Pierce Brosnan: Unfinished Business

Nine years ago, Pierce Brosnan signed to play James Bond and then couldn't get out of his TV series to play him. Now the actor gets his shot at 007, and how GoldenEye fares will determine whether he'll finally be starring in his own "A" movies.

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Not long ago, Pierce Brosnan sat in his Malibu home, missing his wife, Cassie--who died in 1992 after a four-year battle with ovarian cancer--and he wondered how he could continue to afford to live there. Although he'd recently done small parts in Mrs. Doubtfire and Love Affair, he wasn't making the kind of money that could support the house and grounds. "I'll have to sell," he thought. "I'll just have to go back to TV and forget about being a movie star."

And then James Bond came back into his life. Brosnan was chosen to revive the character that Sean Connery made famous, that Roger Moore managed to continue and that Timothy Dalton almost destroyed. Nine years ago, Brosnan was set to play 007, but he lost the coveted role because he was contractually bound to a TV series, "Remington Steele," which was about to expire. Now comes GoldenEye, and with it a contract for two more Bonds. Brosnan's wish for movie fame looks about to come true, and he won't have to sell his land in Malibu. "I can see paying it off and owning the damn place," he says with considerable satisfaction.

Brosnan is a man who knows that the worst is all behind him. He grew up in Ireland with no memory of his parents: his father left soon after he was born and. when he was only three, his mother went to London and left him behind with his grandparents. He didn't discover acting until he was in his late teens. Then, after drama school, roles in two plays led to bit parts in The Long Good Friday (1979) and The Mirror Crack'd (1980), then to TV work in England and the U.S., including a 1981 miniseries called The Mansions of America and for the BBC, Nancy Astor. After he met and married Cassandra Harris (who had two young children), they moved to California.

Soon after, he was cast as TV's suave detective "Remington Steele," which ran from 1982 to 1987. After "Steele" folded, Brosnan did two miniseries, Noble House and Around the World in 80 Days, cable movies like Murder 101 and Live Wire, and feature films few saw. His first commercial success on the big screen was 1992's The Lawnmower Man. That same year, after the death of his wife, Brosnan appeared on the cover of People to talk about the woman he loved and lost. He then tried another TV series, "Running Wilde," but it never aired.

Brosnan has a desire to be respected in the industry, so there's a lot riding on how GoldenEye does at the box office. Brosnan's hoping that becoming Bond will do for him what it did for Sean Connery ... and not Timothy Dalton.

LAWRENCE GROBEL: Do you know who said, "I've always hated that damn James Bond, I'd like to kill him"?

PIERCE BROSNAN: Sean Connery.

Q: Fear of typecasting can do that to an actor. Do you worry about whether playing Bond will type-cast you?

A: Of course there's a fear, but I knew that going in. The other fear is that if it falters, where do you go from there? But I think positively. I want this to be a big, fat success. I want to be kicking ass against Arnold [Schwarzenegger] and all the other guys out there.

Q: What about being compared to Sean Connery and Roger Moore?

A: It's inevitable. But they're ready to start the second one, and they were eager to get me to sign the papers for the option, so I guess I did all right.

Q: You were dubbed by Us magazine the Cary Grant of the '80s. Will you become the Sean Connery of the'90s?

A: Yes, then, as I go into my dotage, I'll become Mickey Rooney, as I get smaller.

Q: You've often been compared to Grant, yet you've said you don't always appreciate the comparisons. Talk about your similarities and differences to Grant.

A: Cary Grant invented himself and I've done a bit of that. But I never saw myself as a debonair leading man--I always saw myself as this hesitant actor. I did look at old Cary Grant movies to prepare for "Remington Steele." If I have half the career that Cary Grant had, I'd be quite happy.

Q: He dropped acid, have you?

A: I never took psychedelics. There's still time, though.

Q: The last time we talked, you were playing "Steele"--you'd re-placed Tom Selleck as a TV heartthrob, and were about to be replaced in turn by Don Johnson. Not much is heard about Selleck and Johnson these days. How much of your career is luck, how much is timing and how much is talent?

A: All three come into play. It does help if you have talent, if you have a tiny piece of gold that you can polish. You also have to have the courage to go through all the negativity of the business. Timing? Yes. I've known better actors than me, men who can turn their hand at any character with great deftness and clarity, but they haven't had any breaks. Luck? I've been very lucky, though if I told you my life story, you would say, "Well, you've had bad luck here and there." It's just bloody hard work being an actor and keeping the dream alive.

Q: What about fate? Did you ever feel you were fated to play Bond? Goldfinger was the first Technicolor film you saw as a boy, and your late wife, Cassie, played a Bond woman in For Your Eyes Only ...

A: That seems to be the case. Bond was unfinished business in my life, because wherever I've gone since 1986 people have always asked: "Weren't you the guy who was going to be, could have been, should have been, might have been .,." It's quite scary that something like this should come around a second time.

Q: Do you worry that Bond may be a dated character? That heroes like Indiana Jones or Batman will make 007 seem like a relic?

A: My gut feeling is no. There's a big audience out there waiting.

Q: How often did you practice those famous five words before your mirror?

A: "My name's Bond, James Bond"? I've actually said those words, yes, in front of the mirror, and in the car. If someone catches you doing it, it can be very embarrassing.

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