GQ 2002 Cover: Pierce Brosnan

GQ's Actor Of The Year

GQ: Pierce Brosnan: Actor Of the Year
October 2002

At 50, screen idol James Bond is in the rudest of health, thanks to the unshakeable appeal of Pierce Brosnan.  On the evening of the release of Die Another Day, the 20th and costliest Bond yet, Brosnan reveals what it takes to play the consummate male icon.  

GQ 2002 Brosnan Now, for goodness sake pay attention: James Bond hits 50 this year, having been introduced to the world in Ian Fleming's 1952 spy- escapade, Casino Royale. Forty years ago he made his screen debut in Dr. No, the start of a film career that reaches its zenith in November with the release of the 20th Bond adventure, Die Another Day. And if all that wasn't reason enough for bunting sellers up and down the land to rejoice, Pierce Brosnan is the GQ Actor Of The Year.

For services to crown, country and shaken spirits, nobody holds a Walther P99 to Brosnan - the most convincing Bond since Sean Connery first minted the murderer-as-matinee-idol nearly half a century ago. Starting in 1995 with that cuspal, post-PC dressing- down from Dame Judi Dench's buttock- clenchingly judgmental M in GoldenEye ("I think you're a sexist, misogynist dinosaur"), Brosnan has gone on to excel in the gloriously over-amped Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) and the cool-Britannic bowing out to the century that created him that was 1999's The World Is Not Enough.  

The costliest Bond ever, Die Another Day promises more of the same, only more so: a £100m-plus testament to the simple cinematic credo that guys-plus-girls-plus gadgets-plus-some seriously big explosions equals the most successful film franchise of all time. A slave to neither contemporary mores, nor the current addiction to computer-generated images (wherever possible, a luckless stunt fellow's life has been risked in favour of "flying in" an explosion at the editing stage), it's a recipe of which Brosnan heartily approves.

"It's a period piece," says the 49-year-old Irishman. "But it's a period piece that has been reinvented 20 times over. What Fleming put down there, what he created, is certainly the blueprint. And then along came Cubby Broccoli and Harry Saltzman, who embellished that. Of course, there's a part of me that would love to do a full-on Bond, where you don't have the rating, where you do all the killings and you see the effects of killing on the man - the mundanity of being a spy. But they struck oil with Goldfinger, and they were off to the races with the gadgets and the explosions and the set pieces. And the audiences need that."

Much has been written about previous Bonds' relationships with the role: how Connery hated being typecast as much as Fleming hated the Scottish former milkman donning 007's Savile Row suits; how Roger Moore went on too long, coming across as an ageing sex tourist as he tottered around the Far East hamming it up with the likes of "Miss Goodhead"; how one-time Shakespearean actor Timothy Dalton famously sought to return to the text, until Bond, shorn of his wisecracking way with women, seemed a sullen old sod in a long-since spent soap opera. But of all the men who've signed up to play Fleming's A-plus alpha male, upon whom the author visited all his austerity Britain-fed fantasies of whip-sharp worldliness, Brosnan's preternaturally applied mix of insolence, insouciance and (lest we forget) indestructibility suggests he was born toothed and haired to play the part.

Brosnan's take on Bond is refracted through what the Audience has come to expect, what the past has served up ("Connery was the only one for me; I grew up with him"), and what he feels he can bring to the role. "He's a man who's lived with so much death and dying, and so much alcohol and sex over the years, that there's a pretty mangled human being in there trying to survive. So I just want to be as honest and truthful as possible. But it's a lot to encompass, and you can't play it all so you just take it a scene at a time. This is a man who lives this fantastic lifestyle with his incredible confidence and assuredness with women and guns and cars and his fellow man. But underneath there's a guy who's trapped...  fuckin' trapped. Somewhat like the actor in the role..."

Brosnan says he isn't tiring of the Bond role just yet ("Everyone talks about Connery hitting his stride on his third, and I kept waiting for the bell to go off, but it didn't really happen. This one's been a turning point"), it's just that intimations of mortality are everywhere with such a grueling role. "It would be foolish not to think of one's time and when one's time is done. The producers have said publicly that the part's mine for as long as I want, so it becomes a question of ego. And about saying, 'OK kid', and letting go." 

Does the money make a difference?

"Certainly there's the financial side. There's no comparison to what went on many years ago, in the Sixties and Seventies, which is wonderful when you have as many kids as I do! But you've regulated for all that, so it really comes down to can you really be passionate about another one? I enjoy it enormously, but you have to have the stamina and the patience and the courage to go there for seven months of your life to make it."

If age doesn't bother Brosnan unduly ("I don't have any hang-ups"), then neither does it bother the producers, who've opted to cast Toby Stephens, an actor 16 years his junior, as Die Another Day's, baddie, Gustav Graves. For his part, Stephens believes the casting is a spur to the film's slightly different plotline. "I hope there's a screen tension in that," he says, "because my character is always trying to be on a level with Bond and, inevitably, he's not. The whole film is like a duel between them, more so than the other movies where there's inevitably been some kind of chess game going on. Hopefully this is more visceral."  

Visceral or not, the new Bond film has been, Brosnan freely admits, his most exhausting yet. It's not just the early starts, it's the constant to-ing and fro-ing between 007's oak-beamed lair in leafy Hertfordshire, Pinewood Studios, and the traditional siren call of the Bond films' much-loved foreign locales (scaled down significantly from the National Service-like tours of duty remembered by some of the lifelong Bond crew). And then there's all the living that's had to go on in-between. Prior to his call-up for Die Another Day, Brosnan married US TV caster Keely Shaye Smith and starred in Evelyn, a gritty, Fifties-set Irish family drama which his company, Irish DreamTime Productions, also developed. Then, while filming Die Another Day, he was forced to fly home to California for treatment after aggravating a knee injury sustained on the set of 1997's Dante's Peak.

And if all that weren't enough, he's had to contend with the hospitalisation of two of his sons, Sean and Chris - one after a bizarre gym incident, the other following a drug-fuelled night out in London. No wonder the twice-married father of five and grandfather to one is greatly looking forward to flying home to his beach house in Malibu in three days' time, where his wife and their two young sons, Dylan (5) and Paris (18 months) have flown ahead to meet him.

First, though, he must finish up here. For the last few months, the famed 007 sound stage at Pinewood has doubled up as the Ice Palace, a vast, frozen hideout modeled on Sweden's famous Ice Hotel, which, in keeping with Bond's perennial problem with superabundantly evil adversaries, is presently being melted by lasers beamed from space.

In lieu of a real-life laser-firing satellite, the guts of the building have been rigged with dozens of high-pressure hoses, primed to dump hundreds of gallons of water a minute onto the set below. What this means to the cast and crew is summed up in a message at the top of the day's shooting schedule: "Please note that this is a wet set: bring suitable clothes."

GQ 2002 Brosnan

"Aww fuck!" snarls Brosnan as the first rain droplets penetrate his Nike Air Rifts. He's required only to sit in his £185,000 Aston Martin Vanquish and react as, off-camera, Bond's would-be nemesis du jour, played by Rick Yune, is supposedly about to broadside him in a green Jaguar XK8, so he's failed to put his feet on a war footing, as it were.

Up on a mezzanine level, safely away from the downpour that will soon engulf the rest of the giant set, there's a slight end-of-term feel around, as-director Lee Tamahori (The Edge, Once Were Warriors) requests last-minute adjustments to the lighting, and the film's co-producers, Barbara Broccoli and her half-brother, Cubby's stepson Michael G. Wilson, sit behind a video playback module. Dressed in a butter-soft leather jacket to beat the creeping cold, and clutching a cup of something soft and vitamin-laden (B12 shots have long since been a fact of life on the seven-month shoot), Brosnan seems visibly to relax, chatting as the small unit puts fake snow around the wheels of his Vanquish.

When his moment arrives, he delivers a masterclass in Bondian superciliousness in tie face of imminent annihilation. The pout is just right (think scarily confident man staring down a mad dog rather than Derek Zoolander), as is the glossy approximation of semi-exertion that delivers just the right measure of jammy Bond in a jam.  Moments later it's a wrap, and after waiting long enough to check he's no longer needed, the star leads the way back through the water to his trailer.

Pierce Brosnan's home for the last seven months shows all the signs of long-term occupancy. At one end there's a small dressing room full of oozing unguents, at the other a defiantly unmade bed. Between the two runs a wall full of time-killing technology that gives out onto a small living area containing a low table (on which sit two copies ad Geoffrey Household's WWII thriller, Rogue Male and a desk that's currently home to a sumptuous Pickett stationery case, a dormant Fujitsu Lifebook and a prodigiously read copy of this morning's Independent newspaper.  Soon, Brosnan is doing honours with a boiling kettle and two coffee mugs while simultaneously hunting down, without much success, a cigarette.  

GQ 2002 Brosnan "There's only one actor in the whole world I've got an autograph from," he says, abandoning the fruitless search for a smoke and fiddling instead with a glossy Montblanc fountain pen. "And that's Roger Moore. My mother took me to Battersea, and I lined up and got his autograph. I was maybe 15 or 16. Even he doesn't know that, and you're the first journalist I've ever told."

It's but one of the occasional conjunctions between Brosnan's life and the world of James Bond: the first film he ever saw, he's fond of recalling, was Goldfinger, and he went on to marry a Bond girl (Cassandra Harris, who played Countess Lisl in For Your Eyes Only). Still, it's not something he likes anyone to read too much  into. "I didn't come into acting to play Bond," he says. "I just happened to see Goldfinger in '64, and my late wife just happened to be a Bond girl."

Indeed, reading the runes in Brosnan's early life would hardly lead to the most famous screen role on the planet. He was born in May 1953, nine months to the day after his parents' marriage in Navan, Ireland. His father, Tommy, left for good shortly afterwards (they only met once since).

When his mother went to England to find work, Pierce was left in the care of grandparents, before lodging with a local family. He rejoined his mother - by then re-married - in London in 1964.

"When you've been brought up in Ireland and you know you've had a shit education, you've got a lot of catching up to do," he says. "I was quite good at drawing and painting, and at writing essays - although my spelling was appalling and my vocabulary atrocious. But somehow I could imagine and create other worlds. So that's what I clung to."

He soon discovered acting, and the effect on the young Brosnan was immediate ("Walking into the Oval House Theatre Club in Kennington was... magic."). A strong ambition wasn't far behind. "With the money I had at drama school, I'd go to the pictures rather than the theatre," he says. "I grew up on Clint Eastwood, Steve McQueen and, of course, Bond itself."

Having landed walk-on parts in some half-decent films (he was credited as "First Irishman" in the immaculate 1980 Brit-gangster epic The Long Good Friday), in 1981 Brosnan, newly married to his Bond Girl, took out a bank loan and flew them both on low-cost Laker Airways to America. "I went to do movies," he says. "Working with Scorsese... that was the dream." Instead he got a starring role in Remington Steele, playing the mysterious partner in Stephanie Zimbalist's eponymous detective agency. "Brilliant job, don't get me wrong - fantastic job - but the dream was movies," says Brosnan. "Still, beggars can't be choosers; don't look a gift horse in the mouth..."

Extravagantly silly and yet enormously popular, after Roger Moore's stint in The Saint it was probably the best grounding any future Bond could wish for. Even more fortuitously, the show was cancelled just as Moore finally accepted his commander's pension in 1986. "This is great," recalls Brosnan. "Mr. Slick thinks he's got it all sewn up. In the bag. But the fates said otherwise..."

The announcement that Brosnan was to become the new Bond had prompted Remington Steele's producers to revive the show, costing a still-contracted Brosnan the role, and gifting it to his friend, Timothy Dalton. "We had planned to move to Spain and live the Roger Moore/Sean Connery lifestyle, y'know? My wife and I were buying into all of that. And then it didn't happen. It was humiliating. And when Tim took over I thought, that's it, it's gone, he's on his way. I never expected it to come back into my life."

Fortunately, the furor surrounding his non-appearance as Bond alerted casting directors to Brosnan's studied good looks, and other film roles soon materialised (including the screen version of Frederick Forsyth's The Fourth Protocol). However, by then his wife Cassie had developed the cancer that took her life in December 1991. "My 40th birthday just came and went in a veil of numbness," he says. "I was a widower; I'd already experienced the passing of a loved one, death, and that glorious change in yourself when you've gone through that..."

His voice trails off, mindful of the fact that he spoke volumes at the time, and it came back to haunt him. There's the feeling that he gave too much away, and in turn encouraged others to read too much into his work. But the fact remains that Brosnan has repeatedly opted to play imperfect outsiders, whether it be the raffish millionaire Thomas Crown, the proto-environmentalist Archie Grey Owl or, indeed, Bond himself.

"All the stuff I've done has been part of my life and part of what I am. Because I've got no one else to draw on but myself, and because I was trying for a kind of cinematic presence that I'd seen other men do and wanted to create in my own work. And it has probably failed more often than it has succeeded..."

Fortunately, success has a way of obliterating all but the most ignominious failures, and since the mid-Nineties Brosnan has been seriously successful. When Bond came calling again in 1995, "it felt like divine intervention had stepped in," he says. "It just felt very right; I felt more seasoned." Was there a sense of once-bitten-twice-shy? "I just said to my agent, 'OK, just no fuck ups; I don't want to be left waiting at the altar this time...'"

A legal dispute following Dalton's second and last Bond film meant that GoldenEye would be the first 007 caper in six years, a gap that had sealed the series' Cold War era, and allowed for a new Bond to emerge. The gadgets were back, the girls once again present and entirely politically incorrect, but more importantly Brosnan put Bond back on top, where other mini-franchises, notably Tom Clancy's Jack Ryan series, have failed to join it.

The rewards, Brosnan is the first to admit, have been considerable. There's the two houses In Malibu ("You look at your finances and think, 'Another Bond? Maybe another Bond. Let's go for it'"), the fleet of Bond-licious cars (a new Aston Martin Vanquish joins the brace of BMWs and a cherished Porsche 911 - and a soft-top Bentley, he says, wouldn't go amiss), and the wardrobe: "My dresser asked me what suits I wanted take home, and I said I've been sat at the table too long; I can't take any more home! And yet I just had four suits made to measure by Richard James, who I've just discovered."

The priority, though, remains his family - as well it might, given the trials and tribulations they've all been through. Chris, he says, "is in a painful part of his life right now, and that's been very upsetting everybody", but his two young sons, Dylan and Paris, provide necessary succour from the rigours of fame ("Mornings spent building rockets and paper planes is invaluable."). Indeed, so comfortable does Brosnan seem, it's hard to imagine there might be another Pierce Brosnan ready to take advantage of Bond's timeless sex appeal. "No, I don't have a longing for that. It sounds naive, simplistic, but I'm happy being the man I am with the life I have

And besides, there's that Brosnan hunger, a need to keep on keeping on, sharpened by his success as Bond, rather than diminished by it. "You go into the realm of: OK, it's great, but what is the work? And how are you perceived? It's constantly keeping up, trying to grow and get better. Because you see younger actors do it with such ferocity and you see your heroes - your Gene Hackmans, your Anthony Hopkinses, your John Hurts - working away. Or you see someone like Mel Gibson do an icon film like Braveheart - that's inspiring."

Before Brosnan dons blue warpaint, however there's the scheduled release of Evelyn, a simple time-locked story that nevertheless resonates with enough of Brosnan's own experiences to draw more than a dutiful crowd. Then there's a possible reprise of  The Thomas Crown Affair, a vehicle for which the perma-dapper Brosnan is, well, well-suited. "I like that kind of character," he says. "You can take him and you can put him in romantic comedy. Letting a door slam in Thomas Crown or face or letting him slip on a banana skin can be funny. And that's what I'm trying to look for - that Cary Grant, Fred Astaire character. The man in the suit who has that elegance, that perfect style and that confidence."

The better, perhaps, to dodge the crowded market in wannabe Bonds.

Of course there's competition," says Brosnan, "but from Mike Myers wanting to be Bond to Tom Cruise wanting to be Bond to Vin Diesel wanting to be Bond, it's a testament to the power and the strength of this timeless character.

GQ 2002 Brosnan

But there's only so much you can do. You can't take it all on board you can only turn up and do the graft each day, and hopefully it all comes together in a good movie. Because it's just a movie and the punters either like it or they don't. And if they don't like it, they take the piss out of you. But, you know, you're an actor - they used to bury us at the crossroads.'

Brosnan six feet under? Come on, this is Bond we're talking about! 

Die Another Day is released on 20 November

Story by Bill Prince
Photographs by Julian Broad

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