Reader’s Digest: Face to Face with Pierce Brosnan (Nov 2002) 

Reader's Digest Nov 2002 - Pierce Brosnan

Unbound Bond: At home with the best looking dad in Hollywood

SHOW UP at Pierce Brosnan's house expecting martinis and bikinis, and you'll be disappointed. True, the man who has played James Bond for seven years does live on an exclusive Malibu beach. And, yes, there's a sports car in the drive. But instead of bad guys and curvaceous spies, at the Brosnan household you're likely to find...a stack of diapers. Because while Brosnan relishes the role of Bond—his fourth outing, Die Another Day, just opened— that's not who he is. Given the choice of fighting evil or staying home, he'll take the domestic option. Like painting or picking tomatoes from his garden or fussing over his son, Paris, 20 months. 

According to Brosnan, those are the things that make him a superstar in his role as family man. Now 49, the actor says he feels compelled to provide for his children the childhood he never had. Brosnan was born in Navan, County Meath, Ireland. When he was just a baby, his parents split and his father, a carpenter, disappeared, not to be heard from for nearly 30 years. Soon after, Brosnan's mother left him in the care of relatives while she trained as a nurse in London. She sent for him when he was 11. 

After arriving in London, Brosnan saw his first Technicolor film, Goldfinger, and felt the yearning to be an actor. He dropped out of high school, ran away with the circus—he became a fire-eater—and worked various backstage jobs before making his London acting debut in 1976. His first wife, Cassandra Harris, an Australian-born actress who appeared in For Your Eyes Only, introduced him to the producers of the Bond films, though she didn't live to see him land the title role. After a four-year battle with ovarian cancer, she died in Brosnan's arms in 1991. 

Suddenly he was a single parent to Charlotte, now 28, and Christopher, 27 (from Harris's first marriage), and to his son with Harris, Sean, 19. Contractual obligations to his NBC series, Remington Steele, prevented him from taking the 007 role when it was first offered, but in 1994, when he got the call again, Brosnan leapt. 

That same year, he met television journalist Keely Shaye Smith. The two wed last year in a lavish ceremony in an Irish castle. They share a passion for environmental causes and take huge joy in their two newest additions to the Brosnan family: Dylan, five, and baby Paris. 

RD: You've said the past year was one of the most exciting of your life. Why? 

Brosnan: It's certainly been one of the most memorable years. There've been many productions. Production of child—baby Paris. Production of marriage. Production of films—Bond and Evelyn. It's been a celebration of life in every sense of the word. One of my old teachers used to say, "Nothing comes from nothing." After a lot of hard work, great happiness. 

RD: Is that what it feels like—hard work paying off? 

Brosnan: I've worked hard to get to where I am. Sometimes it just seems to go on and on forever. The life of an actor is fickle and crazy, and full of neurosis and twists and turns. 

RD: Die Another Day is your fourth Bond movie. How do you keep your enthusiasm for the role? 

Brosnan: I grew up on James Bond movies. And I have had the time of my life playing this role. It brings great pleasure to people around the world. You show up because you want it to be the best, because you want to kick ass at the end of the day, because Die Another Day is the 20th Bond film and—I don't know—just because I love it. 

RD: How much are you like James Bond in real life? 

Brosnan: I'm perceived as this sophisticated, debonair, distant person. This macho guy. And I'm not like that. Following me around a day in my life would be quite comedic. I'm anything but Bond. 

RD: Tell me a story that would illustrate who the real Pierce Brosnan is. 

Brosnan: I got a Porsche recently-a loaner [from the dealer], a convertible, stick shift—and I stopped to buy some chewing gum and a paper at the newsstand. I had just said hello to some out-of-towners who think I'm James Bond, and I'm trying to be cool and start the bloody car, and I stall it. 

Or the time Keely and I went to [CAA talent agency cofounder] Ron Meyer's house—this beautiful home off Pacific Coast Highway, with this fantastic gate. I'm driving the Mercedes, and we're talking away as we approach the gate. I take my foot off the brake, and Keely goes, "Brake! Brake!" She just yanked the emergency brake. We stopped an inch from the gate. 

RD: You had the loaner Porsche because you're waiting for an Aston Martin. So you're not entirely unlike Bond. 

Brosnan: There's a part of me that is like him and a part that's completely unlike him. I don't have a licence to kill, but I love vodka martinis, which are rather delicious after a long day. I drank them before Bond, and I'll carry on drinking them after Bond—in moderation. 

RD: Keely, what's it like being married to the man who plays James Bond? 

Smith: It would be confusing if he came home and thought he was Bond, but, thankfully, he doesn't. And we met before the great mythology began. But Dylan has finally clicked in to what his dad does and his character. This whole other persona has been introduced to him, and he's spellbound. He's now Dylan's dad and his superhero. 

Brosnan: What Dylan really loves are motorcars. He came to the Bond set one day. The setting was the bad guy's hideout, and the bad guy has all these Ferraris and Lamborghinis. Dylan sees Dad run through 500 Koreans and bullets and bombs with six cameras rolling and helicopters exploding, Dad jumping onto a hovercraft and punching the bad guy out. 

I look across the set, see my son and think, this is fantastic; my boy is here. I do my best James Bond impersonation, run across the set, don't trip, don't get blown up. I say, "What did you think of that, Dylan? Did you like that?" He looks at me and says, "Dad, are the cars all right? Can we go see the cars?" 

RD: So he'll be thrilled when the Aston Martin arrives. 

Brosnan: Tomorrow at ten o'clock, I am Dylan's hero. His buddies will be over here tomorrow around eleven. 

RD: Do you try to shield him from your fame? 

Brosnan: I don't sign autographs when I'm out with my son. 

Smith: Sometimes he'll sign if it's for a child. We're trying to explain to Dylan that other children may have only one opportunity to meet his father. I think it's hard for him to share his father—harder for him than for me. 

RD: A lot of Pierces films are full of actresses running around in bikinis, Keely. Is that difficult for you? 

Smith: Dylan wants to know about that. "Why are the bad girls chasing my dad? Why does Dad kiss those girls?" All I can say is, "He comes home to me." 

RD: And that's enough for you? 

Smith:  It's what he does for a living. 

Brosnan: And it's just acting. Great acting. [Laughs.] 

RD: Do you plan to do another Bond movie? 

Brosnan: They have said the role is mine as long as I want it. I'd love to do another. It's a wonderful security in life. After Remington Steele, many years ago when I was a widower... single parent— It sounds very strange to say "widower;" I never used it—I remember thinking, I like security; I better go back to TV But I and-shape family. I'm 49--50 is around the corner. 

RD: What about your latest project, Evelyn

Brosnan: Evelyn is a true story about a man named Desmond Doyle, set in Dublin in 1953, the year I was born. Evelyn's dad, Doyle, was left with the kids; the missus left. And as did happen in those dark days of the '50s in Ireland, the Church and state came in and took Evelyn and the two boys away. Evelyn went into a convent, and the boys went into an industrial school. 

Desmond fought tooth and nail to get them back, took his case to the Supreme Court and won. It's a kind of David-and-Goliath story. 

RD: Were you drawn to the project because of parallels to your own story? 

Brosnan: I was drawn to it because I'm a father, not because of what my childhood was about. Having grown up in Ireland, I have had firsthand experience dealing with the Christian Brothers, the nuns at the convent, that whole Irishness. 

But for me, it was a story of a single father fighting a good fight for his kids. And it just had balance in storytelling—that the Church is not all bad; that you do have to have faith; that within that system there are mangled human beings, but love overcomes. 
Pierce with Paris (2001) RD: What are your own personal goals as a father? 

Brosnan: I just want to be there for my children, because my dad wasn't there for me. And if I'm not there in body, then in phone messages or in letters. I want my children to have love in their lives when they're young, to know the true meaning of love. 

RD: We all strive to be the parent that we didn't have, don't we? Not to discard what our parents did... Brosnan: Not at all. Well, I can discard what my father did, because he did nothing. Let's not even go back to what he did or didn't do. I have a great father—stepfather—in William Carmichael. 

When I was becoming an actor, I thought of taking the name Carmichael but somehow hung with Brosnan. Bill Carmichael is my dad. He and my mom are still living, in England. And he's taught me a lot about patience and understanding and love, about family.

RD: After Cassie died, did you expect to marry again and have a new family? 

Brosnan: I was certainly not seeking anyone at that time. Then to find someone who captivates you, who you like being with, who you'd go to the ends of the earth with, who opened your eyes to another part of your heart—to have all that great kinship and love, and to have children, to make a new family, new life, and then to see the mother she has become to our children is just astoundingly beautiful. We knew we loved each other and wanted to be with each other. 

RD: Keely, do you now go by Brosnan or Shaye Smith? 

Smith: I'm writing a book about gardening and trying to decide which to use. A friend of mine said, "When you're earning money, you should be Keely Shaye Smith; but when you're spending it, you should be Mrs. Brosnan!' 

RD: I understand you were literally late to the altar because of your devotion to one of your children. 

Smith: Yes, Paris wanted to eat [just at the time the ceremony was to begin]. I was still nursing him. 1 took the gown off and nursed him and put it back on. To everyone at the party later, I said, "This is why you have the children afterwards." 

RD: You were married in the Catholic Church. Are you practicing Catholics? 

Brosnan: I'm always practicing. I just don't go to church that often. 

Smith:  We say prayers with Dylan every night. 
Brosnan: The glory side of it, the good side of it, the honest side of the faith, is really fulfilling. When you see it in people who practice it, it really is just love and kindness. 

RD: One of the things that brought you together was a mutual interest in various charities and causes. Why is that important for both of you? 

Brosnan: Keely was an environmentalist way before she met me. Because of my past life, I had done a lot of work for women's health care. It's merged into an interest in the environment, health care, health issues of children.

Smith: Our environmental activism stems from a passion in two people who really care about our children. Protecting the environment is really about protecting their future. I'd like my children to be able to drink clean water and breathe clean air and live somewhere safe. 

RD: What do you do when you're not working? 

Brosnan: I paint. And I kayak. Basically we just have a regular life, you know? Play with the kids, do a bit of gardening, a bit of swimming, a lot of reading. 

Pierce & Keely (2001)

RD: Pierce, will you ever try fire-eating again? How do you do that? Brosnan: The last time I did it was on The Muppets in 1996. You just have to be brazen enough to put a flaming taper in your mouth and make sure that you close your mouth fast. Blowing it is taking a mouthful of kerosene and blowing it over a flame. I actually burned my mouth on The Muppets. The whole half hour was about the Muppets thinking I'm James Bond, and me saying, "No, I'm Pierce. I'm not Bond." All my gags go wrong. I tip the drinks on the roulette table. I juggle with the pigs and knock the pigs out. Then Gonzo says, "What do you do for an encore?" I've got a martini glass with kerosene in it, and I say, "What about fire-eating?" 

I did it in rehearsal—blew the flame—and Gonzo and Fozzie went, "Hot, hot, hot." I brought my own kerosene, but the prop guy said, "I've got this other stuff that is like water—no smell, no taste." I said, "Brilliant." So we go to shoot the real thing. I use his stuff, drink it, blow, and it's like rocket fuel. I blow this 12-foot flame and am so shocked that I keep it there, and it traces back into my mouth. Whew! Hot, hot, hot. I grab a handkerchief and we go quickly to a break, at which time I say, "Give me ice cubes!" 

RD: Pierce, you've had a hard life in some ways—your childhood, losing Cassie. Have the blows made you appreciate life more? 

Brosnan: I don't think I've had that hard of a life. I think I've just had a life which has had a few rocky points to it, and I've managed to weather through when it has been rough, knowing that it would get better and having faith in myself that it would get better. 

Smith: You did always have faith in yourself. I don't think it occurred to you that you couldn't do the things you wanted to do. 

Brosnan: It's a healthy sense of dreaming. 

[ Pierce Brosnan Files ]  [ Interviews]