Brosnan. Pierce Brosnan
Brosnan. Pierce Brosnan
Published November/December 1997
Writer: Paul Chutkow
Photograper: Steven Danelian
Pegged as the Best Bond Since
Sean Connery, the former "Remington Steele" Star Takes a Hard Look at Himself
"Hard work, " I say.
Brosnan smiles. "It's an honest way to make a living."
In person and up close, Brosnan is just as handsome as he is on screen. The cool blue eyes, the strong jaw, the easy smile, the jet-black hair that tends to tumble down his forehead, Gable-style. But seeing him here on the big sound stage at Pinewood Studios, just west of London, is still something of a shock. In Goldeneye, his Bond was light and lean, and you could see traces of that coltish charm he used to exude as detective Remington Steele, the TV role that first endeared him to American audiences. No longer. Brosnan has put on weight and muscle. He's a tall man, six foot two, and he now has the brawn and bearing, the rugged maleness, to look every inch as powerful and charismatic as Commander Bond.
Bond, of course, is a mammoth role to fill. Ian Fleming gave his hero a larger-than-life aura, and on screen Sean Connery imbued the role with a panache and wit as deadly as Bond's fabled Walther PPK. When Roger Moore took on the mantle for seven films, he played Bond in a lighter tone, at times bordering on self-parody. Timothy Dalton? George Whatshisname? Well, let's just say they added little to the Bond myth and mystique. Brosnan is a different story. His Goldeneye was made for $50 million and has grossed more than $350 million worldwide in theatrical sales alone; video and TV revenues are even higher. The budget this time is $75 million, but no one seems nervous. The consensus is that Brosnan has grown into the role, he truly is Bond now, with the mantle, the aura and the bankability. Indeed, all over the set you hear the same verdict: "Brosnan is the best Bond since Connery."
"Pierce owns the role now," Spottiswoode says between takes. "He's wonderful. He has great confidence. Wit. Irony. And he's a terribly nice man."
A few hours later, near the close of this long day's shoot, the man of the hour is back in his trailer, taking a breather. He takes off his shirt, towels down and checks his schedule with Adrian Bell, his personal assistant. Then he wraps the towel around his shoulders, stretches back on a big couch and lights a fine cigar, an El Rey del Mundo from Cuba. A perfect time for a smoke and a comforting way to decompress, to climb out from under the weight of the Bond persona.
Brosnan looks pleased. So does Roger
Spottiswoode, the director of Tomorrow Never Dies, the 18th installment
of the adventures of James Bond, of Her Majesty's Secret Service.
They do two more takes, then BrBrosnan is 44 now, with a lot of character
in his face, and he immediately comes across as a man's man, solid, balanced,
comfortable with himself. Even with a high-profile $75 million investment
riding on his shoulders. With visitors, either on the set or now in his
trailer, Brosnan is exceptionally warm and gracious, and he gives no hint
of arrogance or pretense. He's also a proud papa. As soon as he settles
in for a chat, Brosnan is eager to show off the latest photos of Dylan
Thomas, his new baby boy. And he coos, unabashedly, about Keely Shaye Smith,
Dylan's mother and Brosnan's partner for the past three years. "Quite a
photographer, isn't she? Wonderful eye."
"It wasn't all bleak. We lived on the outskirts of the town of Navan, so there was the countryside to play in. My grandfather was a really wonderful, kind, gentle man, and very well respected in the community. My grandmother was a darker person, I really can't speak very clearly about her, but she had a certain magic as well. Because I was so solitary, and we lived, as I say, on the outskirts of town, across the River Boyne, one was an outsider. An only child.
"Then my grandparents died, one after the other. And I lived with an aunt. Then I lived with an uncle. Eventually, though, they wanted to get on with their own lives and they didn't have room for a young boy. So I was sent to live with a woman named Eileen, who had a place in a poor part of town. She had her own children and she also had lodgers. She agreed to take Pierce in, and I moved upstairs with the lodgers, all grown men with jobs. One worked in the mill. One worked in a local bank. And then there was another bed for whoever came in visiting. There was this long room, and there were these iron beds with old mattresses on them. This is where the three lodgers were. At the very end of the room, there was my little bed. With a curtain around it, with newspapers pinned on it, so the light wouldn't shine in when the guys came home.
"I grew up being taught by the Christian brothers, who were dreadful, dreadful human beings. Just the whole hypocrisy. And the cruelness of their ways toward children. They were very sexually repressed. Bitter. Cowards, really. I have nothing good to say about them and will have nothing good to say about them. It was ugly. Very ugly. Dreadful. I learnt nothing from the Christian brothers--except shame.
"It sounds pretty bleak all of this, but that's what it was. No wonder I'm an actor. But you learn to be happy within all of that; you learn how to create your own happiness. And you learn to forgive. You learn to rise above it. And you learn to view people with a different kind of clarity, because they've hurt you and because there was no one there for you to go to. There was not this symbol, the father figure, or the mother. So you learned to find your own independence and survive. If you didn't know, you acted as if you did know.
"And Eileen was great to live with. I was surrounded by kids and out in the streets. And yet it was kind of strange, a bit like David Lynch in a way. Eileen was a big-bosomed woman, baking bread with the apron wrapped around her. A big, warm momma. And those were my last three years in Ireland."
Brosnan puffs on his cigar. These childhood memories seem so fresh, so vivid to him, even after all these years. "I made the big mistake of telling some of this in the early days of 'Remington Steele.' So the doors have been opened and it is so hard to close those kind of doors. But as you go back through the doors, when you get asked the questions, it comes with a certain form of therapy, when you think about it, when you conjure it up, when you paint the picture as the years go on...Catholic upbringing. Choirboy. Altar boy. The whole nine yards. It was an Irish childhood.
"I lived there until the age of 10 and then, finally, when my mother passed her finals, in 1964, I went to live with her in London. The reunion with my mother was joyous. Finally, I had my mother. And that was my first journey, out of Ireland, to England. When you go to a very large city, a metropolis like London, as an Irish boy of 10, life suddenly moves pretty fast. From a little school of, say, seven classrooms in Ireland, to this very large comprehensive school, with over 2,000 children. And you're Irish. And they make you feel it; the British have a wonderful way of doing that, and I had a certain deep sense of being an outsider.
"My mother was working full-time as a nurse. We had a small apartment in a house in south London. There was an old lady in there, Mrs. Slanie, and when I would come home from school she would take care of me and bring me into her living room with chintz and all these knick-knacks and bric-a-brac. She had budgies , she had two of them, and I'd sit with her after school. It was a world I just wasn't used to. She was very English. The tone of her voice, everything just so. And I got to know the street, the street we lived in. Slowly but surely I made friends and had a group of friends.
"In Ireland, I had been brought up
on a diet of old Mother Riley and Norman Wisdom movies, which would not
translate to readers in America, but they're black-and-white comedies made
here. In the summer of '64, my mother and Bill, my stepfather, took me
to the movies and I saw Goldfinger. And here I sat in this cinema,
on Putney High Street, with this spectacle, this magical event taking place
before my eyes, called James Bond. The music, the women, the shimmering
silhouettes of nakedness, and this wonderful woman lying on the bed. Three,
four weeks before, I had been in Ireland, in a tiny town, and here I was
in the great metropolis, London. Now, maybe the seed was sown there, I
don't know, but I thought James Bond was very cool.
But here I found myself in this workshop. A rather dark studio, with about 30 other people doing voice and movement exercises, which were completely alien to me. But so exhilarating. There was no censorship or shame allotted to one and you could be anything you wanted to be.
"So I went that Thursday. I went twice a week. I went three times a week. I went down to the Oval House Theater Club every night after work and eventually gave up the job in commercial art. And we formed a theater company. I was the youngest member, working with people who were actors, who were teachers, musicians, writers. We formed a company called the Oval House Theater Company. During the day I would work. I was a waiter. I cleaned houses. I worked in a factory, a bottling factory, just to supplement my income. It could only be a job, really, that you could do either in the morning or in the late evening.
"When I found acting, or when acting found me, it was a liberation. It was a stepping stone into another life, away from a life that I had, and acting was something I was good at, something which was appreciated. That was a great satisfaction in my life.
"I did fringe theater for about two years. And because I didn't have any formal training in acting, I decided to go to drama school. I went for three years, at a place called The Drama Centre, in north London. I did repertory theater and slowly got roles on TV and in films."
And then came Cassandra Harris. "We met in 1974, shortly after I left drama school. I met her through David Harris, one of Richard Harris' nephews, who had always spoken at drama school about his aunt. One day I was reading for a part in Chelsea, and he said, 'You must come out and visit.' I went out to visit and I walked into his house, his aunt's house, and on the dressing table there was this photograph of this beautiful woman, with two little children beside her. And I said, 'This is your aunt? My God, what a fine looking woman.'
"I think it was a few days later that I actually met Cassie. She'd come back, she'd been working abroad on a film. I saw her coming down the staircase and I thought, 'What a beautiful-looking woman.' I never for an instant thought she was someone I'd spend 17 years of my life with. I didn't think of wooing her, or attempting to woo her; I just wanted to enjoy her beauty and who she was.
"But David Harris started doing a bit of matchmaking and it was, 'Really? She does like me? Really, she thinks that? Oh, how fascinating.' I was doing a play in the West End at that time, and I began visiting the cousin a lot. He was a friend from grammar school but not one of my best buddies. But he became a best buddy. And before we knew it, you fall in love. It just worked. It took a certain courage on both our parts. Cassie was Australian. She had trained as an actress in Australia and done television. She had her own talk show, 'Beauty and the Beast.'
"She left Australia and came to London. She was walking down the street one day, by the London Palladium. Car pulls up. Black man gets out. Says, 'You're beautiful; I want to take your photograph.' She went back to her apartment and says, 'Some black guy came out and gave me his card. It says Sammy Davis Jr. Who's Sammy Davis Jr.?' He wanted to take her picture for a magazine.
"We courted, we wooed, we set up a little house together, in Wimbledon, we posed as man and wife. We lived with Cassie's young children, Charlotte and Christopher. I'm acting, she's acting. I'm acting more than she is, as she's bringing up the children. And suddenly I had a family. And two children. It didn't feel like that. It just felt so right, only because Cassie had such faith in me and we had such a wonderful outlook on life. I didn't feel like a father, I wasn't a father; I was just Pierce. And then I became Daddy Pierce. And then I became Daddy." The couple married in 1977.
Money was tight and that worried Brosnan. "We were scratching along. And it would be, 'Are you sure you picked the right man here, woman? So far so good? Are we hanging in here?' Because she could have had anyone. There were lots of men around her at that time when I met her. Merchant bankers. Actors. She moved in circles which I was not accustomed to. But I was an actor. I was a purist. I was hungry. And I was determined and I was ambitious. I was also someone who was loving, someone who was caring, someone who was funny, someone who was artistic. Someone who had dreams and passion. She had gone through a lot of suffering herself, a lot of negative pain."
With this kind of love to nurture
and protect, Brosnan worked as hard as he could. "I was doing theater,
traveling to Glasgow, to Manchester. I did two West End productions, a
play by Tennessee Williams, and then I got a part as an IRA terrorist in
a movie called I, my first film. I also did a TV movie about Irish horse
racing. Some American producers saw it and offered me the lead in this
miniseries called Manions of America, about the Irish potato famine."
It promised to be good money and great exposure.
"In going from Ireland to England in 1964, as an Irish boy, it was a disappointment," Brosnan recalls. "Because I had confused England with America. I was looking for the big cars with the tail fins and the very tall buildings. London never really entered into my imagination, only in name, but America somehow filled me with visions. When the miniseries was ready to be aired, Cassie suggested we do something bold. Cassie said we should go to America, we should really go to Los Angeles for the premiere of this miniseries.
"But how are we going to get to Los Angeles, Cassie? We don't have any money. We've just bought this bloody house. How are we going to pay the mortgage?' She said, 'I'll think of a way.' So we took out a second mortgage on the central heating. We already had central heating in the house, but she found a loophole, and we went to the bank manager. I said I had a job in Hollywood and could we get a £2,000 loan? Somehow the central heating issue came in and we got the two grand.
"The trip to America, it was such a great joy to go there with Cassie, to take that leap of faith and go to the New World--all that nonsense you read about in books. But again it was a liberation. In Los Angeles, I rented a car from Rent-A-Wreck, a lime green Pacer, with a cushion, because the springs were coming through, and I got a map and went on my first interview in Hollywood. Somehow I found my way out to Laurel Canyon. I got up to the top of Mulholland Drive and the car broke down, blew up. I did eventually get to the interview and saw a casting director from Mary Tyler Moore Productions. Boom! They were looking for Remington Steele.
"The last thing I was looking for was a TV series. I went to America thinking I was going to work with Scorsese. Taxi Driver I'd seen about 10 times and Mean Streets; that's where my brain was at. I was going to do movies. But I needed work. I went through several more interviews and then Cassie and I came home to Wimbledon. Then the call came: Would I return for a screen test? And it was, 'My God, what have we done? What have we done? What are we going to do?' Panic, panic, panic. Don't panic! We'll go to America. We'll take the kids to America. So Cass, the two kids and I hopped on a plane and went to America.
"When I first worked on the part, I was bitterly frustrated. 'I'm just not funny,' I'd tell Cassie. 'I'm just not funny.' Then she told me, 'Just be yourself. Be how you are with me.' The series ran for four and a half years."
Brosnan and Harris settled into southern California and had a child of their own, Sean, now 13. And, thanks to "Remington Steele," Brosnan's lifelong financial worries disappeared. "It was very, very hard work. My family rarely saw me during the first year. But suddenly we had this incredible lifestyle. I had these little bits of plastic in my pocket, which were credit cards. I was so scared to use them. But once I got the hang of it, I did pretty well. And we moved into this big house; never do anything by halves."
After so many years of struggle, it gave Brosnan a deep sense of fulfillment to properly provide for Harris and the kids. "It just felt so right. And it made being an actor even more enjoyable and more immediate. In the sense that you had to work. Because you had to provide. And providing was a wonderful feeling. It was a great responsibility, and one that did provide a great sense of achievement and happiness. And that's all one wants, really."
During his "Remington Steele" years, the show made a brief visit to Ireland, and Brosnan had an unexpected visitor: Tom Brosnan, the father he had never known. "Our trip to Ireland generated a lot of press, and I suspected my father might surface. And he did. One Sunday afternoon he came to the hotel. He came up from Kerry, with many first cousins I never knew. There came a knock on the door and you knew that when you open the door, the man you're going to see is your father. I opened the door and there was Tom. I expected to see a very tall man. He was a man of medium stature, pushed-back silver hair, flinty eyes and a twizzled jaw. He had a very strong Kerry accent. And Tom and I sat and had afternoon tea, with all those cousins in the room.
"We were strangers when we met. And I regret that we met under such circumstances. I wish I had met him in a pub or somewhere on his own terms. I would have loved to have sat with him alone and just talked. There are parts of my character, I just don't know where they come from. They say he was a snappy dresser and a great whistler."
Did he feel like family?
As his El Rey del Mundo burns down low, Brosnan comes to his first rendezvous with Bond. In 1986, Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, the famous Bond producer, was looking for the right man to take the mantle from Roger Moore. Brosnan was exactly what Broccoli had in mind. "I was offered the Bond, I tested for the Bond, came here to the studio. I had been through wardrobe and had even been photographed with the late Cubby Broccoli. But there was a clause in my contract [for "Remington Steele"] that said if the show got canceled, NBC had 60 days to try to place it with another network." On the 59th day, NBC decided to renew the series, and Mary Tyler Moore Productions refused to let him out of his contract.
"Cassie, I think, took it harder than I did. Because you want for your partner in life, you want the best for your partner. It just didn't happen. Timothy Dalton was signed the next day. And I became the guy who coulda been, shoulda been, might have been Bond."
Losing Bond hurt--and worse was to come. By now Brosnan had expanded his credentials with lead roles in the NBC miniseries "Noble House" and in a miniseries for the BBC called "Nancy Astor," and he had co-starred with Michael Caine in the film version of Frederick Forsyth's The Fourth Protocol. In 1987, still fuming about the Bond that should have been, Brosnan and Harris went to India, where he was to play the lead in The Deceivers, a Merchant-Ivory production.
During the shoot in India, in the baking heat of Rajasthan, the usually effervescent Harris began to tire and feel run down. "She got very fatigued, very worn out, and we weren't sure what it was. She had had pain, slight pains, and in a checkup, six months before, the doctor had said, 'It's all right. Don't worry.' If only he had looked closely. When we finished in India, we came back to London. She went to the doctor and he took her into the hospital the very next night."
The diagnosis was full-blown ovarian cancer. "A young woman making her way through life, as a mother, as an actress. When your partner gets cancer, then life changes. Your timetable and reference for your normal routines and the way you view life, all this changes. Because you're dealing with death. You're dealing with the possibility of death and dying. And it was that way through the chemotherapy, through the first-look operation, the second look, the third look, the fourth look, the fifth look.
"It came with a certain grace. Actually, life was sweet. Life had an incredible peace to it. Because you cherished every moment. The ordeal of going into the doctor's for the examination. To see if the white [blood cell] counts are up, or to see if there's anything there. And then the joy of it being all right, and coming back out and going down to the beach. Those moments were just intoxicating."
Their struggle against the cancer lasted four years. "Cassie was very positive about life. I mean, she had the most amazing energy and outlook on life. She could read people extremely well. She had, above all, the greatest sense of humor. She had this wonderful laugh, which her children have inherited. Both Christopher and Charlotte, and Sean, have this contagious way about them, of making people feel good. Which is such a gift."
Harris died in 1991. "It was and is a terrible loss," says Brosnan. "And I see it reflected, from time to time, in my children. How do you carry on afterwards? Slowly. Very, very, very slowly. It hurts. And you have to sit and endure it. There's nothing else to do; it won't go away."
Brosnan's world would never be the same. The loss of his wife, he said, brought him to his knees. But now he had to be both father and mother; for their three children, he was now the sole source of emotional sustenance and stability. To get himself through, to give his children the reassurance that life would regain some form of balance, Brosnan somehow found the fortitude to keep on working. He made a string of movies, two of which he is particularly proud: Bruce Beresford's Mister Johnson, the 1990 film in which Brosnan plays a British colonial administrator in West Africa, and the 1993 smash comedy Mrs. Doubtfire, with Robin Williams and Sally Field.He played the role of Field's handsome, pompous suitor, to the great irritation of Williams' character. "Mrs. Doubtfire was a wonderful, beautiful ray of sunshine in my career. For the first time I was in a studio picture and I was working with wonderful actors who were all working at the top of their game. It allowed me to do comedy and play a character who was viewed as a jerk."
Then Bond reappeared, and this time it was meant to be. Goldeneye turned out to be a huge success, and Brosnan is glad now that he did not take on the role back in 1986. "Bond is a man who is in his 40s. Bond is a man with a past. He's seasoned, a man who has loved and lost. And he's somewhat of a solitary figure. Playing Bond at this time in my life is much better than I could have played it in my 30s."
Brosnan won't talk about Roger Moore or Timothy Dalton. But there is no way to sidestep Sean Connery's Bond. "I cannot replicate or be what Connery was. He's the only one in my books. And when I did Goldeneye, he was the one that I wanted to be able to stand up there beside. There was no sense of intimidation; even then I felt a strong sense of who I was. I just wanted to make the man human. And I wanted to find my own reality within it."
Brosnan has never met Connery. "He hasn't sought me out. We shall meet. At the right time. People ask me, constantly, 'Did you ask for advice?' Nonsense. Why would I go to him for advice? I was seeking advice, but you have to find your own path with such a character. Someday I would dearly love to sit with the guy and drink good malt whiskey and smoke cigars somewhere quiet and hear what he has to say. Because he's certainly someone I admire greatly, the way he has conducted himself in the business."
Tomorrow Never Dies is the story of a global media baron run amok. The villain mogul, played by Jonathan Pryce, runs a worldwide newspaper called Tomorrow, and he operates a global satellite TV network with the capacity to beam into every TV set in the world. Inspired by how CNN capitalized on the Gulf War to build its global audience, the mogul decides he's going to provoke a little war of his own, by stirring up trouble with China.
Roger Spottiswoode, best known for the brilliant Under Fire and other films, went into this project with one clear objective: to bring the James Bond films firmly into the 1990s. "Since Connery, too many of the Bonds edged toward self-parody and the ludicrous," Spottiswoode says. Now the aim is to keep what everyone loves about Bond-- the characters "Q" and "M," the signature music, the high-tech gadgetry and a terrific villain--and use them to create an action thriller with contemporary texture, pace and realism.
"This film will be darker, tougher than many past Bonds," the director says about Tomorrow Never Dies, which opens in England on Dec. 12 and in U.S. theaters on Dec. 19. He's using moodier lighting and more realistic sets. The media baron is also cut close to reality; hello Ted, hello Rupert. To foment trouble with China, the baron uses a stealth ship cruising in Chinese waters and this, too, is a touch of high-tech realism. Spottiswoode claims the U.S. Navy already has one in the water. China also makes a believable foe for Bond and the West; no other country looms as such a likely or formidable adversary.
Brosnan believes that the character of Bond--and the image of maleness that he radiates--also need to be updated and made more real. He feels Bond needs to be more accessible, more human, more emotionally open and mature. "The audience nowadays is so sophisticated, compared with the days of Sean Connery. The heroes we have now, and the actors we have, men like Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson, bring an incredible charm and accessibility and vulnerability to their maleness. Which can only be a celebration of the man, the actor and the character. And this makes for even better heroes."
His new stature in the industry and the public eye has brought Brosnan new responsibilities that he is happy to embrace. He has become a prominent supporter of a Los Angeles charitable organization called Entertainment Industries Foundation/Permanent Charities. He also gives high-profile support to environmental groups. Because of what his late wife went through, supporting women's health care has become one of his top priorities.
Brosnan's renewed prominence in the public eye has brought one infuriating downside. During the making of Tomorrow Never Dies, Brosnan became a prime target of the British tabloids and their shameless gutter sleaze. They ran stories claiming trouble on the set and in Brosnan's private life. The stories were pure fiction, Brosnan says, but the damage they caused was all too real.
"It hurts, it stings. It's just shocking, absolutely shocking to read things about you and your loved ones. It's extremely painful and hurtful. I haven't received too many barbs from the press, but certainly now there seems to be an interest from very [small-minded] people who do not investigate their stories and just basically print lies."
Brosnan has decided he won't be turning the other cheek; if it happens again, he'll strike back. "One story in particular really crossed the bounds. I found out who the man was, and I know where he lives and I know his life. It's kind of my job to find out who the little shit was. So if he does it again, I'd nail him. I'd nail him. I've got no qualms about going after someone like that, if they're going to do that. It's very damaging to my family."
The tabloid barbs came at a stressful
time, when everyone in the production was working furiously to get Tomorrow
Never Dies wrapped, edited and released by Christmas. To unwind
a bit, Brosnan and some of his pals spent an evening at Monte's on Sloane
Street in London, probably one of the world's classiest cigar clubs. "
* Paul Chutkow, a freelance writer based in northern California, is the author of Depardieu, a biography of French actor Gerald Depardieu.
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