed’ won and he was forced to do a paltry six more shows. Broccoli wasn’t prepared to have his Bond smarming it up elsewhere: Timothy Dalton got the gig. It was, he says, “powerfully gut wrenching”.
“But it was more devastating for Cassie, God bless her, because she really hung her hat on the whole thing. And we moved the children into private schools here — we set up this infrastructure. But it wasn’t meant to be. When catastrophe strikes like that, you just have to let it go. Fast.”
But catastrophe kept coming. In 1991, Cassie died. Brosnan was inconsolable. He tried grief counselling, but “it just didn’t fly with me. I went to my religion.”
Despite the Christian Brothers? “Despite the Christian Brothers. I have strong faith in my God.” He had, too, the children, Charlotte, Christopher and Sean, the son he and Cassie had in 1983.
“I tried as best I could to counsel them but it didn’t seem to be working.” He looks away, his mouth working powerfully. “A very dark, painful time. Just as any man or woman who’s suffered. And we all…” he pulls himself together. “It’s just part of life.”
And work helped enormously: “I just kept the foot on the pedal.” And, at length, got Bond.