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born in Navan, County Meath, Ireland on May 16, 1953|
Many, many actors are typecast due to their looks. Some are perennial villains, others knockabout dudes, or British aristocrats. Their talents are made obsolete by their faces, their actorly training is all for nothing. Feel sorry then for the man who is James Bond. For not only did Pierce Brosnan star as Agent 007, but he was such a perfect choice for the role that audiences considered him to be Bond even before he played the role. Throughout Timothy Dalton's tenure, even towards the end of Roger Moore's, Brosnan was Bond-in-waiting. Every character he played was seen as either a stop-gap or practice for the day he'd load that Beretta and slip behind the wheel of that Aston-Martin. It came as no surprise that, when he did take over, the ailing Bond franchise enjoyed its greatest successes ever.
Yet Brosnan's story is far more interesting than just a long, long wait for GoldenEye. He began as a stage actor of major repute in London's West End. He was a Golden Globe-nominated TV star and found major fame as Remington Steele. And, throughout his "lost" years, he turned in a series of notable performances in unheralded movies - he was just as likely to play a disturbed psychotic as a smooth sophisticate. His personal life, too, has been far more interesting (and trauma-ridden) than most.
He was born Pierce Brendan Brosnan on the 16th of May, 1953, in Navan, County Meath. Popularly known as An Uaimh, it's about 30 miles north-west of Dublin, just inland from Drogheda. His father, Thomas, was a carpenter who left mother Mary (known as May) before Pierce was a year old. Needing a career to support her son, May travelled to London to train as a nurse, leaving young Pierce with her parents, Philip and Kathleen Smith. Sadly, when he was 6, both grandparents died, so he was moved on to stay with relatives. He recalls spending lots of time in his aunt's pub, feeling lonely and abandoned. "But maybe that's where the acting comes from", he says "from spending so much time alone with your thoughts".
Eventually, he was taken into a lodging house by one Eileen Reilly. And there was Catholic school, young Pierce suffering under the severe regime of the Christian Brothers. Here he was beaten and "Religion was rammed down my throat. It was pretty brutal. I've got some resentments". Due to an expose in the News Of The World, the school would be shut down some months after Pierce left.
But leaving didn't mean things were exactly easy. In 1964, May brought her son over to live with her in Putney, London. By now she'd met a gentle Scot named Bill Carmichael and the couple wanted to marry. May, though, wanted Pierce's approval - which he duly gave. One of the first treats Bill gave Pierce on his arrival was to take him to the cinema. And the movie they saw? Goldfinger. Brosnan has since claimed that this was when he first considered a career in acting.
Pierce was enrolled at Elliott Comprehensive, and here it was rough. Though six feet tall by the age of 11, he was still bullied for being Irish - Irish was, in fact, his nickname. Painfully aware of his difference, he schooled himself in the London accent, becoming more of a Cockney than a Navan country-boy. Having to study his peers, copy their movements and voices, would stand him in good stead later.
Though he excelled in English and art, by 16 Pierce had had enough. Now wearing the long hair and goatee beard the times demanded (and wondering whether he was gay), in 1969 he began training to be a commercial artist in a photographic studio where clients included both Harrods and Selfridges. He spent his time "watering spider plants and learning how to draw 3-piece suites for the Evening Standard".
But one night a week was different. Encouraged by a co-worker, he'd attend Kennington's Oval House Theatre Club, an experimental arts troupe, performing in several of their productions. The experience finally opened his eyes - he would be an actor. Jacking in his job, he began to pursue the craft. To support himself he took various odd jobs. He was a cab driver, for a while he was a fire-eater in the circus. He cleaned people's houses for Domestics Unlimited, a firm that also employed one Jeremy Irons. "I starved," he said later "I washed dishes - anything".
In 1973, his education became more formal when he enrolled at the Drama Centre of London. This gave him an essential background in theatre. He also, briefly, moved in with Irish actress Rebecca McKenzie. Graduating in 1976, he became acting assistant stage manager at York's Theatre Royal, and made his professional stage debut in Wait Until Dark.
Now came his first big break. Spotted by legendary playwright Tennessee Williams, he was cast in the role of McCabe in the British premiere of the great man's Red Devil Battery Sign at the Roundhouse, causing something of a stir in London. He still has a telegram from Williams on his wall, saying simply "Thank God for you, my dear boy".
In 1977, he moved on to Noel Coward's Semi-Monde with the Glasgow Citizens Company, occasionally returning to the company during the next two years for The Maid's Tragedy, Painter's Palace Of Pleasure and No Orchids For Mrs Blandish.
More importantly, his performances in Red Devil Battery Sign had been witnessed by director Franco Zeffirelli, who cast him opposite Mrs Olivier, Joan Plowright, in his production of Filumena at London's Lyric Theatre. It would play for a year and a half, and get him cast as a race-horse trainer in the BBC's Murphy's Stroke, the tale of an outrageous Irish betting scam.
A year later, in 1980, he made his cinematic debut. It was very, very brief, but utterly memorable. In Brit gangster thriller, The Long Good Friday, with Bob Hoskins' criminal empire fallen to pieces, Bob steps into a car he believes is driven by his own man. It screeches away, pinning him to the back seat and, before he can ask what's up, a man in the passenger seat turns around. It's Pierce and, words unnecessary, his gun and his wolfish smile tell us and Bob that the IRA are taking their deadly revenge.
1980 would also bring a bit-part in the all-star Agatha Christie flick The Mirror Crack'd, but Brosnan was destined for greater things - right now. Murphy's Stroke had been seen by the American producers of TV miniseries The Manions Of America. Written by Agnes Nixon, creator of All My Children, and Anne Sisson, creator of Upstairs Downstairs, this epic soap opera followed the fortunes of two families, one Irish, one English, in 19th Century Philadelphia. Pierce, they thought, would be perfect as Rory O'Manion, rising from poverty in Ireland to corporate success in the US, while fighting in the Civil War and romancing Kate Mulgrew.
The filming of The Manions took Pierce back to Ireland, where there was great publicity around the shoot. Noticing Pierce in all the furore, a cousin contacted him, asking if his own uncle Tom was perhaps Pierce's father. Pierce had never even heard his father's name spoken, but he knew this was he. Thoroughly perturbed, he could not bring himself to make contact just yet. This would happen a year later. Both parties were extremely emotional, but they would never become close.
The Manions was a great success in US, making Brosnan's life top-notch in every department as 1980 had also seen him married to Cassandra Harris, an actress 12 years his senior, who he'd met at a party in 1978. Extremely good-looking, she featured in Lord Lichfield's photo-book, The World's Most Beautiful Women. Amazingly, there is yet another Bond connection here. Harris, born Sandra Colleen Waites, was an Australian who come to London to audition for On Her Majesty's Secret Service, later trying out for The Man With The Golden Gun, too. Having most notably appeared in Space: 1999, she finally became a Bond girl when she was cast as Countess Lisl von Schlaf in For Your Eyes Only (wherein she would suffer terrible death by dune-buggy).
Cassandra would film her parts in Corfu in 1980, taking Pierce (still just her boyfriend) along with her. Here he'd meet Bond producer Cubby Broccoli who, mindful that Roger Moore would not stay in the role for much longer, immediately noticed Brosnan's Bond-like appearance. "If he can act," said Broccoli "he's my guy". He could act, but he wouldn't be his guy for another 15 years.
It was while on the same trip to Corfu that Brosnan received the Manions script. The filming of this would convince him that he should go for it in America. Though a stage actor, he'd always been fascinated by film. A few weeks after seeing Goldfinger, he'd been blown away by Lawrence Of Arabia, then the work of Brando and Steve McQueen. Then it was Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider and Five Easy Pieces, as well as Eastwood and Warren Beatty. Hollywood, he thought, was surely the place to be.
With The Manions just being aired in the States, now was the time. Trouble was, the Brosnans had just bought a house in Wimbledon, and there was a family to think of. Cassandra had two children from a previous relationship - Christopher and Charlotte (Pierce would adopt them in 1986 when their father died) - and also had son Sean with Pierce. So Pierce took a risk. He re-mortgaged the house, telling the bank that he had definite employment in America - "a total, shameless lie". Taking £2000, he took off with Cassandra for two weeks of auditions in Los Angeles.
The very first audition was for a new NBC TV series, to be called Remington Steele. Here private investigator Laura Holt (to be played by Stephanie Zimbalist) would reluctantly take on a new partner, the mysterious, suave and often inept man of the title. Together, they would fight crime and, as with Moonlighting and The X-Files, get everyone wondering whether they were going to, you know...
Pierce got the part, but had to wait six months for the green light. He returned to London to appear in another miniseries, Nancy Astor, about the outspoken feminist icon who married into massive wealth and became the first woman to sit in Parliament. Pierce played her first husband, Robert Gould Shaw who, though cousin and namesake of the Civil War hero, was a womanising and hard-drinking gambler. Alongside Lisa Harrow's Astor, he was tremendous as this classy, charming bad boy. When the show finally appeared in the US, in 1984, it would see him nominated for a Golden Globe.
By 1982, Remington Steele was going into production, and Brosnan moved his family to LA. Life changed quickly. Originally, the show was supposed to be based around Zimbalist, with Steele appearing only as window-dressing. He'd remain a mystery, turning up only briefly each week. But, as the show took off, the producers realised that people were reacting mostly to Pierce. His part became bigger and deeper, Steele mutating into what Pierce described as "a cross between James Bond and Inspector Clouseau". The media dubbed him "the new Cary Grant", his face was everywhere. Zimbalist was not happy, her relationship with Pierce becoming increasingly frosty.
Brosnan would star as Remington Steele until 1987. In the meantime, there'd be only one foray into cinema. This was Nomads, the directorial debut of John McTiernan (soon to make both Predator and Die Hard). Here Pierce played an anthropologist who discovers demonic creatures in LA. Terrified out of his mind, he tells doctor Lesley-Anne Down about it, and is then murdered. But somehow he's transmitted all his memories to her, allowing her to battle the beasts herself.
Famously, there might have been another project. By 1986, Remington Steele's popularity was waning and the show was cancelled. In the meantime, Roger Moore had quit as James Bond and Cubby Broccoli wanted Pierce to take up the mantle in The Living Daylights. The news spread fast. Fans of the TV show began a letter-writing campaign to save it (as happened with Cagney And Lacey). Ratings for the re-runs that summer were up. NBC, realising that they had the next Bond on their hands, exercised their 60-day option on the show and, on the 59th day of the option period, decided to shoot another series, threatening Pierce with a $20 million lawsuit if he broke his contract.
Efforts were made to enable Brosnan to take both projects. NBC offered to film Steele in Europe, near the Bond sets, but Broccoli decided against it, fearing that audiences wouldn't pay to see a face they could catch on TV for nothing, particularly as the characters were so similar. Within weeks, Timothy Dalton was the new Bond. He would never really be accepted - everyone knew he was second choice, and that Pierce was the real Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
Ever since For Your Eyes Only, it had been rumoured that the next Bond film would be Moore's last, and every time Brosnan was feted everywhere as the right replacement. Now the furore was amazing, the publicity driving the new series of Remington Steele into the Top 5, its highest rating ever. Brosnan made light of (and a fortune from) the situation by appearing in Diet Coke ads that spoofed Bond, screened during the Superbowls of 1987 and '88. Really, it could only be a matter of time before the inevitable occurred.
1987 saw the end of Remington Steele, and Pierce return to film in Frederick Forsyth's The Fourth Protocol. Here he was at his brooding best as Valeri Petrofsky, a KGB major who's sent to England to let off an atomic device near a US military base. Everyone, he hopes, will think the Americans caused the disaster and will shut their bases across Europe. Michael Caine played the spycatcher who discovers that nuclear weapons are being couriered into the country piece by piece.
'87 brought terrible news, too, when Cassandra was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She would struggle against it for four years, but would die in Pierce's arms on December 28th, 1991, one day after their 11th wedding anniversary. Pierce was distraught, saying "Cassie has made me the man I am, the actor I am, the father I am. She's forever embedded in every fibre of my being".
But this would come later. In 1988, Pierce starred in another miniseries, James Clavell's Noble House. In this, he was Ian Dunross, tai-pan of the oldest and finest of the Chinese trade houses in Hong Kong, fighting against corporate rivals trying to bring Noble House down. Then came another step into un-Bond-like territory with Taffin, where he played a tough Irish debt-collector who's asked to protect townsfolk from a chemical company that's bullying them into accepting a plant nearby. Next, it was India in 1825 where he was William Savage, a British officer who goes undercover to infiltrate the infamous Thug cult.
After this, he fulfilled his NBC contract with Around The World In 80 Days, playing Phileas Fogg to Eric Idle's Passepartout. Sticking closely to the book, the miniseries received great critical acclaim. Then came The Heist, where he was a race-track security boss, framed by his partner Tom Skerritt and jailed. Out again, he plans a scam of his own.
1990 brought more British colonialism, this time in 1923 Nigeria, with Bruce Beresford's Mister Johnson. This centred around an educated black man who's accepted neither by the Brits nor his own people. Endlessly dignified, he winds up taking the rap for the accounting misdemeanours of his ambitious boss, district administrator Brosnan.
Now it was thrillers all the way. Murder 101 saw him as Charles Lattimer, an author who finds fame by covering a notorious murder trial, then finds himself framed for murder by the murderer. The Hitchcock-style Victim Of Love saw him reciting Edgar Allan Poe and dating both psychologist Jo-Beth Williams and her patient Virginia Madsen. At least, that's what Madsen says. She also tells Williams that he murdered his wife to be with her.
1992 saw the budget rise when he played Dr Lawrence Angelo in The Lawnmower Man. This was intended as a virtual reality spectacular, an update of Tron, with Pierce's scientist testing his intelligence-enhancing drugs on slow gardener Jeff Fahey. Being as they turned a monkey into a raving psycho, one could only fear the worst.
Next came Christian Duguay's Live Wire, where Pierce was a bomb disposal expert dealing with terrorists who've developed a liquid that can be exploded when inside a human body. Then there was Alistair Maclean's Death Train, where he played good-guy agent Mike Graham, battling mercenaries taking a nuclear device across Europe to Iraq. Brosnan would play Graham again in 1995, in Night Watch, this time tracking down a stolen Rembrandt.
Now things were beginning to look up again. 1993 saw Pierce's clout rise when he played Stuart Dunmeyer, the smooth new boyfriend of Robin Williams' ex-wife in the mega-hit Mrs Doubtfire. Then, after a couple more low-budget thrillers, he was smooth once more, as Annette Bening's super-rich boss in Warren Beatty's Love Affair.
In the meantime, he would at last find love of his own again. 1994 saw him interviewed for Entertainment Tonight by journalist Keely Shaye Smith (she was formerly an actress, appearing in General Hospital and Huey Lewis's Stuck With You video). The pair got on and, slowly - very slowly, as Pierce was still so deeply attached to the memory of Cassandra - they grew closer. They'd eventually marry in 2001, in Ireland, in the County Mayo church where they filmed part of John Wayne's The Quiet Man, with Keely bearing two sons, Dylan Thomas and Paris Beckett.
1994 really was a good year. Pierce was just about to leave for New Guinea, where he was to star in a souped-up version of Robinson Crusoe, when he got a call from Cubby Broccoli. Since 1989's Licence To Kill, he'd been engaged in a legal dispute over the ownership of the Bond franchise and, after a few inactive years, Dalton had moved on. On top of this, Bond screenwriter Richard Maibaum had died, and Licence To Kill had fared poorly at the box-office. Something had to be done to save the franchise. Being as Pierce was still getting 70% of the vote whenever they held a Who Should Be The Next Bond poll, knocking Hugh Grant, Ralph Fiennes and even Mel Gibson into a cocked hat, Broccoli asked him if he would, at last, play 007.
Though disappointed back in 1986, Brosnan was now glad he'd missed out on Bond. He thought the agent should be around 40, confident and sophisticated. He didn't think his younger self could have done Bond justice. Now, though, he was ready and, three decades after being turned on to cinema by Goldfinger, made his debut for MI6 in GoldenEye.
GoldenEye was the first Bond film not to be based on any novel or story by Ian Fleming (Brosnan would later buy Fleming's old typewriter for £52,800). Originally, Anthony Hopkins was down to play Agent 006, Bond's old mentor, but Hopkins pulled out, so the film now featured a confrontation with a younger 006 (Sean Bean), now turned bad. Pierce would also have to battle the Russian mafia, who've stolen GoldenEye, a satellite that can disempower all electrical equipment, thus making weapons and security systems useless.
The movie resurrected the franchise. Not only was it bigger and flashier, it also featured the franchise's first real sex scene, when Famke Janssen crushed an old man between her thighs. And Pierce, as everyone expected, made a great Bond. The film took $350 million at the box-office, far and away the biggest return yet.
Brosnan was made, but refused to let Bond keep him out of movies in the way Remington Steele had. He moved on to play the handsome actor husband of Barbra Streisand's sister in Streisand's own The Mirror Has Two Faces. Then came Tim Burton's Mars Attacks!, where he revealed a real comedic touch as a professor flirting with ditzy TV host Sarah Jessica Parker, an affair that continues even when Martians cut off their heads and attach them to the bodies of small dogs. Next came disaster flick Dante's Peak where he played a scientist who, believing a volcano is about to blow, must convince Linda Hamilton, mayoress of a nearby town. The filming here was tough, as Pierce suffers badly from claustrophobia.
Now it was back to Bond with Tomorrow Never Dies. Here he took on insane media mogul Jonathan Pryce, intent upon starting a war between Britain and China, and had a set-to with Chinese agent Wai Lin, played by the excellent Michelle Yeoh. This was another tough shoot, Pierce at one point being accidentally whacked by a stunt-man. He still bears a scar above his upper lip.
Again he moved on into other areas. Having started up a production company, Irish Dreamtime, with old mate Beau St Clair, he now produced and starred in The Nephew. Here an American kid returns to his Irish hometown, starts seeing Pierce's daughter and re-ignites a conflict between Pierce and his uncle. The movie also featured Charlotte Brosnan (who that year, 1998, also made Pierce a grandfather), and Niall Toibin, who'd starred alongside Pierce in his TV debut, Murphy's Stroke, nearly 20 years before. Pierce would quickly act as executive producer on The Match, a comedy about two pub teams in a grudge game.
Back in the big league, there was The Thomas Crown Affair, a remake of the Steve McQueen original, directed by John McTiernan, Pierce's helmsman on Nomads. Once more, Brosnan was as smooth as they come, this time as a rich playboy who, stealing art for fun, is investigated by sexy detective Rene Russo. Then came a project close to Brosnan's heart. Cassandra had been a great environmentalist and Pierce had become deeply involved too, fighting to protect whales and joining the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Now, in Richard Attenborough's Grey Owl, he played Archie Belaney, a poor Englishman who emigrates to Canada, takes on a Native American identity and becomes the first worldwide enviro-star - until he visits England on a lecture tour and is recognised...
Grey Owl was not a success, but Brosnan was back instantly, as Bond once more in The World Is Not Enough. Here he tries to protect Sophie Marceau after her tycoon father is killed at MI6 HQ. The murderer, Renard (Robert Carlyle), who feels no pain due to a bullet lodged in his brain, then comes after them both.
It was an interesting addition to the series, with Brosnan showing a darker side to Bond. And it was another huge hit. It opened on the same day as Tim Burton's Sleepy Hollow, both films making over $30 million that weekend - the first time two movies had managed that in history.
2000 saw Pierce's personal life in uproar, delaying his marriage till the next year. He travelled across northern India with the Dalai Lama - money from coverage of his wedding would be used to open a vocational school for exiled Tibetans in Kathmandu - and then there was his son, Sean. Pierce's own upbringing made his family very important to him, so he was shocked and horrified on hearing that Sean, in a truck being driven by his cousin, had plunged off a mountain road, damaging his spine. It was thought that he'd never walk again. Thankfully, this would not be the case.
Pierce moved on again, this time to The Tailor Of Panama, written by John Le Carre and directed by John Boorman. Here he played Andrew Osnard, a British spy and all-round rotter who, after an affair with an ambassador's wife, is sent to Panama. Here he meets Geoffrey Rush, a tailor who fits all the country's top brass and mobsters. Brosnan knows of Rush's dark past and threatens to tell all if Rush won't spill the beans on his clients. But Rush doesn't know anything and makes stories up, leading, of course, to trouble.
The next year, 2002, saw more Bond with Die Another Day, the 20th official Bond flick. This saw Bond's character expanded even further, when he's shattered under torture while crossing the globe to unmask a traitor and prevent a catastrophic war. Pierce would suffer another scare during the shoot. Son Sean, studying at Millfield school in Somerset, collapsed in the gym with peritonitis, a problem linked to the earlier accident. Pierce rushed to his side once more and again he was OK.
After Die Another Day came Evelyn, directed by Bruce "Mister Johnson" Beresford. Here, in a direct contrast with his own life, Pierce played Desmond Doyle, a father who goes all the way to the High Court to retrieve his children from care once their mother has gone. Pierce has always been mindful of children, being an ambassador for the Prince's Trust and a patron of Irish UNICEF.
Following Evelyn, Brosnan returned to romantic comedy with Laws Of Attraction, which saw him as a divorce lawyer competing with Julianne Moore. Having got drunk and woken up beside each other, their rivalry is further fuelled, particularly when they travel to Ireland to do battle over a country estate. When they get drunk again, and this time wake to find themselves wearing wedding rings, their confusion is immense. Naturally, given the main actors' evident looks and talents, they brought extreme charisma to the screen, but still the final product was no classic.
The same year, 2004, would bring After The Sunset, a slick heist movie directed, surprisingly, by Brett Ratner, famed for the frenetic energy of the Rush Hour series and the grim drama of Red Dragon. Here Pierce played a master jewel thief who, along with fiancee and partner-in-crime Salma Hayek, has retired to a tropical island. The past, though, in the shape of FBI agent Woody Harrelson and local gangster Don Cheadle, will not let him go and, along with his own boredom, drags him back to work. As said, it was slick stuff, well acted with smart dialogue, but still a tad close to Brosnan's earlier capers to fully convince those who believed he would never escape the shadow of Bond.
In fact, the film's release co-incided with the news that Brosnan was no longer Bond. According to Pierce, he had been asked to make a fifth installment but, during negotiations, the producers had changed their minds, leaving Brosnan angry and disappointed. The one good thing about it, he said - as Clive Owen, Hugh Jackman, Eric Bana and even Ewan McGregor were mentioned as replacements - was that he was going out on a high.
He now busily set about widing his range, moving on to The Matador. Here he played a seedy hitman, painfully lonely and jaded by the highs of drugs, sex and the kill. Meeting struggling salesman Greg Kinnear in a Mexico City bar, he's delighted to find a new friend, so delighted that he over-steps the mark and offers to pay off Kinnear's debts if he aids him in an assassination. Kinnear, naturally, leaves, but circumstances will soon draw the odd couple into a crazy working relationship. Following this would come the long-delayed Instant Karma - half live action, half CGI - where The Rock would play a safe-cracker who, by a circuitous cosmic route, finds himself reincarnated in the bodies of a series of animals, , trying to do enough good deeds to finally win back his own still-living body. Nutty voices would be provided by the expert likes of Gene Wilder and Dom DeLuise, while Pierce would appear live, alongside Mira Sorvino.
Outside of work, there is more work, Brosnan and his wife lending their services of many charities, helping to clear up landmines, fighting for the environment and, as ever, promoting women's and children's healthcare. Indeed, Brosnan would become Campaign Chairman of the Entertainment Industry Foundation, an organisation that distributed $15 million to good causes in 2003 alone. Both Pierce and Keely would win awards for their efforts and, also in 2003, Brosnan would receive an Honorary OBE, his stint as Bond and his charitable work having been deemed a major contribution to British interests. And there was the burgeoning success of Irish Dreamtime, which was now producing most of Brosnan's movies, including Evelyn and The Matador.
Having become a US citizen in 2004, Pierce Brosnan said he would remain an Irish citizen, too. This is an accurate reflection of his current working life, where he operates as a Hollywood star and yet films in his homeland whenever he can. Sometimes, as with Laws Of Attraction, he combines the two, bringing Hollywood to Ireland. Yet his greatest fame, and his OBE, have come from playing the greatest Englishman who never lived. It's an amazing story - long may it continue.