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Pierce Brosnan: More than just a beautiful Bond!

Von Lawrence Grobel
(Cosmopolitan, 1. September 1996)

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Pierce Brosnan could barely contain himself that first day on the Oval Office set of Tim Burton's Mars Attacks! There was his name, as the President's science adviser, on the call sheet, listed just below Jack Nicholson (the President) and above Glenn Close, Martin Short, Rod Steiger, Paul Winfield. "It knocked my socks off," the Irish actor says. "I don't think I've ever been so scared or nervous or in awe on a set as I was that day."

Just a few months before, he'd been kissing Barbra Streisand for The Mirror Has Two Faces, a film she also directed and for which she had cast him as her dream lover (a role he'd already filled opposite Sally Field in Mrs. Doubtfire and Annette Bening in Love Affair). "The guy's a bit of a s---, but I like him," says Brosnan. "He's just confused. "

His on-screen romance with Streisand had followed fast after Brosnan' s success as the hot new James Bond in Golden Eye, which became the top-grossing film of the winter holiday season, eventually garnering more than $340 million worldwide, putting it sixth among the all-time box-office winners. Now, everything he's ever wanted as an actor - international fame, freedom from financial worry, good roles in quality hit movies - is finally his. He lives in luxury on six secluded acres in Malibu's Paradise Cove, drives a Porsche 911 Tetronic, recently accepted a $5 million offer from Universal to star in Dante's Peak as a volcano specialist engaged in battle with one of the planet's most savage natural forces, and has his own production company under the auspices of United Artists. He also has a stunning girlfriend who is pregnant with his child yet whose independence meshes nicely with his own bachelor lifestyle. Still, there is an emptiness within him, a void created at the very core of his being when the woman who shared his life and dreams died in December 1991.

Brosnan knew from the beginning, when, both in their twenties, they first met in London in the midseventies, that Cassie was destined to be the great love of his life. More than merely becoming his wife, she was the needle in his compass, giving the insecure actor stability and direction. Indeed, it was she who initiated their move to the U.S., pushed him into small parts in early films (The Long Good Friday, The Mirror Crack'd), persuaded him to do Remington Steele, which made him a television star and heartthrob. It was she who insisted, even as she lay dying in the Kenneth Norris Jr. Cancer Hospital, that he play the part of a bomb-disposal expert who loses his nerve in the made-for-cable film Live Wire. And as a Bond girl herself (Countess Lisl in 1981's For Your Eyes Only), it was she who had earlier arranged the initial contact between Bond producer Cubby Broccoli and her husband, having long believed his fate was to play Ian Fleming's 007.

But four years before Pierce Brosnan got to mouth the words "My name' s Bond, James Bond" in GoldenEye, Cassie was too wasted to continue her protracted battle against ovarian cancer. As Brosnan sat by her bedside with prayer book in hand, trying to suppress his tears, Cassie whispered, "Always an actor." He could barely hear her, so he put his ear to her lips. "Always... an actor." She never spoke again, but Brosnan took strength from those last words. I can accept that, he thought as he watched her succumb. A good one, I hope.

"Good?" echoes GoldenEye director Martin Campbell. "He's a terrific actor and very skillful. He has that slightly self-effacing quality of Jimmy Stewart."

Sally Field, impressed with Brosnan in Mrs. Doubtfire, contends, " There's a lot more to Pierce than audiences have seen yet. When you work with Robin Williams, one of the challenges is you have to be utterly improvisational, and Pierce never missed a beat. He just maintained his character throughout, while the crew was dying."

"What I saw," says Swedish actress Izabella Scorupco, who played Natalya, Brosnan's GoldenEye love interest, "was how natural and supportive he was. He'd been really working on his career. Now it's his time - and he knows it."

Maybe so, but despite the magazine covers and the sex-symbol hype, Brosnan is also aware that he hasn't reached the kind of stature achieved by actors like Al Pacino and Robert De Niro. "My emotional range hasn't been tested as much as I'd like it to be," he says, dressed in the black jeans and T-shirt that seem to define his L.A. persona, in stark contrast to the Armani outfits he dons when in New York or London. "In the beginning, I never really felt like I was an actor. I still have the childish ambition to create a piece of work that' s rock-solid."

Not that GoldenEye was quicksand. Given a hit like that, "suddenly, you feel you have a power, a voice," Brosnan says with conviction as he gives a high-speed tour of his multilevel house, with books and magazines spilling off tables and shelves everywhere. On the walls are masks from Africa and New Guinea, along with dozens of paintings, including a portrait of a faceless Christ on the cross and one of Marilyn Monroe with her cheek slashed. The Blockbuster award he recently won as Best Action Hero rests on the steps leading to the studio off his bedroom where he himself paints in oils. And plenty of windows give on to the lush vegetation he prunes whenever he can.

"The whole world waited to see Brosnan as Bond," he's saying now, "and I didn't disappoint. I can stand back and say, 'Goddammit, I did it!'" But behind the braggadocio lurks the nagging doubt that keeps Brosnan level: "I think about the next one, and where am I going to go with my career? Because Bond will pass. I'll do the next one and, God willing, the one after that, and then they'll be looking for a new Bond, and I'd like to come out of it all with a career intact, with other strings to my bow - as a producer, maybe a director. And one hundred million in my bank account." He laughs, but he's not joking: Brosnan received $2 million for GoldenEye and his Bond contract is already in what he terms "serious renegotiation." And to think that, in his words, "only two years ago, I was trying to make the move into feature films, but everything is different now."

Just how different can be seen not only in the Brosnan lifestyle but in the way he is with his three children and in his relationship with girlfriend Keely Shaye-Smith, a writer and environmentalist. "After Cassie's death, I found myself getting caught up in knots," Brosnan reflects when we move from the kitchen to his cozy den, the mantel of its fireplace lined with framed photographs, including one of Brosnan in a surgical mask holding his newborn son, Sean, now twelve, and another of a sad-looking Sean sitting on Father Christmas's lap at Harrod's just after the news came of Cassie's cancer. "I started thinking, What do I have to do to make my life work? Make my family work? I had no yardstick to go by except my own pain and grief. I've changed a lot since losing Cassie, but it's very hard to articulate. I feel it in my body and in how I deal with life."

What Brosnan also had to deal with was the grief of the two older children - Charlotte, now twenty-four, and Christopher, twenty-three - as well as Sean's. During his marriage, Brosnan never contradicted reports that he was the father of all three: "As my star rose here in America and interviews took place, there was a decision by Cassie and myself not to get into the other side or our lives. Cassie was first married to Dermot Harris, Richard Harris's brother, and it had been a very painful experience for her and their two children. When I met her, she was a woman who'd been hurt by a man who didn't quite know what he had in this wonderful lady - and who was in pain himself. When I came along, a lot of animosity was generated, and we distanced ourselves from it by being here in America. It just seemed to be the best course to take, like a new beginning. I never saw what we did as a lie, just protection."

When Cassie died, Brosnan entered analysis with all three children, but it didn't last long. "I was never a big believer in it," he says, lighting up a Nat Sherman cigar as Sean's pet rat crawls under Brosnan' s shirt. "I've always sorted out my own problems. So I found analysis not very beneficial. And with Sean - on the third attempt, he came out and said, 'Don't do this to me. I'm not mad. I don't need this. ' I said, 'Fair enough. We'll never go again.'"

Sean began studying the guitar and riding motorbikes; Charlotte acted in an episode of NYPD Blue and decided to return to London with her boyfriend to work on her craft; Christopher took a job as an assistant director on GoldenEye and the just-released Robinson Crusoe (which also happens to star Brosnan) before writing a screenplay that he' s yet to show his stepfather, and he'll soon return to film school in New York. As for Brosnan himself, it took a while to start dating again, and once he did, he had to get over the usual feelings of guilt that come with being a survivor.

"Before I met Keely, I was moving about with the greatest of ease and swiftness, not staying too long in any one place or with any one person. I had relationships. One feels guilt, but one needs to be held. It can be very difficult, because you feel you're betraying your past life and the wife you had. Then you begin to enjoy being footloose.

"One woman I had a relationship with - the only gift that came from it was Kundalini yoga, which I've stayed with. Then, in the spring of ninety-two, I fell in love with someone who was just toxic. It was a really poisonous relationship. I knew I was on the wrong train to start with, but for maybe nine months, the lust factor got the best of me." Asked to describe that lust factor, Brosnan slips into his Bond mode: "Great sex, like great performances, certainly comes from relaxation. To be free to explore and to do anything you want with and to that person and also allowing it to happen back to you as well. So there's no one person leading the dance. Then it becomes very exciting. There's nothing like having great sex. It's poetry. Great sex is when you don't want to wash yourself for the rest of the day. Great sex is when, at the moment of orgasm, you're totally vulnerable. Its an amazing expression of the self - so raw, so animalistic. When you really enter into it and you're secure with your partner, it's the most joyous, luxurious, magnificent experience, and you want to go back and do it again and again and again and again."

Brosnan has always appreciated women: "When you meet someone who's together - who's comfortable in her own sexuality, in who she is - it's the most beautiful thing to behold. The good ones seem to have this rich handle on life, to know something we don't know, You can stand before a plain-looking woman at a cocktail party, and two minutes into talking to her, you realize she's the most beautiful woman on God's earth because or how she thinks and moves. And you can be standing in front of the most gorgeous, drop-dead body, and it's like you're suddenly driving a truck up a hill backward."

Brosnan first met Keely Shaye-Smith, whom he sometimes absentmindedly refers to as Cassie, in Mexico in April 1994, when Ted Danson had invited him to participate in an environmental campaign that Keely was covering for Entertainment Tonight. Brosnan was sitting at the pool when she strode by. "We nodded hello," he recalls, admitting to being instantly attracted by her beauty. "When she walked back, she asked me for a few eco tips. Later on the beach, she was in a bathing costume - very lovely."

Ever since they started seeing each other, neither has dated anyone else. "But we're free," Brosnan is quick to point out. "I don't want to be tied down to just one woman. I've been open in the relationship, as far as that's concerned. I have no plans to get married. Neither does she."

Indeed, when Keely found out she was pregnant (the baby's due in January), she and Pierce did intense soul-searching and came to two conclusions: no abortion, no marriage. "We talked about the matter long and hard, " Brosnan says. "It was so unexpected - both of us were absolutely blown away. Abortion should be the woman's right, but the thought of it just broke my heart - made me feel like an executioner. Besides, Keely wanted to have the baby, and I'll support her in every way possible. This baby will be brought into the world with love and understanding.

"Keely has her own independent life, her own home. She doesn't believe in marriage. But we love each other. We've traveled far these last two years together. There's an abundance in my life right now. I relish the thought of being a dad again. I've already found an antique rocking chair for Keely to sit in while she nurses. All this couldn't be happening at a better time."

Besides impending fatherhood, what holds him to Keely is her allowing him the illusion that he's a single man. "She's thirty-one, and I' m forty-two," Brosnan says. "I have a wider breadth of experience in life. I don't mean to sound grand or better, but there's that element of being older. She has a great love of life, a great openness, which I appreciate. It's easy; there are no demands. I enjoy her company enormously. She also has to tolerate my crazy mood swings. She deals with the male in me. There's a respect. I don't know why it works; it just feels comfortable."

During the filming of GoldenEye, Keely flew to Europe when her schedule permitted. "Not that she was hanging on to Pierce's bootstraps," in the words of director Martin Campbell. "She has her own career [currently as an environmental reporter on The Today Show] and ambitions."

Izabella Scorupco was struck by Keely's grace and beauty, saying, "She's got class. I think they look so alike; they really look good as a couple." Good looks are often included in any description of Brosnan. Scorupco likes to joke that "everywhere I go, they don't ask how it was to be in a Bond movie; everyone asks, 'How was it to kiss Pierce Brosnan?' A lot or women find him very attractive."

Brosnan is well aware of his appeal and also that it sets him up for critical jibes, acknowledging, "If you get into just looks, it will trip you up as an actor. The looks will change. You wake up one morning, look in the mirror, you're shocked. Because we all want to look good and feel great, but you have to accept that you do change." Still. .. since he knows he'll be playing James Bond for at least two or three more films, Brosnan tries to maintain a rigorous two hours of exercise each day ("weights, cardiovascular, bike, jog"). He keeps his weight to 170 pounds and feels strongly that the Bond he wants to portray is similar to Sean Connery's, although Martin Campbell believes Brosnan is "far more sophisticated than Sean was. Pierce is totally comfortable in the role, and that's what Bond should be - somebody entirely at ease with himself."

That ease did not come naturally for Brosnan, whose Irish childhood left him confused and isolated. He never knew his father, who walked out on his mother, who in turn deserted four-year-old Pierce when she went to London to study nursing, leaving the boy to be raised by his grandparents. "They were lonely years," he says, but he also remembers the brighter side. "There was a farmer who let me help him bring in the hay. And a family of traveling people called tinkers that my grandmother used to look after. There was a magic to all that. But once the grandparents passed away, I lived with an aunt in Kells, then I lived with this friend of the family. So I felt like an outsider, like I didn't belong."

Young Pierce had a strict Irish-Catholic upbringing, which turned him inward. Between the ages of six and nine, he studied with the Christian Brothers: "They were fierce men, and I lived in fear of being beaten with paddybats across my backside if I got my sums wrong. Any thoughts of sex were repressed. I didn't have any sex education until I moved to England at the age of ten."

That trip to London, to be reunited with his mother, was like a scene out of Dickens: "In August of sixty-four, my Uncle Phil drove me to the airport with rosary beads and some holy water in an aspirin bottle. He met a priest in the airport bar and said, 'Will you take my nephew over to England?' When I got off the plane, the priest just walked away."

It was only weeks later that Pierce saw Sean Connery in Goldfinger, and all he's ever really wanted since then was to be a part of the bigger world of fantasy and illusion. Toward that end, he eventually took classes at the Drama Centre, in London, and got his first career break in 1977, when the actor he was understudying became ill and Brosnan appeared as the second lead in a Tennessee Williams play, Red Devil Battery Sign. In short order, director Franco Zefferelli cast him in Filumena, with Joan Plowright, married at the time to Laurence Olivier, who encouraged Brosnan to join a rep company. His ambitions, however, were larger than to follow Olivier to the National Theatre: "I wanted to be an American actor. American acting is much more sensuous."

Brosnan went on to help found an experimental theater company and then landed his first TV role in a show called Murphy's Stroke. Other work followed, as did his emigration to the States, where he went on thirty job interviews before being chosen to play Remington Steele opposite Stephanie Zimbalist. The show ran from 1982 to 1987, but Brosnan had mixed feelings about its success, publicly expressing the concern that he'd sold out but privately hiring a publicist to pump up the hype. "I was bringing a wife and two children to a new country," he says, "so I was going for it one hundred percent."

After the death of his wife, a despondent Brosnan made an attempt at another TV series, which never aired. Meanwhile, conflict was bubbling up within him. If he was to continue as an actor, then he wanted more than another TV series and cameo parts in other actors, movies. Yet Brosnan has always been conflicted - professing a great desire to have weight and respect in the industry but not nixing poster sales of himself as Remington Steele, lamenting not working with the Lumets and Scorseses but snapping up the chance to reinvent James Bond as a commercial life raft. That last may not satisfy his soul as an artist, but it's what Cassie wanted for him, and she's never far from his thoughts.

"I think about her ... and about death...all the time," Brosnan says. "I find it comforting. I think about my own death. I'd like to die in Ireland, but there's too much of the world I want to see and live in before hanging up my hat. It's a very intense and exciting time right now; I'd like to keep it that way for a while."

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