Pierce Brosnan: Urbane Leading Man
Brosnan is heir to Americaís
infatuation with suave leading men from the British Isles With two major
movies slated for release, Pierce Brosnan is ready to swap his debonair
leading television persona for the role of Hollywood leading man.
Meet the real Pierce Brosnan, an Irish charmer whose self-deprecating sense of humor is as engaging as his directness. Pretensions? Youíve got the wrong guy, especially if you want to get into power talk about good looks as Hollywood currency. "People can say nice things," he says simply. "They can also throw mud. So long as I get the job, have a good time, and the check doesn't bounce."
Brosnan can count on all three with Mrs. Doubtfire scheduled for release during the blockbuster Christmas season. The press has already fallen in love with the movie, which is being touted as "Tootsie meets Mary Poppins." Robin Williams plays a divorced father of three who is distraught over how little time he gets to spend with his children. When his ex-wife (played by Sally Field) advertises for a housekeeper, Williams disguises himself as an elderly Englishwoman and gets the job. Brosnan plays the spanner in the works-- the ex-wife's old flame who happens to be a dashing, wealthy entrepreneur ... and available.
It would be easy to write off Brosnan as playing to stereotype, but anyone who has followed his career since Remington Steele went off the air in 1987 would know otherwise. The classically trained actor has almost studiously avoided the role of suave bon vivant with which he became so closely identified, choosing instead to play characters as diverse as a KGB assassin opposite Michael Caine in The Fourth Protocol, a taciturn colonial bureaucrat in Mister Johnson (director Bruce Beresford's first movie since his Academy Award-winning Driving Miss Daisy) and a reclusive scientist confronted with the dark side of his research in last year's summer hit, Lawnmower Man.
"When I did Remington Steele, I knew that I would have to dig myself out from underneath a rock as it became more and more successful," he says. "I realized that I was going to have to live with being tagged as suave and debonair and all those other labels one is given-- not that it's such a bad thing to live with. If you get work, that's great. But I'm trained as an actor. In England, I worked in regional theater, West End productions and BBC costume dramas, so I was used to playing different roles long before I came to America."
Born in the small town of Navan in County Meath, Ireland, Brosnan studied acting at the Drama Centre in London. Upon graduating, he found work as an assistant stage manager at the York Theatre Royal, but within six months he was starring in London's West End-- playwright Tennessee Williams personally selected him to create the role of McCabe in the British premiere of his play Red Devil Battery Sign in 1977. Although the play failed, reviews of Brosnan's performance were favorable. He still treasures the telegram sent to him by Williams: "Thank God for you, my dear boy." More importantly, he was seen by Italian director Franco Zefferelli, who quickly cast the young actor in the Glasgow production of his play, Filumena. This led to a BBC docudrama and a role in a BBC miniseries. Then came his biggest break, the lead role in the miniseries The Manions of America.
When Manions was about to air in the United States, Brosnan decided it was time to test the luck of the Irish. He and his wife, Australian actress Cassandra Harris, borrowed a little money and set off for Los Angeles hoping to find work in the movies. The gamble paid off. He showed up to read for the Remington Steele role in a beaten-up car courtesy of Rent-Wreck but looking as dapper as the Duke of Windsor in his suit and tie. He clinched the role.
Being the obvious heir to America's infatuation with suave leading men from the British Isles didn't hurt. The instant appeal of the English accent, offhand drollness and mannered charm that had been the hallmarks of such screen idols as Cary Grant and David Niven was unmistakable. And it's no coincidence that the names Sean Connery and Roger Moore come up frequently in conversations about Pierce Brosnan: Producer Albert "Cubby" Broccoli had selected him to be the next James Bond after Roger Moore hung up 007's silencer. But in a highly publicized brouhaha, NBC refused to let Brosnan out of his Remington Steele contract to take the role, and the part went to British actor Timothy Dalton.
It was a painful experience for Brosnan. "That was a rough summer to live through," he says. "It would have been wonderful to do the movie. I'm a big fan of that genre and that entire cinematic heritage. Goldfinger was, in fact, the first big technicolor film I ever saw. There I was, this young Catholic boy of about 10 or 11, looking at a naked lady covered in gold paint. When I think about how the seeds of acting came into my life, I suppose that had a lot to do with it."
Brosnan seems to have had more his share of that Hollywood specialty-- the deal that got away. He was set to star as swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in Sir Richard Attenborough's Chaplin, "but when the picture went into turnaround, I was one of the casualties." (The role eventually went to Kevin Kline.) He was also slated to star as The Saint, the role that shot Roger Moore into international prominence, but "it's still languishing there on someone's desk in Hollywood. We start. We talk." He shrugs off the process in no uncertain terms: "It's par for the course in Hollywood."
It was a little over a year ago that Brosnan made the cover of People magazine. Magazine covers were nothing new for the man who had been singled out by every publication from TV Guide to Newsweek. But this cover was different-- four months ago his wife had died after a four-year battle with ovarian cancer, and he had decided to go public with a recollection of the life and death of woman he called his best friend.
He and "Cassie" first met in London
in 1970. A striking beauty, she was probably best known for her role
as Countess Lisl in the 1981 James Bond epic For Your Eyes Only.
(She later made a guest appearance on Remington Steele as Steele's former
Photography by Stephen Harvey
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