Breaking His Bonds: Pierce Brosnan Pierce Brosnan says he wants a few more swings of the bat — to ‘shut them up’. What is there to do but stand back and watch?
byTom ChamberlinphotographyEllen Von Unwerth
Midnight blue wool, two-piece suit, Connolly; royal blue cashmarello shirt and blue and white silk geometric print tie, both Emma Willis.
They say that mighty oaks from little acorns grow. Unfortunately, the world today seems determined to convince us of the opposite, that those in positions of power demean those positions through their behaviour, showing all the tactful aplomb of my one-and-a-half-year-old facing down broccoli. The stories that back up this old maxim can embolden even the most afraid, determine the hopeless, and unveil courage where it is least likely to be found. The capacity to inspire is one that leads to glorious buildings, to gallant victories, and will provoke change in even the most entrenched thinking.
Cutting to the chase, Pierce Brosnan is an oaken hero, but not exactly in the way you’d think. Perhaps playing James Bond is enough, certainly for anyone born in the eighties, well into puberty, testosterone-fuelled teenagers heading to see GoldenEye, watching a man throw himself off a dam, punch that man on the loo, or straighten his tie at the end of a tank chase: it is stuff of the most stirring braggadocio. Yet it is the story of the actor himself that is proof we can will ourselves to become what we want to become, and that, under the right circumstances, the world is there for the taking.
Brosnan’s journey began not as a budding actor but as an aspiring painter. He says: “I left school with nothing but a cardboard folder of drawings and paintings, and that humble homemade folder was a passport to where I am now in life: I was 16 with zip qualifications and the knowledge that I had zip qualifications, but I had a burning passion to be an artist.” His talent for painting is evidently embedded in his bones, our photoshoot with the maestro Ellen von Unwerth giving us a glimpse of some of his works. A portrait he did of Bob Dylan sold at the amfAR gala this year for $1.4 million.
Brosnan’s ambition took him from his home country of Ireland to London, where for two years at the Ravenna Studios in Putney, a studio that has produced illustrators such as George Gale, he made the tea and drew straight lines and “watered the spider plants and did that repetitively and happily so because I was being an artist”. The political significance of a young Irishman moving to London at the opening acts of the Troubles is profound, and underlines the risk he had taken in the first place to get where he wanted to be. Fulfilled artistic needs aside, there is a sense from talking to Pierce that there was always a more ambitious, certainly more glamorous and high-profile, horizon about which he had his eyes on. A love of the movies planted a celluloid seed that was inevitably going to germinate. “Once I saw Bonnie and Clyde, that was it, I wanted to be up on the silver screen,” he says. “I had seen other people but somehow that captured my imagination.” One day, while on the topic of movies with a photographer at Ravenna Studios, it was suggested to him that a trip to the Oval House theatre (now Ovalhouse) in Kennington, south London, might set him on the path he would hanker for. “I walked through those blue doors on a winter’s evening and did a workshop,” he says. “It was the late sixties, run by Peter Oliver and Joan Oliver. They were my first mentors. It was an exhilarating, intoxicating place for me to find sanctuary and refuge. I was with like-minded, young, crazy misfits, artists, egotists, but all really passionate and gloriously experimental.” He soon found a taste for the medium and realised that if he was to make a go of it, he had to train, which took him to London’s Drama Centre.
Read the full interview in Issue 59 of The Rake – on newsstands August 10. Subscribe here.
Last Edit: Aug 10, 2018 13:34:26 GMT -5 by eaz35173
How Pierce Brosnan, Suave Irishman, Became TV’s Coolest Cowboy By: John Semley|May 1, 2019
For Pierce Brosnan, there’s one simple trick to nailing a Texan accent.
“You start with an Irish accent,” says the 65-year-old actor, enjoying what he calls a “joyous” late March afternoon in his Malibu home. Despite being hailed by The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert as a “British icon” in 2017, Brosnan is undeniably of hearty Irish stock: raised in a country town just outside Dublin, he moved to London with his mother at age 11, then to the United States in his twenties, where he seized the star-making titular role in NBC’s detective dramedy Remington Steele.
Now, following a rich and varied movie career that includes a memorable turn as James Bond (in a four-film run from 1995’s Goldeneye to 2002’s Die Another Day), a disgraced British P.M. (in The Ghost Writer), and a singing architect (in the Mamma Mia! diptych of ABBA-inspired movie musicals), Brosnan has settled back in on the small screen for the first time in 30 years. He was drawn in by the chance to play a meaty lead: pitiless Texas oilman Eli McCullough on AMC’s epic family drama The Son, based on the Pulitzer-nominated 2013 novel by Philipp Meyer.
et despite his decades-long small screen sabbatical and the medium’s explosion in critical respectability in its post-Sopranos “Golden Age,” Brosnan doesn’t see much daylight between the light-hearted capering of Steele and the grim, gritty premium cable machinations of The Son. “I don’t think [television] has changed drastically,” he maintains. “It’s still the same heavy workload. TV is a leviathan of content. Now more than ever there’s a feeding frenzy: so many outlets, so many platforms for writers, actors, entrepreneurs. It’s exhilarating!”
The Son is a show that can only exist in this exhilarating epoch of television seriousness. Like AMC’s other banner dramas — Breaking Bad and Mad Men — it’s a show built around a certain relatively modern character archetype: the kind TV critic Brett Martin termed “difficult men.” The difficult men, according to Martin’s 2013 book of the same name, are characters that “conventional wisdom had once insisted, Americans would never allow into their living rooms: unhappy, morally compromised, complicated, deeply human.” And Brosnan’s McCullough certainly qualifies.
In fact, “difficult” may be underselling it. Raised by a tribe of Comanches who murdered his white settler family, Eli McCullough isn’t just difficult or complicated. He’s hard. A shrewd, violent business magnate with a deep connection to the unforgiving landscape, McCullough seems like Brosnan’s most deeply American role. But for him, it all goes back to Ireland. “The heart and soul of Eli,” Brosnan says, “is that of my Irish ancestors. The rest was conjured from various tapes of politicians and rock musicians, and just diving in, headfirst.” Brosnan has talked in the past about being stalked by the “Irish black dog” — a nod to Winston Churchill’s famous description of depression as a feral beast, shadowing him, always at his back. “The Irish definitely have a propensity for melancholia,” says Brosnan. “If you can understand it within yourself and allow yourself not to be agitated by it, you can find very good work. Being an actor is about constructing and destroying. You have to investigate yourself, and go to places where you don’t wish to go.”
It’s a uniquely Irish disposition that certainly serves Brosnan on The Son, where he plays a thorny character given to moods that range between the melancholic and the out-and-out mad. “There’s an abundance of relish!” Brosnan beams. “You have a quiver full of many emotions to play — to let loose an unexpected surprise within a scene or an episode.”
Even his dialogue coach, who helped him wrap his head around the character’s distinctive Texan drawl, was Irish. “I’ve been complimented by Texans,” says Brosnan of his accent. “And I’ve accepted the compliments. I believe them!” He laughs, before checking himself with a bit of self-deprecation, which itself feels incredibly Irish: “They may have just been very polite.”
Despite the well-groomed sheen of civility, the Texan that Brosnan plays on TV isn’t much for politeness. In an episode from The Son’s first season, Eli fantasizes about brutally murdering a potential business partner, sawing back his scalp in a fancy restaurant, blood splattering across the white tablecloths. Elsewhere, his business dealings with a rival Mexican oil dynasty unfold under the guise of devious chicanery, or open posse vs. posse violence. Cunning, vile, and charming in equal measure, McCullough stands as a looming spectre of America itself.
Indeed, it’s temping to read contemporary issues into The Son, especially as it heads into its second season. In its newest episodes, the show expands its scope, edging closer to the present moment by focusing on Eli’s aging granddaughter, who has inherited his rambling estate, his fortune, and his “Texas justice” approach to corporate culture.
“Being an actor, you have to investigate yourself — and go to places where you don’t wish to go.”
“I definitely think the writers have taken great advantage of the story,” says Brosnan, “and extrapolated some of the finer points and issues that are as relevant now as they were then: the borders, the temperament on either side of the border. This has been a source of deep contention, and created so much havoc. I think it will highlight, or definitely ring the bell, as to what’s happening now in our democracy and our government, and to the strong-arming involved in maintaining a border.”
The Son thinks through these border anxieties in some compelling ways. In its 19th-century flashback sequences, it’s the white Texans whose pursuit of manifest destiny encroaches on territory occupied by the Comanche tribes. In the early 20th century, the Texans are recast as the defenders of land they purloined, beating back trespassing Mexican interests. And by the new season, when the story leaps ahead to the period of the first Gulf War, the focus shifts again to America’s cavaliering oil escapades in the Middle East.
It’s not simply about the issues of sovereignty and borders (whether open or closed) being, per the cliché, “more relevant now than ever.” It’s about the expansion of empire, and the very notion of a national project, being historically ambivalent (and even hostile) toward the presumed sanctity of borders. (And it’s not a uniquely American issue, either: the borders in Brosnan’s native isle, between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, are also hotly contested — even more so in the midst of the ongoing Brexit drama.) For Brosnan, Eli McCullough is a character similarly astride borders. Reading Meyer’s novel and the early episode treatments, the actor responded to what he calls “the emotionality of the man, and the duality of his personality: being brought up by the Comanche and surviving in the white man’s world.”
It’s an experience that resonated, once again, with his own history. “I know something about being an immigrant,” says Brosnan. “I know something about being an outsider.” Brosnan’s career as an actor is similarly itinerant. He’s more than the glowering, maniacal frontiersman he now plays on TV. He’s roved between smirking super-spies, seductive Lotharios (in the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair and, perhaps to a lesser extent, as the romantic foil to Robin Williams’s cross-dressing nanny in Mrs. Doubtfire), and the irrepressibly charming, singing, dancing Sam Carmichael in the Mamma Mia! movies. It was that last role, Brosnan insists, the pushed him furthest out of his comfort zone, given his reservations about his own vocal chops. He rehearsed with a music director, naturally. But he also started cranking the ABBA hits on repeat, singing along enthusiastically as he drove his kids to school. “I’d be belting out ‘SOS’ and they’d be telling me to be quiet!” he laughs. “They had a great time making fun of me.”
It’s an irresistible image: 007 behind the wheel howling “Voulez-Vous” while his children flush beet-red with embarrassment. And it’s a far cry from The Son’s scenes of a scowling Brosnan in period facial hair, chopping off the top of a rival’s head. But even the members of ABBA — with their internal romantic turmoil and peppy songs of love lost — are no strangers to melancholia, trailed by their own packs of nagging uncertainties. “I think we all have our own black dog,” says Brosnan reflectively. “It’s these doubts. It’s uncertainty, which as an actor you always have. ‘Am I good enough?’; ‘Is this good enough?’ It’s part of the mechanics of being an actor.”
And despite being a Hollywood-handsome leading man, he confesses he watches The Son with “half-an-eye,” still finding it difficult to see himself onscreen. It may be the sort of mock-humility that comes easily to an actor with such a long resumé, and plenty of laurels to rest on. But it speaks to something else about Brosnan’s character: a temperament that lurks just beneath his protestations of joyfulness, that shades his stereotypical image as a wryly smiling, debonair sophisticate with some welcome — and recognizable — darkness.
Pierce Brosnan Is Effortlessly Charming. So Why Would He Want to Be Anyone Else?
The former Bond star discusses Daniel Craig's acting chops, painting, and his first time meeting Robin Williams. By Gabrielle Bluestone May 29, 2019
A few days before Pierce Brosnan’s oil-and-acrylic portrait of Bob Dylan sold for an astounding $1.4 million at an amfAR charity auction last year in Cannes, the painting was mysteriously lost. As the event’s organizers panicked, Brosnan realized something surprising: He was rather happy it was gone.
Before the auction, few people knew that Brosnan—who studied commercial illustration in college and worked at an advertising firm in his early years in London—was an artist. It’s a longstanding passion of his, and a creative outlet he’s credited with helping him recover from the 1991 death of his first wife, Cassandra. But it’s also one he feels ambivalent about displaying publicly, even today.
“I love to paint. I don't paint enough. I have a body of work that I wish to show, expose, exhibit. There's been word of doing an exhibit in Paris. That's been talked about. I don't know,” Brosnan says. “I think if I do an exhibit, I feel it should be in Los Angeles. Have a showing. Turn the lights down low. Have some margaritas and some wine, good music.”
Then again, Brosnan has been publicly bandying about the exhibition idea for more than a year now, and when and if it’ll ultimately happen is anyone’s guess. So it makes sense that when the oil-and-acrylic Dylan painting disappeared last year in Cannes, Brosnan reacted much like his playboy art thief character in the Thomas Crown Affair did to the destruction of a minor Renoir—which is to say, not at all.
“We got to Cannes, and they lost it. For two days, it was lost,” Brosnan says. “I was kind of mildly relieved, actually, strangely so.”
After a beat, Brosnan summarizes the events that followed—a self-proclaimed Ukrainian billionaire, best-known for allegedly buying a home and contractual friendship from Kim Kardashian, paying more than a million dollars for his art— in less than 10 words.
“They found it, and the night was the night,” he says.
But that’s just Pierce. Offer him a compliment, and he’s likely to groan and tell you someone else who he thinks deserves it more. Sure, he’s a devoted environmentalist, but he’s the first (and perhaps only person) to note that he’s not eloquent about it in a political way like George Clooney and Ted Danson. He has fun with his posts on social media, but if we’re being honest, Anthony Hopkins is really the master of the genre. (On this, he is correct.) There’s no denying he’s enjoyed a successful acting career spanning decades, but have you seen Daniel Craig do it live on Broadway?
This particular Craig deflection is unexpected, given Brosnan’s newfound reluctance to talk about the James Bond franchise in the wake of a frank 2018 interview, where he expressed his dissatisfaction with the series’ tonal shift from winking humor to muscle-driven action. His current take on the Bond movies is, in fact, the sole question on which he declines to comment, saying only, “Not my monkey, not my circus.”
But it turns out Brosnan’s got nothing but unprompted praise for its current lion tamer, which reveals itself midway through our interview.
“I must say, I do admire Daniel, as in Craig. I admire him for his work, his Bond movies. He's such a great actor. He's done such a magnificent job. But that he went out on stage and did his plays...” Brosnan says, letting the sentence trail off.
Now Brosnan, soft-spoken and lyrical with that distinctive Irish lilt, sounds wistful. We’ve just been talking about the possibility of him performing something live again, and he dreamily recounts the experimental work he did as a youth in London, fire breathing for tourists and performing workshops of plays like The Little Prince. Naturally, Brosnan played the prince, though he insists he was typecast, saying, “I looked like I was 12. I had long hair and I was a pretty little boy.”
So, debating it out loud, Brosnan says he likes the idea of doing something on Broadway—in theory.
“It's finding the right material. It's just a certain desire. I might never go back to the stage. I enjoyed it when I was there. It's bloody hard work. Seven shows a week,” Brosnan says. “Maybe I'll just do a run for seven days. I'll just do a run for a week. Can I do one week? Let me be Craig for one night. Yeah. That would be kind of cool.”
In the meantime, he’s happy to just beat himself up about what he’s not doing.
“I feel very angry with myself that I don't have the balls to get out there and do it. You have to really want it. You have to really want it,” he says.
To Brosnan’s credit, however, he may be one of the hardest working actors in Hollywood. With a career spanning more than four decades and 89 screen credits, he’s most famous now for his iconic turns as James Bond, Thomas Crown, and the singing and dancing love of Meryl Streep’s life in Mamma Mia! and Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again. But he also wrapped a whopping 14 films and two seasons of television in the last five years alone, with six more projects in the works, according to IMDb.
Brosnan’s breakout film role came back in 1993, where he took the role of Stu, the charmingly romantic foil to Robin Williams, in Mrs. Doubtfire.
"Pierce is perfect, in every way. During all the months of shooting Mrs. Doubtfire I never knew which man I was more in love with, Robin or Pierce,” the actress Sally Field recalls from London, where she’s performing a run of All My Sons at the Old Vic. “Luckily, I didn't have to choose. I got to be around them both."
“[Robin] was brilliant. Sally was gorgeous. She and I got on like gas on fire,” Brosnan says. “It was so delightfully enchanting. It was just delightful.”
On one of his first days in San Francisco—he fondly recalls staying at the now-shuttered Sherman House—Brosnan went down to the set, “And they said, ‘Do you want to meet Robin Williams?’ I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’ I went into the makeup trailer and Robin was there. He was sitting at the end of the trailer in his Hawaiian shirt and his big hairy arms, and his hairy legs coming out of his cargo pants. But he had the head of Mrs. Doubtfire.”
Brosnan continues—and it is important to note this—in a perfect imitation of Robin Williams’ Mrs. Doubtfire voice.
“He said, ‘Pierce. Oh Pierce. Oh, you're so handsome. Oh, look at ya, Pierce. Oh, give us a kiss. Come here, give us a hug.’”
Now he switches back to his normal voice. “His humanity was so far reaching, and joy of people, and love of life, bountiful,” Brosnan says. “Oh, Robin, still, his passing still hurts deeply. I miss him.”
And Brosnan? Well Brosnan endures. This month, he’s gearing up to play an OB-GYN in False Positive, a horror comedy filming in New York with Justin Theroux and Ilana Glazer, and he’s out lunching with strangers in an effort to promote the second and final season of AMC’s The Son, in which he stars as an Irish-American Texas rancher who will stop at nothing to protect his legacy and his loved ones. The TV role, which required him to ride around on horseback in the heat of the Austin sun, was hard work. This languorous meal, on the other hand, is torture.
I know this because Pierce Brosnan is the kind of guy who will tell you right to your face he doesn’t want to be there—and still manage to make it sound downright charming.
“I went out the door saying, ‘I hate these fucking things. I hate these.’ I've got nothing to say,’” Brosnan says.
Of course, he’s also just spent more than an hour talking about a number of topics at a beachfront restaurant in Malibu, sipping Aperol spritzes and politely answering every single one of my questions—even the two I promised were both the last one. More than politely. Respectfully, even. Because what Brosnan means when he says he has “nothing to say” is that he has nothing new to offer the public on the subject of Pierce Brosnan.
“I used to love talking, and I'd talk and talk, but I've kind of run out of things to say, really,” Brosnan says. “I tell the same story over and over again.”
Still, Brosnan has a way of processing any number of inane inquiries into a sort of erudite metaphysical treatise. He takes his time speaking, leaving pregnant pauses as he appears to sift through his thoughts much like a performative oenophile might sip at a wine tasting—only on him, it doesn’t come off as pretentious. I can only imagine what his conversations must be like when he’s not being interrogated by a writer.
Even now, in the middle of admitting how much he’d rather be anywhere else, he’s offering his captor her choice from his side order of fries and reassuring her that if he has to be here talking with the press, “I’m glad it’s you and not some crusty old… whoever.” It’s not me, he’s saying, it’s him.
“My job is to act. My job is to go find work as an actor, paint, get on the stage, get off the stage, and hopefully, do something that's entertaining,” Brosnan says. “I wish I could be more eloquent. I wish I could just give you answers to all of this, or even to my own questions, my own self.”
In the meantime, the secret to his success, he says dryly, is, “I keep showing up. I'm still at the table, as it were.”
“I don't read. I don't look. I do the job. I move on. I hear some of it. The bad stuff sticks with you. I can quote it. The good stuff I don't believe,” Brosnan says. “That's why I love acting. I get to just be someone else. I don't have to be me. Or, I can be me in the guise of a different kind of me.”
Brosnan is the first to admit he doesn’t enjoy selling himself, be it in an interview or an audition, explaining he sits somewhere in the “duality between modesty and arrogance and an abundance of confidence and that dark dog that sits beside you, saying, ‘Try harder. Be better.’”
“But I'm not a tortured soul. I love what I do,” Brosnan quickly adds. “I've gotten away with it gloriously and I intend to keep going, as long as I can do so, to be an actor, to have your art appreciated, to be challenged. To show the arts.”
Despite his robust filming schedule, acting and painting are not, in fact, Brosnan’s only creative outlets. He’s currently working on a memoir, which has brought its own pressures—“When you're writing, you find yourself. You find... am I gonna put that down? Am I really gonna speak that truth to myself, to that boy, to that young man, to that man, to this man? How entertaining do you want to be? I'm not sure.”
It’s hard to imagine Brosnan not being entertaining. He’s open about his interior life, and he slips naturally into fascinating anecdotes, like a doomed downtown New York hotel recommendation from his friend Julianne (Moore), or the time he heard the news about John Belushi’s fatal overdose. He had just started filming Remington Steele on the CBS lot in 1982, leaving his then-wife Cassandra and their two kids behind at the Chateau Marmont.
“I went upstairs to the room, turned on the TV, and there was our son hanging off the lamp post outside the bungalow as John's body was coming out the door,” Brosnan said. “It was like a welcome to L.A. moment.”
Another welcome to L.A. moment? Being perpetually unsure whether his home will burn down or not. Schrodinger had his cat; Brosnan has Malibu. He’s currently living in a rental property after the Camp Fire blazed through the coast last November, causing more than $1 million in damage to his home and destroying a custom 2002 Aston Martin handbuilt for him after he drove it to fame in the 2002 James Bond film, Die Another Day. Brosnan was in the driveway watching as the car caught fire.
“In that nanosecond, you think, do I try to save it? But it’s just a car. You take the blow and move on, give thanks you’re alive,” he told Details magazine at the time. Now he’s wondering if he should just give up and move somewhere north.
“We are, if you can believe it, at some kind of tipping point, because of the fires, which they call the new normal. But the fires are not the new normal. They're the new abnormal,” Brosnan says. “Having been affected by the Malibu fires, many times, and now more pointedly than ever, where do you go? Fire season will still keep coming around, in search of dense growth of forestry in our lands here. They will come back and the temperatures keep rising.”
But if the way he’s handled the turbulence in his personal life is any indication, he’ll stick it out in some way or form. Brosnan endured decades of tragedy after tragedy in the public eye, and he’s still here, plugging away—even after his late wife, Cassandra, died in 1991 of ovarian cancer, the same disease that claimed his stepdaughter, Charlotte, in 2013. Even after he had to cut off his stepson Christopher in the mid-aughts after years of addiction, and after his oldest son, Sean, battled his own addictions that reportedly developed after he was injured in a 2000 car accident off the side of a Malibu cliff. But Brosnan, he stuck it out and things got better: he and Christopher now have “a loving communication,” and he says Sean is thriving, studying for a psychology degree and starting a family.
“Sean has the most beautiful daughter that I am grandpa to. I try to have some lyrical name, Poppy, Hemingway-esque, but I am grandpa. Grandpa. Grandpa. There comes a time to be a grandpa. I am that,” Brosnan says. And with his two youngest sons, Dylan, a 22-year-old USC graduate, and Paris, an 18-year-old runway model, now starting their own lives as adults, Brosnan finally has the time to do it.
Maintaining that is the real reason he’s here today, bringing out the old stories once again in advance of his latest project. And he’ll keep gamely showing up as long as he’s got a working voice and a willing ear.
“I found myself on many a stage and platform, thinking, ‘Why are we doing this?’ I know the reasons why. They're all beneficial to our lives, as a couple, and to our children, and the betterment of our world. It brings great stability to my life and comfort to my life, and love and a great sense of wellbeing,” Brosnan says. “I'm beginning to wear my years. I'm beginning to show my years. I'm beginning feel my years. I'm beginning to love my years. Time, time past, time present, time future. Time. With all of that, comes lovely, joyful, wellbeing. You hold that for a little while, and then, there's just work to be done.”
Photography by Steven Taylor • Styling by Wendi and Nicole • Grooming by David Cox at Art Department