Entertainment Weekly

Gentlemen Don't Prefer Bonds


Entertainment Weekly: 8/19/05

GENTLEMEN DON'T PREFER BONDS

After years of grinding it out in Her Majesty's Secret Service Irish eyes are finally smiling on PIERCE BROSNAN, who's pleased to be adding the assassin tango THE MATADOR to his resume and subtracting 007 from his life, by Joshua Rich

UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES ARE YOU TO REVEAL TO ANYONE WHERE you are right now," says the barefoot gent with salt-and-pepper stubble and a billowing Hawaiian shirt, unbuttoned to his tanned trim waist. He fixes his visitor with an icy blue stare.  "Because if you do, I will hunt you down."  Pierce Brosnan may not be James Bond anymore, but he sure wants to remain an international man of mystery. 

Welcome to the clandestine tropical getaway he shares with his wife Keely, and two young sons, Dylan and Paris, who are bopping around here somewhere. He's exactly the kind of place where you'd expect to find 007 or Remington Steele or Thomas Crown catching a breather— a modest abode on a volcanic island, kept airy in a steady Pacific breeze, masked by the song of the rolling surf secluded under swaying palm trees, and, most importantly, hidden worlds away from the paparazzi. 

Playfully stern hello aside, Brosnan, 52, is in classic spirits this stunning Monday in July.  His illustrious stint as James Bond is in the past, he says, having ended a year ago with a single surprising phone call in which producers notified him that, for reasons he can't explain, his secret services would no longer be required, "After that kind of titanic jolt to the system, there was a great sense of calm," he says.  "I thought F— it! I can do anything I want to do now.  I'm not beholden to them or anyone.  I'm not shackled by some contracted image. So there was a sense of liberation."

For Brosnan, his latest project, the independent black comedy The Matador (opening Nov. 4), is a liberation indeed. Playing a raunchy, hairy, socially contemptible hitman— who in a perfectly poetic hit of art imitating life, is ready to quit the guns-and-babes business—the actor is generating the best buzz of his career.  "He's got a great sense of humor,' says The Matador writer-director Richard Shepard, whose movie also stars Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis. 'He had a lot of fun because he wasn't having to be his normal debonair, perfectly coiffed self. It's fun being a bastard. And, of course, as a human being he's the total opposite of that."

No kidding, Brosnan greets his guest this afternoon with a grand smile and an immediate invitation to feel at home— Take off the shoes, change into some shorts, and, please, see if any of his old swim trunks fit because he really wants to take a dip in the ocean.  Which would he great, except that his visitor hasn't had a 33-inch waist since Timothy Dalton was famous. No dice.  "Oh, don’t worry about it," Brosnan says with a warm and understanding smile, fast moving on to the next order of business: "Beer or wine?"  And then it's out to savor a few St. Pauli Girls on the vanilla sand.

PIERCE BROSNAN IS ON VACATION SURE, but it's hard not to interpret his repeated guffaws and fun-loving demeanor as the stuff of a man with a huge weight off his shoulders.  From his youth as a skinny Irish lad in a broken home to his days as a drama student in London, where he caught breaks in the late 1970s starring on stage for Tennessee Williams and Franco Zefferelli to his starmaking role as a dapper private eye on Remington Steele in the 1980s, Brosnan always seemed to be biding his time until his moment to walk through Miss Moneypenny's office arrived.  Just consider:  The first film he loved was Goldfinger, Roger Moore gave him the only autograph he's ever received; his early movie, The Mirror Crack’d was directed by 007 regular Guy Hamilton; his first wife Cassandra Harris, was a Bond Girl in For Your Eyes Only, he nearly got the key to 007's Aston Martin in 1986 before Remington Steele was unexpectedly renewed a final time; and there's simply no denying that he bloody well looks the part.

At the same time, Brosnan was a trained actor striving always to play rich characters.  But movies like Nomads and The Deceivers and Mister Johnson never caught on.  And following Remington Steele, the actor paid the mortgage mostly by starring in schlock thrillers like Live Wire and taking hit parts as "the other guy" in Mrs. Doutbtfire and Love Affair.

Meanwhile, Harris (the mother of his three grown children), who was instrumental in pushing him to do smart, and strong movies, was diagnosed with cancer in 1987 after returning from India, where Brosnan had been shooting The Deceivers for producer Ismail Merchant, "We got home for Christmas and Cassie didn't feel well.  She went to the doctor—'I'll see you for lunch.'"  Brosnan pauses- "Life turns." She died in 1991.  "Amazing friend," he says, "amazing, amazing woman."

So his 1995 introduction as Bond, in Goldeneye, was truly pivotal. "There was a press conference in London announcing me as James Bond," recalls Brosnan, now out of the seaside sun, sitting on the lawn, enjoying a lunch of fresh crab cakes, spicy mango salsa, and a bottle of white.  "The next morning I got up early and went down to a little fish-and-chip shop in Chelsea that I used to go to.  They had every newspaper, and I saw what my life was about to become. They had dug up my life, family, girlfriends. [I thought,] My God, what have I done by entering into this world?! Thank God I'm running off to Papua New Guinea to shoot Robinson Crusoe [which went straight to video].  And two days later, I'm jogging through the bush in this tiny dirt village, and these kids see me and say, 'James Bond! James Bond!' That was my first taste."

Ten years along, Brosnan is still recognized in the most remote places. But celebrity and all its residual drawbacks were never a major concern.  In many ways Brosnan loved the spy game:  He repeatedly talks about how grateful he is to have had the role, he refers to himself lightly as "James Bond" on occasion, and 007's silver BMW 7501 from Tomorrow Never Dies is parked right over there in his driveway.  Besides, the paychecks were big—"that was amazing money"—and he finally had the clout to form his own production company.  Irish DreamTime, and to make more personal films like The Thomas Crown Affair and Evelyn (see sidebar).  And yet, while the years passed and the grosses for his four Bond movies entered the billions, certain misgivings grew. 

"It never felt real to me. I never felt I had complete ownership over Bond.  Because you'd have these stupid one-liners—which I loathed— and I always felt phony doing them," he says- "I'd look at myself in the suit and tie and think, What the heck am I doing here?" Such sentiments were nothing new, "That was always the frustrating thing about the role: (Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson] play it so safe.  The pomposity and rigmarole that they put directors through is astounding."  So his last mission On Her Majesty's Secret Service, 2002's Die Another Day, left him hopeful.  "It was great to have Lee Tamahori directing, and I was amazed by how much the producers let him get in there and rock the cage." he says.  "I thought we made inroads there."

Brosnan fiddles with his straw Panama hat while hunched at the picnic table.  He says that before they stopped negotiations, the producers had invited him back for a fifth time and l thought, well, this will be great.  They've actually done something on the last one, they didn't play it that safe with the director, with the script, with breaking the character down" He pauses.  Then laughs.  "It's not my problem anymore! One phone call, that's all it took!"

THE MATADOR HAPPENED TO BE EXACTLY THE departure Brosnan was yearning for.  "The idea [of the movie] is what is the worst day in James Bond’s life?  Looking in a mirror, looking like s—," says Shepard.'  So in a way once we cast Pierce it was like, who else could have played this role?!"  Shepard's script crossed the desk of Brosnan's longtime producing partner and friend Beau St. Clair, right when she was actively looking for a fun and different project for the actor to star in and help produce.  "It's a pretty genius commentary on leaving one part of your life and starting anew," she says.  Adds Brosnan, "[For this] to come on the heels of my departure from the world of Bond is a sweet grace, to play this one as a farewell to that chapter in time—it certainly wasn't planned."

But he settled into the role of an endearingly foulmouthed, skirt-chasing creep nicely.  Shepard says Brosnan was up for anything during the $10 million film's 40-day shoot in Mexico City last year.  For starters, he was willing to even go to the somewhat dangerous capital.  "The weekend before we went to Mexico City, there was a huge newspaper article about the violence and the kidnappings.' Brosnan says.  "I read it that Sunday morning and put it under the couch, trying to keep it away from my wife. But when the kids jumped on the couch in the afternoon, it was a classic reveal.  She goes, 'Oh, what's that?' And I'm like, F—!"  But he went anyway, and exhibited a special daring once cameras rolled. One prominent scene, for example, finds the customarily suave star traipsing through a crowded hotel lobby and jumping into a swimming pool while clad in nothing but cowboy boots and underpants.  Says the director, "He was like, 'I'll do it, but you have one f—ing take."'

For Pierce Brosnan, take 2 starts here.  "Who knows if it's going to change your career. Who knows if it's going to draw a different kind of work," he says hesitantly.  "You hope it will generate—I don't know, it's not good to talk about too much of what things will do.  We just don't know."   He's a bit mum on what's next.  A thriller called Butterfly on a Wheel and the Thomas Crown sequel The Topkapi Affair, are both in development at Irish Dreamtime, and he's expecting to star in a film for Mel Gibson’s Icon Productions shortly.  "You know, the movie career for me really started with Bond," he says, acknowledging the fact that he was already 42 by the time Goldeneye premiered, ‘‘so I started late, I lost a bit of ground."  Now's time to play catch-up.

But not before that swim in the ocean he's beer, waiting for all afternoon. After his wife places an emergency phone call to the local surf shop, his guest is presented with a spanking new pair of Billabong board shorts.  Then it’s a dive into the warm turquoise water.  Cares float away as Brosnan calmly bobs around in the waves.  And after half an hour he paddles back to shore arid steps onto the sand, feeling clean and refreshed.  Feeling like a new man. •

BROSNAN ON BROSNAN

Usually recognized as the guy who played Remington Steele or James Bond, the actor always loves it when folks bring up some of the other projects he holds dear. Here he weighs in on a few of his favorites.

Mister Johnson (1990)
Good film, actually—I think about 12 people saw it," he says of the African colonial drama, directed in Nigeria by Bruce Beresford. "I'd go to church on Sunday. There was nothing else to do!  It came with a certain loneliness to it: My [first] wife was sick, she was at home, calls were expensive...."

Lawnmower Man (1992)

Critics weren't pleased with Brett Leonard's virtual-reality fable. But Brosnan "loved the wildness of it. Loved the sheer independent aspect, the exuberance."  He watched it recently with his son.  I thought it was going to be really tacky and embarrassing.  But it actually... looked good."

Thomas Crown Affair (1999)

"It's just a game," says Steve McQueen fan Brosnan, who developed this remake. "The [climactic scene] was written as straw hats. I was looking at Magritte and all the bowler-hatted men and was like, it should be bowler hats!  I was proud of that.  I had a creative thought!” He laughs. "For a change!"

Evelyn (2002)

Brosnan also produced this unheralded flick about a humble dad trying to reunite with his kids. ''It's a jewel of a film, I'm very proud of it.  It hit chords within my own life of being a father and dealing with aloneness and Ireland and Catholicism."  He laughs again.  "It was also a good movie for not having to watch my weight!'


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