Millionaire: Bond & Beyond
Actor Pierce Brosnan Relishes His Role As 007
Even As he Seeks New Challenges
By David GiammarcoNovember 1999
Pierce Brosnan seems to have a knack for filling the void left by cinema icons. First, he singlehandedly resuscitated the James Bond series, restoring audience enthusiasm for 007 not seen since the heyday of Sean Connery. "Goldeneye" (1995) and "Tomorrow Never Dies" (1997) rank as the highest-grossing Bond films in the history of the 37-year, 18-installment series. Then Brosnan stepped into the well-worn shoes of big-screen tough guy Steve McQueen for the remake of the 1968 thriller "The Thomas Crown Affair."
Retreating to his dressing room on the London set of the new James Bond film "The World Is Not Enough" (due out November 19th), Brosnan is still trying to catch his breath after a morning of love scenes with co-star Denise Richards.
"It's a tough job, but somebody's gotta do it," quips Brosnan, as he changes into a black t-shirt and jeans and exhales a distinct sigh of relief. Only now does Brosnan seem clearly at peace-both with himself and his life-after his years of well-documented heartache and disappointment "I have much more confidence now...more assuredness," acknowledges Brosnan. "I mean, I was terrified, playing Bond. It was a long way to fall if you screwed it up..."
"But now," he continues, "I don't feel that terrible. I can stand there, with the knowledge that I've made two fine films and they've worked. A whole new generation is discovering Bond. That's an enormous satisfaction. Bond has been a golden opportunity."
It's also bestowed upon Brosnan a newfound clout as producer, which the actor is relishing. Through his Irish Dreamtime production company, Brosnan has been able to shepherd smaller, more personal films like "The Nephew"-about a unique love affair set in Ireland-as well as an upcoming kid's film entitled "Mr. Softee." But the big budget "Thomas Crown Affair" garnered praise and proved to be the acid test of Brosnan's producing prowess.
Directed by Brosnan pal John McTiernan ("Die Hard" & "The Hunt For Red October"), "The Thomas Crown Affair" pits Brosnan as a millionaire art thief who, after stealing a Monet from the Metropolitan Museum, succumbs to the charms of a savvy insurance investigator (Rene Russo). "I wanted to explore the love story," says Brosnan, "to make an adult, romantic film."
If Crown seems similar to a certain dashing secret agent, Brosnan is keenly aware of the inevitable comparisons. "Crown is much more of a bruised character, really," says Brosnan, who cast original star Faye Dunaway in a cameo as Crown's psychiatrist. "It does have Bond overtones to it, but the idea was that it would dovetail well into that persona and carry the audience that has found me in Bond into another movie"
Brosnan has been the only Bond actor who's managed to sustain an equally successful film career between 007 outings; Sean Connery's post-Bond success took years of struggling after giving up the role, and Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton never overcame the Bond typecasting. Brosnan, on the other hand, has been able to escape being eclipsed by his world-famous alter-ego with starring roles in "Dante's Peak," "'The Mirror Has Two Faces" and Tim Burton's sci-fi spoof "Mars Attacks!"
Recent reports in the British press have stated that Brosnan will be ripping up his license to kill after "The World Is Not Enough." Brosnan was contractually committed for three Bonds-which he has now fulfilled-and has the option for a fourth. Yet both the character and the legacy of James Bond mean too much to Brosnan.
"Although" he admits, "I'd like to have a bit of a breather between Bonds, more like three years instead of two. After shooting for nearly six months and then doing months and months of promotion, it seems like I just finish one Bond and then we start another."
In "The World Is Not Enough" the 19th James Bond film, Bond must battle high tech terrorism while trying to protect Elektra King (played by Sophie Marceau), the beautiful daughter of an assassinated oil magnate, from a notorious international terrorist (Robert Carlyle). With nuclear weapons expert Dr. Christmas Jones (Denise Richards) by his side, Bond travels to the Caspian Sea and Istanbul where a former enemy becomes a formidable ally.
"I feel comfortable with Bond now," says Brosnan. "I love playing the role and actually feel like I'm just getting the hang of it"
A turbulent life has left Brosnan slightly melancholy. He admits he always felt like a loner, growing up in County Meath, Ireland. It was a solitary childhood; his father abandoned the family early on, never to be seen again. Then Brosnan's mother moved away to England, leaving him behind to be shuffled between various relatives for years.
''You learn to create your own happiness," reflects Brosnan. "And you learn to forgive, to rise above it, to find your own independence."
In 1964, he followed his mother to London, where he began working as a commercial artist. Soon a fellow artist urged him to join the Oval House Theatre Club. Suddenly Brosnan felt liberated. "It was a stepping stone into another life. Acting was something I was good at, something appreciated"
Brosnan would later study at the Drama Centre in London for three years, eventually being picked by Tennessee Williams to star in the playwright's "The Red Devil Battery Sign." A series of challenging stage assignments followed before director Franco Zeffirelli cast him in "Filumena" opposite Joan Plowright. It was during this time that Brosnan met future wife Cassandra Harris. Their early years were marked by career struggles as they both tried to forge names for themselves as actors while caring for her two children and for Sean, the son they had together. Soon after Harris shot 1981s "For Your Eyes Only" and Brosnan filmed the TV miniseries "The Mansions of America," the couple decided to take the big leap across the Atlantic to Los Angeles. There, Brosnan was cast in "Remington Steele," which launched his U.S. career and made him a star. The show ran until 1987, the same year Harris was diagnosed with full-blown ovarian cancer. They spent the next four years fighting the disease and "cherishing every single moment together," says Brosnan.
"Going through an illness like cancer is dark and cruel, watching someone's life dwindle away," he says softly. "And yet at the same time it is intoxicating because every second is so precious." When she finally succumbed to the disease, Brosnan found himself alone for the first time in 17 years, and a single father of three. It was during this time that Brosnan soared professionally, culminating in his lauded return to Bond in 1995.
Currently, Brosnan lives in a Spanish-style Malibu estate with his three children by Harris, his girlfriend Keely Shaye Smith, and their 2-year-old son Dylan Thomas. After shooting three back-to-back films, Brosnan is determined to stop and smell the flowers now. He says he'll take the next six months off to spend exclusively with Keely and the children before contemplating his next move, both as actor and producer.
"We'll see how these films do," he says. "But right now, life couldn't be sweeter. Our little boy is healthy and we're very, very happy. And that's all that matters in my book."
And with that, Brosnan reaches out to his wooden coffee table and knocks on it three times. Just to make sure.