The Man With The Golden Job
"Everybody wants to be Bond," says Pierce
Brosnan. But after four films, could it be that the most bankable
007 ever, has had enough of Martinis, gadget cars, beautiful women and
saving the world?
And it's easy to forgive him the catalogue-man good looks because he is able to take the piss out of himself. When asked if Die Another Day will be his last Bond Film, he laughs and with humorous concern bellows, 'Christ' I hope not. I've just bought another house'" Later he elaborates, saying, "It would be nice to do a sixth - Connery did six. There's a certain... air about that."
I ask if he knew what he was letting himself in for when he signed on the dotted line and became part of the Bond machine.
"I knew life was going to change, I'd seen the machine work for other people. I'd seen Connery's career during Bond and after. I watched Lazenby come and go. I saw Roger stand there for seven films.... So I had a fair idea of what I was stepping into and I thought it was a win-win situation If I made a go of playing Bond, it would allow me to have a commercial side to my career, to do business as an actor and make a life which had some integrity. I also knew it would have its pitfalls."
But playing Bond is a bit of a double-edged sword, isn't it?
"Yeah, you really are dicing with death, because if you do it and do it well they want you to keep doing it. I love playing the role, it's been the most fantastic six or seven years, but there is that danger that that's all you will be seen as."
And the baggage that goes with Bond seems to get heavier and heavier as Bond becomes bigger and bigger business.
"There was no question of turning it down. I had no bloody choice. But as much as I was prepared to enter into this world, which is unlike any other character any actor will ever play, the commercial aspects and the circus aspect of the promotional ingredients was quite overwhelming."
Well, yes Aston Martin, Omega watches, Brioni suits, the list of products gets longer in every film. Not surprising, really, since the sophisticated milieu that Bond inhabits makes the perfect marketplace.
"I think there's far more product placement now than there ever was in the Sixties," Pierce continues. "But Cubby Broccoli was an entrepreneur, and he knew what he had on his hands, especially as he got round to Goldfinger and further I mean, there were the Corgi cars and the toys. But now, when you go onto a set playing the character of Bond you just have to be bloody quick on your feet and make sure you don't touch too many named products. They're selling phones, they're selling razors, they're selling water, they're selling the shit out of everything, and you can be caught in the crossfire."
And you are, by the looks of things; open any glossy magazine at the moment and there you are, advertising Omega watches.
"Well, I like their product - we
made peace with each other after Goldeneye. Suddenly, I was
on every billboard on Sunset [Boulevard] and across the States! We had
to... er come to the table and sort out some numbers and figures. I've
learned a lot in the last seven years about how to protect myself against
exploitation, but it's been a good ride"
By his early twenties he was already achieving some success in English theatre, having been chosen by Tennessee Williams for the lead in his play I "That was huge at the age of 23. To be working with America's finest living playwright and for him to write some scenes on his hotel notepaper and give them to you the next morning was outstanding "
So what was Williams like' "Charming and warm and Southern. It didn't take much to get him drunk, half his liver was gone by the time I met him. I remember him getting locked in [London theatre] the Roundhouse one night. He sent me a telegram saying, "Thank God for you, dear boy", which was pretty good affirmation at that time in your career - you sometimes wonder if you're any good at the game. You can talk up a great storm in the director's office or at a party with your buddies, but shit, when the chips are down and you have to get up there and do it... That kind of sorts the folks out."
Film director Franco Zeffirelli saw him in Williams's play and cast him in Filumena "It's stepping stones, isn't it?'" Brosnan says, 'and then, coming to LA it was Remington Steele. I would have preferred it to be Martin Scorsese, but you look a certain way and you think, 'Fuck, let's do it. What am I going to do? Scrub around regional theatre and make a living?' I got away with it, too, an Irishman playing an Englishman playing an American... I was basically playing myself."
Remington Steele provided Pierce with a regular income, but it also proved to be an albatross around his neck it was to prevent him from playing Bond for eight years. He first met the Bond produce, Cubby Broccoli, through his late wife, the actress Cassandra Harris, who was in Corfu playing Countess Lisl von Schlaf alongside Roger Moore in 1981's For Your Eyes Only." It was a very relaxed affair, and he was very gracious to me and the children. In '86 I remember meeting him in a casino and being very impressed. The Living Daylights was on my bedside table for weeks. I had a screen test. I did the wardrobe- fittings. I even did a photo shoot at Pinewood Studios standing next to Cubby and his Rolls Royce - Jesus! I looked like some skinny lad with a lot of hair on his head."
However, there was a 60-day clause
written into Pierce's contract for
Remington Steele. The negotiations
lasted right up to the 60th day. "My late wife and I had rented a house
in the Colony [an exclusive beachside area of Malibu] and we were living
the good life. We'd already made plans to relocate the children to
go to school in England, we were thinking of a nice place in the country.
I was going to be Bond. It was 6:30 in the evening, the Champagne
corks were popping and we were out on the balcony. The phone rang
and my agent said, "It's all fallen apart - they want to do the the six
episodes and the option of another 22.' I put the phone down and
slugged back a couple of mouthfuls of Dom Perignon and walked back to her
on the deck saying. 'It's off, it's over, it ain't gonna happen.'
This was Thursday evening, and by Monday. Tim [Dalton] was on board with
Living Daylights and I was looking for a job."
So Bond's got more relevance now? "In the Eighties it had lost it's way. Yeah. Right now there are secrets - it's about the world of espionage - what this country knows and what it has. I think there's a very strong relevance."
This time the enemy is North Korea in a script that was definitely pre 9/11. As the film opens we see Bond in a position of weakness, having grown long hair and a beard after being held prisoner. Bond in a beard?
Just as Spitting Image's Leonard Nimoy would solemnly intone, 'I am not Spock', Brosnan is battling, astutely, not to get labelled "Bond". He has played some comedy -- Mrs Doubtfire. Mars Attacks! - but often he's merely been playing against his role as the suave man of action. "Well, that's the thing to do, set yourself up with the banana skin and the door..." A bit like Cary Grant? "Yeah - that's exactly it. Literally tomorrow we're sitting down to look at a film about a con man who's good-looking but stupid -- it's an endearing combination."
"We" is Irish DreamTime, the production company he set up with producer Beau St. Clair in 1998. Their most successful venture to date was The Thomas Crown Affair, with MGM/United Artists. Soon to be released is Evelyn, starring Alan Bates, Aidan Quinn, Stephen Rea and Brosnan as an Irish single dad in the Fifties trying to keep his family together amid pressure from church and state. So is having his own production company a way of getting those parts he failed to get when he first came to LA as a classically trained stage actor?
'Yeah - probably. It emotional work which I haven't been offered and because I haven't been offered it, I believed I couldn't do it, and because I believed I couldn't do it I didn't try for it. So it was great to do Evelyn I think if people can go and see it and not think of Bond, then that's a great foundation for the next few years."
Brosnan moved to LA at the start of the Eighties. He has always been a family man, and has been in a stable relationship for most of his adult Iife. He adopted Cassandra's two children, Christopher and Charlotte, after their father died in 1986, and they had another son, Sean. Harris died of ovarian cancer in 1991. Now, with his second wife. Keely Shaye Smith, who he married in 2001, he has had two more sons, Dylan Thomas and Paris Beckett. "Being a father throughout all this has been the most joyous balance and it's a strong essence of who I am. I've seen the game in this town of going out and doing the clubs and the parties, and it's just... old. It was when I was in my twenties..."
And you know what? He doesn't look half bad for his age.
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