US Magazine: Pierce Brosnan

By : Joe Rhodes
Aug 1999

His life has been both shaken and stirred, from surviving the loss of his first love to scoring as James Bond.  Now on the eve of his new caper, ĎThe Thomas Crown Affair,í the actor reflects on fame, fatherhood and a co-star who had ďone of the finest asses Iíve ever seen.Ē

It is growing dark in the English countryside, and the gigantic klieg lights at the legendary Pinewood Studios are beginning to illuminate the sky as Pierce Brosnan sits in his leading-man trailer watching television with friends amid playing around with pressurized containers of bottled Swedish oxygen, which appear to have no purpose other than to give him the chance to ask visitors. ďWould you like some air?Ē

It will be at least an hour before he become James Bond, before the night is sufficiently dark to resume shooting on ĎThe World is Not Enoughí, the 19th film in the Bond series and the third starring Brosnan as the dashing spy with the cold-steel eyes and an affinity for martinis, women, fast cars and baccarat. In an hour he will have slicked-back, perfect hair, an Italian suit; a gun in his pocket and villains within his grasp. In an hour the enormous outdoor set 400 feet long and 300 feet wide, suspended up to 60 feet over an equally massive tank of dyed-black water ó will have become a caviar factory overlooking the Caspian Sea, with a mind-boggling maze of scaffolding and pipelines, full-size helicopters suspended from Godzilla-scale cranes, and off to the side, the new Bond BMW a gadget-filled silver muscle car, code name Z8, coming this fall in a 30-second spot near you.

But as long as there is a trace of daylight, Brosnan is still himself, a 47-year-old Irishman with a twinkle in his eye and a cashmere sweater looped around his neck, soft suede loafers on his feet and paper-thin creases around his eyes. His real-life essence is more delicate than Bonds, more fragile perhaps but certainly no less driven.

Leaning against the wall behind him is a cardboard poster just arrived, for The Thomas Crown Affair, a reworking of the 1968 Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway caper about a millionaire who commits robberies for the sport of it and the female insurance investigator who hunts him down. This time, Brosnan, who also produced the film, plays Crown, and Rene Russo is his pursuer, a sultry femme fatale unlike anyone the actress has portrayed before. Dunaway also makes an appearance in the movie, as Crownís shrink.) Directed by John McTiernan (Die Hard, The Hunt for Red October) the film is stylish sexy and engaging thanks largely to the chemistry between the star and the audience. ďWhen youíve got a movie where your hero is on the wrong side of the law,Ē says McTiernan, who first worked with Brosnan 14 years ago on the film Nomads, ďthe important thing is that the audience think of him as a good guy, that they have a sense of emotional trust. And thatís something that an actor, no matter how skilled he is, canít lie about. The audience will always know.  And thatís why Pierce is so good in this.  Heís a seriously good guy in real life. And he canít hide that.Ē

It was Brosnan who asked for Russo as his love interest and adversary even as the studio was throwing out more A-list names, like Michelle Pfeiffer and Julia Roberts. ďWhen I got the call from Pierce, he made it seem like I was the only female on earth for the part,Ē says Russo. ďThis movie was clearly Pierceís baby, his dream,Ē she says, speculating that the producer role was probably harder on Brosnan than he would admit. ďHeís such a nice guy, and he doesnít want to hurt peopleís feelings, so I think that was all pretty exhausting for him. I mean, heís one of the kindest people Iíve ever met. Heís lovely to everyone with equal measure.Ē

Brosnanís even temperament and tireless work ethic (in the past three years he has made Tomorrow Never Dies, The Thomas Crown Affair and two yet-to-be-released independent films, Grey Owl, directed by Richard Attenborough, and The Nephew, which Brosnan also produced) derive from his experience with tough times. The actor, born in the small Irish village of Navan in 1952, was abandoned by his father, Tom, before his first birthday. (They reconciled in 1986.) When Brosnan was 4, his mother, May, went to London to attend nursing school, and he was cared for by relatives until he was allowed to join her, seven years later. He quit school when he was 15 (ďI just didnít fit in,Ē he says) and eventually found kindred spirits in Londonís fringe theater scene, performing on the street and in the underground before finally attending the Drama Center in London and becoming a rising star in Britain, both onstage and in television productions.

It was the 1981 ABC miniseries The Manions of America that first brought Brosnan attention in the States. At the urging of his wife, Cassandra, an actress, whom he had known since 1970 and married in 1977, they went to Hollywood in 1981, where he was almost immediately cast in Remington Steele.  The NBC series about a private eye was so popular that in 1986, after Roger Moore retired as James Bond, Brosnan was offered the part. But NBC held him to his television contract, and the part of 007 went to Timothy Dalton. To make matters worse, Remington Steele went off the air less than a year later.

Crushed as he was, Brosnan soon had bigger problems. Cassie received a diagnosis of ovarian cancer in 1987. She fought a long a painful struggle against the disease before succumbing in 1991, leaving Pierce to raise his teen-age stepchildren, Charlotte and Christopher and the coupleís only child together, Sean, just 7 when his mother died.

Brosnan kept working throughout Cassieís illness, completing a series of films and TV movies, and in 1994, remarkably, was offered the Bond role again. This time there were no impediments, and he became the most critically praised 007 since Sean Connery originated the role in 1963ís Dr. No.  Brosnan reinvigorated a franchise that, at the time, was considered on the brink of extinction. 

That same year, Brosnan met Keely Shaye Smith, a former gardening correspondent for ABCís Good Morning America and an environmental-issues reporter. The two now share a house in Malibu, Calif, with their son, Dylan Thomas Brosnan, who was born in January 1997.

Pierce with Cassie, Charlotte & Sean- 1984

As the night filming goes on, Brosnan will talk about all of these subjects, moving back and forth from the trailer to the set, conversing in 15-minures bursts, while exhaustion sets in as the hours slip by and the cold English mist takes its toll.  It will be morning before he is done, the sky slowly turns pink and he returns for his final change of clothes and, until the next night, puts James Bond away.

Thereís a rumor from your past, a dark secret that I desperately want to be true. Were you once a fire-eater?

[Looks up, with raised eyebrow] It is true, actually.  I did it because I was involved in a theater company, a street performing company where someone said, Iíll teach you how to do fire-eating tomorrow in one of the workshops. This was 1969 or something like that. I didnít particularly want to eat fire, but there were a lot of girls in the workshop, and some of them had to take their tops off for some of the exercises, and, well...

You wanted to impress them?

What can I say?  I ended up eating fire. And there was a circus around that I hooked up with for a while. I was a teen-ager ó 17 or 18, something like that.

Once you acquired this skill, were you ever tempted to use it at parties or in bars?

Actually I was in Zagreb, Croatia, making a film, and I was with a bunch of guys who were showing off, doing tricks, bending their thumbs back, things like that. And we were drinking slivovitz, lots of slivovitz. So I took a mouthful of slivovitz, and I got a lighter, and I blew fire. But we were quite inebriated at the time, and I didnít see that there was a rattan matting on the bar, and when I blew the flame, it set the whole thing on fire. It was all right, in the end. It wasnít that big a fire. And it wasnít a very fancy place.

Have you ever done it for your kids? Because having a dad whoís James Bond is one thing, but a dad who eats fire ó oh, man.

No, Iíve never done it for the kids. Maybe I should do it in the garden some evening, over summer pudding.

You seem to have developed a penchant for taking on roles that are heavily identified with other actors: Sean Connery as James Bond and now Steve McQueenís character in ĎThe Thomas Crown Affair.í  Arenít you taking a pretty big risk here?

Well, when you do something like this, you know youíre putting your neck on the line. But thatís true whenever you do a remake. Youíre going to have people take a swipe at you, particularly when youíre dealing with a role that is so closely associated with Steve McQueen, one of the cinematic icons of American movie lore. What he did was captivating, his ability to draw you in, in a very seductive way.  And I cannot reproduce that, nor did I want to. I wanted just to concentrate on the relationship and how this man, who appears to have so much, takes such risks. What is his pain?  What is his anger? And then he meets this woman who is his equal, and has to face the danger of trusting someone, the danger of falling in love. Thatís what drew me in.

If the movie is a huge hit, would that have any effect on how often or how long you would want to continue playing James Bond?

Well, if itís a huge hit, Iíll be very pleased, and Iíll be pleased to come back and do a fourth Bond. Iím not by any means bored with this character. I love playing Bond, and I respect the success itís brought me. But if The Thomas Crown Affair is a success, then it just allows me to have more choices, to work with people who I really admire and respect.

People have been buzzing about the love scenes in this movie. You and Rene Russo do a whole lot of naked rolling around. So, what I want to know is: Were those stunt butts?

Not for me mate.

Well, thatís damned impressive for a 47-year-old. And are you willing to speak for Rene Russo? Was she using her own equipment as well?

Absolutely. One of the finest asses Iíve ever seen.

And why do you think the nude scenes are causing such a hoo-ha? Itís not like we havenít seen it before.

Probably because itís the two of us. But we wanted it to be fun sex, you know? Good shagging as we say in the old country.

Youíve been working practically nonstop since ĎTomorrow Never Diesí two years ago, and now youíre immersed in the whole Bond universe again, until at least November, when ĎThe World Is Not Enoughí opens in the States. Is it starting to take a toll on you?

Well, by the end of this year, I will have had my fill of moviemaking. So far, my stamina is proving strong, and my will and my focus are in good shape. But by the end of the year, God willing, Iíll just take some time off to reflect and be with the family and read, read, read. Read some books instead of bloody film scripts. But itís hard not to work. After three or four weeks away from the job, I tend to get a bit antsy.

Pierce and Keely
Itís interesting to hear you say that, because I remember, when Dylan was born, you were talking about how this was a wonderful opportunity to spend more time with him than you had with your older children when they were his age. But it sounds like youíre as busy now as you were when Sean was born.

So the question is, ďWhat gives?Ē [laughs] Well, itís kind of a drug in a way, isnít it?  Especially when youíve worked all your life. I love making movies, and when you get some success, youíve got to go with it. Because this run that I have had for the last five years, you just want it to keep going. So you try to do everything at the same time, and itís not particularly easy.  But I think Iíve been successful at that. Iíve been a good father, and I think I have been there when Iím not in front of the camera. Iím there for my family. Iím actually a homebody.

But youíre a homebody whoís not home much.

Well, we all travel together.  Home is wherever I go.  I have a new family, and itís a young family.  Fortunately Keely is writing a book, which is a great joy and opportunity for her, so we can travel together. I think she does worry about me working so much, but not because weíre not spending enough time together. She just worries that Iím grinding myself down.

And are you committed to playing Bond until youíre too old to drive?

Itís really up to the producers. My contract goes an option for a fourth, and they may just decide, ďWeíll look elsewhereĒ after that. ĎWho knows?

You donít really think thatís going to happen, do you?

No, not really. I think the die is well cast as to who is Bond, and he and I are somewhat joined at the hip for life, one way or the other

In retrospect, do you think it would have been a mistake for you to have gotten the part in 1986?

Oh, yes, I think so. I wasnít as secure about it.  It all came too easy, out of Remington Steele into a major-motion-picture franchise and into national ďstardom.Ē I was very fearful of doing The Living Daylights then. The script remained by my bed throughout all those weeks and months of negotiations. I would occasionally glance at it, but I didnít allow myself to read it until the contract was fully signed on the dotted line. But that never came to fruition. So I never read the script or saw the movie. Well, I saw it briefly on an airplane, once. But I donít think I had the emotional weight to play this man then. Itís a role better suited to someone who is in his 40ís, old enough to have the confidence and the sophistication and strength to be able to stand there and just let the moment sit. Bond is a man with the greatest of confidence. And playing that takes practice. In 1986, I think I was 33 or something like that, and I still looked like a baby.  Finally, Iím growing into this face of mine. That takes time.

And part of that strength must have come from surviving all youíve gone through personally, holding your family together through a tragedy, succeeding in spite of it all. That has to affect your presence as an actor.

You know, living through and surviving the loss of a loved one - the mother of your children and your partner in life of 17 years standing -- to just keep up and keep going on, surviving and working and paying the rent, making sure your children are secure and loved and that you are the one that they can come to: I donít know how to explain it, really. You just have to do it. You accept the knowledge that you have to go on, then you put the best face on everything and just do it and weather through and endure the rough times until you get to calmer waters where you just draw breath and say, ďI survived it.Ē

And how long have you been in calmer waters?

The last five years. Since GoldenEye. I knew on that day that life had changed, that if the film succeeded, life would never be the same again. And it hasnít.

You left Ireland when you were 11 years old and havenít lived there since. In fact, Iím sure many people assume youíre English. But you still travel on an Irish passport, and your production company is called Irish Dreamtime. What does it mean to you to be Irish?

Oh, what does it mean? Itís the place that made me who I am, those first 11 years. I think being Irish just gives you that lovely, glorious edge: a love of people, a love of life and a love of the spoken word. And Guinness, of course. And thereís also something about being Irish that gives you an incredible inner strength, to survive, you know?

When you moved to England, didnít kids beat you up because you were Irish?

They certainly tried to, and at the beginning they almost got away with it. But then you fight back. Of course, Iím not big into violence. I find it so unnecessary in the real world. So instead of fighting, I went to making people laugh, talking my way out of situations. And I tried to fit in. I tried losing my accent, developing another skin because I was ashamed of the way I sounded, you know.  And I wanted to belong, and that comes with a certain pain and a certain anger and frustration. And then when I found acting, that was the greatest release, because then I could be anything.  And when I found the company of actors and the life of acting I was no longer alone. I was with other people who were kind of mangled and wonderful and creative and funny and had risen above their own kind-of-cracked backgrounds. And I just knew Iíd come home. Iíd found sanctuary

As a kid, it must have been difficult to have been left by your father and, for a while, your mother. Were you aware of the parenting youíd missed?

Well, I knew I didnít have a father. I was very aware of it. And I knew I just had to make the best of the situation. I suppose it made me a hit of a loner, because you have to take care of yourself.  You have to be your own parent. You have to act as if youíve everything sewn up, that youíre cool. But youíre not, really. Youíre just acting.

The story Iíve heard is that even tough youíd always dreamed of coming to America, it wasnít your idea to give it a try, that Cassie was the one who insisted you take a shot at Hollywood.

Yeah, she was the one who said, ďLetís go.Ē And I was saying, ĎNo, letís stay here. Do we really have to do this?Ē I just didnít have the courage that she had. I was the one worried about how we were going to pay for it. And she was the one who got it all together.  We took out a 2,000- pound overdraft on our checking account, bought a cheap ticket on Laker Air and traveled in the back of the plane with our sandwiches. We rented a car from Rent-a-Wreck, a lime green Pacer.  I had one good jacket, a good shirt and tie, which I wore to my first audition, which was Remington Steele.  Weíd been in America for two weeks when I got the part.

Youíve been through so much in the past few years, with the death of Cassie, meeting Keely Shaye Smith, Dylanís birth, all the enormous Bond success. Are you ever surprised that you survived it all, that you seem to have made it through the storm?

Well, I certainly have a deeper appreciation of life. Right now the sun is shining; my family, my work, my life is very good And I appreciate that, with more patience and more grace than if I hadnít gone through what Iíve gone through.  You just donít take any of it for granted. And the business of making movies amid having a bit of celebrity becomes something you just laugh at and enjoy ó the whole carnival of it.

Joe Rhodes wrote about Brendan Fraser for the May issue of 'US.í

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