Playgirl: December 1986
Pierce Brosnan: Looking for the Clouds in the Silver Lining
By: Mark Rowland
DESPITE THE LUCK OF THE IRISH, PIERCE BROSNAN, TV'S SUAVE, RELUCTANT REMINGTON STEELE IS FEELING MELANCHOLY AND RESTLESS
He is sitting in a shaded terrace overlooking the lower reaches of the Hollywood Hills, where the hazy vistas of Los Angeles stretch toward an even hazier horizon, on a warm August morning when the only cloud in the sky is the invisible one that hangs over Pierce Brosnan's head. He is casually attired in a white tank top and cool white slacks, looking tan and fit after his daily workout, and swizzling a glass of orange juice, shaken not stirred. But his determinedly placid surface masks a decidedly restless spirit.
Actors usually make their reputations through the roles they play: lately Brosnan has been making his by roles he's lost. Recent events, he admits with a biting Irish chuckle, "have given me quite an edge."
Until a few months ago, Brosnan was enjoying the fruits of a steady if unspectacular TV career. He was a household word if your household tuned in to his weekly turn as the suave, flim-flamming "detective" Remington Steele, but when NBC shelved the series after four seasons this spring, there seemed little reason to regard him as more than another leading man without portfolio. Then Remington fans mounted a surprisingly strong public campaign to return their hero to the airwaves. Then Brosnan was tapped to replace Roger Moore as the suave-est macho man of all, James Bond. Then NBC decided to horn in on his sudden fame by uncanceling Remington, and as a direct result Brosnan lost his bid to be Bond. One final cut: This fall Brosnan will be fazed out of his own series after six more episodes.
Managing to lose three jobs in three months is nobody's idea of a good time.
"It has been quite a hiatus," he observes with ironical precision. "No, I'm not happy about it. I want this all to be history-I'm talking about Remington Steele now-and move on to other things. What can I say? " he asks with some bitterness. "It's just a pisser having to go back.
"When the show got canceled in the spring," he goes on, "regardless of what would happen with Bond I was pleased. Because then it was like, 'What's going to happen now? Are we going toward the edge here? Will we have to sell the house?'" He gestures toward the handsome sprawling ranch stucco he shares with his wife Cassandra and their three children, an impressive totem of his current plateau. "Well, fine! There'd been such frustration with the image I'd created, and suddenly I'd shed that image. I was going to do something different!"
The memory softens his look for a
moment, which just as quickly recedes back to gloom. "But you talk to me
now and I'm back negotiating with these people. And basically they're nice
people," he says through clenched teeth.
"I really think it was all meant to be," he continues more philosophically. "I mean, Bond wasn't the thing I was after all my life. But then the subject comes around and you look where you're at professionally and, well, people change their minds. So in the end I said, 'Yeah!' And then you start gearing up. We were all set to move back to Europe, so it was fairly traumatic actually," he concludes, finally managing to slip into Remington's suave cadences, "because it went on for such a longtime. I'm glad that's out of the way. It's terrifying when your life is in other people's hands."
This last sentiment has the ring of experience. Back in Ireland, childhood tranquility was shattered early; his father abandoned the family when Brosnan was only a year old. His mother moved to England in search of work soon after, entrusting Brosnan to what proved a succession of grandparents, aunts and uncles. The final stop was a Catholic school run by a particularly harsh order of priests. Brosnan recalls his time there as "brutal."
Once his mother remarried, Brosnan moved to London, and quickly warmed to that city's civilized culture; he made top grades in school, and eventually landed a job as a commercial artist at Harrod's before catching a terminal case of the acting bug. About 15 years ago he met an actress, a blond beauty named Cassandra Harris, and while the courtship "took some wooing" in Brosnan's words, they've been together ever since. They have three children, and Brosnan's attitude toward wife and family can fairly be described as devotional.
"The competitive aspect never came in with us, otherwise we'd have been broken up long ago, especially in this town," Brosnan observes soberly. Cassandra was actually the better-known actor back in England (ironically, she'd appeared in the Bond flick For Your Eyes Only), but shortly after moving to Los Angeles Brosnan landed Remington, and Harris put her career "on the back burner. There's a lot of pain involved there," he notes, "because people can be very insensitive when you're the star that's 'hot' and all that kind of garbage. I mean, she's a beautiful woman who's got feelings and sensitivity and creativity," he moons. "But she's been able to look out for me too, when I didn't see the bad guys coming. So it's been a good partnership."
Currently, Brosnan is negotiating to get his wife a regular role during his final pass on Remington Steele (she's appeared there intermittently in the past). "If it's only for six episodes, I want to get the family into it," he cracks. "I think she'd make a strong contribution, for sex appeal and everything else- for style dammit, the show lacks a great deal of feminine style. And we like working together a lot; I mean, we really like each other. We enjoy each other's company. And there's a healthy jealous streak between us about going off with anybody else."
No doubt one in Pierce Brosnan's position has plenty of chances for that, but where others might flaunt that desirability, Brosnan seems to draw his family even closer, like a shield. A quick tour of the house proves instructive: The living room shelves are overrun with a panoply of framed family snapshots. The celebrity cover stories about Brosnan are framed too-but they're all hanging in the bathroom.
The two older children (Charlotte, 13, and Christopher, 12) are going off to school in England this fall, and the impending separation doesn't exactly brighten Dad's mood. "I'm going to miss them, of course," he sighs. "Because Cassie and myself are both actors, we're not that conservative, we lack discipline at times. We're good parents," he quickly avers, "I mean, I think we are, but I really think the children need a focus and discipline that you won't get in the schools here." Had he landed the James Bond gig, of course, the rest of the family would be in ' England too. "But they'll weather it," he says stoically. "It's not going to hurt them too much."
One suspects he envies them. In his younger years Brosnan reveled in London's rich culture and the feelings of belonging to a social community; asked what he likes about L.A.,
Brosnan frankly admits that the money is better, and then fumbles, "There's a lot to be said for the weather, of course." He and Cassie have "a very small circle" of friends. "There's no community here, in the traditional sense. It kind of breaks up between your fingers."
Of course, had he imagined himself in this place several years ago, while still an aspiring thespian, "I would have thought, yes, that's where I want to be, sitting up in the Hollywood Hills, and driving the 'Vette.' Yes, all of that. But it seems a part of nature-now that I'm here, I want something else."
Recalling those years of struggle,
his eyes sparkle and his voice grows unusually animated; his reminiscences
suggest the sort of sentimentality Dickens would admire.
"I guess I am sort of melancholic," he smiles. "I like it, in a strange kind of way. It's painful at times, but you can find good things there creatively. I think everyone feels it-the Irish have just cornered the market on it, that's all."
Brosnan does take his work seriously, and sometimes the effort can have discomfiting consequences. A few days before shooting was to begin on his first feature film, Nomads, he recalls, "I woke up with these hives right at the end of something that's between my legs. I thought, 'What the hell is this?' Then they came up my thighs, these little white 'wheels.' It scared the hell out of me. It turned out to be stress, of course; I was so nervous about shooting the movie.
"And when I was back in London recently, and all this shit was hitting the fan, I thought I'd go see a psychologist. Then I thought, 'No, I'll take up Buddhism. I'm not getting the feedback from Catholicism, I'll take Buddhism, that'll sort me out." Not too surprisingly, Brosnan ended up doing neither, instead finding solace in his roots; "I guess I'm just an Irish-Catholic at heart."
"I do think I'm a pretty straightforward guy," Pierce Brosnan says at last, "though my wife claims I'm very complicated. But the more life goes on, you gain things and you lose things and you get confused and wonder, 'Who the hell am I?' So I think religion is a good thing to have. As a churchgoer I'm not that consistant, but I think I have faith." He catches himself equivocating. "I know I have faith. So I try not to turn to religion just when it's rough, but also when it's good, saying the odd 'Hail Mary' now and then, to say thank you, really. Because that's when most people forget to do it, you know? When there's nothing going on-no great happiness, no great sorrow." •
MARK ROWLAND is West Coast editor of Musician magazine and music critic for PLAYGIRL.
PHOTOGRAPHY: NANCY ELLISON; STYLIST;LORE
PATTERSON / STYLE WITH DIRECTION; HAIR: JULIE JOSE' EBER; MAKEUP; NICOLE
BOHRER-REID/ HMS BOOKINGS; MENSWEAR BY AXIS
Click photos for larger images
[ Pierce Brosnan Files ] [ Interviews]