Pierce Brosnan: Roughing It

Pierce Brosnan has traveled far and wide in search of life after his '80s TV series "Remington Steele."

"I wanted to shake off that mantle so quickly," he says, "because I was perceived as this male model--'Mr. Debonair, Mr. Smooth, Mr. Sophisticated.'

"Brosnan makes these labels sound like diseases. Some of his sourness about "Steele" comes from the fact that when he had a shot at segueing from that show to the big screen as Roger Moore's replacement as James Bond, he found that the fine print in his contract locked him into another year as Steele, and he lost Bond to Timothy Dalton. "I was really kind of fucked around there," he says, "and you cannot help but have some resentment about it."

When Brosnan finally did break his "Steele" bonds, he fled to the other end of the spectrum, playing a Russian agent in The Fourth Protocol, a bill collector in Taffin, a French anthropologist whose soul is possessed by phantom bikers in Nomads, and, in The Deceivers, a 19th-century British official in India who disguises himself as a native and infiltrates a murderous cult. "They were strange films, odd choices," he now says. "The Deceivers, oh, that should have been a comedy. Maybe if you put a laugh track on it and drink a lot of vodka..."

Brosnan may fare better with his current outing, Mister Johnson. It's director Bruce Beresford's follow-up to last year's smash Driving Miss Daisy, so for the first time there may be a built-in audience for a film Brosnan is in.

Can American audiences be sold on the story of a friendship between a staid British official (Brosnan) and an eccentric African native, set in 1920s Nigeria? "If we knew what was going to sell, we'd be selling more of it," Brosnan smiles. "But I think people want to be dramatically and emotionally involved with characters, and I think Mister Johnson offers that."

Mister Johnson was filmed on location in Nigeria, a country Brosnan describes as being "bereft of any sophistication whatsoever...but," he adds, "I found that Nigerians are sort of like the Irish--great souls, great hearts, and a great sense of humor about life. After being warned that Nigeria was the armpit of the world, it turned out to be okay." Except, apparently, for the food. "Bloody dreadful," Brosnan grimaces. "They give you smoked rat. Yeah--bush meat is on the menu and it can be anything--rat, pig..." On the other hand, Brosnan says he had "an active social life there. I met this great Irish nun, periwinkle blue eyes and the gift of gab. She introduced me to the locals--the tribesmen too. One day, she took me out to bless this guy's cattle--right in the middle of nowhere, there I was, blessing these cattle. It was wild."

Having gone a little "wild," Brosnan has now come full circle, back to the idea of a light sophisticated screen comedy in the "Steele" mold. "Maybe I should have explored more accessible kinds of films initially," he muses, more philosophical than melancholy. "But I didn't. I am now."