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Tue May 7, 2013
Movie Interviews

'Love' Stories: Pierce Brosnan, Then And Now

Originally published on Tue May 7, 2013 10:56 pm

Pierce Brosnan's career fits neatly into two chapters — before he played James Bond, and after.

Before, the Irish actor traded on his looks, charm and style; think Remington Steele, the arch detective show that introduced him to U.S. TV audiences in 1982. Three-piece suits never looked so good.

After he traded in Bond's dinner jacket, though, Brosnan took a left turn. He played a sad-sack hitman in The Matador, a soldier in the brutal Western Seraphim Falls. And he sang, infamously, in Mamma Mia.

His new film, Love Is All You Need, has him playing a widowed businessman on vacation on the Amalfi Coast. It's a Danish romantic comedy directed by Oscar-winner Susanne Bier, a story about about finding love — again. And as the actor tells NPR's Audie Cornish, it's a role that resonated for him.


Interview Highlights

On connecting with the 'Love' story

"Many of the emblems in the film — being a father, being a single parent, having been a widower for a short time in life — I could identify with. This is a film about new beginnings; it's about faith; it's about dealing with affairs of the heart."

On fitting in and following the work

"The goal was to entertain and to work with this great director, Susanne Bier. Beyond that, you set sail, and you surrender to the material. I was a little apprehensive because as an Irishman I wasn't sure where I was going to fit into this Danish filmmaking community. But Susanne said, 'Don't worry, we all speak English, and I'll make it work for you.' And consequently, in Sorrento, we all had the most joyous time."

On the long shadow of James Bond

"Bond is the gift that keeps giving, really. I have nothing but gratitude for having played this man, played this role. However, you know, it's a fickle business, and you have to find a way to dig yourself out from underneath that role. So it's always work; it's constant work. It's the constant constructing and destroying of yourself to create characters, and being challenged and trying to grow."

On whether he had a debonair role model as a kid in Ireland

"Oh, god, no. I mean, I grew up in southern Ireland on the banks of the river Boyne and had a country childhood — somewhat a fractured childhood, in the sense that the father left when I was an infant. And my mother, who has been a brilliant woman ... had the courage to leave Ireland back there in the late '50s to go find and build a home for us in London.

"So before I knew it, I was in London, and the first film I did see when I was in London in 1964 was James Bond — Goldfinger. And I was bedazzled by this beautiful naked gold lady, and this character, this flamboyant character. The music, the cars.

"And so began my relationship with the cinema. Steve McQueen was a big inspiration; Warren Beatty in Bonnie and Clyde."

On discovering his ambition as an actor

(Puts on a thick Irish accent.) "I wanted ta be a fillum star; Jaysus, Maery and Jooseph, I wanted ta be a fillum star, and I became one." (Laughs.)

"But, no, I was very shy and quite reserved, and I left school very early — I left school at 15 — and I got a job in a tiny studio in Putney, South London. One day I was watering the spider plants and making cups of tea, and talking to one of the guys in the photographic department, talking about movies, and my passion and love of movies. And he said, 'You should come along to this Oval House Theatre Club.' And I walked through the doors of this building, down there at the Oval, and started doing workshops. And that's how the acting started for me."

On feeling like he had little in common with his dashing characters

"I mean, they were up here, and I was down there. ... My late wife, God bless her, said we should go to America, and somehow we took out a second mortgage on the central heating, and ... we went to America on a wing and a prayer. And the first audition I went on was for Remington Steele, and I got the job. And I had no idea what to do with Remington Steele. Bob Butler was the director, and he said, 'It's an old movie.' So I looked at Cary Grant movies and tried to be Cary Grant."

On turning an impersonation into a characterization

"Well, you borrow from the greats; you borrow, and it becomes yours. I borrowed from Cary Grant, and [at] the wardrobe fitting I said, 'We should have three-piece suits and a French cuff, and I love clothes.' "

On the allure of America for an Irish kid

"I'd been brought up on ... American TV. Lou Grant, Starsky & Hutch; Gilligan's Island. ... So America had a calling for me. And in my innocence, in 1964 when I left Ireland and I got to London with the mammy, we walked down Putney High Street, and I said 'Where are the big cars?' I was looking for the wings on the cars. And she said, 'No darlin', we don't have them here. This is England.' I thought I was in America."

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Pierce Brosnan's career fits neatly into two chapters: before he played James Bond and after. Before, the Irishman traded on his good looks, charm and high style; think of "Remington Steele" and "The Thomas Crown Affair." Three-piece suits never looked so good. But after leaving the Bond tuxedo behind, Brosnan took a left turn. He played a sad-sack hitman in "The Matador," a soldier in the brutal Western "Seraphim Falls," and he sang in "Mamma Mia!"

Brosnan's new film "Love is All You Need" continues that trend. It's a Danish romantic comedy directed by Oscar-winner Susanne Bier. Brosnan plays a businessman and widower. Early in the film, he's given a pair of tango shoes for his birthday by a beautiful young co-worker.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "LOVE IS ALL YOU NEED")

PIERCE BROSNAN: (as Philip) Thank you, Bitten, really. But I think you need to find yourself a younger partner. Oh, Bitten. You gorgeous, beautiful, sweet girl. This is never going to happen. I'm a guy who's chosen to be by himself. Simple as that.

LINE KRUSE: (as Bitten) I thought we could have fun, though.

BROSNAN: (as Philip) Yeah. Well, that's a very nice idea. When I've danced all the tango, I'm never going to dance now. Romania, get them on the line again.

CORNISH: It's a film about finding love again, and it's a role that deeply resonated with Pierce Brosnan.

BROSNAN: Many of the emblems in the film - being a father, being a single parent, having been a widower for a short time in life - I could identify with, and this is a film about new beginnings. It's about faith. It's about dealing with affairs of the heart.

CORNISH: Was part of the goal to show a kind of vulnerability? I mean, what exactly about this character did you respond to?

BROSNAN: The goal was to entertain and to work with this great director, Susanne Bier. Beyond that, you set sail, and you surrender to the material. And, for me, I was a little apprehensive because as an Irishman, I wasn't quite sure where I was going to fit into this Danish filmmaking community. But, again, Susanne said: Don't worry. We all speak English, and I'll make it work for you. And consequently, in Sorrento, we all had the most joyous time. So, you know, those are lovely alchemy to the film.

CORNISH: Now, of course, your resume includes a trilogy of James Bond films, but was it hard - or, I mean, what was it like trying to move beyond a character like Bond, which is so iconic and can really just put a stamp on an actor for a very long time?

BROSNAN: Bond is the gift that keeps giving, really. I have nothing but gratitude for having played this man, played this role. However, you know, it's a fickle business, and you have to find a way to dig yourself out from underneath that role. And so it's always work. It's always - it's constant work. It's constant constructing and destroying and - of yourself to create characters and being challenged and trying to grow.

CORNISH: And several of your films since Bond kind of toy with your debonair image. I don't know if that's right to say, but I feel like you were definitely one of the more charming Bonds and even going back to - like Detective Remington Steele, when you were on that TV show, was there a figure in your life growing up who was that kind of character?

BROSNAN: Oh, God, no, no. I mean, I grew up in southern Ireland on the banks of the River Boyne and had a country childhood life - somewhat a fractured childhood, in the sense that the father left when I was an infant. And my mother, who has been a brilliant woman and - had the courage to leave Ireland back there in the late '50s to go find and build a home for us in London. So before I knew it, I was in London, and the first film I did see when I got to London in 1964 was James Bond - "Goldfinger."

CORNISH: Really?

BROSNAN: And I was bedazzled by this beautiful naked gold lady and this character, this flamboyant character, the music, the cars. And so began my relationship with the cinema. Steve McQueen was a big inspiration; Clint Eastwood; Warren Beatty in "Bonnie and Clyde."

CORNISH: So you wanted to be a movie star. You weren't...

(LAUGHTER)

BROSNAN: I will...

CORNISH: I know some people come out of theater school, and they want to go on and do more theater. But it sounds like you're ready to, you know, make some moves in Hollywood.

BROSNAN: Yep. I wanted to be a film star.

(LAUGHTER)

BROSNAN: Jesus, Mary and Joseph. I wanted to be a film star, and I became one. But, you know, I was very shy and quite reserved, and I left school very early. I left school at 15. And I got a job in a tiny studio in Putney, South London. And one day, I was watering the spider plants and making cups of tea, and talking to one of the guys from the photographic department and talking about movies and my passion and love of movies. And he said: You should come along to this Oval House Theatre Club. And I walked through the doors of this building, down there at the Oval and started doing workshops. And that's how the acting started for me.

CORNISH: And so what was it like for you when you first put on kind of one of those suits, say, those "Remington Steele" suits? I mean, did this just - did these characters that people were looking to you to represent feel very far removed from who you are?

BROSNAN: Oh, very much so. I mean, they were up there, and I was down here. "Remington Steele," you know, my late wife, God bless her, she said we should go to America, and somehow, we took out a second mortgage on the central heating and...

(LAUGHTER)

CORNISH: And I should mention Cassandra Harris was an actress herself.

BROSNAN: And Cassie, yes, was an actress. She'd been in a James Bond movie, "For Your Eyes Only." And we went to America on a wing and a prayer. And the first audition I went on was for "Remington Steele," and I got the job. And I had no idea what to do with "Remington Steele." And Bob Butler was the director, and he said: It's an old movie. So I looked at Cary Grant movies and tried to be Cary Grant.

CORNISH: When you look back at your catalog, do you see that? Do you see Cary Grant, or do you see - do you feel like you've really established something there?

BROSNAN: Well, you borrow from the greats. You borrow, and it becomes yours. You, you know, I borrowed from Cary Grant, and the wardrobe fitting was, I said, we should have three-piece suits and a French cuff, and I love clothes. And I was making what I thought was a fortune, and I was on American TV. And I loved - I'd been brought up on a staple of American TV of Lou Grant and "Starsky & Hutch," "Gilligan's Island," "Branded" and - so America had a calling for me.

And in my innocence, in 1964 when I left Ireland and I got to London with the mammy, you know, we walked down Putney High Street, and I said: Where are the big cars? I was looking for the wings on the cars. And she said: No darling, we don't have them here. This is England. I thought I was in America.

(LAUGHTER)

BROSNAN: But I wasn't. I was in London. It took me a while to get to America. But when I got to America, I embraced it.

CORNISH: Yeah. It seems like you did all right.

BROSNAN: I did all right. Thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

BROSNAN: I did all right. You know, it's work. Nothing comes from nothing. It's always about doing and showing up and trying to get better at the job.

CORNISH: Well, Pierce Brosnan, it was a pleasure talking with you. Thank you so much.

BROSNAN: Good to talk to you too. All the best now.

CORNISH: Pierce Brosnan stars in the new film "Love is All You Need."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.