Orange Coast Cover- July 1993

Polished Steele

Orange Coast: 
Pierce Brosnan: Urbane Leading Man

Polished Steele
July 1993
By Eve Belson

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.

Click for larger image Pierce?  A strange name for a man?  Not if youíve had those blue eyes pierce your composure, turn your knees to mush and make your palms sweat.

Little has changed in the 11 years since Pierce Brosnan first made Americaís collective female pulse skip a beat when he strode into their lives as Remington Steele, the debonair sleuth with the mysterious past.  For five seasons, female viewers were captivated by Brosnanís drop dead good-looks, sexy charm and wry, understated humor that two secretaries had to be hired just to handle the sacks of mail his fans were sending him.

As he takes a break from filming, you have a chance to study the face that launched a thousand network ratings points.  No doubt about it-- the years have agreed with Brosnan, now 40.  His face has lost its pretty-boy smoothness in favor of a chiseled masculinity.  Small wonder he was cast as the love interest in Mrs. Doubtfire, a romantic comedy that features megastars Robin Williams and Sally Field.

"I'm not Robin's love interest, mind you," he deadpans.  "I'm Sally's."

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 girlfriend.) 

It was Cassie who decided they should move to America in 1981, who introduced Brosnan to Broccoli, and who, despite her illness encouraged her husband to take on Lawnmower Man, his first box-office hit.

Itís been a difficult year, but Brosnanís philosophy has been to put one foot in front of the other, dedicate himself to his children (Charlotte, 20, Christopher, 19, and Sean, 8) and keep busy.  "The alternative," he laughs, "is not very pleasant." As a tribute to Cassie's spirit, he went to work immediately.  "For her, it was never about death.  It was always about life, living." Brosnan has felt the healing passage of time.  "Last year, the house hung around me like an old overcoat.  This year is great.  It's full of life, and I feel a certain kind of renewal.  I've had some wonderful holidays with the children, I've got new movies coming out, and there's finally blood coursing around my heart."

As far as his movie career is concerned, Brosnan is finally poised on the brink of superstardom.  Last year's Lawnmower Man was his first major commercial success.  Audiences are eagerly awaiting the Christmas release of Mrs. Doubtfire.  And next summer they will be lining up to see Lawnmower Man 2, in which Brosnan will reprise his role of Dr. Angelo and the world of virtual reality.  And then?

His experience with director Bruce Beresford has given him a taste for working with great talents.  He harbors a dream to work with Martin Scorcese and "the man himself-- Robert De Niro." But what's more important is to just keep acting. "I love being an actor.  It feeds me in so many ways.  But there's so much BS in this business that it can sometimes get to you.  You've got to keep a sense of humor about yourself and strive to do the best you can and be as human as you can. 

Click for larger image

Photography by Stephen Harvey

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