Actor looks to transcend 007 legacy with complex characters
Irish actor Pierce Brosnan says he deliberately took on a variety of roles in between his outings as dashing secret agent James Bond to defy being typecast once he stopped playing the film icon.
The Pierce Brosnan file Born: May 16, 1953 in Drogheda, Co. Louth Raised: Navan, Co. Meath and moved to London when he was 11 Nickname: "Irish" Family: First wife, actress Cassandra Harris, died of ovarian cancer in 1991, married actress Keely Shaye Smith at Ashford Castle in Cong, Co. Mayo in 2001. The couple has two sons together. Career: After graduating from the Master's program at London's Drama Center, Pierce took small roles in film and television until he was cast as a thief-turned-private detective in the hit TV drama, "Remington Steele" in 1982. Later starred in "Golden Eye," "Tomorrow Never Dies," "The World is Not Enough" and "Die Another Day." Named People magazine's Sexiest Man Alive in 2001. Quote: "Typecasting is the actor's straightjacket. How can you be an unexpected surprise? I'm always trying to do that."
After "GoldenEye," the former "Remington Steele" sleuth starred in "Dante's Peak" and "Robinson Crusoe." He followed up "Tomorrow Never Dies" with "The Thomas Crown Affair" and "Grey Owl," and headlined "The Tailor of Panama" and "Evelyn" after he made "The World is not Enough."Brosnan's genre-hopping strategy seems to have paid off.
Since his 007 gig ended with the 2002 release of "Die Another Day," the 53-year-old Drogheda native has been busier than ever and he's not just playing sexy leading men, either. Last year, Brosnan earned rave reviews and a Golden Globe nomination for his delicious portrayal of a jittery -- possibly insane -- hit man in the black comedy, "The Matador." His gritty new western, "Seraphim Falls," casts him as a former Yankee captain hunted across the American west by an ex-Confederate colonel (played by Ballymena-born actor Liam Neeson,) seeking to avenge his wife and children who were killed in the last days of the U.S. Civil War.
Gristled and grey-bearded, Brosnan's resourceful character, Gideon, fights to survive against extraordinary odds. This is not a character audiences have seen Brosnan play before and the actor appears to relish the opportunity to remind them his talents extend past romancing women, driving fast cars and ordering perfect martinis.
"I had these men as blueprints to see (how to) traverse these waters, so I wanted to try to -- in between films -- find work that is different and characters, which would at least have some residue after the curtain had dropped on my career as Bond."
Throughout much of "Seraphim Falls," Gideon endures incredible hardships as he tries to escape Neeson's Col. Carver and his well-paid posse. For most of the movie, neither Gideon nor the audience knows exactly why he is the focus of Carver's relentless pursuit.
"It's a horse of a different color for a western, really. It has a kind of moral tale to it, a spiritual undertone or current which was developed as we made the film and, for me, anyway, it became kind of a spiritual quest -- a kind of John the Baptist in the wilderness," he noted. "(It is about) these two men who are deeply scarred and mangled by the savagery of war ... That never was lost on me."
Over the course of the two-hour film, which has very little dialogue and features Brosnan in many scenes by himself, Gideon is shot, stabbed, frozen and starved. He travels alone for hundreds of miles, many of them on foot, is nearly drowned in a waterfall, falls down the side of a mountain and kills just about anyone who tries to rob him of his life.
So, why does a man as attractive and charming as Brosnan is, opt to tackle a physically grueling, emotionally draining, morally ambiguous role like this, instead of taking the easy way out and playing a handsome hero in something lighter?
"I thought we could pull something off that would be entertaining and elegant and eloquent. I'm very happy with the picture," he confided, adding, "I love the challenge of this film.
"Being in the outdoors; there is nowhere to run, nowhere to hide," he explained. "The performance is there. It's just you on the call sheet more or less every day. I love the western genre. I grew up on it. I became an actor through watching Clint Eastwood and Steve McQueen. I wanted to be part of that mythology. It was a small dream that became bigger."
He admits with a chuckle, however, that he occasionally wished his job wasn't quite so challenging.
"There were days when I thought: 'Should I be throwing myself down this mountain? Should I be going into these frigid, dangerous waters?'" he recalled. "And then to work with a first-time director (David Von Ancken) is exhilarating and gives you passion and keeps you on your toes ... There were all these great ingredients and if you love your job and you've got the wherewithall to do it, you get out and do it. It's got to be done and it's a challenge. Handsome leading men, hopefully, I can go back and do that, as well. You also have to be aware that your body and your spirit changes and you have to have the courage to embrace that. You look down the road. Looks fade and change. You have to live with that ego and how do you set a foundation for this course."
Another element of the project that appealed to Brosnan was that it gave him the chance to act in at least a few scenes with Neeson.
"Liam is someone I've long admired ... I've watched his career just blossom," Brosnan said, adding that he would like to work with the "Michael Collins" star again, perhaps even on another western.
Although Brosnan says he and Neeson never really discussed parallels between the film's backdrop of the American Civil War and the Irish Troubles -- nor did they get into how their real-life backgrounds might inform their performances -- Brosnan says he was always conscious of Von Ancken's fascinating casting decision.
"We never broached that subject, but it was constantly there ... I would have the character of Carver in my mind and then that face would be Liam's and Liam the actor and Liam from Belfast and me from Co. Meath. I love the sweet irony of it," he said. "We never spoke about the Troubles and the huge pain they have caused Ireland."
Asked why he thinks there has been such a long tradition of Irish and Irish-American actors and filmmakers associated with western pictures, Brosnan speculated that it is simply in their blood.
"We're a nation of dreamers and travelers and we come with a great mythology of spirit and land and the heart and storytelling. And this country of America was built on the shoulders of many a man and woman from the old sod," he reasoned. "So, we permeate the landscape. I don't know. It's great to be Irish and it's great to be in the movie business and it's wonderful to see my name in the context of being an Irish actor."
Brosnan will be seen later this year playing a sociopathic kidnapper in the screen drama "Butterfly on a Wheel." He is also expected to begin work soon on "The Topkapi Affair," a sequel to "The Thomas Crown Affair."
This story appeared in the issue of January 31 - February 6, 2007
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