Pierce Brosnan: The Real Man
He dazzles us in films as the suave sexy 007, but Pierce Brosnan shines just as brightly offscreen, balancing success with family after surviving tragedy to find love a second time.
By: Sheryl Berk
Pierce Brosnan’s home lights has suddenly gone out, along with his phone line, and he hasn't the slightest idea why. (He's quite sure he paid the bill.) 'Yes, well, these things happen..." he says, now resituated in his production company office.
Little things—like losing lights—don't faze the 49-year-old for an instant. He's adept at rolling with the punches, both onscreen (where he's reinvigorated the James Bond franchise) and off. Perhaps it's because his life has long resembled a roller coaster ride of extreme ups and downs: landing his first big break as the star of TV's Remington Steele; missing out on being Bond when NBC refused to release him from his contract; losing his first wife, Cassandra Harris, to ovarian cancer; finding true love once again with his wife of 16 months, television reporter Keely Shaye Smith.
"He gets what life is all about on a deeper level," says Halle Berry, his co-star in the new Bond flick, Die Another Day. "His family and his wife come first. They were always on the set with him and he is such a devoted dad to the boys [Dylan Thomas, 5, and Paris Beckett, 22 months]. I really had tremendous respect for him because of that. He's a mensch in my book."
Family is so vital to Brosnan because of his own troubled upbringing. His father, Tom Brosnan, a carpenter who died in 1988, walked out when Pierce was only 2. Born in rural County Meath, Ireland on May 16, 1953, Pierce was raised by his grandparents and his aunt after his mother, May Carmichael, moved lo London in 1957 to study nursing. He joined her there when he was 11 but found fitting in difficult—he was bullied and taunted by his peers “mainly for being Irish." At age 16, he quit school to pursue art, but his love of films led him to study acting. After graduating from London's prestigious Drama Centre, he landed his first play in 1977: Filumena on the West End. While there, he met Australian actress Cassandra Harris, who separated from her husband Dermott Harris (brother of actor Richard). They married in 1980, and Brosnan adopted Harris’ two children, Charlotte now 30, and Christopher, now 29.
After Remington was retired. Brosnan played a bad guv aiming to set off a nuclear) bomb in 1987's The Fourth Protocol—then starred in a series of bombs. "I had to make a living," he says with a sigh. "I had the mortgage to pay; I had the school fees to pay. I had bread and butter to put on the table. You know your worth as an actor, but you have to get a job."
At the same time, his personal life suffered a devastating blow. Cassandra was diagnosed with cancer in 1987, and died in her husband's arms in 1991. Brosnan suddenly found himself alone, the single father of three, including the couple's 8-year-old son, Sean.
"To lose a mother, no matter what age you arc, be it 13 or 39, is the deepest loss and one of the longest-lasting pains of your life," he reflects. "So to be father to those children has a resonance which shakes the foundations of your very being. You have to reinvent yourself and you have to learn about yourself all over again: how to be an individual and how to be a father and how to make the two work together."
Brosnan sought solace in work. In 1993, he played Sally Field's boyfriend—and the butt of Robin Williams' jokes—in the blockbuster comedy Mrs. Doubtfire. Then opportunity again came knocking: The Bond series had been shut down since 1989 due to legal battles over distribution, but there was now talk of reviving it—and Brosnan's name was at the top of the list.
He made his debut as 007 in 1995's GoldenEye—and fans adored him. "Die Another Day is my fourth outing," he says. "They all have been important films, and I love them. I grew up with them, and I'm very proud to be part of the legacy. It has enhanced my career in many different ways."
Few of his fellow Bonds-men share those sentiments: Sean Connery, for one, became sick of the role and vowed he would never return to it. "One could highlight negative aspects of it," says Brosnan, "but that would be foolhardy of me. I've enjoyed playing Bond for the last six years. I could certainly say—should I be so presumptuous since my contract is up with this one—that I would like to do another one if they want me back. Bond has been a glorious passage in my life and in my career."
Die Another Day also marks a major milestone: It's the 20th Bond film and the 40th anniversary of the franchise. "I think that every man and woman who has ever worked on a Bond movie wanted this one to be the best," he says. "It has tipped its hat in very subtle ways, and in not so very subtle was to past Bonds."
Brosnan is perfectly suited to carry the film series into the 21st century, says director Lee Tamahori. "Pierce has the suave sophistication that we expect from Bond but also the raw energy," he notes. "I think he's matured into this role. He knows the character well, and he has great instincts."
He does, however, take the tough guy thing a tad too far at times: "There's a part of you that feels a certain invincibility playing the role," Brosnan admits. "Then eventually you realize that there's a frailty to the body—it takes a pounding and a bashing, especially if you're going to throw yourself into the mix of the action. I blew up the meniscus on my right knee at the beginning of filming, which was terrifying and shocking to all concerned. Still, I have a stubborn Irish streak in me. You have a picture to finish, so you don't look back. Once the ship has left the shore you have to keep sailing..."
Brosnan's harbor is his wife, Keely, whom he credits with "teaching me a thing or two about backbone. She has given of herself from a very early age to many different causes and taught me how to give of myself." The two have worked on campaigns to save dolphins and protect wetlands, and have received numerous humanitarian awards for their efforts.
They met in Mexico at a 1994 fundraiser for Ted Danson's American Oceans Campaign (Brosnan serves on the charity's board). "Keely was down there reporting for Entertainment Tonight," Brosnan recalls. “I certainly wasn't looking for a relationship. I was just concentrating on my career and my children. I was sitting poolside one morn reading a script, and around the corner came this beautiful woman with this great smile on her face and we nodded at each other. When we met each other again that night, we spent some time talking. So the romance started. We met back in Los Angeles, had a few dates, and before we knew it, were falling in love. Sometimes you can't believe your good fortune; you fight against it and you think, 'This can't be happening.' But then—if you are wise—you surrender to it."
He was wise, and the couple married on August 4, 2001, in a 13th-century castle on the Emerald Isle, complete with bagpipers. "When I found Keely, I found a whole new life," says Brosnan. "We have these wonderful boys and I have a rich tapestry of children and love. I am wealthy beyond riches. But it takes hard work, too. When two families come together, you have tensions and frustrations and you have to build up the trust of your children. You have to be strong as an individual, as a father, as a man. There's a big age difference between the children, and it has been very hard for them to adjust. But I like to think we've worked through it."
His fatherly powers of
come in handy in his role as a producer as well. In the six years since
he started his company, Irish DreamTime has produced 1998's The
and 1999's The Thomas Crown Affair.
BOND-ING WITH NATURE
Pierce Brosnan and his wife Keely have long been environmental crusaders. "There's so much work to be done all the time that it's overwhelming," says the actor. "But it's vital. Everybody wants to breathe clean air and drink clean water, and that is our God-given right."
The couple has done a great deal of work with The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an organization devoted to protecting the planet's wildlife and wild places. "The support that Pierce and Keely have given NRDC has been extraordinary," says Joel Reynolds, Senior Attorney and Director of NRDC's Marine Mammal Program. "They are smart, knowledgeable, passionate, and fearless in their defense of the environment."
Pierce was personally involved with the group's Campaign to Save Laguna San Ignacio, battling a proposal to build the world's largest industrial salt works at a whale sanctuary on the Pacific coast of Baja, California, the last undisturbed lagoon where gray whales breed and calve. And the Brosnans have helped the NRDC fight against the Navy's proposal to deploy a Low Frequency Active Sonar system—which could harm marine animals—in over 75% of the world's oceans. "Pierce has appeared at a press conference, testified at a federal hearing, and written an e-mail urging hundreds of thousands of people to write Congress opposing the system," says Reynolds.
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