Ladies' Home Journal: Pierce Brosnan: Please Don't Call Me A Sex Symbol!
By Phyllis Batelle
His aristocratic good looks helped him rise from the welfare rolls to the starring role of debonair Remington Steele— yet he still can't believe that he is being called the Cary Grant of the eighties."
The setting is a whirlpool hot tub, nestled into the flowery terrace of a picturesque mansion high atop the Hollywood Hills. Pierce Brosnan, the handsome star of television's Remington Steele, is chin-deep in his new Jacuzzi, luxuriating and laughing with his beautiful blond wife, Cassandra. "We had just moved into this house," Pierce remembers dreamily, "and Cassie and I were like little children about it, talking about our sweet new lifestyle— marveling about how much we have, so soon. It was incredible. Only three years ago we were in London on welfare. Now we were in our own pool, listening to the coyotes howling in the hills, when suddenly a skywriting plane buzzed right over us, puffing messages in the sky. The whole scene was just so bizarre. I still can't believe I am here!"
As he reminisces about that evening last summer, Pierce's voice is a melodious blend of British accent and the brogue of his native Ireland. He stands on an airy patio of his new California-copy "French chateau" that overlooks Hollywood, the town that now labels him "the Gary Grant of the eighties." The title fits: Even in chinos, with a light stubble of beard—a luxury he allows himself on Saturday, after a week playing the impeccable Steele—thirty-three-year-old Pierce has the easy elegance of Grant. Both men trained on the British stage, though more than a half century apart. Brosnan is flattered by the comparison.
"But please don't call me a sex symbol," Pierce pleads, smiling. "That bugs me. I don't go around thinking I'm sexy or suave. I'm just a human being and an actor, that's it." Sometimes, he jokes, he's not even sure about the actor part. 1 have a dark, Irish, brooding side, when I'm my own worst enemy. I tell myself, 'You're no good, Brosnan. You're lousy as an actor.' My wife says I'm great at creating negative moods." A sudden grin. "But I battle through it."
"a house with a lot of creative energy and a charming European feel,"
has six bedrooms and a guest house and is "loaded with panic
buttons." Yet because of his tumultuous past—a painful childhood
parents in rural Ireland followed by years of struggle as a stage actor
England—Pierce is as interested in psychological security as he is in
safely. "I never
dreamed of coming to
poppycock dreams," he says. "Only three and a half years ago I was on
unemployment in London, working at a greengrocery—do you know what that
get up at five each morning, open the store, put out the vegetables and
them. Cassie would bring the children round after school, and I'd slip
vegetables into their baskets on the sly." His eyes, the bluest since
Newman's, sparkle at the memory. "We ate nothing but chili and
for months." Those times came to an end when Pierce was cast in a
mini-series, The Manions of America,
which he recalls as "six hours of Irish tragedy in which I cried over
dead mother, then cried over my dead brother and finally cried over my
horse." Learning that the show would be aired in America, Pierce and
Cassie decided at three o'clock one morning that they would take out a
mortgage on their small Victorian house in London to cover airfare to
in the hope that Pierce could capitalize on his Manions
performance and find work.
His first appointment was with MTM Productions in Los Angeles, and they hired him to play Remington Steele after interviewing him. "They didn't even ask me to read for the part, which baffled the hell out of me," says Pierce. "I'd done Chekhov and Ibsen, but I'd never done comedy, didn't think I was funny and hadn't the slightest due how to do it." He studied old Cary Grant and Spencer Tracy films, and went on the set "thinking to myself; Okay, Pierce, keep smiling, talk fast and dazzle them. Seems to have worked." Brilliantly. But although Remington Steele is now well into a successful third season, Pierce is naggingly aware of the risks. "A TV series gives you a sense of security, because you think it's going to last forever. But it could all go as quickly as it came." His voice is as casual as if he were talking about the weather. "Nothing is forever. Success is like mercury. If you squeeze it, it just slips through your fingers. You must be very gentle with success."<>Pierce is a gentle man. And an artist—he was a commercial illustrator for Harrods, London's largest department store, before he took up acting. He could also, in a pinch, begin writing. "I daydream a lot of writing plays and novels," he says quietly. He is realistic as well. "This year I bought a black Corvette, the first fancy car I've owned in my life," he notes proudly. Yet he hangs on to the faithful 1970 Dodge Dart he bought secondhand when he came to California to seek his fortune. 1 got the Dart a free paint job, and now it's a brilliant yellow. I figure if times get hard, I can always drive down to Sunset Boulevard and pick up cab fares!" He adds that if anything happened, "if Remington Steele was suddenly canceled, it would be a damn shock. But I can't think of a better person than my wife to share the poor times with."
When he talks of Cassie, Pierce resembles an Eton schoolboy rather than a television star. Cassandra Harris, her maiden (and professional) name, was better known on the British stage than her husband. A stately, stunning blond, she was once listed as one of England's most beautiful women by a top photographer there and played in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only. First and foremost a classically trained stage actress, she has put her career on hold to care for her husband and children. "She's far superior to me," Pierce says, "a fine actress, a woman of great inner strength. I'm a great believer in fate, that certain things were meant to be, and when I saw this beautiful, fantastic lady I fell madly in love for the first time. It felt so good, so good. I could just afford some flowers, some wine. It took a good deal of wooing on my part because she was like a wonderful, sparkling glass of champagne. She brought out a sense of humor in me I didn't know I had." Pierce smiles suddenly, betraying a hint of embarrassment. "I was a very dark creature when I met her, very intense, full of Irish melancholy. Can you believe that?"
Anyone who has heard about his childhood can believe it. Pierce is reluctant to talk about it. "I feel I'm tearing away little pieces of myself And actually, I've buried much of my childhood." It reads like a tale that would have inspired a favorite author, Charles Dickens. When Pierce was an infant, his father abandoned his mother, and she fled to London to escape small-town censure and find work. Her infant son , was left in County Meath, Ireland, shuttled among elderly grandparents] and family friends and schooled by a ruthless order of Catholic teachers who, Pierce recalls, "would smack the hell out of you with paddle bats and leather straps. It was very bleak. The first day of school a nun wouldn't let me go to the bathroom and I swore at her. I didn't know what the word meant. My uncle had a garage and I'd heard the mechanics say it and knew it was something you said when you were angry. She whacked me. And that was the beginning." Until he was eleven, when his mother remarried and he went to live with the couple in England, Pierce was educated by what he calls the "sadistic" teachers of the religious order. "They closed down the school two years after I left, for its brutality to boys," he says. It takes the stuffing out of you to be standing up saying your prayers and get the hell beaten out- of you, and for a while I was very resentful. But once a Catholic, always a Catholic," he adds, smiling. "I still have faith, still thank God for my good fortune. I still pray when I get scared."
Until last July, Pierce had never seen his natural father, Tom Brosnan, an elderly carpenter who still lives in Ireland. "When I was making Manions in Ireland, a cousin called to say he knew where my father was and maybe we should meet." Pierce was ambivalent. "He took more than thirty years to fit me into his life, which is a terribly flip thing to say. But. I had no feelings for him beyond a mild curiosity, and I didn't want to hurt my mother or my stepfather—who is a gentle man and my real father." But last July, when Remington Steele was on location in Dublin, the cousin brought Pierces father to the set. "He was like a total stranger to me. There wasn't much to talk about, and it was an uncomfortable experience." At least the past was laid to rest. "I don't hold any malice against anyone for what happened," Pierce says. "We're all fragile people who make mistakes. We all screw up"
Cassie—a tall woman whose handsome face reflects her intelligence and humor—believes that Pierce's turbulent past has given her husband remarkable stability in a business not renowned for that quality. "His child-hood was so screwed up that Pierce finds great solidity and security in his family. He's a marvelous father—a disciplinarian, absolutely, but very adult and level and funny with the children.
"There was an article recently in TV Guide that hurt, because it made Pierce out to be totally ambitious," says
Cassie. "He works very long hours, but if I should ever say 1 can't stand your hours anymore,' or if the children were adversely affected by his career, he] would—without a moment's hesitation—pick up stakes and go back to a sheep farm in England if that's what would make us happy." But there is no chance of that now. Pierce Brosnan is expanding his horizons with his first starring role in a movie, Nomads, scheduled for release this spring. And he and Cassie have formed Kilkenny Productions to create new properties for themselves. Cassie played two roles on Remington Steele recently to critical acclaim. 'I need to work again. It's not just an ego tiling," she says. "My acting ability just needs to flex itself" And her fulfillment would add to her husband's well-being. "Pierce is a very happy man now. If he gets in one of his moods, it's because of something to do with his work. With his sense of humor he gets out of it, but it can be binding at times."
Pierce admits that in spite of his stardom, he has self-doubts. "I'm a shy person, finding it difficult to communicate with people at times, which is why I got into acting—it took away some of my inhibitions, lifted the veil of doubts," he philosophizes. "Yet every new script is like a mountain to climb and scares the life out of me. I talk to myself a lot, stand outside myself and say, listen, Pierce, what's your problem? Just do good work and build a good life for Sean and Charlotte and Christopher and Cassie.'" Then, he says, "I go to New York and see Jeremy Irons starring on the stage in The Real Thing and come out of the theater in awe—and the paparazzi take my picture. Makes me feel like a fraud!"
Pierce Brosnan is a delightful, witty, complex man who has—as he keeps reminding himself to do—built a good life for his family. Yet he'd rather not show his vulnerable side. "People in this town are always looking for your insecurities, trying to find a chink in the armor," he says, with a soft edge of annoyance in his voice.
"I'm pretty much a loner," he admits. "It's not my nature to have really close friends. I don't think I've had one ever." His circle is Cassie and the children, who, he adds proudly, have adjusted to the move from England to California more easily than he imagined. "California is home to us now. And this is a joyous house." He gazes at his home, and again the look of disbelief is in his eyes. "All it needs is a pub on the corner with some actor friends and a pool table and a jukebox, and I'd be in seventh heaven," he jokes. But judging from his success, both off- and on-screen, Pierce Brosnan is close to seventh heaven already.