Suave, sophisticated and almost absurdly handsome, Pierce Brosnan has been making ladies' hearts quiver since his very first film role in The Long Good Friday back in 1980. In celebration of his latest movie, the genuinely delightful Danish romance Love Is All You Need (out this weekend), the man known by Adam And Joe aficionados as Bron-Homme guides us through some select moments of his career, with an extra bonus titbit at the end for any Breaking Bad fans out there...
Did you realise when you were shooting the final scene of The Long Good Friday just what a moment it was?
No, not at all. I didn’t even know what the movie was, to tell you the truth, because I never read the script. It was my first movie offer and my agent just said I should show up somewhere in Tottenham at the crack of dawn. I rocked up and [director] John McKenzie said, “Okay, great. You pick him up. You give him a look. You stab him.” Daragh O’Malley and I showed up like two good Irishmen and make a bomb or we’d kill some people. I had really no idea what was going on – I was so pleased with the gig. I was in the movies, and I was a huge fan of Bob Hoskins and Helen Mirren – that was it really.
We did that scene at The Savoy. I got to work around 5 o’clock in the evening and I thought, “God, I really want to drive the car. If I’m driving the car I’m going to look so cool. I’m going to look like Steve McQueen. I’m going to be looking in the mirror, giving my best pose…” Then John McKenzie said, “Right, you’re in the front passenger seat. Hide behind the chair and then pop up.” I thought, “Fuck it. I don’t want to be doing that. I want to be driving the car looking cool.” Little did I know…
John McKenzie drove the car and I sat beside him while [cinematographer] Phil Meheux was in the back seat with the camera. Bob Hoskins was a piece of white tape on a box. We drove down The Strand and McKenzie called action. “Okay,” he said, “You come up now. You've got him. You've got the mother. You look at him.” And he talked me through the scene and I stared at this piece of white tape. Actually, you can get away with so much on a film, then sometimes not a lot… It really is a classic film.
And what a brilliant soundtrack! When Bob Hoskins is in Heathrow and the saxophones are raving out, you just get chicken skin, you really do.
Are you aware your line from Taffin – “Then maybe you shouldn’t be living here!” – is an in-joke amongst Adam & Joe radio show fans?
No, I didn’t know that. This is the first I’ve heard about becoming part of this… mythology, but there you go. Great. Wonderful. I really do have to look at the film again – I haven’t seen it since I made it all those years ago. I can’t even remember when I said it or how I said it. And they call me “Bron-Hom?” I love it! I’ve had worse nicknames, that’s for sure.
You were cast as a scientist in The Lawnmower Man. Did you think this was going to become a recurring theme in your career? Obviously it comes back again with Mars Attacks!...
It’s typecasting I suppose. I had no idea about the world of virtual reality – I didn’t know what the hell [director] Brett Leonard was talking about. I needed a job. I had to pay the rent that month. This gig came in. Leonard was this crazy dude: six foot four, hair all the way down his back, brilliantly funny and charismatic… he created this fantastic world which has, now, in the 21st century, finally come to fruition.
It has a certain relevance within our society today. The interconnectedness of us all. The whole virtual world that we inhabit now. It was ahead of its time. All the phones are ringing. That’s the last line of that movie, when you see the old Bakelite phones sitting there. The cinematography on that is really cool... I did watch it a year or so ago with my sons and it really holds up because of the cinematography and also because of the storytelling.
How do you go about sharing the screen with Robin Williams?
It’s like trying to play the kazoo with Duke Ellington. I wish I could say that was my line but it’s not – it’s Robin bloody Williams’. I read it this morning in the New York Times in his tribute to [much-loved comedian and Mork & Mindy co-star] Jonathan Winters. I just let Robin Williams have his time. All you can do is just try and react to him and try and stay in the moment. You say your line as sincerely as possible and hope for the best that he’ll stick to the script. It’s a classic film and one I’m very proud of.
Was there a problem with corpsing?
Yeah. There was a lot of that – that’s part of the joy of working with the man. The shrimp scene at the end of the movie has become quite a classic, so I’m told. Then there was standing on top of a diving board at 7am with 400 extras staring at you, you’re 35ft up in the air and you’re meant to do a beautiful swan dive. You go out and lift your arms up and they shout “Cut!” and you have to crawl your way back along the board. It’s not a groovy feeling.
Did you ever pinch yourself when you were in that tank? Did you ever think, “Is this really happening?”
Completely. Absolutely. It’s a strange world to enter into because it was a world I never wished for or desired. It just came my way and it seemed like a golden opportunity to go do it. Then it disappeared. As far as I was concerned, it was never to be part of my life again. You have the responsibility to this character and it’s daunting, it’s overwhelming, it’s completely exhilarating.
Being in that tank really was a pinch yourself moment. You live through many of those on each film. You’re playing this iconic character that you know will be seen by just about everyone on the planet – everyone knows who the man is and what his job is. You just hope you get right and you hope you save the world. I went on to do it four times and I seemed to get away with it. I had nothing but the greatest gratitude for my time playing him: the joy of it all was making the movies. The joy of it was reading the script and thinking, “How do I fit into this, how am I going to pull this off?” Then going to work and being bedazzled by the artistry of the stunts, the sets, the whole tableau.
*We recently interviewed [Jonathan Pryce for the Empire Podcast](http://www.empireonline.com/news/feed.asp?NID=36975) and he mentioned that the script for Tomorrow Never Dies was a changeable one… *
It was absolutely harem scarem, that script. There were fires being lit every which way, you didn’t know where to turn. It really was a mad caper. It started for me on the very first day with the temperature way above 100ºF and into the stratosphere, but we had to start. I was being strangled in the cockpit of a plane, I think… I still don’t know what the movie’s about. I honestly couldn’t tell you.
I remember Jonathan being his acerbic self and that was very entertaining. That did me no favours when I was standing there trying to give my best Bond impersonation. It was just hopelessly insane at times. Thank God for Michelle Yeoh. She has remained a great friend. A very impressive lady.
Was it your idea in Mars Attacks! to act with a lit pipe in your mouth throughout?
Yes indeed. It’s something which comes out of repertory theatre: when in doubt, have a prop. It’s completely silly but that’s the world of Tim Burton for you. He’s a unique player on the stage... there’s no one like that man. It was a joy to do it. I remember the first day of filming so well, when we were in the White House, in the Oval Office. Mr. Jack Nicholson – the big man – was there and the first shot was on him. So he looks at us all. We’re all sitting there. There are eight actors, eight fairly well-established actors, sitting there, staring at him. Suddenly, Jack said, “God damn, it’s getting hot in here.” He was so open and honest. Everyone gets nerves. It’s the joy of it. You see somebody challenged. But he was so gracious and so cool and so… Jack.
I was speechless that morning, working with him. I was having a cup of coffee by the bagels, desperately trying to remember my damn lines. Suddenly I look up and it’s Jack. “Hey Pierce,” he says. I keep stirring my coffee. Jack Nicholson is talking to me and I’m dumbstruck. Inside my head, I’m yelling at myself: “Jesus, just shake the man’s hand.” I couldn’t move. I was immobilised by the Jack-ness of it all.
Were you aware that the sex scene in The Thomas Crown Affair would go on for so long?
No. It’s a little like in Ben-Hur it must’ve just said “Chariot Race”. For The Thomas Crown Affair, it just said “Love Scene”. I didn’t know it was going to go on so long... [director John] McTiernan was being brilliantly provocative and sexy. We found each other at the right time with that movie. I’d actually done his first film called Nomads. We struck up a relationship and then many years later I came round with this script. I went to him and he said yes.
Then you end up with a lovely piece of alchemy like that, as dangerous as it was trying to enter into the world of Steve McQueen. How do you act the king of cool? I was so damn nervous before that movie came out in New York. I remember having panic attacks in taxis and thinking, “Jesus Christ, what have we done?” I came out in hives or something. I couldn’t breathe. It was terrifying.
When you moved away from Bond, you took a spy role in The Tailor Of Panama, but one with a very different tone…
For me, the Bond that I played was caught in a time warp between what had gone before and what Daniel does now. I always felt the restraints of the storytelling and it just didn’t have enough bite to it. It was in the writing. The ghosts of Sean and Roger were there for me. It was hard to pull away from that because they were written in such a vernacular of what had gone on prior.
The Tailor Of Panama just seemed right. I loved John Boorman and his work was so captivating. I thought, “Why not shake it up here? Why not play in the same vain, the same idiom, so to speak, of storytelling, juxtaposed alongside playing James Bond?"
There’s a scene in The Matador with you wearing nothing but ankle high boots, black pants and a ‘tache. Was that in the script or was it a spur of the moment thing on set? Were you prepared for that?
I was prepared for it in the sense that I produced the movie and had a hand in crafting the storyline, also filleting out some of it which was just completely over the top. That scene was already there, and it survived the cuts.
We lived in that Mexico hotel so everybody knew me in the lobby as “zero-zero-siete”. Then one day they saw the cameras. It was a long dolly shot and I stood behind a screen in my knickers. The boots came from Catherine [Marie Thomas], the wardrobe designer. When she talked to me the first time round she said, “So, what do you see the character wearing?” I said, “Kick-ass cowboy boots, please.” She found these Italian, tall, pointy, almost clown-like shoes. When I stood in my dressing room in my knickers and boots it just looked so crazy stupid. This guy is out of his brains on drugs and booze and uppers and downers and killing people and… “Let’s go for a swim.” It seemed to make sense. My producing partner Beau St. Clair said, “You don’t have to do this.” I said, “Beau, listen, we’ve come so far. If not now, when? Come on. Let’s just do it.”
The Matador was underappreciated, I feel. The people who put it out there never really got behind it. It’s such a shame, but it does happen. I remember that season the studio had other films they were working harder on promoting and I thought, “You gotta be kidding! You gotta be kidding to not be paying attention to this one!” They just didn’t. But there you go.
Had you worked with Liam Neeson before Seraphim Falls?
No, but we had known each other. We always had nice encounters along the way. I’d always wanted to a western. He had as well. That’s the way it happened.
You’ve got one hell of a moustache in that film. It’s got good twiddle.
I grow good twiddle. “He was known for his twiddling.”
Did you have any idea just how huge Mamma Mia! would be?
None. None whatsoever. I thought it would find an audience, of course – I knew it had an audience and a very strong following before I signed up. I had experienced the mightiness of ABBA in their day, but never did I know or believe that it would be such a monster hit.
It was criminal how much fun we had on that film. Once you got over the agony of singing and the sheer fear of opening your mouth to sing something like S.O.S., the rest was all gravy. It was just the company of Meryl. Meryl led the way. She was just a joy to behold each and every day in her love of the piece and her own courage getting out there and singing. We became a company. [Director] Phyllida Lloyd was very wise in having us all go to Pinewood Studios each and every day.
That was one of the surprises too. I said yes to this gig. I thought, “Fantastic. This will be great.” Then, of course, I end up going to work on the first day and realise I’m going back to Pinewood Studios. I felt, “Oh Jesus Christ, this could be interesting.” I went through the gates at Pinewood and I prayed they didn’t give me my old dressing room. They said I’d be in the Stanley Kubrick wing instead. “Thank God for that!”, I thought. So they gave me this beautiful dressing room, and I went in and pulled the curtains back and… there was the 007 soundstage right outside. 007 was back all over again.
Watching Love Is All You Need, there’s a feeling that everyone involved really enjoying themselves, really loving their work.
Oh, completely. Mamma Mia! and Love Is All You Need are like bookends on the bookshelf really. They play in the same heart and they have the same look and style in some respects.
There’s a certain alchemy that happens on films and it certainly happened on Love Is All You Need. It started with the script, with [director] Susanne Bier and her company of actors, and I was somehow embraced – me, an Irishman – in the company of these great Danish players. It was just a real joy to go to work each day and tell the story. It had heart and it had meaning. Everybody could identify with the yearnings of these people: the infidelities of the husband; the son who doesn’t known his own sexuality, the young couple getting married… then, front and centre, a woman fighting for her life with breast cancer and a man who’s closed down emotionally because of his own loss and trauma. That in a setting like Sorrento is just a joy.
Also it’s not every day you get to play a fruit and veg magnate. It’s not your typical Pierce Brosnan role…
I used to run a fruit and veg stall, actually. I used to have one down in Raynes Park. There was a guy that I worked for and he’d bring in all the produce and I’d put out all the bananas. The backwards bananas in the front. And the spuds. That’s how I fed the family, actually!
— Aaron Paul (@aaronpaul_8) October 8, 2012
Last year, we saw a picture on Twitter of you and Aaron Paul at a Radiohead gig. Are you a Breaking Bad fan?
I am. I wish I was a complete connoisseur of it, but I don’t watch much TV. I got through the first season before working with Aaron, but then I left it in the company of my family who just devoured it…
Aaron and I are doing a film coming out later this year called A Long Way Down, a Nick Hornby story. It’s a quartet of players: Toni Collete, Imogen Poots, Aaron and yours truly. We’d all bought tickets. We’re all big Radiohead fans. Aaron took a photo and it just went viral big time.
I call that my "Evil Face". My 29-year-old son does the same face, actually – he’s an actor too. When I first saw him do it I thought, "Shit, that’s the stuff that I do. That’s one of my poses."