Maxim Fashion_ 2002: Pierce Brosnan (click for larger image)

Maxim Fashion:  The Man Who Saves the World


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Fall/Winter 2002

By William Shaw

Photography Julian Broad

He's the boy from rural Ireland who became "the sexiest man alive." He's the actor whose movie franchise has grossed in excess of a billion dollars. He's Pierce Brosnan, and he might just be our only hope

 
"I SHOULD WARN you. HE'S IN MAKEUP," SAYS THE PUBLICIST from Eon - the James Bond production company - before we step onto the soundstage.
 
They use the phrase "billion dollar Bond" freely in press material to remind us that in terms of box office Pierce Brosnan is the most successful Bond ever. His first three Bond movies have grossed over $1 billion total.

Right now though, on the penultimate scheduled day of Brosnan's fourth production as Bond, the billion dollar man is looking a few bucks short of the mark.

Brosnan stands by the side of the set, hunched in a blue dressing gown and slippers. With long, wavy hair falling down to his shoulders and a long straggly beard, Brosnan could pass for Bond's dad. Or Jim Morrison in retirement.

"You won't say what he looks like, will you?" suggests the publicist optimistically - this despite the fact that Bond's new unkempt image has already leaked widely to the press. 

It doesn't help impressions that Brosnan is physically exhausted. He's been shooting almost continuously for eleven months - first on his own production, Evelyn, and then on the twentieth Bond movie, Die Another Day. The beard and hairdo demand a five-thirty AM call. And with the end in sight, Brosnan is feeling like shit. "Fucking head cold," he mutters to himself.

For Brosnan, it has been his most punishing Bond shoot yet not helped by the fact that one month into the schedule, he injured a knee during a stunt in a North Korean hovercraft. Brosnan had to undergo surgery before returning to the set.

"Seventy-three, take one."

Gamely, Brosnan removes his slippers and clambers up onto the set - part of a British naval warship.

A rough outline of how James Bond got here runs thus: Betrayed during a covert operation in North Korea, Bond has been held hostage for some time - enough at least to grow this image-changing mane. Finally he's released, but he loses patience with Dame Judi Dench and her stuffed-shirt MI6 cronies during his debrief aboard a Royal Navy vessel and decides to jump ship. Literally. Into the waters off Hong Kong - a city represented cinematically by a few Christmas tree lights on a black cloth background which miraculously appear like a distant metropolis when viewed in playback.
 
In this brief scene, the bedraggled Bond is to exit from a bulkhead door, evade two sailors who are scouring the ship for him, and leap into the water.
Cameras roll. Brosnan approaches the door barefoot, looks quickly around it, strides to the side and jumps.

He falls five feet to an out-of-shot mattress, where his slippers are waiting.

But somehow it's not Bond enough. "It felt kinda wrong," Brosnan ticks himself off quietly. "You're trying to be stealthful, but you're dressed in pajamas and a Robinson Crusoe wig and you're James Bond." He and director Lee Tamahori have a few words. 

Brosnan does it again. This time the action is slower. He looks almost bored as he hides from the scurrying seamen. With casual sangfroid, he walks to the side of the deck and then, with a quick look over his shoulder, jumps into the sea.

This time he's not playing it as if he's in Her Majesty's Forces issue pajamas. He's playing it as if he's wearing the sharpest Savile Row suit yet made. Much better.

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THERE'S NEVER BEEN A MOVIE CHARACTER LIKE JAMES BOND. Next year he'll be 50 years old. First created by author Ian Fleming for his book Casino Royale in 1953, his twenty-movie history means he's a curious amalgam of every actor that's ever played him, from Sean Connery via Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton through to Brosnan - maybe even including the unfortunate George Lazenby, who was only allowed to play Bond once. James Bond comes with a lot of baggage that makes him a fiendishly difficult role to get right.

Bond was always intended as a male anachronism, the last standard-bearer for a type of machismo that was moribund even in the 1950s. When the Bond series producer Cubby Broccoli cast an unknown Sean Connery in the role, he did so because of Connery's obvious masculinity. The role, the now deceased Broccoli declared back in the less-enlightened 1960s, shouldn't be played "by some mincing poof."

Yet this man with early 20th-century attitudes inhabits a futuristic 21st-century world where post-Cold War villains fight with the most modern gadgetry imaginable. And what Brosnan has to do is make all this somehow believable.

Brosnan hovers for a while after the shot. Some technicians are waiting to prepare a pyrotechnic scene. "I think we've got a good movie here," he says, nodding.

The Pierce Brosnan I meet offstage is a lot less sure of himself than 007. Shy, even. He barely looks me in the eye as he sits down beside me in a black studio chair embroidered with his name.

 
"It's my fourth outing," he says, toying with his beard. "People always talk about Connery coming into his stride on the third. I kept waiting for those bells to go off on my third [The World Is Not Enough]. So maybe his third is my fourth."
Thinking I should perhaps reassure him, I say, "Well, right from your first appearance [GoldenEye], people were calling you the best Bond since Connery."

"Oh," he says, slighted by the compliment. "Ultimately, you want to be the best ever." 

He often uses "you" or "one" when he means "I" or "we," as if he feels uncomfortable talking too directly about himself.
 
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THERE'S AN END-OF-SEMESTER ATMOSPHERE ABOUT THE shoot taking place on soundstage E at London's Pinewood Studios. Barbara Broccoli - Cubby's daughter - is on set with coproducer Michael G. Wilson. Following in Cubby's footsteps, they maintain a proprietorial watch over the Bond franchise.

"I've never seen Barbara and Michael so happy," says Brosnan, pleased that he seems to have done a good job. Madonna is coming tomorrow to shoot her cameo. For Kiwi director lee Tamahori (Once Were Warriors, Mulholland Falls), it's his first Bond movie, but he's clearly hit it off with the now veteran Brosnan. It helped that when they met in a preproduction meeting they both agreed to keep Bond's trademark innuendo-filled one-liners (along the lines of "I'll fill you in later, Miss Moneypenny") to a minimum. Brosnan feels more comfortable if there's at least a little realism to the part. "The one-liners always do my head in," he confesses.

The dialogue has been filmed. Now it's a desperate rush to complete all the small shots that make sense of the movie. An Icelandic ice floe has been built up along one wall. Nearby is ten meters of what appears to be the Hong Kong Yacht Club. In a few hours, riggers are going to construct an imaginary Cuban landscape at the other end of the room.

A man striding across the floor with an armful of Kalashnikovs whacks me accidentally on the back of the head with one. Brosnan laughs, as if it's the way they treat all journalists that take up too much of his time. "Hint, hint," he chuckles.

BROSNAN WAS BORN IN COUNTY MEATH, IRELAND. IN MANY ways, it was a tough childhood. His father abandoned the family shortly after Pierce was born. His mother left too, to earn a living in England, leaving the boy in the care of a succession of relations. 

Since becoming James Bond, Brosnan has parlayed his celebrity into creating his own production company - Irish DreamTime. There are echoes of his childhood in the company's third movie, provisionally entitled Evelyn.

It's the story of three children, Evelyn Doyle and her two brothers, who, when their mother abandons the family, are removed to an orphanage to be looked after by the Catholic Church. The film is the true story of how their father, Desmond Doyle - played by Brosnan - battled the Irish state to get his children back.

Like Evelyn and her brothers, Brosnan suffered at the hands of the strict Christian brothers who schooled him. "The only thing the Christian brothers ever taught me was shame," he once said. It was an uncharacteristically bitter outburst.

"Were you beaten?"

"Yes," says Brosnan. "There was punishment meted out every day - over trivia. And the constant fear of that punishment was intensified if you did not have a stable home life - as I did not." He sighs. "But that was just part of my childhood. I had a very good childhood as well. . ."

"Oh," I say disappointedly. "Of course, it would be more convenient if you had a tortured childhood."

"Ha'" says Brosnan. "Well, that was just the shit we had to deal with, living through the '50s in the backwaters of Ireland." But he doesn't see the point in dwelling on the negative side of his past.

"It cuts too deep, I think," he says. "I've let a lot of that go in my own life, and it just becomes boring and wanky to hear someone go on about it."
 
PIERCE BROSNAN IS AN UNLIKELY MALE LEAD IN A WORLD that seems to like its heroes ever darker. Even as the sexually predatory Bond, there's a wholesomeness about him. Even when he plays rogues like Thomas Crown from Brosnan's own production of The Thomas Crown Affair or the smoothly nasty Osnard from The Tailor of Panama, they have a suaveness about them. In Richard Attenborough's messy Grey Owl, he becomes downright Dudley Do-Right in the role of the heroic pioneer conservationist.

And if you think about it, his latest role as Desmond Doyle is a man who did the opposite of what his own father did. I suggest that in the absence of a father figure, he's trying to work out how to play the male role in real life with his acting.

It's probably to his credit that Brosnan hears me out politely though with a look that suggests he thinks I'm mad.

"Oh dear," he says finally.

He considers the idea for a second then adds, "I think if I was to sit in therapy, which I once did for a few days" - he says this with the air of a man who didn't much like it - "we might unearth something there, in father abandonment. But no, that theory's off the map. It's more about me playing out my own fantasies."

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Brosnan's life took a turn for the better at 11, when he traveled to London to be reunited with his mother. 

Suddenly, he was lifted out of the dull monochrome of rural Ireland and into the busy, dazzling, unfamiliar metropolis. The root of his acting, he insists, was having to pretend to be anyone but the country boy from Ireland. "It was dissembling to fit in. Suddenly I was there with these London boys. My elocution lessons started the moment I got off the plane, with my mother telling me to pronounce my TH's. 'Them,' not 'tem.' "

Within a few weeks of the move, he had discovered another reason to act, too. His mother took him to the movies. The first film he saw was Goldfinger. That's when Brosnan became a Bond fan.

"I remember the music, the color, the sense of wonderment. The semi-naked lady on the bed," he says, wistfully recalling the goldpainted figure of Margaret Nolan. "I remember that she looked like my geography teacher, who wore rather tight pencil skirts and had beautiful breasts underneath a woolly sweater."

"Arriving in London coincided with discovering the boy thing?"

"A lot of boy thing was going on around that time in life," he agrees wryly. "And that great discovery in the bathtub - that there was something worth living for in life," he laughs.
 
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At 11, he was already a matinee idol in training. He remembers being Clint Eastwood, right down to the squint, as he hopped on the number 14 bus home from the movies. He aped Steve McQueen and Warren Beatty, then moved on to Brando and Montgomery Clift and Dick Tracy.

He left school at 16 to train as a commercial artist. One of his colleagues suggested he come to a drama workshop, and from there on he was hooked - as much by the excitement of the drama as by the girls "with really nice tits and asses" who were there. "If this is acting," thought the young Pierce, "I want some of it."

His first wife, Cassandra Harris, was a fellow actor. Twelve years older than he and a former Bond girl, she helped hone his ambition. It was Cassandra who suggested he press for work in America, which resulted in Brosnan being cast as Remington Steele in the comedy detective series that ran for five years from 1982.

Famously, Cubby Broccoli originally fingered Brosnan as the next Bond in 1986 - but the buzz that this created when Broccoli signed him to play in The Living Daylights actually scuppered Brosnan's chances: Remington Steele's producers invoked a clause in their contract that forced Brosnan to make another series. Timothy Dalton became Bond instead.

Then, in 1991, Cassandra Harris died of cancer, leaving Brosnan a widower with three children - two from her previous marriage. His career had plateaued.

"You're in a crap situation," he says. "You don't have work. You don't have rent. You have to get a job."

Brosnan became stuck as an also-ran, appearing in a string of forgettable movies - brightened only by parts in the cult hit The Lawnmower Man and Mrs. Doubtfire.

But when Dalton vacated the part, Brosnan was given a second stab at Bond. More recently, he's remarried. Cassandra's death has led him to campaign for environmental charities - from protesting about French nuclear testing to campaigning to save the breeding grounds of the Eastern Pacific gray whale. In August last year, he married environmental journalist Keely Shaye Smith, whom he'd met while campaigning. They have two children together. "I have a multilayered family," he says proudly.

And Bond has given him the leverage to award himself the sort of parts no one would give him during the pre-Bond years.

"If I hadn't created Irish DreamTime, nobody would have given me Evelyn. I'm sure of it."

"Why not?"

"Because he's too expensive. He is completely wrong. He is too matinee idol. He is too James Bond." He scratches his beard uncomfortably. "I'd grow my own," he says, "but it would be very gray."

"IS It," I ASK, "A TERRIBLE BURDEN BEING 'THE SEXIEST MAN ALIVE'" (an honor accorded him by People magazine)?

"It rankles a little bit," he says. "In a rather humorous way. You have to have broad shoulders to be the sexiest man alive."

"Your wife says you are aging beautifully - like a fine wine."

"I'm 49, by the way. Not 51, as I read somewhere the other day. I do take umbrage at that these days. I'm a little sensitive to being called over 50. But is that what Keely said? That's a lovely quote.

"One becomes aware of time. With Bond in your life, you have signposts and emblems of time everywhere. You're confronted by photographs of scenes you did six or seven years back every day.

"You see yourself maturing, and it's glorious. It's frightening. You have to embrace it. There's not much you can do about it. You'd die of an ulcer if you worried about it." 

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SATURDAY WAS THE HIGH POINT OF PIERCE BROSNAN'S week. He was driving a brand new Aston Martin V 12 Vanquish around a racetrack, pushing its almost ridiculously powerful 5.9 liter engine up to 155mph. "Yes," grins a more adolescent Brosnan through his beard. "It was scary."

After a few years driving a BMW, Bond is back in a very British vehicle. Brosnan, custodian of the cultural institution of Bond, is happy. "It felt like there was a character missing," he says.

The car he was driving was a gift from Aston Martin - not bad at around a quarter of a million bucks worth. They're also freighting it out to Los Angeles for him, and it should arrive there at the same time he touches down at LAX, after Bond wraps.

I say: "You're hardly going to be anonymous, driving that around Los Angeles. Pierce Brosnan in an Aston Martin? I mean. . ."

"Oh, to blazes with that," blurts Brosnan dismissively. "I don't care. It's a wonderful car. It's a beast. It's for life, that car."

Like the 11-year-old at the Putney cinema watching Goldfinger, he still loves playing at James Bond. "You have to enjoy a bit of fame and a bit of success. You have to enjoy the whole journey of being Bond. If you can't live up to it and step out there and hold your head up, then what's the point of living? What's the point of doing it? Bring it on!"
 


Interview transcription courtesy of Ellen


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