Independent on Sunday

Pierce Brosnan & Christopher Fettes

How We Met: Pierce Brosnan & Christopher Fettes

Independent on Sunday
How We Met: Pierce Brosnan & Christopher Fettes.
Interviews by Jonathan Thompson 
Jan 27, 2002

The actor Pierce Brosnan was born in Navan, Ireland, in 1953 but moved to London with his family in 1964. He left school at 15 and trained at the Drama Centre in London. In 1995 he became the fifth actor to play JamesBond. He recently became a board member of the theatre company Concentric Circles. Brosnan has five children and lives in Malibu with his second wife, Keely Shaye Smith.

Christopher Fettes was born in Edinburgh and trained as an actor before co-founding the acting school the Drama Centre in 1963. He is now joint director of the Concentric Circles theatre company - its first production opens in Hammersmith this week.  Fettes lives in north London.

Pierce Brosnan: The first time I saw Christopher was at my audition for the Drama Centre in 1974. I'd applied for a few drama schools and I really wasn't taking it seriously, but he was very intimidating. I focused on the  pieces I was doing and then sat down for the interview. Christopher was right in the middle of a panel of about eight people, but his eyes, these  penetrating eyes, just held me.

I was always afraid of him, in awe of him. It's always pissed me off actually, because I don't like being in awe of anybody. He just has this marvellous mind, this wonderful way of looking at the world.

At the Drama Centre he taught us the discipline of the job and the responsibilities you have as an actor. There were a few tongue lashings of course. He'd just rip into you if you hadn't paid attention. Despite this, there was also a great human compassion for all these young people, of which I was one.

The Drama Centre was my university, my church, my salvation. Before I went there, I'd done some fringe theatre and, in my ignorance and youth, I thought I was above it all - but I really didn't know anything.

Christopher is somebody who I am deeply grateful for having in my life. All the luck I have had as an actor is thanks to him and to his colleague, Yat Malmgren. And Christopher is still the person I turn to in my head when I am on a set with some director who is rudderless and ill-prepared. At times like that I hear his words coming back to me. The most important lesson he ever taught me was that you will never be directed. The great directors, the good ones, are few and far between, so you'd better be prepared to direct yourself.

Christopher was my teacher and my mentor. I think that there is still that kind of relationship, of teacher and student, though he would be loathe to hear such a remark. He has been trying to get me back on the stage for some time - perhaps that's why he's got me involved in Concentric Circles. He's terrifying - he wants to make me work. It's like, "Enough of this poncing around in movies."

If I was to name his worst qualities, I would say that he can be a real bully, a mean son of a bitch when he gets out of bed on the wrong side or gets his mind set on some detail. I would never argue with him when I was a student, so it would be fascinating to go into the arena with him again at some point to see if I could hold my ground as an actor now.

I think Christopher is proud of what I've done. I know he is proud of what I did in The Tailor of Panama because he wrote it so and spoke it so on the phone. That was mighty. That was just "Yes!" because as time wears on you get a bit bored with yourself and you have to kick yourself in the arse to challenge yourself. I don't know what he thinks of my doing James Bond - I've always been scared to ask. Perhaps you could ask him for me, but not while I'm in the room please! Maybe he'll say "Could do better", or "Try harder" - or "What are you doing?"

Christopher Fettes: I ran the Drama Centre and that is where I met Pierce, as a student. It was remarkable that he came to the school in the first place. At that time there were lots of places that would have been only too happy to take him - and treat him as a potential star - but he chose the Drama Centre. We trained people in a different way: as part of a group, an ensemble. When you came to the school you were treated just like everyone else.

Despite that, Pierce always stood out. He was a very special student and, for his age he was an extraordinarily mature person. From the word go he was able to make the separation between home and work, which is the mark of a really mature artist. Usually a student drags the whole of his private life into the rehearsal or the theatre, but Pierce never had that problem.

His Irishness was always important as well. The students had to improvise a lot and Pierce had this ability to draw on folk legend and myth in a very Irish way.

It was the 1970s and the students were wild. It was an exciting period and they had a very good time, but they got up to an awful lot of serious mischief. Pierce was one of the people who kept a very gentle hand on them. He took responsibility and looked after the others with great tact and skill. In fact, he continued to do so for a long time afterwards.

Twenty years after they left school they decided to have a reunion. Everybody was invited and they all came - from Australia, Canada, all over the place. It was a remarkable group and Pierce played an important role in shaping that and creating something that stuck together, and continues to do so.

I would hope that I have ceased to be his teacher now. I certainly don't think of us in that way, not in the slightest. We're not a student and teacher, we are friends. We've been through a fair amount together and that shapes you and stays with for the rest of your life.

Pierce hasn't had an easy life but he's been a wonderful husband, a wonderful father and a wonderful friend. I am privileged to still have contact with him. As far as I'm concerned, his worst quality is that he hasn't come back to the theatre. That's shocking.

People say, "Oh he's a movie star," and they don't necessarily think of movie stars in terms of the theatre. But the parts that he played at school made it quite clear that he could be head of the Irish National Theatre if he so wished. He could create a company second to none.

I'm aghast at the versatility and the sense of variety that Pierce showed with The Tailor of Panama but to be honest, I think James Bond is a bit below his talents. I knew Sean Connery very well but I think that Pierce is the best Bond.

I don't think he has realised his potential yet. I'm sure that he can grow and develop. I mean, that's what is obvious from every film he does. The resources that he has on tap are very great. I am extremely proud of him. 

`Phaedra', a Concentric Circles production directed by Christopher Fettes, is at Riverside Studios, London W6, from Thursday until 9 March. For tickets tel: 020 8237 1111

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