Hot Press: Altered Image

Hot Press: Altered Image (July 1992)

Although best known for his role in the hit Tv series “Remington Steele”, it may be the virtual reality world of his new film, “The Lawnmower Man,” reveals more about the real life Pierce Brosnan,  Joe Jackson finds the Irish born actor in a reflective mood.

There are moments during the track-him-down-and-blow-bollox-out-of-him shoot outs in the movie "The Lawnmower Man" when one realises that Pierce Brosnan would have made a real cool James Bond.

Following Roger Moore's forced retirement, Brosnan almost got the part but was shafted by NBC television who took up the option on another series of "Remington Steele" on the very day he was due to sign the 007 contract. Asked if, like fellow Irish thespian Gabriel Byrne, he might not have turned down a character riddled with sexist, racist and imperialist codes, Brosnan pauses, considers the question, then says "I guess I never really thought about it from those angles, at least obviously not as deeply as Gabriel Byrne."

This is not to suggest that the hunk-ish Brosnan is merely another male bimbo whose only thought in the morning is which mirror, or woman, he will grace with his presence for the day. On the contrary, though softly-spoken he is sharp as the razor that clearly hasn't collided with his face for at least three days.

A sad dimension to this interview is that it took place in the Berkeley Court Hotel, where he had stayed with his wife Cassie — who recently died from cancer — on the last occasion they were together in Dublin.

Pierce Brosnan was born in Limerick roughly 40 years ago and has claimed that he was "taught by no-nonsense nuns in a school where the slightest deviation from the straight- and — narrow got one strapped". One suspects that he may secretly empathise with the leading character in "The Lawnmower Man" who gets to torch a priest — and with the religious imagery imposed on Stephen King's original seven page story by director Brett Leonard.

'"When I originally read the text then saw the film, I thought it was very gothic and could identify, deeply, with those elements in the film. The mere fact that my character ends up on the cross is like a dream come true for an ex-altar boy!" he says, smiling.

However, the smile is quickly replaced by a ripple of recollected anger as he focuses more sharply on memories of the religious upbringing which he once said made him happy to get out of Ireland.

"There are still a plethora of priests and nuns I'd happily have torched," he says. "But the school I went to in Navan got closed down about a year after I left it, just for its brutality to the boys. That's why I really loved this movie because it does work on that level for me, in terms of the tyrannical priest and the hold the Church has over people through guilt and fear. But it is interesting to me that I have to come to Ireland to talk about the film before I get to meet someone who tunes into it on that level. It says a lot about the way we Irish are, and how those experiences in adolescence stay with us, to one degree or another, through life."

The Lawnmower Man" is basically a 'virtual-reality' update of the Frankenstein story with Brosnan playing doctor to his 'creation' Jobe, but the film currently being shown in Ireland is what he describes as "a filleted version".

In fact, there is even more of this exploration of religious iconography and guilt in the director's own cut which will probably be out later on video,  he explains. "Brett is fascinated by that aspect to the story too. For example, there is a. virtual-reality scenes where Jobe cases me into the chair  puts the goggles on and makes me watch my wife's death.  As it is you don't know what happens to my wife in the cinema version of the movie. What happened to her was that she gets overtaken by the shock and Jobe makes me watch my own wife s death and when I go up from the basement her body s there and that's why I go after his character in the movie.

But would Pierce Brosnan really have wanted such a scene included in the movie following so soon after the death of his own wife? Indeed, is this not yet another case of Hollywood cannibalising the private lives of its stars, and their tragedies, to boost up the takings at the box-office.

"No it's not that at all," he insists. "There was no exploitation, no putting in the scene afterwards to capitalise on that, Jesus Christ no. The scene was there and we filmed it and I was very upset that it got cut out.  But, yes, I could easily hook into the scene, emotionally, and relate to it on a deeply personal level. And in a way it helped me to externalize the angst that was there, and the pain and frustration. And that time, last summer, Cassie was undergoing treatment and while we were filming, the cancer began to take a turn for the worse. I had to work, but I was going between the hospital and the set. So the only thing you can do, as an actor, is use that experience, tap into those fears, emotions, confusion and the pain." People who have seen "The Lawnmower Man" won't be surprised by the actor's remarks; he invests in his performance far more emotional weight than one might expect from a character which is, at times, sketchily drawn, and risks being totally overshadowed by the special effects.

"I certainly would hope that comes across in the movie," Brosnan observes. "And I must say that I've certainly never had an experience like that filming anything in my life. But then the man — whether or not you think he is 'sketchily-drawn' — is very much adrift and very much trying to find himself. He has a passion and wants to do well by mankind but really looks too closely into Pandora's box."

Pierce Brosnan confesses that he will probably now make work the centre of his world, partly as a form of compensation after his wife's death.

"I have to. I have the children to take care of," he explains. "And I honestly don't know what I would do if I didn't have Charlotte, Christian and Sean in my life. But certainly the work is extremely important to me. As for the question of whether or not I now envisage losing myself in work over the next couple of years, I have to say 'yes'. I did do another movie that coincided with Cassie's death, and I'm working for the rest of this year and am lining projects up for further down the line. But then the alternative is to do nothing. And that's not for me. I'm a worker. I love work, and I need that."

In the most gothic form of fan star scenario, as Neil Diamond recently revealed, certain fans who get romantically fixated on their heroes sometimes want his/her loved ones removed from the landscape in the hope that they will be chosen to fill this newly-vacant space. Has Pierce Brosnan ever experienced this form of madness?

"There have been one or two over the years and filed away but they were never as black as the scenario you’re depicting.  But then I am a different form of entertainer than Neil.  I have been a so-called sex-symbol for nearly a decade but there was never anything I couldn't deal with. And people always showed a great deal of respect for Cassie and myself and our marriage. So I never really had any serious trouble in this area."

Many female journalists who describe Brosnan, write about his sex-appeal and looks and body in a way which if written by a man about a woman, would be deemed sexist. Some even forget to mention that he is an actor. Does this annoy him?

"At first I thought it was wonderful, it was flattering to my ego and so on, but now I try to take it with a pinch of salt", he replies. "If people are civil you try to be civil to them in return. But I certainly realise now that all that really has nothing to do with my work. And I do have to remind people that when I did 'Remington Steele' I knew I was going to have to get myself out from a rock at the end of it because of the image it had created of me. Up until 'Remington Steele' I'd done a lot of theatre and was seen as an actor. But 'Remington' locked me inside that mould of being just a sex-symbol, and people in general often don't see beyond that so it has, to a degree, mitigated against my being accepted as an actor, certainly. But that just makes me want to work harder to remind them of what, and who I am."

What Pierce Brosnan is, he insists, is Irish. Although he hasn't seen the movie, he is very aware of the current controversy in America surrounding the Patrick Bergin and Richard Harris movie "The Patriot Games" which has been accused of presenting stereotypical images of Irish characters, including a psychopathic IRA killer.

"I really want to see it to make up my mind on the issue as I am particularly interested in representations of 'Irishness'," he says. "And there are also Irish stories I want to do, which I know, in Hollywood they are very scared of doing. They are good stories but they do deal with the IRA. The IRA are very frightening people and what we have in Northern Ireland is a very delicate situation, but one is a great story about violence, by Brian Moore. I wouldn't have any problems doing a movie that deals with the subject, and I hope I can."

Would Pierce Brosnan be concerned that any film that deals with the situation in Northern Ireland — such as the long-promised Mickey Rourke movie about Bobby Sands — might even inadvertently become  propaganda for the IRA?

"Mickey Rourke is not an Irishman, for God's sake, he's an American," Brosnan replies. "And although he is a good actor he really presents himself as a professional Irishman. I certainly don't want to make propagandistic movies for the IRA, or for anybody. That's why I'm a bit taken aback by your original question on James Bond, in terms of his character carrying what you see as imperialist codes. And what Gabriel Byrne sees the same way. I wouldn't want to be party to those kind of messages at all. And I really admire Gabriel and like him a lot"

Richard Harris is another Irish actor whom Brosnan not only admires but also regards as a valued friend. This was particularly true following the death of Cassandra Harris. 

"Richard came to the family at a time when there was a lot of pain and tears after the loss of Cassie," he recalls. "He and his family, such as Damien, have become friends of the children and I don’t know what I or the family, would have done if they hadn't been there. I’m eternally grateful to him for that. And he loved Cassie dearly, so I know he felt the loss deeply, too."

Does Pierce Brosnan share Harris's ambivalent feelings when it comes to thoughts of returning to live in either Limerick, where they were both born, or indeed, anywhere else in the land of his birth?

"Richard has got a lot of angst about the place but the difference is that I don't go back to Navan and I didn't come from a big family. Richard came from a typically Irish family, with deep roots into Limerick. My situation being different means I don't have that love/hate feeling he has. I would like to come back here and live. I'm going to see how this year plays out and I just might come back to Ireland, why not?"

But didn't he once say that when he left Ireland at 11 years old to go and live in London he "felt the veils being lifted" from his eyes? In the current socio-theological climate why would he want to return to that form of blindness?

"Yes, I felt a veil of inhibition lifted as a young lad whose family was broken up and who didn't have a father but I've let go a lot of those experiences, a lot of that pain," he says. "And losing Cassie has made a great change in my life. Don't ask me how, but I know I'm changing, though it has only been six months. I can't articulate what those changes are but I find myself, at times, almost forced to while I'm doing the  rounds for this movie. Doing press in London the other day it was very difficult because some people just came in with questions about Cassie’s death immediately. And one is still in pain, still trying to find one's self.”

His voice fades to a whisper then slowly rises again.

"But as part of that process, to answer your original question about moving back here to live, it is something I am strongly considering, despite some of the darker memories the country holds for me. In the meantime I really do intend making a movie here. I bought the 'Field Anthology of Irish Writing' in America, thinking there have got to be stories, rich and wonderful, which can be adapted and haven't been explored before, and there are. So getting one of those stories to the screen and working on it in Ireland really should be enough for the time being."

Projecting himself forward twenty years Pierce Brosnan says he hopes that, like Richard Harris, he will be appearing in stage productions and films rather than relegated back to television fluff like 'Remington Steele' or American Soaps.

"I started out in plays like The Red Devil Battery Sign' by Tennessee Williams and that's where I'd rather end up." he says.

"Please, no soaps. I'm an actor. It just so happens that Pierce Brosnan went into 'Remington Steele' and looked rather sharp in those suits swanned around. But it was a very light piece and I never saw myself as that character. I saw myself as an actor. Not a prince, not a leading  man in any way, but as a character actor. But I did get stuck there and people kept comparing me to Cary Grant.  But that's not me. It never was. As I said earlier, I'm an Irish peasant for Christ's sake." 

Photo: Colm Henry

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