'I am the sexiest man in the world! I know I am. I read it'
|'I am the sexiest
man in the world! I know I am. I read it'
January 13, 2002
Sean Connery says he's the all-time best Bond. But at 48, Pierce Brosnan knows he can't go on diving through plate-glass windows forever. Barbara Ellen shares a cocktail with 007 and finds out what's beneath the tux
It's not often that you get to sit in a cocktail bar with James Bond and watch him have a mid-life crisis. Actually, I'm just being silly. I'm not sitting in a cocktail bar with James Bond, I'm sitting in a Dublin hotel lounge with Pierce Brosnan, who currently plays James Bond. And Brosnan is not having a mid-life crisis, he's just wondering like we all do from time to time: And so, what next?
'I know what it's like to be famous,' says Brosnan, lounging back in his chair, twisting the top off a bottle of Evian. 'It's good money and it's great fun. A real kick in the pants. People wave at you and smile at you. You get great tables in restaurants. They send you gifts - beautiful clothes and cars. Then, it's all a bit hollow because it doesn't really nourish you. Fame is like a big piece of meringue - it's beautiful and you keep eating it, but it doesn't really fill you up. It's a game, a great game, that's all.
'As I've got older, I've realised that,' he continues. 'When I was younger, doing Remington Steele, it was wonderful watching it all grow and flourish. But then I watched it fade, too. I thought: "Oh, it's going, it's going. I don't get recognised any more, people don't hassle me." There was a bit of regretfulness there, I could feel it. And it will happen again. As time goes on and I hang up the Bond mantle, it will pass. You know that, and you have to have the strength and humility to deal with it. Deal with the ego and get back to the job in hand. Which is being an actor.'
Brosnan takes a swig of water and smiles over at me ruefully. 'I've had enough fame now. I'm 48 years old and I'm restless. Where do I go in the next 10 years? That's what drives me. Can I make more films? Can I make a company where I can own my own library? Would I be able to direct? Do I want to direct? I want control over my life, with the understanding also that I want to be hired.' And now Brosnan lets out a long, self-mocking, theatrical sigh. 'The fame game is the fame game, but what about the work ?'
Actually, initially, we do meet in the cocktail bar of the hotel, only moving to the lounge when the chatter from nearby tables gets too loud. 'I just wish people would be quiet and stop enjoying themselves,' Brosnan 'complains', as we leave the bar. When his mobile phone rings, he 'grumbles' again: 'This better be good!' Brosnan, father of five, grandfather of one, seems to enjoy putting on an act of being a grumpy auld git. At least I assume it's an act. Certainly, when a middle-aged woman approaches him for an autograph for her daughter, Brosnan couldn't be sweeter. 'How old is your daughter? What is her name?' he enquires in his soft Irish-Californian burr. After the woman leaves, red-faced and half-swooning, with the autograph clutched in her hand, I ask Brosnan which gender approaches him as a rule? 'Oh women, definitely.' Why is that, does he think? 'Because I'm the sexiest man in the world!' Brosnan slaps the table authoritatively. 'I know I am. I read it.'
What do people really make of Pierce Brosnan? Everybody, I mean - ordinary members of the public as well as casting directors? Obviously, Brosnan isn't short of admirers - as he says, he was recently voted Sexiest Man In The World, beating Julia Robert's ex, the much younger Benjamin Bratt, into second place. (And, bless him, he loves it - The Observer photographer said that it was all she could do to stop Brosnan writhing about on the hotel bed like a born-again sex kitten.) However, asking around my nearest and dearest, nobody seems to find Brosnan 'sexy' as such. Some thought he was 'all right', or grudgingly allowed that he was 'a good actor'. However, nobody seemed particularly excited or impressed by him. More crucially, nobody thought he was 'relevant'. If anything, the majority seemed to have the impression of Brosnan as some kind of walking tuxedo, forever wafting around film premieres, preening himself in front of cameras. A flesh-pressing version of James Bond himself. Someone who seemed perfectly at home with the 'fame game'.
Is there any truth in this? Brosnan claims that, while in no way a recluse, he rarely socialises outside his home community of Malibu. And, if he does, it's generally for a good cause - one of the environmental, cancer, or children's charities he supports. Although in Dublin to make his production company Irish Dreamtime's new film, Evelyn, Brosnan was actually speaking to me in his role as patron of Concentric Circles, the new theatre group that enables young actors to gain experience alongside professionals, though frankly he doesn't have much of interest to say about it. ('I have to admit that the sum of my involvement thus far is talking to you.') Other than that, Brosnan has worked as an ambassador for the Prince's Trust and, last December, he was made a patron for Irish Unicef. All of which accounts for a few of those seemingly interminable photo opportunities. 'Yeah, well, if I hadn't been an actor, I probably would have been a social worker,' says Brosnan. 'Acting is great, but sometimes it can feel rather redundant in a world which is flying by the seat of its pants.'
Still, though, the image persists of Brosnan as Tuxedo Guy. My mother put it more brutally: 'A right smarmy so and so.' Rather disappointingly (it would have been just perfect if Brosnan had conducted the interview sipping cocktails on top of a waterbed, or jumped through a plate-glass window at the end), I have to report that, in person, Brosnan isn't remotely smarmy. If anything, he's rather serious and prickly, those textbook handsome features forever collapsing into rueful self-questioning frowns, his Irish blarney drying up to a trickle, as he remembers he's talking to a journalist. What Brosnan does is give good smarm, when the part demands it. And not just smarm, either - many, including Sean Connery, consider Brosnan to be an excellent Bond. An actor born to be Bond.
Indeed, even slumped in a chair, in his civvies, Brosnan's italicised good looks, his restrained air of machismo, seem so 'Bond', it's hard to believe that he once lost out on the role because of contractual obligations, in 1986. Timothy Dalton stepped in, and Brosnan thought that he'd blown it - his one big movie chance passing by on the great sushi conveyor belt of opportunity. 'I never thought it would come around again. And it hurt.' Brosnan coped by working harder than ever - instructing his agent to get him roles in any half-decent movies he could. (You might have seen him giving great smarm as the new boyfriend in Mrs Doubtfire.) 'You couldn't be devastated by it. You have to find employment, you have to feed your family.' Bond was the thing, though, and when it was offered again, he grabbed it with both hands. As Brosnan points out, being typecast as Bond never held any fear for him (as it did for Dalton), because he was already typecast in Remington Steele, the long-running television series that made his name and set his public image in stone.
'I went to America to do movies,' he says. 'I went there to work with Martin Scorsese and to do all the films I'd grown up on. And I got offered Remington , and I thought: "Well, this could be pretty good, this could be a laugh for a little while." But it went on for four years. It was great training, but I saw this image being created of myself, an image I fed into. It's not a bad image, but it's going to be interesting to see whether I can alter it. Can I, or am I really locked into it? It's like you've created this thing. How do you uncreat e it?' Is this what Brosnan wants to do at this stage - unpick his 'sophisticated' image and start all over again? 'Oh I don't know about that.' Brosnan smiles, ever the pragmatist. 'If you've got it, flog it. If it works, don't kick it.'
Pierce Brosnan was born 48 years ago in Naven, County Meath. His father abandoned him as an infant, while his mother, May, went to England to work as a nurse, leaving him with his grandparents. When they died, Brosnan was placed in lodgings in the poor end of town, sleeping behind a curtain so that the adult lodgers wouldn't wake him when they returned from their shifts. From the age of six, he attended a notorious Catholic boys' school run by the Christian Brothers ('truly mangled human beings'), where vicious, pointless beatings were commonplace. (It was closed down a year after he left, following an exposé in the News of the World.) Understandably, Brosnan pined terribly for his mother (to whom, unlike his father, he seems to bear no ill will), and finally they were reunited - Brosnan joining May to live in Fulham, southwest London, when he was 11.
After leaving school, Brosnan worked as a commercial artist ('watering spider plants and learning how to draw three-piece suites for the Evening Standard'), before discovering acting at a theatre workshop. 'This was something I could do,' he says. 'I knew I had a presence, I knew I could fill the space.' As a young, struggling actor, Brosnan met his first wife, Cassandra Harris, a former Bond girl, 12 years his senior, who encouraged him to try his luck in Hollywood. Harris died of ovarian cancer in 1991, leaving Brosnan wild with grief. At the time, he spilled his guts to the media, but a decade on, he regrets that - sympathetic journalists are still bringing hankies along with their tape recorders, while he has moved on and married again. 'It's just enough, ' says Brosnan. 'I want to say, "Thank you, but enough. It happened, it's tragic, it's part of the tapestry of who I am. But just let it rest now, be respectful." All I ever wanted was for that person to have dignity in passing. But the press always want to know.'
Actually, it's the amount of children surrounding Brosnan that I find fascinating. When he married Harris, Brosnan happily became father to her two children, Charlotte, now 28, and Christopher, 27, and they also had their own son, Sean, 17. Brosnan then went on to have two more sons, Dylan Thomas, and Paris Beckett, with his partner of six years, environmental journalist Keely Shaye Smith. Now, to top it all, Charlotte has made him the proud grandfather of a little girl. (Brosnan jokily requests that I don't mention this last fact, as it might scupper his new 'sexy' image.)
'I never thought: "I want to have kids." Kids were just there from the start,' he sighs, shaking his head wonderingly, but you can tell he's thrilled by his 'papa' status. (The one movie Brosnan would have loved to have acted in was The Godfather.) I can't think of a way to put my next point delicately, so I just blunder in - Brosnan was a very young man when he became father to Harris's children, did he find it at all daunting?
'No, no-ooo,' he says emphatically. 'They were my friends first, then my children, and I loved it, I really did.' Brosnan considers for a moment: 'What would I have done if I was footloose and fancy free? I would only have been getting into trouble.' Most young men rather enjoy getting into 'trouble', I say. 'Well, I see your point, but, you know, I've always liked to be able to come home to my family. I need it, I thrive on it, it's my stability, my comfort, because the job I'm doing is so dangerous and destructive at times. Maybe it sounds melodramatic, but I've seen people get really fucked up in the old acting game. You go through so many hoops, you can lose yourself. You're being judged the whole time - by others, by yourself. Your ego runs away from you, the insecurity chews you up.' Brosnan smiles. 'So you see, my family has always been a great stability that allows me to go off and dream.'
However, one doesn't need a degree in cod psychology to wonder whether part of the reason why Brosnan embraced family life with such great-hearted fervour was because of his own lack of parenting. Moreover, it seems no coincidence that Evelyn, the third film from Irish Dreamtime (the other two being The Nephew and The Thomas Crown Affair), is also concerned with themes of fatherhood. Starring Brosnan and directed by Bruce Beresford, it tells the true story of Irishman Desmond Doyle, who became a cause célèbre when he fought all the way to the high courts to get back his four children from care, where they had been placed after their mother left. Again, you can't help but speculate why Brosnan, the fatherless child, was so attracted to the thought of playing such a powerful father figure.
'I suppose it could have something to do with my not having a really stable and conventional childhood,' says Brosnan quietly. 'It was fractured, a very fractured family...' His voice trails away to nothing. It all sounds very tough, I say. 'Yeah,' says Brosnan, almost whispering now. Suddenly, he turns brisk: 'Let's just talk about movies, let's talk about films. So much more interesting!'
That would be difficult, I say, you've lived such a lot of life.
'Yeah, a lot of life,' says Brosnan. Later he grumbles, only half-jokingly: 'You know, I just wish I was kind of paler, more enigmatic. The public know about my life. They know about my childhood. They know that I was a widower. They know blah, blah. They know too bloody much! I made a big mistake a long time ago of opening my mouth to the press. I thought: "This is nice, talking away, talking away." And then you realise - you've given it all away.' Is that how he feels, that he's given it all away? 'Oh yes,' says Brosnan. 'I've felt that lots of times.'
At least Brosnan seems happy to wax lyrical about his recent marriage to Shaye Smith. They held their wedding last August in Ireland's Ballintubber Abbey, with a reception at Ashford Castle. The wedding had been postponed several times (due to a flood at their Malibu home, Paris Beckett's arrival and Sean being injured in a horrific road accident), so it was probably with a feeling of wary relief that the couple finally made their way down the aisle. Rather naughtily, Brosnan describes their big day to me as 'friends, mums and dads, no Hollywood. Just an opportunity to celebrate our love and have a good old knees-up.' However, in reality, the 'knees-up' was a big, glitzy affair involving hundreds of thousands of pounds' worth of fireworks and flowers, helicopters ferrying guests around, the Chieftains as the wedding band and Hello! magazine.
To Brosnan's credit, after some brief guff ('you end up with magnificent photographs that last a lifetime'), he doesn't pretend that he allowed Hello! to be there for any reason other than money: 'There's a part of me that goes - "Oh my God, this is cringe making." But if we hadn't done the deal with dear old Hello!, we would probably have had to pay for a lot of it ourselves. Doing something like this makes it very comfortable monetary wise. And it gives you control over it. Everybody wins.' What's the downside? 'We were just worried about looking foolish,' says Brosnan. He grins wryly: 'And we probably have.'
Was it important for Brosnan to come back to Ireland to get married?
'Oh yes,' he says. 'There's the warm embrace of being an Irishman coming back to his own country to get married, which is quite tender and poignant. It gives one a real sense of belonging.' Despite his miserable childhood, Brosnan seems to enjoy coming back to Ireland anyway. 'I need this outlet,' says Brosnan. 'I love America, it's home, and I'm forever grateful for the opportunities it has given me, but I have to get out of that town. If I knew I could never come back to Ireland, to England, I think I'd fall off the tree.'
Which brings us back to where we came in: what will Pierce Brosnan do next? The Bonds Brosnan has starred in have been among the most successful ever (the new one started filming this month), but he knows that he can't go on twitching his cuffs and jumping into ravines forever. Then again, Brosnan isn't remotely interested in returning to the theatre - on behalf of Concentric Circles or anyone else. 'I'd like to go back onstage, but the want isn't strong enough.' Nor are the other big-budget films he has done (Dante's Peak, Mars Attacks! ) likely to impress the key directors he has always been interested in working with (Martin Scorcese, David Lynch, Steven Spielberg). In a way, Brosnan seems to have become a victim of his own success in the role of Bond - would directors be likely to think of him in other parts?
'Probably not,' he says wryly. This is where Irish Dreamtime comes in. 'I want to do smaller, character pieces and I want to do big schmaltzy productions,' says Brosnan. 'I want to have my cake and eat it.' He rises to his feet - it's time for his 'sex kitten' photoshoot. 'You know what I want most of all?' says Brosnan, before he goes. 'Just to keep working. Because, as any actor will tell you, when you're not working, you have to deal with yourself. Who are you? Where are you going? What are you doing? All that kind of thing.' Pierce Brosnan gives me his best 'smarmy' Tuxedo Guy grin. 'And I can't be doing with that!'
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