Interviewing Pierce Brosnan is like talking with an old friend. He speaks with sincerity and takes a genuine interest in others and what’s going on around him. During the course of our chat, for instance, it comes out that his wife, Keely Shaye Brosnan, and I grew up just a few miles apart from one another. “It is a small world!” he exclaims delightedly. It’s almost hard to imagine that this humble man is part of a very elite group of actors who have portrayed one of cinema’s most iconic and most debonair roles—James Bond. But Bond is only part of Brosnan’s artistic legacy. His acting resume boasts a roster of varied and diverse characters. He’s also used his talents to draw attention to important social and political issues, such as the documentary he made with Keely, Poisoning Paradise, about chemical companies setting up test sites in Hawaii. In recent years, his passion for art, his first love, has come to the forefront. In 2018, his painting of Bob Dylan sold for $1.4 million at a charity auction.
With so many accomplishments to be proud of, it would be easy for Brosnan to rest on his laurels. Instead, he continues to challenge himself. The little boy who was raised in part by his grandparents in Ireland, then moved to London at age 11 to join his mother and stepfather and find his way in the changing world of the 1960s and ’70s, is never too far away. Brosnan is keenly aware of his origins and continues to give back. (As an example, he remains a patron of Ovalhouse, the theatre company that helped him discover his passion for acting.) Perhaps most tellingly, he remains grateful and humble about a career that has allowed him to support his family and that he still enjoys.
By Elisa Jordan
Portraits by Brett Erickson
What did you enjoy most about James Bond?
There were so many aspects to enjoy. I mean, it’s bloody hard work from the get-go. You have enormous shoes to fill and expectations to uphold. Then you have to find your way into that big house and make it your own. I think the exhilaration was to read the script and to know that you were playing this iconic, mythical character…and seeing how they made it come to life. The joy of being on that set every day, the camaraderie of the people around you, and the enormous responsibility, the weight of that on one’s shoulders was tremendous for Martin Campbell, who directed GoldenEye, and for myself, and for the Broccolis [producers].
Then the joy of seeing it being released into the world and to carry on to honor the contract of four movies, endorse a lifestyle and you become an ambassador to this small cinematic domain. One that is unique, the landscape of movie-making. So yes, it’s the joy of being able to provide and have the security in such a capricious game as acting. Also, then also to go on and create my own company [Irish DreamTime], and to produce and star in my own movies. That was a very rich, fertile time.
When you were 27 you moved to America, which was another big move for you. You went from Ireland to London to America. What brought about that change or that decision?
I was cast in an ABC mini-series called The Manions of America, which was a six-hour mini-series about the Irish potato famine. I got the lead role and my late wife, Cassie [Cassandra Harris], said we should go to America for the opening of the series on TV. I said well that sounds like a great idea but how the heck are we going to do it? We’ve just bought this house with the proceeds from the mini-series. She’d just been in a James Bond movie, For Your Eyes Only. She said, “I’ll find a way,” and she did. She saw an ad in the newspaper that you could get a second mortgage on the central heating. She sent me off to the bank manager to get a £2,000 overdraft saying that I had a job in America, which was an untruth.
We hopped on Freddie Laker, who was an English entrepreneur in those days and he had cheap flights to Los Angeles, £100. Bring your own sandwiches. We hopped on the plane with our sandwiches and stayed at a friend’s house up there on North Havenhurst [Drive] in the shadow of the shadow of the Chateau Marmont [Hotel]. And stayed there with Ruby Wax and Trevor Walton. They had a place and my wife, Cassie and I, had a room in the back and a mattress. I went out the next day, and I rented a car from Rent-a-Wreck, and it was a lime green Pacer. [laughs]
Speaking of exciting people, you are now the spokesperson for Don Ramón Tequila. How did that come about?
My agent of 35 years, Liz Downing, called me up, and said that Casa Don Ramón, they’re interested. I looked at their product, and it looked very appealing, and they’d never done this, and I thought it would be an exciting way to have a relationship with this company and to promote the product. It really was as simple as that. I’m not a connoisseur of tequila. I’ve enjoyed tequila over the years in my visits to Mexico, but it just seemed to make sense.
I met the people, and they had an integrity to them, and a passion for what they were doing. The bottle has a sensuous look to it, and feel, and the drink is really most delicious actually. It was as simple as that. You do all that and then you talk business, and say, “Let’s do it.” I brought in my friend [cinematographer] David Tattersall who’s the DP [director of photography], and we worked together on The Matador and James Bond movies. I said, “I’m going to shoot this commercial, would you be interested in doing it? It’s a very simple set-up.” He said, “Yes.”