WHEN I’M 64

Esquire (Malaysia) - - WHAT I'VE LEARNED - Pierce Bros­nan stars in the Uni­ver­sal film Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again which opens this sum­mer.

PIERCE BROS­NAN ISN’T DO­ING THE GAR­DEN, DIG­GING THE WEEDS OR OTHER AGE-AP­PRO­PRI­ATE THINGS. HE’S SAV­ING THE WORLD AND EN­JOY­ING IT.

SIXTY-FOUR, STILL SAV­ING THE WORLD EL­E­GANTLY.

Such is his art of “de­stroy­ing and re­build­ing… con­tin­u­ally de­vot­ing... From noth­ing to ev­ery­thing, from ev­ery­thing to noth­ing, only act­ing.”

“Look! Bond, James Bond!” He’s been spot­ted. In the lobby of the ho­tel in Austin, Texas, fif­teen years after ex­it­ing the role, Pierce Bros­nan is James Bond, pos­i­tively iden­ti­fied in the same ca­dence as he spoke the im­mor­tal line. We’re ac­tu­ally here to talk about the Net­flix spe­cial, The For­eigner, a screen adap­ta­tion of Stephen Leather’s 1992 novel, The Chi­na­man. Jackie Chan plays the restau­ra­teur whose daugh­ter is killed by an IRA bomb. But maybe we should get James Bond out of the way first.

Bros­nan hadn’t wanted to re­peat him­self. But to do four con­sec­u­tive Bond movies, you could be ex­pected to, he ad­mits. He was first sched­uled to au­di­tion for the part in 1986, but couldn’t make it. His de­but would come eight years later: as the 007 of the ten­u­ous post-cold war and pre-putin world or­der; the jaded spy would con­ceiv­ably be less im­pressed with him­self; less suave and rogu­ish fun as Her Majesty’s heroic se­cret ser­vice agent.

But James Bond, the multi­bil­lion-dol­lar Hol­ly­wood fran­chise, must per­form to mar­ket ex­pec­ta­tions (Ap­ple and Ama­zon are re­port­edly in­ter­ested in buy­ing). Thus the char­ac­ter must be com­fort­ingly fa­mil­iar. “Both Roger Moore and Sean Con­nery, the Bonds they played are like echoes, and I do not ex­clude their im­pact on me,” says Bros­nan. Char­ac­ters like Jason Bourne, hav­ing the ad­van­tage of be­ing con­ceived more re­cently, “raised the ante on the Bond se­ries,” he adds.

Bros­nan was born in County Meath, Ire­land. His fa­ther left the fam­ily when he was a boy, and he mostly lived with his grand­par­ents. When they passed on, he stayed with an un­cle, then an aunt, un­til he re­united with his mother when he was eleven. He would spend three years study­ing act­ing in South Lon­don, first at The Oval House The­atre (now Oval­house), then Drama Cen­tre Lon­don, ever feel­ing the out­sider. But when he landed in LA in 1982, aged 27, he seemed to have come home. As Rem­ing­ton Steele of the epony­mous TV se­ries, Bros­nan struck up a win­ningly watch­able chem­istry with Stephanie Zim­bal­ist, good-hu­mouredly prod­ding at the pol­i­tics of the male-fe­male re­la­tion­ship be­fore gen­der be­came an ar­ti­cle of faith for mil­len­ni­als.

He paints; his early ca­reer was as a com­mer­cial il­lus­tra­tor. His first ex­hi­bi­tion, in Paris, is sched­uled for this year. He’s gen­tle, straight­for­ward, hu­mor­ous, and sen­si­tive and de­mand­ing—he de­layed the shoot for some proper food, and is dis­tracted by the whis­pers of oth­ers drift­ing our way. A Mar­tini (shaken, not stirred) re­laxes him.

Hol­ly­wood is dis­con­cert­ing; its fame and mon­e­tary re­wards cor­re­late poorly with re­spect. There are the roles he takes on to chal­lenge him­self, such as in Ro­man Polan­ski’s The Ghost Writer (2010), in which he plays a for­mer Bri­tish prime min­is­ter who wants to com­plete his mem­oirs. Chanelling an al­ter­nate Tony Blair, he won Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tor at the Ir­ish Film and Tele­vi­sion Awards. He was nom­i­nated in the same cat­e­gory for his role as an age­ing hit­man on The Mata­dor (2005). More re­cent is last year’s The Only Liv­ing Boy in New York, play­ing op­po­site Kate Beck­in­sale, his mis­tress with whom his son starts an af­fair, and Jeff Bridges. He de­scribes it as a “post­card to New York,” and apol­o­gises to Esquire for his role in Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again: “I don’t sing that much so it will go okay.” He’s here in Austin to shoot the se­cond sea­son of The Son for AMC, about the fluc­tu­at­ing for­tunes of a Texas oil ty­coon.

A de­vout Catholic, Bros­nan plays Liam Hen­nessy in The For­eigner, whose char­ac­ter flies close to Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin, the po­lit­i­cal party sym­bi­otic with the Ir­ish Repub­li­can Army. He faces off with a man played by Jackie Chan. They have an ex­change: “Politi­cians and ter­ror­ists, they are just two ends of the same snake.” “There is a dif­fer­ence: one end bites and the other doesn’t.”

Esquire: Tell us about your char­ac­ter in The For­eigner. Pierce Bros­nan: I play Liam Hen­nessy. He’s the first min­is­ter of North­ern Ire­land. He’s a politi­cian; he’s a politi­cian with a past that is quite trou­bled and dark, and he’s a man who is try­ing to do the best he can in the times that he lives in, be­cause def­i­nitely there was blood on his hands, and he re­ally is be­gin­ning to un­ravel some­one when the cur­tain goes up in the film.

ESQ: I re­ally like the line com­par­ing ter­ror­ists and politi­cians. It’s like an ac­tion movie, with po­lit­i­cal el­e­ments. I’m cu­ri­ous about what drew you to this project. PB: Martin Camp­bell (di­rec­tor) did a great job. It’s an ac­tion movie with some mus­cle and in­tel­lect. Martin Camp­bell is a good friend. Martin Camp­bell and I, we did Golden Eye to­gether; my first James Bond movie, his first James Bond movie. Martin is ex­tremely ac­com­plished and bril­liant, and he’s a friend. Jackie Chan is who I adore, who I think is the most in­cred­i­ble ac­tor per­former, en­ter­tainer and hu­man be­ing. So those two in­gre­di­ents were won­der­ful, and then also you have the script and the story which I thought was very in­trigu­ing and ex­tremely well-ex­e­cuted by the writer.

So, that was it. You sit down to read the script, and it’s an of­fer and it’s in the com­pany of men like Martin Camp­bell, Jackie Chan, that I re­ally pay at­ten­tion. So you read very slowly, qui­etly, and then, do you want to turn the page? Do you want to turn the page? You want to turn the page. Does it en­gage you? Does it have emo­tional con­tent for you as an ac­tor? And when

A GOOD AC­TOR HAS TECH­NIQUE, HAS PAS­SION, HAS HEART AND IS COURA­GEOUS; AND TO BE FEAR­LESS, TO BE OPEN, TO BE VUL­NER­A­BLE, TO BE ABLE TO GO THROUGH THE FIRE WITH­OUT LOS­ING YOUR­SELF, WITH­OUT MESS­ING YOUR LIFE UP; AND TO MEET THE BEST PEO­PLE, TO WORK WITH THE BEST PEO­PLE; TO HAVE HU­MIL­ITY.

you get to the very end of it, do you want to go back and read it again? And will it sus­tain you for six weeks, even six months? And I ticked ev­ery box. So, it was easy to do.

ESQ: Did you know Jackie Chan be­fore you shot this movie? PB: No, we didn’t re­ally get to know each other, which I’m sad to say, it just didn’t hap­pen, be­cause when he was film­ing his char­ac­ter I was pur­su­ing my char­ac­ter. There were a few din­ners which were set up at the be­gin­ning of the film and they didn’t hap­pen. And once the movie starts then you know your time is not yours; it’s just work. And there was a lot of work, a lot of dia­logue, so you have to do your home­work. So you fin­ish work, and you go home qui­etly and learned lines. So if there is a chance, Jackie and I shall go rip the town up.

(In an in­ter­view with USA To­day, Bros­nan de­scribes Chan’s to­tal com­mit­ment to his char­ac­ter won­der­fully: “The days that we worked to­gether started with jovi­al­ity. And they ended in ab­so­lute an­guish and me­dieval vi­o­lence. Jackie has a won­der­ful sense of hu­mour. But once that bell went off, that was it.”)

ESQ: You’ve been an ac­tor for decades. How do you get started in act­ing, and are there any mo­ments that sparkle? What made you want to be an ac­tor? PB: The movies made me want to be an ac­tor. I grew up in Ire­land. I left Ire­land as a young man in 1964, came to Lon­don. I was an im­mi­grant, Ir­ish, try­ing to fit in, in Lon­don. I was good at art. I love art. I still paint, and my pass­port was a cob­bled folder of draw­ings and paint­ings. I got a job in a small stu­dio, draw­ing straight lines, straight lines, straight lines, mak­ing cups of tea, and wa­tered the spi­der plants. That was my job. And then, one day I was in the stu­dio talk­ing to a guy from the pho­to­graphic de­part­ment about movies and he said, you should come along to The Oval House, in south Lon­don. That was it. I be­came an ac­tor. That was the start of a story.

ESQ: What was your ear­li­est am­bi­tion, and what am­bi­tion do you still have? PB: My ear­li­est am­bi­tion was to be a good ac­tor. Once I found act­ing, to be a great ac­tor be­came my am­bi­tion; to be a mag­nif­i­cent, bril­liant and won­der­ful one. When I found act­ing, I did train; I went off to drama school. I did Reper­tory The­atre in Eng­land, West End, but I loved the movies. My am­bi­tions now are the same: just to be a bet­ter ac­tor, to cre­ate some­thing which is uniquely yours, try to be an un­ex­pected sur­prise ev­ery now and then, and to paint. I might have an ex­hibit next year in Paris. We are talk­ing about it. We found a space. And I al­ways say they can sing in Mamma Mia and I can show my paint­ings. Have fun, en­joy life.

ESQ: Are you closer to the ac­tor you’ve al­ways wanted to be? How do you de­fine a good ac­tor? PB: I think a good ac­tor has tech­nique, has pas­sion, has heart and is coura­geous; and to be fear­less, to be open, to be vul­ner­a­ble, to be able to go through the fire with­out los­ing your­self, with­out mess­ing your life up; and to meet the best peo­ple, to work with the best peo­ple; to have hu­mil­ity.

Above all else, to have some grat­i­tude for your gift, be­cause it’s a very strange art form, be­cause you’re deal­ing with your­self the whole time.

You’re con­stantly con­struct­ing and de­stroy­ing your­self some­what, peo­ple like Daniel Day-lewis and An­thony Hop­kins; or do some­thing like Jackie Chan, in that he com­mits whole-heart­edly, coura­geously. And what he does in The For­eigner is beau­ti­ful work. It’s very open and very vul­ner­a­ble and very con­tained all at the same time. So yes, it’s very hard to de­fine what a good ac­tor is but I think a good ac­tor con­nects with the au­di­ence, con­nects with the peo­ple, and that’s what you want to do: to turn peo­ple on.

ESQ: Do you have a par­tic­u­lar method or tech­nique you rely on most of the time to get im­mersed in the char­ac­ter? PB: Well, I was taught in the method. The school I went to was very heav­ily method-ori­en­tated. And the method al­ways fas­ci­nated me be­cause, when I found act­ing, Mar­lon Brando was a huge in­flu­ence on cam­era. Clint was a huge in­flu­ence; Clint East­wood, Steve Mcqueen. All these peo­ple who cre­ated this aura on screen. Rather in­tox­i­cat­ing. So I was told, as a method, to be vig­i­lant and to be de­tailed.

I wish I was, more of­ten.

Then you find your­self; you do your own role, and you de­fine your­self. So you read the script and you try to have an emo­tional con­nec­tion to each scene, each part of the story, and you read it and you read it, and you try to leave your­self alone, try to lis­ten. Yes, you can dream about what you set forth, and you do 100% of your­self to be that char­ac­ter, to the best of your abil­ity in the com­pany of hope­fully great­est ac­tors.

Sim­ple. Just, con­stant work. So, noth­ing comes from noth­ing.

ESQ: This is such a cul­ture touch­stone. You’re a four-time James Bond. How did you make this char­ac­ter con­sis­tent on-screen while not re­peat­ing your­self ? PB: Oh, I think I re­peated my­self. I think I was re­quired to re­peat my­self in some re­gards. When I played the part, it had been dom­i­nated for six years but no one re­ally felt like there was a need to go back to that James Bond. So the odds against Martin Camp­bell, and my­self, and the whole com­pany, the fam­ily, [pro­duc­ers] Bar­bara [Broc­coli] and Michael [G. Wil­son], were pretty stacked—not against us, but there was doubt. There was also con­se­quently a great ele­ment of fear and risk. I was brought up on the char­ac­ter played by Sean Con­nery, the char­ac­ter played by Roger Moore, and I’d seen Ti­mothy Dal­ton play it and so I knew that what was re­quired of me and tried to ad­dress those is­sues ac­cord­ingly. So my Bond was in­flu­enced by Roger Moore, and by Sean Con­nery.

ESQ: How have your feel­ings to­wards the char­ac­ter evolved over the years? PB: Oh I adore the char­ac­ter. I have noth­ing but grat­i­tude for the char­ac­ter of James Bond. It has al­lowed me to cre­ate my own com­pany, Ir­ish Dream­time, to make movies like The Thomas Crown Af­fair and The Mata­dor; ev­ery­thing.

I knew that at some point the cur­tain would fall and then you will be stamped and branded as James Bond for­ever. You knew that go­ing in the door: if you get it right, and you want to get it right—ev­ery man who’s played the role has got it right in their own way. So yes, you just cel­e­brated it.

I know that Daniel [Craig] was very ner­vous when he was tak­ing over, and he and I sat on a few oc­ca­sions and he spoke of his ap­pre­hen­sion—be­cause it’s a huge un­der­tak­ing. But he com­mit­ted in the most in­cred­i­ble fash­ion and made the most mag­nif­i­cent James Bond. So you di­gest all of that, you sit with all of that, then you go play … James Bond was a sig­nif­i­cant small chap­ter of my life, a decade of my life, but it’s the gift that keeps giv­ing.

ESQ: So could you speak to the James Bond se­ries’ in­flu­ence on movies and even on pop cul­ture at large? PB: Oh, Bond has in­flu­enced many gen­er­a­tions of film­mak­ers. It’s one of the most in­deli­ble and po­tent char­ac­ters in the cin­ema; what the Broc­co­lis

have is some­thing uniquely theirs and [worth] know­ing about. No one else has such a prod­uct, such a beloved char­ac­ter [that] will be played for many decades to come. There will be other men wait­ing in the wings to play this role. I wish I could be more elo­quent about it; I am one of five men who have played the role now, and peo­ple love James Bond, and there are many de­trac­tors. When I saw Bourne Iden­tity, I thought, oh this is good, this is re­ally good: Paul Green­grass, Matt Da­mon, just the whole vi­brancy, ki­netic value of it, was quite ex­hil­a­rat­ing. That upped the ante for the James Bond fran­chise.

ESQ: Based on how au­di­ences have changed, do you see dif­fer­ent choices, for you, be­ing made about what to pro­duce now? PB: I live such a sim­ple life as an ac­tor, as a man, as a fa­ther. I used to know what was hap­pen­ing and who was run­ning the stu­dios. It has metas­ta­sized now into a so­ci­ety of film­mak­ers that it’s very hard to keep an eye on ev­ery­thing. I just go from project to project. I do pieces that sus­tain me, that have come to me or­gan­i­cally. I try not to se­cond-guess.

It’s an ex­hil­a­rat­ing for young film­mak­ers and writ­ers now. You have the world at your fin­ger­tips with an iphone. Has it changed? Of course, it’s changed. The cine­mas are clos­ing down one after another. The stu­dios made mas­sive tent­pole movies and the need for smaller sto­ries is al­ways nec­es­sary.

ESQ: TV was very much a step down from movies but now, it’s flipped. Is there any­thing you’re able to put on TV that you couldn’t be­fore? PB: The TV world is very fer­tile now, very po­tent. Cin­ema has di­min­ished a lit­tle bit, be­cause peo­ple have ac­cess to movies in their own homes. I had for the last num­ber of years wanted to do a TV se­ries with my late part­ner, Marie [Beau Marie St Clair]. She and I had been ac­tively look­ing, and then The Son came out of nowhere, re­ally, and that’s how I’m here in Austin, Texas. This is a se­cond sea­son of The Son. It’s re­ally well-writ­ten; beau­ti­ful cast of young ac­tors, and the char­ac­ter is very timely for me. There’s a man of cer­tain years in life able to play this char­ac­ter: the colonel and baguettes work.

Keep it as sim­ple as pos­si­ble; the ego can pull you in many dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions. And I love TV. I started on the stage, and then TV, but al­ways dreamt of the movies. If you are a good ac­tor, a hard-work­ing ac­tor, you should do any­thing. At least, pre­tend to.

ESQ: Ac­tu­ally, you’re also a pro­ducer, an anti-war ac­tivist and an en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivist. What do you think of the role of pol­i­tics in peo­ple’s daily lives, es­pe­cially right now? PB: In Amer­ica, every­body has to be ac­tively con­nected to the com­mu­nity, pretty much. So ev­ery­thing starts in the com­mu­nity. Ev­ery­thing starts with the fam­ily; ev­ery­thing starts in the home. So if you love your fam­ily, you love your chil­dren and you want the best ed­u­ca­tion for them, you want the best en­vi­ron­ment for them to grow up in, then you bet­ter pay at­ten­tion to the politi­cians who run your com­mu­nity and then you need to speak out. In Amer­ica now, there’s a definite im­bal­ance within the coun­try that comes with a south­ern heartache. Amer­ica is my adopted coun­try. I’m an Ir­ish­man, but I’ve lived here in Amer­ica now for 35 years and I am an Amer­i­can cit­i­zen. Wife, chil­dren. Ev­ery­thing can be politi­cised.

I grew up in the coun­try­side and what I see hap­pen­ing to our rivers and oceans and the de­for­esta­tion of the land is re­ally heart­break­ing. If you’re pas­sion­ate about liv­ing a good life for your­self and for your chil­dren then you have to be ed­u­cated [about] who’s tak­ing care of your life. And that starts in your own com­mu­nity.

ESQ: Do you think the movie in­dus­try should try to com­ment on the present po­lit­i­cal cli­mate, or in gen­eral, do you see movies as a chance to make any po­lit­i­cal state­ments? PB: I think you can do all of the above. I think it is to ul­ti­mately to en­ter­tain and to en­rich peo­ple’s lives and to hold up some kind of mir­ror to their lives, so they can have an iden­ti­fi­ca­tion in a pos­i­tive way. Yes, of course, you can. How­ever, some­times you can be cen­sored so badly by the ones that are tak­ing care of you [who are] in a po­si­tion of power. Artists are al­ways the first to be cen­sored, made aware of their po­si­tion in so­ci­ety. But it is up to artists also to break through that cen­sor­ship and say, this is how we see it.

ESQ: You’ve been in Hol­ly­wood for a long time. What do you think of the di­ver­sity prob­lems or are there any other prob­lems you think should be put in pri­or­ity that we should try to solve? PB: Bet­ter iden­tify with each other’s cul­tures for sure, and em­brace the cul­tures we have. And be­cause we are mul­ti­ply­ing at a colos­sal rate glob­ally, it’s heart­break­ing to see so many in­di­vid­u­als and peo­ple who are try­ing to make a life for them­selves be crip­pled by the pol­i­tics.

SO YOU READ THE SCRIPT AND YOU TRY TO HAVE AN EMO­TIONAL CON­NEC­TION TO EACH SCENE, EACH PART OF THE STORY, AND YOU READ IT AND YOU READ IT, AND YOU TRY TO LEAVE YOUR­SELF ALONE, TRY TO LIS­TEN.

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