Pierce Brosnan’s Life After Bond: From Action Hero to Losing His Daughter to Cancer
The actor is the quintessence of smooth, first as Remington Steele, then James Bond. He talks about grief after his daughter Charlotte’s death, mortality, and playing the action hero.
Bluntly put, there is not much good to be said about Pierce Brosnan’s new film. A Long Way Down, out on limited release July 11, also stars Toni Collette, Imogen Poots, and Aaron Paul from Breaking Bad, and it’s about a quartet of people who meet one night as they prepare to commit suicide by jumping from a building in London. Except they don’t, and they form some kind of pact to support each other in embracing life.
The film, adapted from Nick Hornby’s novel of the same name, is a cacophonous jangle of wrong, from the glibness of the script to the treatment of suicide and suicidal impulses, to even what led these people to consider taking their own lives. What might have made for plausible dark melancholy, a gallows mordancy, on the page translates on to the big screen as wincing farce. You simply don’t buy into its weird, inappropriate breeziness. And, crucially, you don’t understand this group. The critics have not been kind, with The Guardian calling A Long Way Down “fantastically unconvincing.”
Still, the actors do their best, especially Brosnan and Collette.
The Daily Beast meets the charming, extremely handsome Brosnan in a New York hotel suite. He is wearing a navy jacket, slim-fit jeans, a crisp white shirt, and a snazzy pair of blue suede shoes.
Brosnan, 61, has a close-clipped beard, and tufty salt-and-pepper hair. He was born in Ireland (his accent is a soft meeting of Californian and Irish lilts) and became famous first as ’80s TV detective Remington Steele. Global fame beckoned when he debuted as Brit master spy James Bond, for four movies, in 1995. His other films include Mrs. Doubtfire, Mamma Mia, and The Thomas Crown Affair.
With us, he talked about the critical drubbing received by A Long Way Down, as well as playing Bond, the trend of older actors in action movies, and the tragedy of losing his 41-year-old adopted daughter, Charlotte, in June last year to ovarian cancer, the same disease that killed his first wife, Charlotte’s mother, Cassandra, in 1991, when she was 43.
Brosnan has seven films coming up, including The Love Punch, with Emma Thompson, The Coup, with Owen Wilson, and The Moon and the Sun, playing Louis XIV.
Those are pretty fabulous blue suede shoes.
Thanks, I had to buy them when I saw them.
You don’t live in New York?
No, I live in California. I’ve lived there for 30 years. I went there for two weeks and stayed a lifetime. It’s the longest two weeks of my life. I live between there and Hawaii. I can hear everyone back in London saying, “Oooh, yeah, you fucking sod. Lucky bugger. Bugger off.”
Suicide is a difficult theme to tackle. Were you concerned about getting it right and playing it right?
I’m very confident that Nick Hornby always gets it right as a writer. He has the vernacular and passion. He is adroit and dry, and balances humor with the humanity of life. I was confident we would tonally hit a high mark. When you see on the page one man trying to get a ladder into an elevator to go and commit suicide, that has a certain tonality of humor which lends itself to the rest of the piece. It’s really about the resilience and vulnerability of these people—two key words to people who find themselves desperate and mangled by their circumstances.
Have you ever felt like that?
No, thank god, not ever. I’ve certainly felt the hardship of life on many occasions, but not to the point of desperation that I want to throw myself under a bus or off a building. I thought the film had a great heartbeat of hope and passion for life, and they save each other, they become their own survival raft, their own saviors.
The critics’ response has not been kind. Does that bother you?
I don’t read any of them: good, bad, or indifferent. I used to devour everything. I would find myself on the floor just diminished to a pulp by some harsh words aimed at my performance, and if they said great things, it was very hard to hold on to those with any sense of reality. If they think you’re great, it only lasts so long. I heard they were very harsh to us. Fuck ’em, move on. Really, I love the film. It has its own heartbeat and a sincerity and entertainment value, and is quite uplifting. What do they say, anyway?
Well, you heard they were harsh. Do you really want to do this?
(Laughs) No, no. You always hope for success and glory, you wish for everyone involved in the film to come out smelling of roses…but that’s just the way the dice fall in this capricious game.
You have a big action film coming up next, The November Man. Is it fun blowing things up?
We got away with it greatly on the streets of Belgrade, Serbia, and Montenegro. I think there’s been enough time between my James Bond and this…I thought it was worth investigating.
There’s a whole bunch of older action stars doing these films now.
Yes, if you have courage, desire, and gumption to do it, why not? Sylvester Stallone has done the guys proud with The Expendables, which they’ve asked me to be part of.
Sure, if the script is good. It’s fun.
Did you miss being James Bond?
It was 10 years of my life, a decade of time in my career which was exhilarating and very rewarding, and it’s the gift that keeps giving, in the sense of “Once a Bond, always a Bond.” And it allows you to travel the world and enjoy life as this character.
He is far-reaching in his persona, and once you embrace that you can have great fun with it. I don’t miss it. I knew there would be work to be done if I got it right and made a mark on the page. I knew the work to be done would be not so much to distance myself from it, but to find another path to create other characters, so the audience could see me just as an actor. I don’t know if I achieved that or not, but I try not to get hung up about it.
Is there a secret brotherhood of Bonds?
I think there’s mutual respect and interconnectedness, but I don’t pick up the phone and speak to Sean [Connery]. I’ve met him once in my life. Daniel [Craig] is the one I had most rapport with, because we were ships passing. We sat and talked back in the day before he entered the stage with his magnificent portrayal as Bond.
And emerging out of the sea in those trunks?
Hahaha. An iconic moment. Yeah, I didn’t do that. That was not my style.
You’re in wonderful shape.
I work out, I paddleboard, play tennis, I chip away, trying to keep up.
Was turning 60 a big deal?
Turning 60 had an impact on my heart and soul, I must say, because you’re dealing with time: past, present, and future. You suddenly realize you’ve come down the road quite a ways. I embrace it with energy and passion. In the last two years, I’ve made seven movies. It wasn’t a conscious choice, just the way the cards fell.
Do you think about your own mortality?
Well, I’ve always thought about it, actually. I suppose being Irish, Catholic, being an actor, reading the history and literature of life, playing characters, how can you not investigate and interrogate your own space and time on the planet? It’s good to contemplate one’s time in life, and the passing of your own earthly being. I find the Buddhists doing it. Before they go to bed, they turn a cup upside down, to show they have no expectations for tomorrow and always gratitude.
Is Buddhism a faith of yours?
Yes, it is. [He shows me a necklace.] I travel with these beads, the Mala, and a set of rosary beads, so I’m covered on all sides. I think Buddhism is a wonderful philosophy. I’ve had the good fortune to meet many wonderful teachers from that society. I went to Dharamsala and met His Holiness [the Dalai Lama] there.
Has Buddhism helped with your grief around your daughter’s death?
It all helps, it’s important to have faith, it’s essential to have faith. Cancer is the most pernicious, insidious, disgusting disease of life. Yesterday was the first anniversary of Charlotte’s passing. Far too young. But there are younger still that go. But you just have to have faith and strength and courage to embrace the day. Somehow out of all that pain there is a beauty in it.
And both she and her mother died of ovarian cancer?
Shocking, isn’t it? She really struggled and fought hard and gloriously, always for us all around. She wanted us not to be in pain for her…Charlotte Emily. Gorgeous girl.
You have seven movies coming up. Are you a workaholic?
It just appears that. I like what my drama teacher called “action and recovery,” and so I like being idle and just painting, and sitting and doing nothing but looking at the waves.