Playgirl: February 1984 

Pierce Brosnan: Television's Class Act - The Thinking Woman's Hunk

Byline: Roberta Smoodin

EVEN AT A GLITTERY COCKTAIL PARTY full of well-dressed, perfectly coiffed people, Pierce Brosnan stands out. He is better dressed, in an exquisitely tailored dark blue suit, and his hair is mannequin slick, but there is more: The man exudes charm, has a smile that makes you want to tell him your life story, has the poised ease of a world-class jet setter. 

The scene is being filmed as part of a Remington Steele episode, all false glitz, the extras known as "atmosphere," the hairdressers and makeup people and technicians hovering fussily around the actors to make sure the sham glamour isn't ruined. But, amid all this, Pierce Brosnan is real: The smile, the moue with lips pursed and eyes twinkling; or with mouth open and tongue fondling teeth; the soft, lilting voice. He 
cruises through the scene without any apparent discomfort, then heads for his director's chair with his name on it, lights his cigar, which he smokes with absolute aplomb, and jokes with people around him. 

Does this man ever get cranky? Does he ever sweat? He begins to speak about the show, using all his charm along with a care, a guardedness that the charm almost hides. "When all the elements work together, [Remington Steele is] a good hour's entertainment. That's all it is, really. It's not a cure for cancer," he says, puffing on his cigar. "My character's kind of a cad, really. He's one of those gentlemen you'd like to be with at parties. He has a real sense of style to him, and adventure, a kind of frivolous nature. He's not out to hurt anybody. But he's tempered slightly this season by the wooing of Laura [Stephanie Zimbalist's character]. And the tease for the audience is: When are they going to get together?" 
Clearly this is fun for Brosnan, this ongoing, onscreen flirtation with his co-star, Stephanie Zimbalist. Zimbalist is second-generation Hollywood,  the daughter of TVs FBI chief, Efrem Zimbalist, Jr. Off camera, Brosnan and Zimbalist are cordial, but rumored to be less than best friends. In the show, she plays a detective who adopts Remington Steele (which is his character's pseudonym) as a "front" for her agency to attract clients who wouldn't otherwise trust a female gumshoe. They banter, joke and sometimes kiss-and then get shot at or otherwise interrupted.  Last season the program pleased the critics, but the ratings languished. This year, audiences have caught on, and Remington Steele performs consistently in the Nielsens-as the bumpy love affair between Laura Holt and Remington Steele progresses. 

I enjoy playing him, he's great fun, because you can get away with blue murder, really," Brosnan says. "Before, the characters I'd played on the stage had some kind of emotional handle to them, which you can use as a springboard, a very solid springboard. But with Remington Steele, there wasn't very much about him."

"I'm also aware of American television, and felt if I tried to do a great characterization of him, I might fall flat on my face. So I went in and kind of put myself in a humorous situation, and tried to find the twinkle within the character. There's a depth to him now, much more this season, but he's quite close to me; yes, he's close to me. I'd lie if I said otherwise, if I said that I did an in-depth study of the character. He's very close to home. I could get into some sticky water talking about this." 

He flashes that mischievous smile, his blue eyes do twinkle, and he goes on, "I get to keep the clothes, yes, that's a plus. My wardrobe has improved considerably since playing this part." But then, suddenly, a layer of charm peels away. "I worry a lot," he says. "I worry about whether I'm doing my job well, about whether I'm any good as an actor, whether I can get through this season, whether I can get through this show. If this show is canceled, what's going to happen to me? Will I be able to take care of my family? All those things, yes. It's a healthy thing to have, as long as you can control the fear, control the worry. I have a limit, then I say enough, that's stupid. I can shut it off." 

Serious musing now: "It won't be a hit series in my book until we hit number one. Yes, yes, yes, I have very high standards, I do, and sometimes I'm my own worst enemy because I pick too much, and I think about it too much instead of sitting back and smelling the roses. But Hollywood is wonderful too, yes, it's very exciting. I mean, you have to rejoice as well; enjoy the adulation. But I'm always wary that people are ready to pull the rug out from under my feet." 

Brosnan continues, talking about his work, about his background in British repertory theater in Great Britain (highbrow stuff, like Tennessee Williams plays and Filumena, directed by Franco Zefferelli), and about his meticulousness in his acting that is clearly in opposition with trends in American acting, which he calls "more sensual. I was taught to be clean, sharp, crystal clear, and the Americans are so much more moody. I like things to be orderly." 

Until finally he segues into an anecdote about lunch with Laurence Olivier, when, as a young actor, he was working with Olivier's wife (Joan Plowright) in a play. "Oh, it was glorious! A magic day. He came to the French doors and he had on an old sweater, and a cravat, and a pair of brown slacks, and Hush Puppy shoes and a very flamboyant pair of orange socks! It was wonderful; he was most grand and gracious." The charm oozes while he tells this, but one realizes early on with Pierce Brosnan that the charm is completely real, that the comparisons to Gary Grant fit: The fey grace is really him, the surface attractiveness is matched by a wryly pleasant nature. The absence of a dark side to Pierce Brosnan seems eerie, until one brings up his childhood. 

HE WAS BORN IN THE TOWN of Navan, in County Meath, Ireland, where the “troubles" between Catholics and Protestants are part of growing up. He was raised by very elderly grandparents, and then by family friends. When he was 1, his father left him and his mother, and his mother had to go to London to find work as a nurse to support her small son. He only saw his mother occasionally; he has never met his father. Today, at 31, he is married to the woman he's been with for 13 years, actress Cassandra Harris, has three children of his own, Charlotte, 10, Christopher, 9, and infant Scan. He dotes on his children-the first two of whom were born during the 7 years he lived in London, as a struggling young actor, with Cassie in a "paperless" marriage. Finally, they went to a Catholic church and made it proper. 

"I'm a romantic at heart, really," he said about the belated marriage. "It solidifies things. It is a commitment to each other we wanted to make. It's a maturing on both our parts." Everything in his life has been arranged to afford him maximum security and love. When asked if this need for family and commitment at a relatively young age might reflect the sadness of his own childhood, he puffs on his cigar and attempts to toss off the ramifications of this: "I suspect ... I suspect that on the analyst's couch we would find something like that." 

But a little over two years ago, his unhappy childhood surfaced again. He was filming a miniseries, The Manions of America, which would gain him enough notoriety to compel an unknown relative to call him up with news of his father, a carpenter who resides in Dublin. 

Brosnan then exchanged letters with his father and, because he was going to Ireland for work, thought he would finally get together with his father. "I was going to do this film in Ireland, but the money fell through. It was a very low-budget film, would have been a good film, too," he says, stripping away another layer of surface gentility; his voice becomes more steely now, tight. "So I didn't get to meet Tom Brosnan, my father. It's very interesting, and I am curious. I sit here in my high chair on the set in the depths of Hollywood, and I've got a father out there I've never met. Sometimes I think, where did this side of me come from? 
I know the side of me that's my mother; the side that's my father, someday I may find out. He sent me a photograph of himself, he's an old man now. I could see myself in that photograph, I could." 

Yet he hasn't rushed to Ireland to meet Tom Brosnan, hasn't allowed curiosity to impel him across continents and oceans, seems curiously blase. He says, "He's had enough opportunities to look me up, he's had many years to come find me." The voice gets even tighter, still controlled, yet full of sadness and anger. 

"So to blazes with it! When I was in Ireland doing The Manions of America, which was my springboard to this country, I had so much publicity that a first cousin contacted me about my father. You know, country boy makes good, comes back. So if I go to Ireland, I go to Ireland. If he departs this life next year, or next week, I will be disappointed, but he's a stranger, he's a complete stranger; I don't know him. I could have romantic notions about him, but I don't. I grew up in an insular situation." Here he clears his throat, reining in emotion, getting control back before he spits out his final words on his father: "So, he means nothing to me. Just a part of how I came into this world." 

Pierce in Manions of America

THE REAL PIERCE BROSNAN, as soft-spoken and gracious as his onscreen persona, but with much more depth and real feeling, can be revealed even more if one can get him to speak about his Catholic upbringing. He seems resistant to speak about anything seriously; he likes to keep the conversation light and jokey, where his charm functions best. But mention his Catholic roots and he puffs on his cigar, is silent for a prolonged moment, gives the matter some thought. 

"I was very much by myself in the company of adults, and I was raised a Roman Catholic. Guilt is very much with me all the time. My wife jokes with me. She says, 'Oh, it's guilt again, it's guilt.' I can be humorous about it. It doesn't bother me that much, but I'm aware of it -- I had so much Catholicism pushed down my throat when I was a young lad. I was brought up by the Christian Brothers, and there was a lot of fear involved. They were pretty brutal at times. Fortunately, I came out of it intact. I was an altar boy, I was in choir; I did the whole thing-I knew my catechism inside out. I didn't know much about anything else, I didn't know about life," Brosnan says. "Catholicism and guilt seem to go hand in hand. The whole confessional procedure-confessing your sins, fasting, then going out and doing the same sins over again next week." 

Then, surprisingly: "I'm a Christian. I go to church on Sunday of late. It's an Episcopalian church, not a Roman Catholic. The Roman Catholic church that I went to ... they were rather rude about things to my wife. So we went to the Episcopalian church, and it was really lovely." 

Apart from going to church, Brosnan devotes his non-working time to his wife and children. "I spend my weekends with my family. he says. They're my strength, they’re my sanity; they're the ones who are my barometer as to whether I m getting out of hand or not. I don't really get full of myself. I get airs, but only in little ways." 

He segues into a discussion of his wife, an actress who has appeared in a James Bond film. His voice softens. "My wife's a beautiful lady-she's got a good heart, a good soul. Sometimes we realize that a week or two has gone by and we haven't talked, haven't communicated; and suddenly you go-'Oh!" and you know you have to talk. It's a strain on a marriage, but as long as you re aware of it, it works out." 
If Brosnan seems a completely atypical star, the evidence in favor of this observation will only continue to pile up: He drives a Dodge Dart instead of the requisite Mercedes, hates to exercise ("It's so bloody boring"), and loves to eat everything that's fattening: bread, beer, cakes. 

No matter how atypical, he still enjoys his stardom. "Actually," he says, "I've always wanted to be famous! When I was young, yes, I wanted to be like Clint Eastwood, or. . ." His mind wanders over various possibilities too endless to name, so he simply says, "It's great fun when people go nudge-nudge in supermarkets when they see you. Being famous is ... yes, Love it, yes! I can't think of anything more pleasurable. Well, no, I can think of lots of things more pleasurable, but it is fun, yes." 

For hours now, Brosnan has been talking almost as if in character-tie knotted perfectly, suit jacket open to reveal the cut of his trousers-a perfect, unsoiled, unscruffled GQ image. Finally, he loosens his tie and settles back in his chair and looks, for an instant, less like a glamorous TV star than a harried businessman at the end of a crowded day. 

"When I think about being footloose and fancy-free in this town, I don't think I would be here right now. I probably would have blown it in some way," he says. "I would have been out there flirting around, and not concentrating on the work. I'm glad it happened to me now-it's much more enjoyable to be able to share it. I was born to be a family man." 

Click for larger image

The assistant director calls him back to the set. Brosnan stands up, erect, and glides back to the sumptuous cocktail party scene in progress. Amidst butlers and lavishly gowned women, he plants himself and raises a martini for a close-up. The other men in the scene eye his tailoring and panache with envy. Brosnan seems to be having the time of his life. • 


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