Brosnan's Next Mission
In his first major interview since setting down the
martini glass, Pierce Brosnan talks candidly about how the tragedies
of his past have steeled him for the professional challenges of
By Maximillian Potter
Photos by Cliff Watts
Brosnan rises from a hospital bed. An unkempt beard covers his face;
his exposed torso is riddled with cuts and bruises. In this scene
from the most recent Bond film, Die Another Day, 007 finds
himself in a medical facility, healing after 14 months of torture
at the hands of the North Koreans. Adding insult to the injuries,
Bond’s boss, “M”, waltzes into the recovery room
and cans him. “Double O status rescinded,” she informs
him curtly. A harsh dismissal, but more dignified than the insult
Brosnan received in real life.
Beginning with GoldenEye in 1995, the 51-year-old actor
helped resuscitate MGM's storied, and then troubled, franchise,
burnishing it into a multibillion-dollar asset. Yet this fall, the
actor's own Double O status was rescinded. With Brosnan's four-picture
Bond contract fulfilled, the series producers chose to move on,
even the courtesy of a final phone call. As Brosnan's close friend
and business partner, Beau St. Clair, puts it: "It's all been
a blur. I wish the producers would talk about it. I have no way
of knowing what happened."
Brosnan is sitting on the deck of his Malibu beachfront home, clad
in a loose-fitting blue linen shirt, white linen pants, Tevas, and
olive tinted shades. Gazing out at the Pacific and the sand where
his wife and their two young children play, he could be any loyal
corporate soldier cut loose in favor of some yet-to-be-determined
kid who's, like, way stoked to have his job. This being Hollywood,
though, it's not as if Brosnan can duck off to a golf course, for
the trade papers replay the slight each time they speculate about
which dandy - Jude Law, Orlando Bloom, Hugh Jackman - might be strapping
on the Walther PPK when the next Bond starts filming.
"I wish I could give you a reason why I'm no longer that character."
Brosnan says. To his credit, he knew the Bond annuity would end
and is embracing the change as an opportunity to redefine himself.
"I'm number five," Brosnan says, noting the fact that
he was the fifth actor to play the charismatic ace of Her Majesty's
Secret Service. Then, in the next breath, he shouts a line from
The Prisoner, an old British TV favorite of his. "I
am not a number! I am a free man!" He makes this proclamation
with a mix of theatrical bravado and self-deprecating charm. But
make no mistake, this guy, who survived a tragic childhood and found
himself a 38-year-old widower with three kids, is ready for this
next life passage.
"Come on," Brosnan says, getting up from his seat on the
porch. "Let's go for a little spin." In his front driveway,
among his 3-year-old's Big Wheel and 7-year-old's scooters, is one
of the most beautiful toys a big boy could dream of owning: a bullet-gray
2002 Aston Martin Vanquish. It has a 6.0-liter, V-12 engine that
gets to 60 MPH in less than 4.8 seconds and 100 mph in under 10.
It also comes with a price tag well north of $200,000. It's the
car his James Bond drove in Die Another Day. The carmaker
approached him to do some PR. In return, he asked for the car and
Within minutes, on this bright, breezy Friday morning, Brosnan is
driving us south on the Pacific Coast Highway. The engine growls,
aching for the pedal to be pushed. A honking car struggles to pull
even with us so that a passenger-dude can lean from the window and
shout, "Great car, man!" Glimpsing Brosnan, the admirer's
eyes widen, and he gives the actor two thumbs up.
You probably first spotted Brosnan appearing equally stylish and
smooth on Remington Steele, the 1980s TV series. He played
a sharp pretty boy hired by a female detective to be her front man.
Steele, not unlike the movie version of Bond, was a tall, dark,
dashing enigma. If you had to guess at Steele's biography, you'd
probably go with a son of English privilege. Brosnan's life couldn't
be farther from such fiction.
He was born in working class County Meath, Ireland, and his father,
Tom, abandoned him and his mom, May, just before his first birthday.
"My mother was the prettiest woman in the town. He was a bit
older than her. They made me. And he split," he recalls. Now
seated at Geoffrey's - a sun-drenched restaurant overlooking the
ocean in Malibu - and waiting for lunch to be served, Brosnan takes
a long pull on a bottle of Corona as he casts his memory back.
His mother promptly took off to England, where she pursued a nursing
degree, leaving Brosnan's grandparents to look after him until they
passed away. After that, 4-year-old Brosnan lived with relatives
until he joined his mom in England at the age of 11. "I had
to have some balls to be Irish Catholic in South London. Most of
that time I spent fighting."
high school, Brosnan decided he'd had enough of the beatings - taking
and giving them - and he dropped out. Carrying ignorance, anger,
and a portfolio filled with sketches he'd done, he landed a position
as a trainee artist with a commercial-illustration studio. One winter's
night, a coworker suggested Brosnan go with him to an acting workshop.
"I walked in through those doors," he recalls, "and
I found a life for myself. The people were an outstanding mixture
of society. They all seemed to have some kind of mangled life, which
they had turned to their own benefit. There were street performers,
teachers, poets, sculptors, and writers. I found my true kind of
education. And I found a tribe I could identify with. Life changed
in that moment."
Brosnan quit his job and pursued a life in the theater. Workshop
performances led to starring roles on the London stage, and Hollywood
took notice. After starring in an ABC miniseries about the Irish
potato famine, The Manions of America, Brosnan felt the
time was ripe to cross the pond. A few weeks after arriving in the
U.S., he landed the Remington Steele role. It was a stroke
of good luck that preceded unspeakable heartache.
Brosnan never would have come to America if it hadn't been for the
encouragement of his first wife, Cassandra. They met in London in
1977, while he was starring in a year-and-a-half run in Franco Zeffirelli's
Filumena. Cassandra, an actress, was the mother of two
small children and recently divorced from the brother of actor Richard
Harris. During a party she hosted for the Filumena cast,
Brosnan wandered into her kitchen and was caught eating chicken
the single mom had made for her kids. Shortly thereafter, they married,
and Brosnan's first son was born.
Just as Remington Steele was canceled in 1987, Cassandra
was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. A 4-year battle, including rounds
of chemotherapy and eight surgeries, ensued. In late 1991, at the
age of 50, she died in her husband's arms. They'd been together
for over a decade. "The pain of watching someone's life dwindle
away is like no other pain," Brosnan says. "But because
she was such a fighter and had such strength and great optimism
and passion for life, it always made it seem okay. And when you're
dealing with dying, you appreciate life in a really sweet way. During
those mornings or afternoons or days when she wasn't feeling pain,
we realized how beautiful it all is."
He tried "the therapy route" to allay his grief, but it
didn't work. "I just kind of did it alone. It's up to you at
the end of the day; you're your own psychologist." Prayer was
often a comfort. "I had the traditional [Catholic] prayers,"
Brosnan says, "but there was also my own personal dialogue
with the man up there." And he had his work. It was therapeutic
but also necessary. He had bills. Suddenly, he was a single father.
There were his two stepchildren and the son he had with Cassandra
to care for. "That was the toughest part," he says. "You're
making decisions for these lives, and you have no one to bounce
the ideas off of."
In 1994, Brosnan found that person to share ideas with. At a fund-raiser
in Mexico, he met Keely Shaye, who was covering the event
for NBC's Today. They went on their first date a few nights
later and began a romance that produced two sons and culminated
with a grand marriage celebration at an Irish castle in 2001. The
change in his personal life marked the beginning of a professional
rebirth. The same year Smith and he met, MGM asked him to play Bond.
The sly humor in GoldenEye resonated with audiences, and
the film was a hit. So it went with Tomorrow Never Dies,
The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day.
He leveraged his box-office clout in a deal with MGM that got him
his own production company, Irish DreamTime. In 1999, the company
produced the successful remake of the 1968 Steve McQueen classic,
The Thomas Crown Affair, with Brosnan in the lead. A year
later, it made Evelyn, a drama about a down-on-his-luck
bloke who tries to win back the family he has lost. The film was
a disappointment. Therein lies the challenge for Brosnan going forward:
Will people pay to see him portray anything other than a man of
mystery like the jewel thief he plays in his current release After
The Sunset? Will he have the after-Bond life of Scan Connery
or Timothy Dalton?
"I've been very blessed," Brosnan says while driving home.
"Some people have a tendency to get knocked down in this business
and sulk and whine, and they just create a rod for their back, really.
You have to have broad shoulders and get through it. When people
don't believe in you, you have to believe in yourself. I suppose
that comes from [my] childhood. That makes you very resilient. Very
In truth, Brosnan had come to regard the spy movies as creative
bondage. He yearned for 007 to be more like the character in Ian
Fleming's novels. "In the books, the guy cracks," Brosnan
notes with admiration. "He knows he's out on Benzedrine and
cocktails, and he's got f--ing blood on his hands. You see his fallibility."
For that reason, Brosnan's favorite of his 007 performances is the
one in Die Another Day. The film starts with Bond being
captured and then doubted and fired by his own agency. Brosnan loves
that the hero had fallen upon hard times and the future looked uncertain.
"There were just moments where you had this exciting scenario
where you don't know who he is, you don't know how he's going to
get out of this situation," he says. "It was much more
[about] the man, the character." The enthusiasm drains from
his face. "And then the film drops back into the old formula,
and it's, like, by the numbers, because it leaves you nowhere to
go except crass one-liners."
Brosnan has always exuded style, but now more than ever he craves
substance. On the set of After The Sunset, in the Bahamas,
he found himself in the midst of a telling moment with Brett Ratner,
the film's 35-year-old director, who not long ago was cranking out
hip-hop music videos. "I'd be sitting in my trailer, listening
to classical music," Brosnan recalls. 'And [I'd hear] hip-hop
[music] going boom-boom-boom. I'd open up the door, and there are
about 12 models and Brett in the middle of them ... beaming face.
Living his own music video. Certainly [in a moment like that], you
realize you've been in the game for some time."
On the way home, Brosnan shares another story: Recently; on a sleepy
morning much like today, he was driving along in the Aston Martin
and spotted a Ferrari to his left with a teenager behind the wheel.
The punk revved up the engine and stared Brosnan's way. The kid
wanted to race. Brosnan let his foot drop a bit, and suddenly they
were both doing 95. Brosnan knew that if he were to unleash the
V-12's full power, the boy and his Ferrari would be a rearview-mirror
memory. "I said to myself, 'What the f--- am I doing? I'm a
51-year-old man with a wife and children.' I hit the brakes."
Brosnan is in no hurry to be anyone's character. Now it's about
being his own man.
Reprinted with permission from Best Life magazine; BestLifeOnline.com.