Premiere: License To Chill (Nov 2005) Click for larger version

Premiere: License To Chill 

Nov 2005

With his freewheeling portrayal of a conflicted hitman in The Matador, Pierce Brosnan is enjoying life so much he’s almost over being dropped as Bond.  Almost.

LOOK, HE SAYS, IT WAS A GOOD RUN. TEN SOLID YEARS. He's grateful for that. Losing the role was never the issue, really. No one gets to be James Bond forever. He knows that (how could he not?). Actors have been hired and retired by the Broccoli family before. They own the franchise. So what if they moved the goal posts on him? Fair play to them. Time passes. Tastes change.  He's fine with that. It's all part of the gig.

What he does seem to find galling is how they handed him his walking papers. You'd think they would treat him with a little more respect.  He was, after all, the one who breathed life back into the franchise when it was flatlining. His four Bond movies made billions. Die Another Day even set a franchise record, earning $425 million worldwide. You'd think that would have made a difference in how they showed him the door. It didn't. And he can't help but take that personally.

He gazes contemplatively at the emerald green ocean and takes a pull off an afternoon beer. His handsome features, which had collapsed into a heap of wrinkles and frowns, return to their usual composition of perfect masculine symmetry. He laughs with a weary resignation, and his resentment mellows into reluctant acceptance. "It was messy getting into this game," he says. "It stays in fashion that it was messy getting out."

PIERCE BROSNAN HASN'T COME TO GEOFFREY'S, AN UPSCALE SEASIDE restaurant near his home in Malibu, to, as he puts it, "twitter on " about his tenure in Her Majesty's Secret Service, which, as he's mentioned before but hasn't really discussed in detail, ended unceremoniously while he was shooting 2004's After the Sunset in the Bahamas. He's here to chat about another international assassin, one Julian Noble, his character in this month's The Matador—a scrofulous, mustachioed, psycho-pathetic hit man who coincidentally (or maybe not) finds himself at a career crossroads, desperately wanting to quit his job as a "facilitator of fatalities."

A compelling commingling of genres—a buddy picture that also plays as a psychodrama and a black comedy—The Matador, from writer-director Richard Shepard, made a splash at Sundance in January and was bought by Miramax. Since then, the indie film has been building considerable buzz, largely because of Brosnan's gutsy, self- satirizing performance opposite Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis, in which he (literally) lets it all hang out.” This role was really a gem," he says, "having been out in a landscape that is not too thoughtful, not quirky, not art—the big, commercial, hopefully entertaining world of Bond."

Lunching on beet salad, sea bass, and vegetables, the actor—looking very un-Bond in a T-shirt and distressed chinos, with a tanned face full of gray stubble—has plenty to say about his upcoming film and seems optimistic and ambitious about his future prospects. But he's clearly still struggling with saying goodbye to 007, the role that paid him a reported $15 million per picture and that he credits with making his career.

The way Brosnan tells it, his license to kill couldn't have been revoked at a more inopportune time. He was in the middle of After the Sunset, a film that was having "a hard time finding [its] tone," he says. Director John Stockwell (Into the Blue) had been replaced by Brett Ratner, whom Brosnan had at one time approached to direct a Bond film.

According to Brosnan, Ratner "brought the tone, and he brought it hard and fast. He picked up and carried Sunset, which was really a small film, and made this popcorn piece. It was kind of wobbly for a while. God, there were times I was cursing him out, cursing the writers out. I don't like it when it gets shaky like that."

Things were about to get shakier. At the time, he says, his agents were negotiating for him to do a fifth Bond film when suddenly the producers "changed their minds. They rethought the role. They wanted to go younger. They wanted to put a whole new spin on it and reinvigorate the part. [My agents said, “Negotiations have stopped.'" (Perhaps the $25 million plus 5 percent of the gross that he was reportedly asking for was a factor.)

"I'm about to do scene 58 with the lovely Salma Hayek where we roll around on the beach naked and talk about some silly diamond," says Brosnan.  "And the boys are telling me that the negotiations have stopped. When the message was delivered, it was a body blow. I said, 'What does that mean?'  They said, 'We don't know. But they'll call you next Friday. Five-thirty.'"

Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson, the producers who control the Bond franchise, rang him from London the following week as promised, Brosnan says. (They declined to be interviewed for this article.)  "I heard what they had to say. They had obviously made their minds up. And I was not there to try and change their minds. Given the emotion and difficult positioning of words and sentiments on their behalf..." His words trail off, and he's quiet for a while.

"It would have been sweet to go back for a fifth,” he continues. "I was just getting the hang of it, you know? They really loosened up the reins on the last one, with Lee Tamahori. It would have been wonderful to go out there for one last game and pass the baton."

More silence.  "Well, there you go," he says finally, his blue eyes looking shiny and a bit wild. "Life is messy. It's fucked up at times. Whether they made the right choice, who knows? They're probably scared shitless, thinking,  'What have we done? Did we jump the gun? For what reasons?  For what truthful, honest reason?' Only they will know.

"Enough about it," he concludes, tearing into his fish.  "Really. I want to come up with a great line here but I can't. It fucking sucks. Completely."

Premiere: License To Chill (Nov 2005)  Click for larger version

IN THE THREE DECADES THAT HE'S WORKED AS AN ACTOR, BROSNAN, 52, HAS become a big believer in something he calls "cinematic alchemy," or the right thing happening in his career at the right time for the right reason. Call it the luck of the Irish, he says, but perhaps a more reasonable explanation is his "just being aware of those moments when there's a shift because it leads to opportunities, and hopefully, it leads to growth."

He's been clear-eyed about his choices since he was an Irish lad from a broken home who moved to England with his mother, fell in love with acting, and made a name for himself on the stage, starring in productions for Tennessee Williams and Franco Zeffirelli. In 1980, Brosnan married Australian actress Cassandra Harris (coincidentally, a Bond girl from For Your Eyes Only, who convinced him to give Hollywood a shot.

Almost immediately after moving to Los Angeles, he landed TV's Remington Steele, the first of his portrayals of elegant detectives and spies, and launched an image that he now calls  “a blessing and a curse."  In 1986, Brosnan was offered the role of Bond by the late Cubby Broccoli, but he had to turn it down when the show was unexpectedly picked up. 

Remington Steele ran its course, and Brosnan transitioned into film with mixed results, lending his leading-man looks to genre pictures like Live Wire and The Lawnmower Man and trying his hand at comedy with a supporting role in Mrs. Doubtfire. He was also grieving for his wife Cassie, who at the end of 1991 lost her hard-fought battle with cancer, a time he describes as "the black nausea." Struggling with finding fulfilling work, Brosnan was having some serious discussions with his financial manager when he learned that he had landed the role of Bond in 1995’s Goldeneye. ''My life has been a dream in many respects," he says, "with big gobs of reality thrown in."

As much as Brosnan may lament the loss of Bond, a role he says he was "deeply proud” to play, and what it brought him—the money, the cars, the international adoration, the endorsement deals—it's obvious that as an actor, he grew frustrated with the role, having criticized the plots, the pun-filled dialogue, the pomposity, and the franchise's general frippery.

"The Matador just came at a perfect time, with Bond falling apart" he says.  "The perfect time to get all that shit out of my system, everything that had been going around in my head, and pour it into Julian."

Screenwriter and up and coming director Richard Shepard sent his script for The Matador to Brosnan's production company, Irish DreamTime, not as a starring vehicle for the actor, but as a writing ample. At the time, he was trying to get hired to pen The Topkapi Affair, the sequel to 1999’s The Thomas Crown Affair. He didn't write the script with Brosnan in mind, but, inspired by Sexy Beast, came up with the concept by thinking  "what would happen to James Bond if he really looked into his soul," Shepard says.” It’s [about] someone who had to turn off their emotions for twenty years in order to do a job."

As fate would have it, the DreamTime execs loved the dialogue-heavy, tonally challenging script and passed it to Brosnan, who was searching for a new project to star in and produce. At first, the actor wasn't sure he wanted to play yet another gun-toting, babe-bedding hitman, but the amoral yet endearing Julian resonated with him because of "the drifting of his soul," he says.  "He was rudderless in life. He has low self-esteem, this fellow. At the same time, he's confident. He has this bravado about him."

"It takes the Bond character that we've come to know Pierce as and throws it on its ear,” says producer Bryan Furst.  "It does have international intrigue and all that, but it's really about someone who is in crisis, at a turning point and trying to figure out how he's going to maintain. What was once a glamorous existence is starting to wear on him."

ALTHOUGH THE PARALLELS TO HIS PERSONAL LIFE AND CAREER ARE HARD to miss, Brosnan says that he never planned to make The Matador his epilogue for a decade playing James Bond. To get into the head of Julian, a character that he feels has more in common with another one of his oversexed spies—Andy Osnard from 2001's The Tailor of Panama—he called a "high-ranking friend" at the LAPD, who hooked him up with a criminologist.
Premiere: License To Chill (Nov 2005) Click for larger version

Premiere: License To Chill (Nov 2005) Click for larger version

"I didn't want to go to a prison and hang out with a psychopath," he says.  "I gave them the script and said, ‘Try to distill the essence of who this man might be, his psychopathic tendencies.'  So I approached it from that side, and then I approached it from a visual side."

Gone are the Saville Row suits, the Omega watches, and any semblance of suaveness. Brosnan went the opposite direction with Julian, building his look from the ground up, starting with some "really nasty Italian boots. They look so clownish but so sexual. I mean, like Jon Voight from Midnight Cowboy. Then it was tight shirts, tight pants, and the gold chain."

Don't forget the mustache, a big, bushy lip-caterpillar that would have made Magnum P.I. envious, and which set an unfortunate trend during the $10 million, tequila-fueled, 40-day shoot in Mexico City. "Everyone grew a mustache on the movie," says Beau St. Clair, Brosnan's longtime friend and partner in DreamTime. "It started with Pierce.  He showed up at the office with it.  And then the next time that Greg Kinnear came for a fitting he had a mustache.  Richard Shepard grew a mustache. But then it was crazy. The crew photos are funny because everyone has a mustache."

But perhaps the most daring subversion of Brosnan's dapper image is the scene where Julian walks through a hotel lobby to the pool in nothing but boots and a tiny swimsuit, which the actor refers to as "the mankini”.  “I forgot to suck in the stomach that day." He laughs. "Beau said, 'You don't have to do this. And l said, 'Fuck it. I'm fifty years old, for Christ's sake. I've done Bond. I can do anything I want to do.'"

"Pierce just fully went for it," Shepard says. "I said early on, 'If he doesn't give 110% percent this is not going to work.’  It's not one of those roles where you can charm your way through. Pierce is an incredibly accomplished actor, and he's very funny.  I don't want to sound like some asshole blowing smoke, but the fact is that it's true, and the movie is much better for it."

The Matador wrapped in the spring of 2004. Brosnan hasn't made a movie in more than a year, a fact that "scares the shit" out of him. But not too much. He's been spending his time jogging, playing golf, and painting. And in a few days, he'll be heading off for a vacation at his Hawaiian hideaway with wife Keely and young sons Dylan Thomas and Paris Beckett.

Meanwhile, he's been getting the usual offers to play spies, jewel thieves, and the like. But "Pierce is ready to take on bigger challenges now," St. Clair says. "Bond was an amazing opportunity to have a global awareness of his abilities, but it was a character that was already established. He now has to go in a new direction. I think he'll do edgier things."

Brosnan says he's ready to write the next chapter in his life and is gearing up for several projects, many of which he also plans to produce. "The greatest joy is making my own movies,” he says.  On the docket is Butterfly on a Wheel, a thriller about a couple who are kidnapped by a maniacal stranger (played by Brosnan), which he hopes to shoot in San Francisco.  "It's a story about love, obsession, and extreme emotions of hate," he says.

But first, he'll star opposite Liam Neeson in Seraphim Falls, an action-heavy, psychologically driven drama set at the end of the Civil War, for Mel Gibson's Icon Productions. The Topkapi Affair is actively being developed with DreamTime and Sony, and he's working with Danny DeVito and Morgan Freeman on an adaptation of the children's book The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle. And there will most likely be other offers, and opportunities, after The Matador hits theaters.

"Hopefully, people will dig the movie, love it and say, 'Shit, man, that was cool.  I didn't expect that from him.'" he says. "Just keep moving on is really the motto to be learned here." He thinks for a minute. "Hopefully, it will make a shit load of money," he adds. "That would also be nice."

Premiere: License To Chill (Nov 2005) Click for larger version
THE PLUCK OF THE IRISH "I've always seen myself as a orking actor who got lucky and played this great international role and has been able to carry on doing movies."

Story: Tom Swanson
Additional reporting: Cristy Lytal
Photographs: Greg Williams
Brosnan pierces his persona in The Matador


Double Duties:  Since three staffers wrote most of our features this month, I thought I’d turn the mike over to them to tell us a little about the people and films they covered.

Tim Swanson:  (“How Zorro Got His Groove back,” page 78 and “License to Chill,” page 102)

They seem like two totally different movies – a big studio sequal featuring classic characters and a small indie film about a horny hairy hitman having a crisis of conscience – but The Legend of Zorro and The Matador have a lot in common.  Both were shot in Mexico.  And Zorro director Martin Campbell, who directed Pierce Brosnan, star of The Matador, in his first outing as James Bond, 1995’s Goldeneye.

I’ve been a Brosnan fan ever since his days as Remington Steele.  I expected him to be prickly about Bond, and while he has some strong emotions, I found him to be funny, self-effacing, and honest almost to a fault.  He may have been the star of a huge franchise, but the guy has the soul of an artist.  He’s a painter in fact, doing wild, colorful pieces.  When I asked him where he thought he fit in the pantheon of actors who have played Bond, he said he was proud of his legacy, but this was “dodgy stuff” to talk about.   I would put him just behind Connery and well in front of Moore.  But his performance in The Matador has made me completely rethink him as an actor. 

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