As befits a former Bond, Pierce Brosnan speaks to me from under a palm tree. “Under my beautiful palm trees on the North Shore of Hawaii,” he explains with quiet appreciation, before asking me how everyone “got home.” He was in Ireland over the summer filming a movie in Belfast and will soon return to star in the adaptation of Niall Williams’ bestseller Four Love Letters.
First, though, there’s Black Adam, Brosnan’s first foray into the bright and daring world of superheroes and part of the DC Extended Universe. “Over the years, I’ve often watched these movies,” he says, “whether it’s Doctor Strange or The Avengers, and I’ve wondered who I would play in a superhero movie, or even be offered a role at all.” Then one day my agent called and said, “You’ve been offered the role of Dr. Fate.” I read it and thought, “Why not?”
Black Adam stars Dwayne Johnson as an ancient Egyptian warrior who bursts into modern times and begins his slow journey from villain to hero. “Doctor Fate is one of the oldest characters in the DC Comics universe,” Brosnan explains. “I think it goes back about 80 years. This is the first time he has appeared on screen, so it was an honor and a pleasure to join this company of actors and work with Jaume Calle-Serro and Dwayne.”
His character is, in general, a “good guy.” “I think he was partly inspired by the archaeologist Howard Carter, so, you know, I did some research and read some comics, and then I started trying to imagine myself as this person who is chained to this helmet and has the curse of it. He is the guardian of this powerful artifact that predicts the future and possesses great power. I thought, ‘Who are some people alive today?’, and one of them is David Attenborough. I started thinking about Dr. Faith’s voice and character, and David’s voice resonated with me, and so the journey began.”
Sailing into the high-tech world of superhero movies, Brosnan had to don one of those tight motion-capture suits. “It was a challenge,” he says, laughing. “It takes a strong person to stand in front of 200 people in a motion capture suit that’s very tight.”
Not flattering? “Well, it depends on how you wear it, Paul, and having a good knowledge of the theater, I laid it out in court. And you know, I didn’t have to deal with the wire [his co-star] Aldis Hodge did, but I had to wear cap suits and I got away with it. Grace under pressure and all that.’
Johnson, he said, is a man who enjoys the moment. “I had never met him before and we spent a few days together here and there on a film. He is very friendly and charming. He’s on top of the world with his career and his life, and he’s making the most of it.”
The finished film, he says, is “big, bold; it’s a great ride and Dwayne has a great presence on it.”
Brosnan turns 70 next year, but he seems to be busier than ever. Resignation, mind you, is not a word to throw around.
“No. I think it was Michael Caine who said that actors don’t retire, the phone just stops ringing. I’m 69 and I have nothing but gratitude to be lucky enough to still be making movies and enjoying the company of actors. I don’t know what else to do. And you know, there are four movies at the moment. There’s Black Adam, there’s Rogues, Fast Charlie, The Last Shooter.
“I love my painting and my art, but I still really love the world of acting and performing, and that’s why you keep doing it.”
Brosnan rekindled his passion for painting in the late 1980s, after his first wife, Cassandra Harris, was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, which eventually killed her. It became a constant pastime, and in 2018 a portrait of Bob Dylan by him sold for €1.2 million at a charity auction.
When you talk to Brosnan, you’re struck by how Irish he sounds and sounds. This is remarkable considering that he was 11 years old when he left Navan for Scotland, where his mother settled. He spent his teenage years in London and emigrated to the US before he turned 30, but the gentle but strong spirit remains, and Brosnan said: “My Irishness is in everything I do.”
Brosnan was still a child when his father, Tom Brosnan, a carpenter in Kerry, abandoned him and his mother. When he was four, his mother, May, moved to the UK to work as a nurse, and he was mainly raised by his maternal grandparents.
From the de la Salle brothers, young Brosnan received a good school education, which was considered an education in Ireland in the 1950s and 1960s. “They were a motley crew of comrades,” he recalls. “Oh, they were terrible. Not all, but those who were mutilated were severely mutilated.’
When he moved to England, most of his classmates nicknamed him “Irish”, which made him feel like an outsider and perhaps explains his decision to double his nationality. After school, he studied commercial illustration at St Martin’s School of Art in London, but always dreamed of working in film.
He fell in love with acting while attending workshops at the Oval in Lambeth and later studied at the Drama Centre. His first real break came when Tennessee Williams cast him in a London production of his play The Sign of the Red Devil’s Battery. His first film was The Long Good Friday, a gangster classic set in London.
“I remember I was working in the theater – I was in the West End doing a stage show called Philomena with Franco Zeffirelli – when I got the call about Good Friday. They said, “Appear at Tooting Beck Baths.” You IRA the number one killer.” That’s what Darr O’Malley and I did. He was the number two killer. I think we were interchangeable, really.”
In his brief but powerful film debut, Brosnan grabbed attention playing the dark and tanned terrorist nemesis, East End mobster Harold, who pays the price for messing with the IRA. I recently saw the movie and told Brosnan that he was very convincing.
“Well, here,” he says, “fresh and ready to give himself up for acting.” You know that last scene in the movie where Bob Hoskins gets into the car and the boys grab him? Well, I remember very well the night we shot it. We came to work around five o’clock in the afternoon at the Savoy Hotel. John McKenzie was the director, Phil Mehoe was the cinematographer, and it was that car scene. I really, really wanted to drive the car because I thought it would look so cool – I thought I’d look like Steve McQueen – and Mackenzie said, “You’re in the lead” and I was like, “What?” And he said, “Get in there.” I had to hide under the passenger seat. Phil Mehoe was on camera in the back. Bob Hoskins wasn’t there – he was just a piece of white tape on the camera – and so John Mackenzie was driving down the Strand about four o’clock in the morning, and he told me about the scene and said, Stay, stay, stay, and just go up and there you go. Here are the movies. I had no idea it would become such a cult film.”
By the early 1980s, Brosnan was busy acting, and in 1982 he moved to California after being cast in the TV show Remington Steele, a light-hearted caper starring Stephanie Zimbalist as a private woman who hires a male confidant to be is taken seriously. It ran for five seasons and became a ratings hit, but even then people were talking about Brosnan being the next Bond.
Brosnan first met legendary producer Cabby Broccoli on the set of the 1981 Bond film For Your Eyes Only, in which Harris starred. “If he can act,” Broccoli allegedly said, “he’s my guy.”
For various reasons, Brosnan’s opportunity would not appear until the mid-1990s. Did he have any reservations about accepting the role of Bond when it was finally offered to him, given how life-changing it was?
“Oh no,” he says. “This feeling was in my destiny. You know, Remington Steele was a great luck in my life, because I came to America in 1982 because I loved the theater, but I always wanted to make movies. And Remington had a life of its own, and then the concept of Bond came along, and of course my late wife was Lady Bond, and that’s when we met, and we always joked that I was Bond, and then, lo and behold, I was offered it , and, you know, it’s well documented that I couldn’t do that—I couldn’t get out of my contract with Remington Steele.
“Thus, for six years, he was inactive. Tim [Timothy Dalton] was a great Bond and, you know, if Tim had had a director like I had, Martin Campbell, I wouldn’t have been there. Everything has its own destiny and destiny, I think, and I was ready for it when he came into my life. I was a little older, I still had a few years left. It was a wonderful opportunity and it’s still the gift that keeps on giving. It allowed me to start my own company, Irish DreamTime, to produce films and still have a desk.”
Although his main home is in Hawaii, Brosnan likes to come to Ireland.
“There was a time when I was going back and forth a lot, then it stopped for a while. But as I said, I was just in Belfast. We had a great time there filming The Last Shooter with Terry Lawn and now we’re off to Connemara to film Four Love Letters. I’m really looking forward to it.
“My wife Kiley and I are going to go back and we’ll hopefully get to Kerry because there’s a whole section of my family there that I haven’t met for one reason or another.”
Is it on the father’s side?
“Yes, Tom Brosnan, so I’m going to try and go over there to Kerry to see those people who fill the big gaps in life. It will be a good pilgrimage.’
Black Adam is released on Friday