Cover Story - Pierce Brosnan: The Real Man Behind Bond
Pierce Brosnan is in the dark literally. The electricity in his Malibu home has suddenly gone out, along with his phone line, and he hasn't the slightest idea why. (He's quite sure he paid the bill.) "Yes, well, these things happen..." he says, now resituated in his production company office.
Little things--like losing lights--don't faze the 49-year-old for an instant. He's adept at rolling with the punches, both onscreen (where he's. reinvigorated the James Bond franchise) and off. Perhaps it's because his life has long resembled a roller coaster ride of extreme ups and downs: landing his first big break as the star of TV's Remington Steel, missing out on being Bond when NBC refused to release him from his contract; losing his first wife, Cassandra Harris, to ovarian cancer; finding true love once again with his wife of 16 months, television reporter Keely Shaye Smith.
"He gets what life is all about on a deeper level," says Halle Berry, his co-star in the new Bond flick, Die Another Day. "His family and his wife come first. They were always on the set with him, and he is such a devoted dad to the boys [Dylan Thomas, 5, and Paris Beckett, 22 months]. I really had tremendous respect for him because of that, right off the bat. He's a mensch in my book."
Family is so vital to Brosnan because of his own troubled upbringing: His father, Tom Brosnan, a carpenter who died in 1988, walked out when Pierce was only 2. Born in rural County Meath, Ireland, on May 16, 1953, Pierce was raised by his grandparents and his aunt after his mother, May Carmichael, moved to London in 1957 to study nursing. He joined her there when he was 11 but found fitting in difficult-he was bullied and taunted by his peers "mainly for being Irish." At age 16, he quit school to pursue art, but his love of films led him to study acting. After graduating from London's prestigious Drama Centre, he landed his first play in 1977: Filumena on the West End. While there, he met Australian actress Cassandra Harris, who was separated from her husband Dermot Harris (brother of actor Richard). They married in 1980, and Brosnan adopted Harris' two children, Charlotte, now 30, and Christopher; now 29.
Soon after, both actors' careers began to take off in the States. Harris was cast as a Bond girl in 1981's For Your Eyes Only, while Brosnan made his U.S. debut in the miniseries Mansions of America. "Ironically, Mansions was the story of a man who left Ireland to seek fame and fortune in America, he says. "I, too, came here on a wing and a prayer."
Brosnan and Halle Berry make a smokin' duo in the new Bond film, Die Another Day
He didn't have to wing it for long. In 1982, mere months after moving his family to Los Angeles, he landed his Remington role. His portrayal of the man of mystery posing as a private eye drew frequent comparisons to Cary Grant--not to mention the adulation of millions of female fans. (He even appeared in Playgirl--with his clothes on.)
But Brosnan loathed the label "sex symbol." ("I am not a hunk!" he once protested, unconvincingly, in TV Guide.) And eager to proceed with a film career, he tired of the TV grind after a few years. His contract, however, locked him in for seven seasons. Much to his relief, the series was canceled in May 1986, and a few months later, he was offered the role of 007 in The Living Daylights.
"I never envisioned it," Brosnan insists. "I suppose I was European and I had the accent and I was playing this suave, sophisticated, debonair man-about-town on American TV. So the seed was sown. Because my late wife was in a Bond movie, we became close to the Broccoli family [who produce the films] and it was just one of those things-coincidence, happenstance. The role was available; I was available."
Not for long. NBC execs saw the prospect of Brosnan as Bond as a promotional boost for the show's ratings and decided to renew Remington at the eleventh hour for six more episodes--with an option for more. But Albert "Cubby' Broccoli, producer of Living Daylights, seemed unwilling to share his star. He canceled Brosnan's deal and hired Timothy Dalton instead.
The pairing of Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist made Remington Steele a success
He played a suave art thief pursued by detective Rene Russo in 1999's steamy hit The Thomas Crown Affair
Brosnan seemed an instant fit as Bond in 1995's Goldeneye (with Izabella Scorupco)
After Remington was retired, Brosnan played a bad guy aiming to set off a nuclear bomb in 1987's The Fourth Protocol--then starred in a series of bombs. "I had to make a living," he says with a sigh. "I had the mortgage to pay; I had the school fees to pay. I had bread and butter to put on the table. You know your worth as an actor, but you have to get a job."
Desmond Doyle, his character in Evelyn (with Sophie Vavasseur), "altered the Irish judicial system," says Brosnan
Barbra Streisand fell for his shallow character in 1996's The Mirror Has Two Faces (with Jeff Bridges, right)
At the same time, his personal life suffered a devastating blow. Cassandra was diagnosed with cancer in 1987, and died in her husband's arms in 1991. Brosnan suddenly found himself alone, the single father of three, including the couple's 8-year-old son, Sean.
"To lose a mother, no matter what age you are, be it 13 or 39, is the deepest loss and one of the longest-lasting pains of your life," he reflects. "So to be father to those children has a resonance which shakes the foundations of your very being. You have to reinvent yourself and you have to learn about yourself all over again: how to be an individual and how to be a father and how to make the two work together." ..FT. Brosnan sought solace in work. In 1993, he played Sally Field's boyfriend--and the butt of Robin Williams' jokes--in the blockbuster comedy Mrs. Doubtfire. Then opportunity again came knocking: The Bond series had been shut down since 1989 due to legal battles over distribution, but there was now talk of reviving it--and Brosnan's name was at the top of the list.
He made his debut as 007 in 1995's Goldeneye--and fans adored him. "Die Another Day is my fourth outing," he says. "They all have been important films, and I love them. I grew up with them, and I'm very proud to be part of the legacy. It has enhanced my career in many different ways."
Few of his fellow Bonds-men share those sentiments: Sean Connery, for one, became sick of the role and vowed he would never return to it. "One could highlight negative aspects of it," says Brosnan, "but that would be foolhardy 9f me. I've enjoyed playing Bond for the last six years. I could certainly say--should I be so presumptuous since my contract is up with this one--that I would like to do another one if they want me back. Bond has been a glorious passage in my life and in my career."
Die Another Day also marks a major milestone: It's the 20th Bond film and the 40th anniversary of the franchise. "I think that every man and woman who has ever worked on a Bond movie wanted this one to be the best," he says. "It has tipped its hat in very subtle ways, and in not so very subtle ways, to past Bonds."
Brosnan is perfectly suited to carry the film series into the 21st century, says director Lee Tamahori. "Pierce has the suave sophistication that we expect from Bond but also the raw energy," he notes. "I think he's matured into this role. He knows the character well, and he has great instincts."
54n1.jpgIn 1995, Brosnan took his children (Christopher, in back, Sean, and Charlotte) and then-girlfriend Keely Shaye Smith (in red dress) to the Goldeneye premiere in London
He does, however, take the tough guy thing a tad too far at times: "There's a part of you that feels a certain invincibility playing the role," Brosnan admits. "Then eventually you realize that there's a frailty to the body--it takes a pounding and a bashing, especially if you're going to throw yourself into the mix of the action. I blew up the meniscus on my right knee at the beginning of filming, which was terrifying and shocking to all concerned. Still, I have a stubborn Irish streak in me. You have a picture to finish, so you don't look back. Once the ship has left the shore you have to keep sailing..."
Brosnan's harbor is his wife, Keely, whom he credits with "teaching me a thing or two about backbone. She has given of herself from a very early age to many different causes and taught me how to give of myself." The two have worked on campaigns to save dolphins and protect wetlands, and have received numerous humanitarian awards for their efforts.
They met in Mexico at a 1994 fundraiser for Ted Danson's American Oceans Campaign (Brosnan serves on the charity's board). "Keely was down there reporting for Entertainment Tonight," Brosnan recalls. "I certainly wasn't looking for a relationship; I was just concentrating on my career and my children. I was sitting poolside one morning reading a script, and around the corner came this beautiful woman with the greatest smile on her face and we nodded at each other. When we met each other again that night, we spent some time talking. So the romance started. We met back in Los Angeles, had a few dates, and before we knew it, were falling in love. Sometimes you can't believe your good fortune; you fight against it and you think, 'This can't be happening.' But then--if you are wise--you surrender to it."
He was wise, and the couple married on August 4, 2001, in a 13th-century castle on the Emerald Isle, complete with bagpipers. "When I found Keely, I found a whole new life," says Brosnan. "We have these wonderful boys and I have a rich tapestry of children and love. I am wealthy beyond riches. But it takes hard work, too. When two families come together, you have tensions and frustrations and you have to build up the trust of your children. You have to be strong as an individual, as a father, as a man. There's a big age difference between the children, and it has been very hard for them to adjust. But I like to think we've worked through it."
His fatherly powers of persuasion come in handy in his role as a producer as well. In the six years since he started his company, Irish Dream Time has produced 1998's The Nephew and 1999's The Thomas Crown Affair.
This month, Evelyn opens, starring Brosnan as Desmond Doyle, a real-life Dubliner who lost his children to the government. "During the '50s in Ireland, if you were a single parent and deemed not able to provide for your children, they could take your kids away," Brosnan explains. "Doyle fought to get them back--and won. It's a story about family, love, and faith, and one man's fight against the system. It's a story of the heart."
Which is what Brosnan hopes his life turns out to be as well. "I'm learning a life lesson here as I close in on 50," he says. "To be working this hard and to have all this wonderful success and then to go home to a hollow home would be a tragedy, would be thankless. Whether as an actor or as an environmentalist, I work for my children and my children's children. And that makes all of it worthwhile."
NAME: Pierce Brosnan
DATE OF BIRTH: May 16, 1953
PLACE OF BIRTH: Navan, County Meath, Ireland
PARENTS: Thomas, a carpenter, who left when Pierce was 2; May, a nurse
EDUCATION: Dropped out of school at 16; later studied at Drama Centre of London for three years
SPOUSE: Married TV reporter Keely Shaye Smith in 2000. His first wife, actress Cassandra Harris, died of cancer in 1991
CHILDREN: Adopted Cassandra's two children, Charlotte and Christopher. Has one other son, Sean, by Cassandra, and sons Dylan and Paris by Keely
FYI: While major actors like Mel Gibson, Robert Redford, and Kevin Costner also enjoy taking turns behind the film camera, Brosnan's not one of them. "I'm more of a dreamer," he says. "I'm not sure I have the patience yet to be a director, to be dealing with 20 questions every minute."
Bond-ing with Nature
Pierce Brosnan and his wife Keely have long been environmental crusaders. "There's so much work to be done all the time that it's overwhelming," says the actor. "But it's vital. Everybody wants to breathe clean air and drink clean water, and that is our God-given right." The couple has done a great deal of work with The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an organization devoted to protecting the planet's wildlife and wild places. "The support that Pierce and Keely have given NRDC has been extraordinary," says Joel Reynolds, Senior Attorney and Director of NRDC's Marine Mammal Program. "They are smart, knowledgeable, passionate, and fearless in their defense of the environment."
Pierce was personally involved with the group's Campaign to Save Laguna San Ignacio, battling a proposal to build the world's largest industrial salt works at a whale sanctuary on the Pacific coast of Baja, California, the last undisturbed lagoon where gray whales breed and calve. And the Brosnans have helped the NRDC fight against the Navy's proposal to deploy a Low Frequency Active Sonar system--which could harm marine animals--in over 75% of the world's oceans. "Pierce has appeared at a press conference, testified at a federal hearing, and written an e-mail urging hundreds of thousands of people to write Congress opposing the system," says Reynolds.
To learn more, contact NRDC headquarters at 40 West 20th Street, New York, NY 10011; call 212-727-2700; or visit www.nrdc.org.
By Sheryl Berk
Sheryl Berk is senior entertainment editor of this magazine.
Bond Girls: Past and Present.
BOND GIRLS PICTORIAL
As Jinx in Die Another Day, Halle Berry is the latest in a long line of preposterously named, scantily clad women who have seduced 007. Since 1962's Dr. No, James Bond--in the form of Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan--has, well, bonded with more than 40 femmes, some sweet, some sinister. In the following pages, we present a selection of memorable Bond girls--who left our suave spy both shaken and stirred.
Pre-Law & Order, Carey Lowell played Pam Bouvier in Licence To Kill (1989)
The Domino Effect: Kim Basinger as Domino Petachi in Never Say Never Again (1983)
Diana Rigg starred as Tracy, one of two women to wed 007, in On Her Majesty's Secret Service (1969)
From Russia With Love: Barbara Bach as Anya Amasova in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
Royal flush: Jane Seymour as Solitaire in Live And Let Die (1973)
Before Basinger, Claudine Auger played the original Domino in Thunderball (1965)
PHOTO (COLOR): Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry makes waves as Jinx in the 20th Bond film, Die Another Day
PHOTO (COLOR): Model and singer Grace Jones gave her best-known acting performance as May Day in A View To A Kill (1985)
PHOTO (COLOR): Sitting pretty: In the only 007 flick named after a Bond girl, Maud Adams starred in Octopussy (1983)
PHOTO (COLOR): Good as gold: Shirley Eaton shined as Jill Masterson in Goldfinger (1964)
PHOTO (COLOR): Bathing beauty: Ursula Andress made a splash as Honey Ryder, the first Bond girl, in Dr. No (1962)
[Source: Biography. December 2002, Vol. 6 Issue 12, p50-54,116, 56-60. Copyright © 2002 A&E Television Networks. All rights reserved.]