The Man With The Golden Job

UK Esquire
December 2002

"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?

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PIERCE BROSNAN IS HAVING his hair cut when Esquire rolls up. Though I hadn't exactly expected him to be wearing a tuxedo, neither had I expected him to be beach-dude cool in white shorts and a sun-bleached blue Polo Ralph Lauren polo shirt, having just come from his house in Malibu.  To say he looks good for his age would be to make a huge understatement.

He laughs: "If I do another Bond, I'll try not to do a movie in Ireland before it. (Pierce has just been in Ireland, acting in and producing the heartstring- tugging drama Evelyn for his own production company, Irish DreamTime.) "I love the pubs and, being Irish, one does not shy away from a Guinness or two I had a trainer, but trying to train, produce a film that you're in and then prepare for a Bond movie I thought. Fuck it.  Enjoy the Guinness.' Training's a pain in the ass, but you have to keep up. have some discipline as an actor if you're going to stay in the game in your fifties "

The books place James Bond somewhere in his late thirties, but Pierce is still going strong in his fourth Bond role at 49.  On closer examination, there is a slight greying of his dark hair around the temples, his three-day stubble is more salt than pepper, and he does have some subtle laughter lines, though they're more like striations in granite.

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"

Pierce moved to the States in 1980, after it became clear that, by staying in London, he was "either going to end up playing Paddies or Yanks " [His cinematic debut was in The Long Good Friday as an IRA terrorist.] "The opportunity was a golden one am downside of coming to this crazy city called L.A. was overshadowed by the potential it had for building choices, building a career which had some flexibility"

In the end, it gave him Remington Steele, a five year running TV detective series that he describes now as "like doing weekly rep, except for better money". But it wasn't always this way.

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 The Living Daylights and I was looking for a job."

"Suddenly things weren't looking too good - you've got the rent to pay on a house in the Colony.  I did the six episodes of Remington Steele and then NBC cancelled the show.  People thought I wasn't going to come out of my trailor or, if  I did, it would be with a bottle of whisky in my hand, but that's not my style - it just makes everybody's life miserable You just take it on the chin and get on with it, it was business, that's all.  It's always a struggle. No matter if you've got an Oscar in your back pocket, you're always up against the buck of commerce."

Eight years later, in 1994, the phone rang again.  This time he was on for Goldeneye.  "I had nothing to lose," he says. "I was fearless. Cold and determined."  Rather like Bond himself.  And he admits there was a "quite a bit of irony" that Bond should come into his life at that time. 1994 saw him "in dire need of money" and he was thinking about selling his house. "I'd already had a very articulate trying to figure out how I could make a living for myself.  I told my agents.  'Forget about the leading-man aspect of things --  maybe all that is past now, let's try and find interesting material, supporting roles in feature films.'"

Brosnan has since gone on to star in Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough and now Die Another Day. "They're a different beast from when Moore and Sean did them," he says, "a seven month shoot as opposed to a 12-week shoot."

And they're technically better films. "They had to be, to catch up with movies like The Matrix. True Lies was on it's coat tails, Mike Meyers is still out there strutting his stuff.  Eddie Murphy's doing his Bond. I Spy.  Everybody wants to be Bond."

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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? 

"Yeah," laughs Brosnan. "You have to have pretty broad shoulders to wear a beard and hair like that in a Bond movie."

Well, you got off quite lightly, considering that Roger Moore had to wear a clown suit in Octopussy. 

"Yeah -oooh. [He winces, laughing] Er, I have my own inimitable style, which will be parodied and ridiculed. I'm sure.  That's par for the course, I suppose."

Is he sure? He has traces of Moore's humour, Dalton's coldness and Connery's toughness... 

"Yeah- I've pinched from the lot of them!"

If you were in the business of casting the next Bond, are there any younger actors you'd have your eye on?'" 

"Oh, I dunno...  Paul Bettany?

A blonde Bond?'

"Roger was blonde, wasn't  he?  I don't know who's going to fill the shoes.  I was terrified. It's wild even thinking about it, it goes very quickly,  once you jump on the bus it moves like greased lightning. Whoever's gonna do it after me will have Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton and Brosnan -- five guys!"

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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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"There was no question of turning Bond down. I had no 
bloody choice. But the circus aspect of the promotional ingredients was quite overwhelming"

Brosnan Saves the World Really

1991 When his wife Cassandra Harris dies of ovarian cancer. Brosnan becomes involved in the National Women's Cancer Research Alliance (NWCRA).

1994 Heads first Revlon Run/Walk for NWCRA which has raised S60 million

1996 Refuses to attend Paris premiere of Goldeneye because of the French government's nuclear testing.

1997 Presented with Green Cross  International's Environmental Leadership Award by its president, Mikhail Gorbachev.

1999-2000 Heavily involved in boycott against Japanese manufacturer Mitsubishi for its part in the planned creation of a salt production complex in San Ignacio, Mexico, which would have destroyed the grey whales breeding ground Mitsubishi backs down.

2001 Campaigns against low-frequency sonar currently being developed by the US Navy, which is alleged to interfere with the navigation of certain species of whales, causing them to beach.

2001 Much of the money paid by Hello for pictures of his wedding to Keely Shaye Smith goes to a centre for Tibetan refugees

2002 Brosnan serves as Campaign Chairman for the Entertainment Industry Foundation, which raised and distributed $45 million last year.

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Pierce Brosnan, a life

1953Born 16 May, Haven. Co. Meath. Ireland
Parents separate shortly afterwards. Pierce is brought up by his extended family

1964Moves to England Is reunited with his mother, a nurse. Educated at Elliot Comprehensive in Putney, south-west London

1968Works as a commercial artist

1973-6 Trains at the Drama Centre in London

1976 'The Red Devil Battery Sign' Tennessee Williams chooses him for role in his new play

1977 Meets Cassandra Harris 

1980 'The Long Good Friday' First big-screen rote, as an IRA terrorist  He then relocates to Hollywood.  Marries Cassandra. 

1981 The Bond campaign begins Meets Bond producer Albert 'Cubby' Broccoli when Cassandra appears in For Your Eyes Only

1982 Cast in 'Remington Steele' This US TV detective show runs for five years

1983 Sean Brosnan born

1986 Chosen as the new Bond But Brosnan is contractually obliged to stay with Remington Seele. Timothy Dalton lands role instead

1987 'The Fourth Protocol' Plays undercover KGB agent up to no good in England

1991 Cassandra Harris dies of cancer Brosnan has already adopted her children. Christopher and Charlotte

1993 'Mrs. Doubtfire' Plays smoothy boyfriend to Robin Williams's drag act

1995 'GoldenEye' Cast as Bond again - and this time there's nothing to stop him The film is a phenomenal success

1996 Irish DreamTime created Brosnan forms his own production company with Beau St Clair. Also stars in Mars Attacks

1997 'Tomorrow Never Dies' Second Bond film. Son Dylan Thomas Brosnan bom to girlfriend Keely Shaye Smith

1998 'The Nephew' Irish DreamTime's first production

1999 'The World is Not Enough' Also Stars in a remake of The Thomas Crown Affair.  IDT s most succesful productio to date 

2001 Marries Keely Shaye Smith Son Paris Beckett born. Stars in The Tailor of Panama

2002 'Die Another Day' Also stars in IDT production Evelyn

  • Words: Bill Dunn
  • Photographs: Lorenzo Agius

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