Interview Magazine

Thomas Crown, back in town

Author: Sylvia Patterson
Issue: August, 1999

When it opened in 1968, The Thomas Crown Affair was a movie that seemed like the last word on '60s style in all its glory. This month's remake doesn't attempt to repeat the unrepeatable, but it gives it a knowing '90s twist. We talk to Pierce Brosnan, who stars in both the new movie and the Interview Thomas Crown fashion special presented here.

Inside a vast, baroque-curtained, wood-paneled drawing room, Pierce Brosnan sits in a maiden's chair - a medieval wooden garroter - with a steel band around his throat and prepares to be violently assaulted by a beautiful woman half his age. "It's quite a sexy scene in a perverse way," he grins, deep blue eyes brimming with cheer. He adopts the sensual French accent of his approaching assailant: "You know what 'appons when a man is strangeuled."

Pierce Brosnan, forty-six, is the man who put the wry, Irish twinkle in the eyes of James Bond, a man who, having just completed the above scene, strides purposefully through the scaffolded chambers of the Pinewood Studios In West London, dispensing a spectrum of hellos to the cast and crew of the nineteenth Bond movie, The World Is Not Enough (which opens in November). Brosnan is well-liked; he's a comically charming man's man with a bonhomie more befitting a genial publican from his hometown, Navan, in Ireland, than the tall, lean, preposterously good-looking, steel-jawed, black-haired international playboy he was so clearly born to play.

This month Brosnan stars with Rene Russo in The Thomas Crown Affair, a remake of the 1968 high-class, deep-cool heist caper that featured Steve McQueen as a bored millionaire amusing himself with money, women, glider planes, and priceless artifacts; Brosnan also co-produced the film. In case you hadn't noticed, Playboy "values" are back - Hugh Hefner's Playboy Mansion renaissance (party destination for Young Hollywood), Larry Flynt's Sunset "Sex Supermarket," Bond, Thomas Crown, even Austin Powers - although Brosnan himself remains oblivious to the advancing web of decadence. He potters round his cluttered personal off-duty lounge area in a crumpled cream suit, lilting in his slow, considered, semi-Irish, semi-British luvvie tones: "Cup of tea? McVities biscuit? Oooh, very genteel. It's not the Image, is it?" 

SYLVIA PATTERSON: The Thomas Crown Affair - incalculable wealth, beautiful women, handsome you, art, excess. What message does that give the world?

PIERCE BROSNAN: Only that people go to the movies to be entertained and to enter into a world that is maybe unattainable to them. Like in the old days, they saw the stars living in their mansions and cars and aeroplanes up there onscreen, and they said, "If only I could do that." It's pure fantasy.

SP: Isn't it a throwback to the '60s mythology of all-powerful male figures with beautiful women as playthings - Hugh Hefner? What kind of a way is that to live?

PB: For Hugh I'm sure it's wonderful! I don't see anything wrong with it. Again, you're dealing with an illusion. Hefner sorted out pretty early on that tits and ass sell. I like Playboy. It has been very ... handy ... at times in life.

SP: The strong, handsome, invincible man is also a lie, isn't it?

PB: Yes. That's what we yearn for in life, looking for love: the ideal partner. But if you've got any common sense you know it doesn't exist. Six months in, five years in, he or she might be as messed up as you are.

SP: There's something of a Playboy lifestyle renaissance.

PB: Really? I know nothing about this.

SP: You're practically the pioneer.

PB: Oh, noooo! I'm fairly boring, to say the least. I've never considered myself a playboy. I've played playboys, but I don't think Crown is a playboy. He's a businessman with the world at his feet, but he's fairly inarticulate when it comes to relationships. What really intrigued me was the love story. I didn't think the original went far enough; with ours we've leaned heavily on the romantic side. And to tell you the truth, I was afraid I'd get my head lopped off: "This is Steve McQueen territory - who the fuck are you?" But once we took off it was plain sailing. [tweaks the crotch area of his suit, which is bunching up] Er . . . these pants are most unfortunate. . . .

SP: Trouser commotion, is it?

PB: Sorry! No, it's just the costume! Time for another Silk Cut, I think. Ask me something simple.

SP: You really are James Bond now, aren't you? And your Bond is wry and knowing - and he's less sexually cruel than Sean Connery's. Was that deliberate?

PB: Well, the world has changed, and I just don't think that it would be palatable anymore. What Sean did I can't reproduce, nor would I want to. He was the first Bond and in many people's eyes the only Bond - and you live with that.

SP: Have you met Connery yet?

PB: I met him about four weeks ago, outside the Bond soundstage. He came down for a haircut. I was going home, putting my stuff in the trunk of the car, and I look up and there's Sean. [impersonates Connery] Shplendid! We spoke for two or three minutes and that was it. He was very gracious. I can't really remember what we said; I was so in awe of meeting the fellow. He walked onto the set and surprised the heck out of [director] Michael Apted. He said, "Play thish back, let me shee what you're shooting he-ar." I kicked myself - I should've said, "Let's go for a pint," 'cause afterward he was sitting all on his lonesome having lunch.

SP: Aw! Do you have an inner struggle between the "real you" and your playboyesque movie image?

PB: I don't. NO, I DO NOT. I enjoy what I do enormously. I've worked bloody hard to get where I am, and long may it reign! And I'm blessed that I've found a really wonderful partner in life [Keely Shaye Smith, an environmental author]. We've got a good family.

SP: When you think of your three sons, do you wonder if the accoutrements of playboydom are still what men desire?

PB: I think every man dreams of being comfortable where you don't have to worry about money, but when you do have it you still have to worry about keeping it.

[There's a knock on the door. PB is told he's "out of here." He replies, "Fantastic!" and begins howling over tomorrow's 6:30 A.M. call. We are taken in his luxurious, chauffeur-driven, cream leather-upholstered car to what he calls home when he's working In London: his (absent) friend Sting's house in Highgate.]

SP: Is non-achievement of these fantasy goals what's turning men into either spineless saps or violent madmen?

PB: I don't know. Any fellow trying to obtain such goals must be a bit witless. There are much richer goals in life than obtaining wealth and that particular lifestyle. I've encountered playboys and want nothing to do with them. Don't consider myself one. Or have I ever been one?

SP: Let's see if we can find out. Do you own, for example, a yacht?

PB: No.

SP: An Island?

PB: No. Somebody tried to flog me an island, in Ireland. 'Cause I've been thinking about it for a number of years.

SP: Oh, really?

PB: [laughs] No, I just want a little house or something, a bit of the old sod. I had a house in Malibu. Magic - the beach, countryside. L.A.'s a soulless place; I've got good mates there with their own fine lunacy to them, but there's nothing to hang on to, the city itself doesn't sustain you. But I lost the house last year - after ten years it went down the hill in the rain. [PB's cell phone rings] Gadgets! I loathe gadgets! [he attempts to use the hands-free earpiece; it falls out of his ear; he jabs the phone] Oh, fuck, I've turned it off! Shit!

SP:Collection of Martin Denny lounge-Jazz records?

PB: No.

SP: Four mistresses?

PB: No.

SP: Private Jet?

PB: No.

SP: Aston Martin?

PB: No. I think I'm getting one, though. [laughs] Colin [the chauffeur] put me up to it. I have three cars now, but I need to get a bloody Aston Martin, a convertible! Go on, what else?

SP: Golf course?

PB: Golf clubs. This man here [gestures to Colin] is improving my game enormously.

SP: What's your handicap?

COLIN: Standing too near to the ball after he's hit it.

SP: Mansion in Nice?

PB: No.

SP: Collection of mahogany shoe trees?

PB: Maybe there's a pair hanging around somewhere that I've whipped from some movie. I'm on 
the way - I've got a pair of mahogany shoe trees!

SP: Drawing room featuring Corinthian columns?

PB: No.

SP: Collection of Papua New Guinean artifacts?

PB: Yes! I've got some beautiful art from the Sepik river 'cause I made a movie there. They're bloody gruesome-looking things, actually. Carved. Getting closer.

SP: Inflatable ego?

PB: No. A healthy ego. I don't mind a bit of flattery.

SP: You'll like this one, then: enormous penis?

PB: [laughs] Well, yes, on my day!

SP: Playboy perhaps not, then, but you do like a cigar.

PB: It has nothing to do with my penis, though!

SP: Hugh Hefner has three girlfriends we know of, two of whom are twins who dress alike.

PB: Very nice. Oh, I like that, yes. Take care of all his needs. . . .

SP: Do you think, Way to go, Granddad! or, Pervy old fool besieged by deep, immature insecurities and too much time and money on his hands?

PB: I think, Way to go, Pops! Why not? If it makes him happy. I don't think he's harming anybody.

SP: What do you think the girls get out of it?

PB: Probably a great time.

SP: Hugh's a Viagra devotee. Is that cheating?

PB: Whatever gets you through the night. Really! Not that I've employed it myself. I don't like . . . chemicals.

SP:Will the sexual objectification of women ever go away?

PB: No. I'm sure there are many young women who've been exploited by that whole world, but that's life and war is life and sex is life and that is mankind. I don't see it ever changing. I do believe in love and peace because I grew up in the '60s.

SP: Your hair's not going anywhere, is it?

PB: I don't think so. My old man, Tom Brosnan, he had a good head of hair the one and only time I met him. [Irish accent] "Ah, Jeez, yer very good-lookin'" - the first words out of his mouth. Funny. Shame we never got to sit and talk more.

SP: Why didn't you?

PB: Ah, well, he came lookin' for me when I was in the public eye and had a few bob in my pocket, and you have to assess that a little bit. You know: Where were you when I was lonely and in need, in the backstreets of Navan. And he died about two years later. Of course, then I had regret: I should've got past all that nonsense, anger. . . . Anyway, it wasn't to be.

SP: So you were an only child who never knew his father, your mother went to England to become a nurse [they were reunited in London when PB was eleven], and you lived at different times with your grandparents and in the care of a stranger in a boarding house. Psychological tradition dictates you should be a very insecure man.

PB: Yeah, I suppose so. I've been lucky. I'm just a survivor, I guess. You have to be. Just makes you more determined. More compassionate, I'd like to think. And grateful. But, no, it is amazing. I think, Christ [fishtails hand, whistles], I could've just spun out. Because there was such an aloneness to my childhood, and it left a lot of room for contemplation and imagination. And, uh, inner strength. Resilience to the shit situation you're in. Mine was easy compared to some of the guys and girls I know. When I got into the entertainment business, I realized there were a lot of mangled people around me, and it was wonderful. I was home. [voice of a clinically insane person] "He's mad! I'm mad! She's mad! We're fucking mad! This is great! I can be mad! At last I've found a reason for being - and I don't have to conform and I can be anything and anyone !"

[We've now reconvened in Sting's living room, replete with wall-size stone fireplace, magnificent sofa, piano festooned with silver-framed family photo collection, and two huge glasses of the finest burgundy wine.]

SP: In Mars Attacks! [1996] your head smoked a pipe while affixed to the body of a puppy dog. What does that say about you as an actor?

PB: That I've a sense of humor. That I don't mind taking the piss out of myself. It was just a hoot.

SP: After the Stallone-Schwarzenegger monopoly of the '80s, the '90s leading males have been slightly effete, bumbling nice guys - Matt Damon, Ewan McGregor, and so on. Are you a return to good old-fashioned masculine virility?

PB: Well, it's whatever sells at the time.

SP: But are you out there on your own?

PB: [Glaswegian accent] Ah dinnae know. But ah better come up wi' an answer soon here! I'd just like to have longevity.

SP: You're looking perplexed.

PB: I suppose I'm just a bit reluctant to talk about it because I'm not sure where I fit in. And that could be [pauses] cause for concern, if I were a different man. But I don't let it be concerning. I think who I am as a man is straightforward. And strong. And I have a sense of humor about myself. And the world at large.

SP: Do you think a sense of humor saves us all from being doomed, in the end?

PB: Oh, I think it does, because life is very cruel. It just comes at you constantly and it never ceases. As for the macho image, I've read things about me that are most derogatory in that area. But then I'm sensitive to that kind of stuff, so I tend not to read it.

SP: You're not invincible, then, is that what you're saying?

PB: Oh, absolutely not. I used to read everything that was written about me. The good reviews I didn't believe, and the bad ones stuck like mud. So there's not much point. I really don't have much of a handle on how I'm perceived or what I've created in the past five years. Except two good, solid Bond movies, I think. I've always said, you're lucky as an actor if you have three performances in you - most actors only have one. I'd like to think I've got two, or three. At the moment it feels like I've only got one. I remember flying down to Fiji once with my kids. We were on this small plane, and I could tell the pilot was so pleased to meet James Bond. I'm sitting beside him and he said, "D'you wanna take the stick?" and I was, "Uh . . . oh, yeah, sure," and we flew for forty-five minutes.

SP: And you'd never flown a plane before?

PB: Never done it - I hate flying! This was an intelligent man, a pilot, Kiwi. And then he said, "Do you want to land it?" and I said, "Ah, no, you land it," and he said, "How long have you been flying?" I said, "I don't fly" He said, "Oh, I thought you flew. You fly in the movies." [lifts hand and thwacks imaginary pilot on back of head] Gedouddahere! It's a compliment that maybe I do it well enough that he believes it, but my life is not all the things people think it is.

SP: Because you lost your wife [Cassandra, who died from ovarian cancer in 1991] you've lived with the profound wisdom that the bottom can fall out of your life at any second.

PB: Right. Death is the great leveler, and dealing with it certainly puts everything into perspective, especially if you have children. There's a great gift within that, but to watch somebody dwindle away. . . .

SP: Have you ever been able to answer the question why?

PB: No. I don't believe there is an answer to that. When Cassie got cancer, we'd wonder why and just exhaust ourselves. So we'd say, "That's it - we have it. How are we gonna live life right this second? Feel all right? Feel good? Go for a walk? Glass of wine? Get drunk? Whatever." Enjoy the moment. Of life, and living, and what you have. So. I. Don't. Know.

SP: What tenets of life, if any, have you passed on to your children so far? [PB has two children, Charlotte and Christopher, from Cassandra's first marriage; a son, Sean, with Cassandra; and a son, Dylan, with Keely.]

PB: I think [three of them] have gone through so much anyway, losing their mother. Hopefully I've taught them to be good people. And to like themselves in a good, loving way. No shame. Go out into the world and have a good time. Be creative. Love it all.

SP: My mother's favorite line is "I worried about having no shoes until I met the man with no feet."

PB: [laughs, claps hands together] Oh, dear! Well, my mother's is "What's for you won't go by you." I think it has a certain truth. Bond - it came round. [Contractual commitments to TV's Remington Steele prevented PB from playing Bond when the role was first offered to him in the mid '80s.]

SP: What will you tell your children about men and women?

PB: Well, my daughter has a husband. Christopher is the one who's most . . . susceptible right now. I don't need to tell him anything, to tell you the truth. He's done more loving than I've done in all my years, I think. He's stuck on models at the moment.

SP: How do you feel when you meet them?

PB: [wiggles eyebrows] I'm seventeen at heart, see, so it's easy.

SP: I bet you flirt with them outrageously.

PB: You better believe it! [as Bond] "Hi, I'm Dad. How would you like to see my mahogany shoe trees? I've got a few upstairs" It is funny, though, when your son brings home a very attractive young woman - and you're the dad. It can mess with your head. 

SP: If you were Jack Nicholson you would just steam straight in there.

PB: [impersonates Nicholson] Jaaack. Jack is a horse of a different color. Smoked it, sniffed it, drank it, kissed it, done it. Big value for the money.

SP: And you've done the opposite. Huge relationships from a young age. No systematic philandering. Has there been an alter ego locked inside the prison of homey you?

PB: No. I like having a partner. There was a time when I was footloose and fancy free - it just hasn't been written about. It's not very pleasant. Meeting somebody, you know, you have a few dates. . . .

SP: So you've always been seeking something bigger?

PB:: I've always been seeking, yeah. Just like a movie. [smacks lips, breaks into enormous I've-nothing-left- to-say-whatsoever grin, looks at watch] Come on, now, for God's sake, this is Interview magazine. You'll put a load of photographs in of me poncing around with this bloody blonde! She could be my daughter. I'm gonna look like fucking Hugh Hefner! I am! I am! I am! You've stitched me up! 

COPYRIGHT 1999 Brant Publications, Inc.

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