Whether he likes it or not, Pierce Brosnan will always be James Bond. Maybe that’s evidence of some kind of lack of imagination, but he looks custom-built for the part: broad shoulders, dark smirking eyes, lustrous head of slicked-back hair. People were waiting for him to be Bond back in the 80s, when he was playing Remington Steele, and when they all got their wish, he played Bond for the better part of a decade. But his Bond was different. He killed more. He screwed more. He wore regrettable, boxy 1990s suits. Like every great Bond, he redefined the role, and made it his own. The 62-year-old actor has had a lot of other parts over his career — and many of them are just as brilliant. But the thing about Pierce Brosnan is that, deep down, he really is James Bond: dapper and dashing, whip-smart and severe, with a whole lot going on below the surface. And, most importantly, not even remotely finished with what he started.
You’re constantly dealing with the judgment of the game — because they always judge you when you walk in the door. You have to address it all.
It’s been 13 years since Bond. Has that freed you to experiment with different roles?
It’s not that I ever wanted to run away from Bond. He’s just another character. Bond happens to be a role that is globally, universally, and almost cosmically known. It can take over any actor’s life. I’ve embraced it, and I’ve moved on in my life as a performer and entertainer. You can carry on making a very good living for yourself.
Speaking of Bond, there were rumours that Quentin Tarantino wanted to make Casino Royale with you.
Yes, he did. We had a few merry nights of apple martinis at the Four Seasons in Los Angeles. Quentin was very passionate about doing it and it would have been great to have him at the helm, but it wasn’t meant to be.
Apparently Tarantino’s strategy is to get his actors drunk before they sign on for a project.
We certainly had our fair share, but I never needed convincing. He was already in the wheelhouse as far as I was concerned, but I was just the gun for hire. It wasn’t up to me.
Is it true that when you signed on as Bond, producer Barbara Brocolli gave you a first edition of Casino Royale?
She did. She gave me a beautiful signed copy.
There’s some irony there.
Yes. Her note read, “Here’s to new beginnings.”
Does age influence the roles you’ve taken?
There comes a time where age is part of everyone’s life, and it is certainly part of my life as an actor. When you’re young and starting out you’re too young for the roles, and then you get to be too old for the roles. You’re constantly dealing with the judgment of the game — because they always judge you when you walk in the door. You have to address it all.
Has that part of the process become easier?
They’ll always take a swipe at you. That’s the nature of the beast. Whether you’ve got an Oscar or not, you’re simply going to be judged. You have to be tough as old boots. If the work is shit, they’ll tell you it’s shit. If it’s great, they’ll celebrate you. Somewhere in between you’ve got to follow your own path.
Do you read reviews?
I don’t read anything. If you read the good reviews you get a sort of fleeting feeling and you don’t believe a word they’ve said. If you read the bad ones, it sticks with you forever and you end up feeling that you’re not worthy. I act for my own gratification. I’m good at it. It took a long time to actually be able to voice that, but you have to revel in your good fortune.
Once I found acting I found a romance with life. It’s kept my ego from getting rigid.
I feel that revelation comes with any profession.
Yeah, and it comes with age. That comes from living life for 62 years and being an actor for most of them. But of course you want the work to be good. You want it to be good every time. Sometimes it connects, sometimes the work supports you and you support it, and it hits a good note. Sometimes you get let down.
I heard you recently returned to your hometown of Navan, County Meath in Ireland after many years.
In our 21 years of being together, my wife Keely had never seen where I had grown up. She had never been to the house I grew up in. We walked through the town and visited the church where I was once an alter boy. We found the home my grandfather had built, now a sad and dilapidated mess of a place. Seeing it all again was cathartic and meaningful. It was a peaceful repose of life.
Did you ever have doubts as a young actor growing up in such a small town — doubts that you would never leave?
My mindset was to be reunited with my mother, to have a family and to be part of one. Acting was the furthest thing from my mind. I left Ireland as an 11-year-old boy to join my mother in London. I was always searching for the happiness of life, and the joy of it. I had no brothers and sisters, so I searched for family. What I did in life was inconsequential at that time. I simply wanted to be happy. Acting came later, in London.
A lot of actors struggle early in their careers…
There was a struggle and yet there was a grace to it. I had worked as a street performer and in the circus as a fire-eater. When I left the theatre there was always work. I’ve always managed to make a living. Once I found acting I found a romance with life. It’s kept my ego from getting rigid. It kept me from getting set in my way.
And the work is still coming for you. Does that make you believe in some form of fate?
I think that what’s for you won’t pass you by. I believe in preparation. I believe when good fortune comes you better be ready for it because you’ve been given something that you’ve wished for and wanted. And you better know how to do it. You’ve got to go into it as though it were a life or death situation.
Were you always known for your suave physicality?
It was learned. I studied dance and acrobatics, classical acting. I referred to Cary Grant, Spencer Tracey, Warren Beatty, and Steve McQueen — my cinematic heroes. To have the physicality you have to understand the space you’re working in and make it your own.
So you no longer refer to any of your heroes?
I left that way of thinking to the washed up shores of imitation. With time you come to realize that you’ve created your own ensemble of shadow moves, your palette of gesture and nuance. You create the style of the man you are. You hope that you can be an unexpected surprise both in life and in a performance.
What advice has guided you?
I would say: be true to yourself. Follow your heart and your passion. Be generous and find good people. Try to stay away from the “lackies” and the “slackies.” Really, you’ve just got to work your ass off and keep your imagination fertile and alive. Don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty and study the great ones that came before you.