Big Screen: Painting 007
The Bond Girls, who, we were told severely, were serious women who would not be swinging off either the chandeliers or Bond's coat-tails, were seriously gorgeous chicks with, to quote the man who plays the super-sleuth, "luscious lips and gorgeous thighs" and the Bond car, 'an amazing BMW that can do everything but play croquet, is made in Germany.
Oh yes, his watch comes from Japan and his clothes are made by Italian designer Brioni, but at least his shoes are pure British Churches, the pen is a Parker and the director Martin Campbell is English. Phew, because, after all, this year's James Bond, Pierce Brosnan, is Irish.
"The way I see James Bond is as a man with a passion to get the job done," says Brosnan with more than a hint of masked amusement when it comes to his attitude on political correctness.
"This film is not supposed to be a cure for cancer; it's supposed to be fantasy, you know - entertainment, action, fabulous special effects, romance...according to the script I have rather a sexy sounding scene next to a swimming pool. I'm not sure if I get to take my shorts off."
Will we see Brosnan's bottom or not, hmmm?
"I haven't yet decided whether Bond is a Y-front man or a boxer short chap, whether they're white or whether they're patterned. Sufficient to say, Bond will be sophisticated and charming as always. He is, after all, a harmless sensualist, a debonair romantic.
"I'm not going to
pontificate on my approach but I reckon I'll play him somewhere between
Connery and Moore using my own slightly Irish accent. I made my mark sounding
like this: Why should I change it? I'll always be Irish even though now
I also feel Californian. Whichever way my Bond pans out, I intend to enjoy
doing it because I've waited a long time for this role."
"Now I'm back and I'm here to stay for at least three films, or so my contract says," he tells me when we meet in the new R250-million Bond studio, designed to rival Elstree and Shepperton, in the old Rolls Royce factory at Leavesden Aerodrome, near London. "Some of the costume fitting measurements might be bigger now but I reckon there's a lot more depth of character in my James Bond after all the waiting - or so I like to tell myself!"
Since 1962, when the first James Bond film Doctor No was made, 007 has jumped out of countless aircraft, smoked 70 filterless cigarettes a day and drunk vodka martinis shaken (not stirred) in various incarnations. One way or another Bond has earned the film industry $2-billion.
It is hardly surprising that this latest 007 film should have a fabulously lavish storyline, the most exotic locations yet including the Caribbean, Monaco, Puerto Rico and St Petersburg, and be more dazzling than ever.
Continues Brosnan: "I'm sure this one is going to honour the traditional and be better than ever before, New Man or no New Man! Okay, there'll always be the fear that faces you when you step into the shoes of a role like this, the 'black dog' that sits beside you, but now I've got the bit between my teeth and it's going to work."
Also working with Brosnan are heartthrob Sean Bean as Bond's opposite, rogue agent 006, comedian Robbie Coltrane as an arms dealer called Valentin ("a Russian bandit capitalist in black with purple socks" - Coltrane), the Royal Shakespeare Company's Samantha Bond as Moneypenny ("at last I can claim to be part of the James Bond family instead of Brooke or Premiere" - Bond), France's Tcheky Karyo, Germany's Gottfried John and the Bond films' most enduring actor, Desmond Llewelyn, as Q.
The Bond Girls, now called Bond Women, are Dutch actress Famke Janssen who plays Xenia Onatopp (gedditt?) ("her idea of coitus interruptus is permanent and deadly" - Janssen) and lzabella Scorupco, a Pole from Sweden, who is Natalya, a Russian computer operator at a secret Space Weapons Research Centre inside the Arctic Circle with whom Bond has an uneasy alliance ("she wears long white outfits and little black boots but I'd have run around in high-heels and a bikini" - Scorupco).
But, of course, the star of this hightech epic is GoldenEye (the title GoldenEye comes from the name of the Jamaican house once owned by Ian Fleming, Bond's original creator), a computer programme that can activate a rogue satellite with a built-in ability to paralyse the world. Enter 007, back to break all the rules with zero back-up except the untrained Natalya in her little black boots in this film, set in the period after the collapse of the Soviet empire and the Cold War thaw.
"My plots are fantastic, while being often based upon truth," said Fleming before he died in 1964. "They go wildly beyond the probable; but not, I think, beyond the possible!"
Either way, the elimination of James Bond, either by Her Majesty's enemies or by the disfavour of the movie public, is not to be thought of. He goes on, in Fleming's words, with his "comma of dark hair" falling onto his brow, to be what the producers hope will be an eternal cinematic legend.
Bond has always been part of a popular film genre that deliberately avoids the deeper issues of contemporary life, while at the same time flirting with the apocalyptic. The end of the world is constantly threatened, but we know the threat will be defused. Bond works as an entertaining extravaganza, or an extravagant piece of entertainment, full of impeachable moral assumptions and the dreams of contemporary man.
"Bond has been an
insider part of my life for years," says Brosnan. "My earliest film was
Sean Connery in Goldfinger. I saw it with my Mum and late stepfather
in 1964. Sean was the quintessential Bond; he left an indelible mark on
me. Before that I had never wanted to become an actor. Then, through Cassie,
I got to know the Broccollis (the film's producers - Barbara Broccoli,
daughter of Cubby who first bought 007 to the screen, produces GoldenEye).
"I started my real acting career in America playing Irish immigrants and I still feel a bit like one. I was born in County Meath and often visit my family there. My father left when I was one and my mother, May, left to go to London to find work as a nurse. Until I was sent for when I was 11, I was sort of shunted round Ireland to relatives and sent to a school there run by the local Christian Brothers. I am a Catholic, my youngest boy called Sean. I am still very Irish in my heart. I want my Bond to have a little bit of Ireland in his soul. But no doubt my American experience will influence him as well.
"It's quite funny because while I feel Irish, my children are all American. My eldest boy Christopher, is actually working on the movie as an assistant director. Charlotte is a drama student in America. Sean, who's 11, is still at school, at the American School in London while I'm working this side of the Atlantic. (Christopher and Charlotte are the children from Cassie's first marriage, to Dermot, brother of actor Richard Harris.)
"One part of my life that is definitely all-American is my work-out routine that nearly kills me but I still do it daily.
"The muscles will be useful for Bond because he's a really toughguy role. In California people treat their bodies like gods! Like everybody else in Malibu, I have a trainer who I've worked out with for the last six years. I do a hideously brutal work-out regime, pump weights, run, kick-box. I also have horses and ride, hang-glide, swim. You really need stamina to survive in LA. The jobs that I've done have always been physical. It behoves any actor to go out and use your body."
So is there time to do anything else but be 007?
"If I have time I paint pictures for light relief. Landscapes. I started life as a commercial artist. I have canvasses made for me by a gallery owned by a South African actually" (Zebra One in Hampst~ad, North London).
"So far I've only sold two pieces, both for charity. I think it's important to try and put something back into life. I get so much out of my life, my work. I recently had a whale watching platform built overlooking the Pacific in California, the Cassandra Brosnan Memorial Whale Watching Station, near our home in the Malibu Hills.
"I am also part of a new cancer awareness campaign called Coa Coa, which stands for Colon Awareness, which I helped launch in London last year. People must not run away from the reality of cancer. It is a disgusting, insidious disease."
His off-screen life seems a million miles away from his celluloid life, currently bristling with 21st century firepower, skyjacked Tiger helicopters, top secret Nerve Gas Facilities carved out of solid rock, 1000 foot diameter parabolic dishes and the cold steel of a Walter PPK. 7.65mm.
Welcome back Commander Bond. Pierce Brosnan, I hope you enjoy your time in Bondage. You've got a hard act to follow. But then I don't imagine being a superspy has ever been easy.