Vogue: Deeply Bonded

Click on photo for larger version

Dec 2002

Six-foot-two with blazing blue eyes and an Irish lilt. Could anyone be more 
007 than Pierce Brosnan? The action man sits down (in the lotus position) 
with Vicki Woods.

Vogue: Dec 2002 (Click for larger photo Pierce and Halle) I am in a James Bond movie, playing Miss Moneypenny. The impossibly good-looking man on the sofa asks if I would I like some English breakfast tea. His black hair is lightly flecked with silver, his blue eyes have been put in with a sooty finger, and his low voice has an Irish brogue. The room smells of lilies and jasmine. Thai silk cushions and Oriental rugs are scattered around. Outside the window, monsoon clouds are lowering. Sampans are chugging up and down the flood swollen Chao Phraya River, exotically blowing shrill whistles instead of hooters. The butler puts his palms together in a namaste salutation, pours tea into little flowered cups, and withdraws.

OK—stop. Rewind. This is not a movie, and the man on the sofa is not James Bond. For a start, he keeps folding his six-foot-two body rather neatly into the lotus position. For another thing, he's drinking chamomile tea, which is hardly a Bondesque beverage.

I am taking tea with Pierce Brosnan in the penthouse suite of the Oriental hotel in Bangkok. It's one of the world's great hotels, and he likes it here. Across the river is the famed Oriental Spa, and he likes it there, too. "Oh, yes, I go across," he says. "Great massages." And what about the rest? Body polishing? Papaya wraps? "I've done a bit of that." He grins. "Had a bit of ... ex-fo-lia-tion." When I ask him what he's doing in Thailand he says, "Earning a living." Brosnan may not be Bond, but he slips easily through Bondlike locations. He was in Bora Bora the other week. He flew to London for the day on 9/11. "Did a bit of looping on Bond, flew back the same day, and flew on to Los Angeles." Yes, he said, he was "well aware" of the significance of the date. (OK—it was Concorde, but it was still gutsy of him to fly, no?) The Bond machine is global, and it's rolling fast. Die Another Day—which is James Bond's twentieth movie and Pierce Brosnan's fourth in the role—is about to open: in France as Meurs un Autre Jour; in Spain as Otro Dia para Morir; in German (rather wordily) as Stirb an Einem Anderen Tag. Very global. Is there anywhere in the world where he isn't famous? After a beat, he says, "I'm big in the Philippines."

The man who is not James Bond is barefoot and wearing a loose blue shirt and a pair of cream pants with seams across the knees as well as down the sides. They look very modern and techno. He says they're G-Star, and when his son Sean saw them, he said, "Hey—cool pants!" Sean is the child of Brosnan's first marriage, to the late Cassandra Harris. (Being nineteen, he obviously knows a cool pant when he sees one.) Brosnan wears his accent as loose and easy as he wears his clothes: It's soft Californian when he's talking about Sean, or Malibu, where he lives, or his little sons Dylan, five, and Paris, one and a half, from his second marriage, to the environmental journalist Keely Shaye Smith. But he can get very Irish if he's talking about Dublin ("Doobhlin") or girly stuff like "ex-fo-lia-tion."

Brosnan has been working for a straight year on two movies—first, Evelyn, for his production company, Irish DreamTime, in which he stars with Alan Bates,  Aidan Quinn, and Julianna Margulies. He plays Desmond Doyle, a father who battled the Irish legal system in 1953 to reclaim his children from a Catholic orphanage. 

Vogue: Dec 2002 (Click for larger photo of Pierce and Halle)
"It has some resonance with my own life," says Brosnan. "I didn't grow up in an orphanage, but I came from a broken home. I have a knowledge of what it's like to be taught by the Christian Brothers and live in a tight Catholic community." The seven months of Die Another Day started in January and finished in July, with Bond dashing through Iceland, Hawaii, Korea, and Cuba, though most of it "was done on the back lot," Brosnan says. "Cuba was done in Cadiz. I didn't get to go to Iceland, but it'll look like I was there. That's one of the great things. There's no other set in the movies like a Bond set. When you read the script you think, How are the gonna do that? And then you end up in an airfield—in Somerset England—with cutout icebergs behind you. And they splice them in and you couldn't tell the difference." He says it's great fun doing Bond, but "you've got to have the patience of a saint" There might be two or three weeks at a time where he doesn't speak a word of dialogue. "Jumping into the belly of the plane and running up a ladder—that sequence can take ten days, especially if that plane is blowing up and falling apart and you're running for your life as the character because you have to wait for the SFX boys to rig up gas canisters, pulley systems— It's a world of pyrotechnics," he says. "It's great fun, but it's bloody hard work, because there's so much at stake. I think they used to be much more fun. Someone I was working with recently, he said '.My God, I used to work on Roger Moore's films—it was a good old laugh!' He said, "This is fearsome work.' And that's because of the big bucks and the competition that's out there. The Matrix, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter. They're Leviathans now, these movies. They're monsters."
Vogue: Dec 2002 (click for larger photo of Pierce and Halle) His three Bond movies have been bigger than anyone else's, each grossing in excess of $350 million at the box office. I suspect Die Another Day will be the biggest yet, partly because of the smoldering Halle Berry emerging from the sea in her update of Ursula Andress's bikini, partly because there's a very strong narrative to this one ("due in a large part to the tenaciousness of the director, Lee Tamahori," says Brosnan), and partly because "there's a certain comfort zone after four films, an ease with playing the guy."

He looked pretty comfortable from the start. He's a great Bond, striding tall and doubly blessed with both the Irish accent and what the cynical English call PGL ("pointless good looks"). It takes a Celt to play a Bond. Ian Fleming's original was a Scot: smooth on the outside, prickly as a Scotch thistle underneath (as, of course, was the first film Bond, Sean Connery). Roger Moore, the seventies Bond, always sounded way too camp and prissy- English to me. Brosnan is emphatically not camp.  Not even with the jokey one-liners that would have made Benny Hill blush: "I thought Christmas 

only came once a year" (after bedding Dr. Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough) and "They'll print anything these days" (after hurling a bad guy into a printing press in Tomorrow Never Dies). Brosnan never utters these lines in a knowing or self-referential way: He does them straight, in his terse Irish tone.

He gets equally terse in response to my more lurid action-hero questions: Can you shoot for real? Do you like gadgets and boys' toys? Are you mad about fast cars? He answers patiently: (1) Yes, he shoots pistols, at a gallery just across the mountain from his place in Malibu; but no he does not pop at empty beer bottles in his backyard with a Walther P99. (2) No, he is not a gadget man. But (3) yes. he loves the cars, loves the cars. Look, he says: "If you play [Bond] and you do a half-decent job on it, then people will enter into that world and begin to think that you are Bond, but—noooo. In real life, I. Am. Not. Bond." Hastily I say, "Oh, I promise I don't think you are Bond." He raises a weary eyebrow, which reads: Heard that before. And laughs when the very next question is "Who's your favorite-ever Bond girl?"

Vogue: Dec 2002 (click for larger photo of Pierce and Halle) He has a soft spot for Izabella Scorupco (GoldenEye) "because she was the first," he says. Sophie Marceau is a "stunning woman" and a "good actress". Halle Berry, though...." He shakes an admiring head. "Halle's  got soul. She's got soul, she's got heart, she's got, uh —" He ponders Ms. Berry's accoutrements for a moment. "Beautiful eyes. Great figure. And she works hard at what she does. And consequently brings a  good performance to the screen. So you have a very classy girl." And did they bond? "Bond?" He giggles. "We got on well together. It was  easy to get on with her. It was nice— nice working relationship. You know— sometimes it can be a bit tough."

Tough? "Sometimes the acting game doesn't sit too well on the ladies." Oh, yes? "Sometimes. The pressure of it." Really?  

"Well, you know, sometimes guys can go out there and be mad and one thing or another and get away with drunken bouts of insolence and whatever. It's kind of psychological warfare sometimes. You're creating and destroying yourself to create a role. Sometimes it's tough on the women."

Brosnan is too practiced an interviewee, too wary these days to be drawn out further on his rather paternalistic views of a woman's place on a movie set. He's been famous a long, long time. Though he's a magnificent package ("at nearly 50 years of age"—his words) and pretty good company over breakfast in Bangkok, you don't get to see much of what's behind it all. He says he used to "love talking; I used to love rattling on about myself. I opened my big mouth when I went to America. Until I realized I was completely Irish and confessional and said far too much, giving too much away. To the point now where it's uncomfortable. I said too much back then, 1981, when I was doing Remington Steele." Now he says, "Let's not go there" or "That's all fairly well documented" about aspects of his private life.

The one thing he's happy to share is his parental pride in his "little boys. I love the contrast," he says. "I love being a parent. I love being a family man, and I also love the joy of going off and living in the other world of being an actor. Playing the actor, playing the movie star, playing the father. They're all different roles. But the most satisfying, the most gratifying, the most hard work is being a father."

Trying to get under his (handsome) skin, I decide to tell him about the impression he made on the Irish novelist Josephine Hart. Hart (who wrote Damage) is  very intense, rather poetic, and very Irish-looking, and when I met her some years ago, I told her she had 'Very Irish eyes." "Oh! Irish eyes," she said. "Did you ever see the fillum The Long Good Friday?"  I did.  "And would you remember the very last scene, where poor Bob Hoskins gets into the wrong car?"  I do. "He says, 'What's going on? Who the hell are you?' but nobody says a word. The man in the front seat just turns around with a gun, and locks eyes with him. And the whole screen fills up with those fierce blue eyes, the bluest in the world, Irish eyes that blaze to glory, and Hoskins sees in those eyes that all his dreams are over, and that's the end of the fillum. Well, that," said Josephine Hart dreamily, "was the glorious, beautiful boy Pierce Brosnan, in his very first screen role."

When I finish this ode to his Irish eyes, a somewhat appalled silence descends. Pierce Brosnan's face is a mix of awe,

RED-CARPET ROMEO Brosnan steps out with wife Keely Shaye Smith at the Pierre Cardin villa
disbelief, and very real embarrassment at the idea that six seconds of wordless screen time from the starter movie he made in 1980 could have burned into the mind of an Irish novelist for decades. Politely he splutters, "Fine woman!" but when I tell him I had to run straight out and buy the video, he groans: "Oh—Jesus!" Then he cracks up. "Hey—listen!" he says. "I just showed up at the Savoy hotel at four o'clock in the afternoon, and I was there until four in the morning. You know? I wanted to drive the bloody car! I thought if I was driving the car, I'd be much more flash, much more laddish and cool to be behind the wheel, but [the director] John Mackenzie said, 'No—you're in the front seat and you pop up with the gun.' He said, 'You just eyeball him.'"
Vogue: Dec 2002 (click for larger photo of Pierce and Halle) Shaking his head, he says, "I never read the script—I just showed up! My God," he says as his 20-something self, pre-Remington Steele, pre-Bond, pre-Malibu, rushes back to him. "Daragh O'Malley [who played the driver] and myself. Coupla Micks."

And where's Daragh now? "Oh," he says, his accent sliding right back to its childhood tings and tems, "I tink he's workin' in Doobhlin." 

Written by Vicky Woods
Photographed by Annie Leobovitz

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