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Pierce Brosnan, Back in Bondage

The actor returns as 007 in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH.

By Steve Biodrowski     November 15, 1999

I always knew Pierce Brosnan could play James Bond. Back in the '80s, when his name was first mentioned in connection with the role, there was some grumbling from the hardcore 007 fans who were worried that they would be getting another Roger Moore, with a cool, tongue-in-cheek interpretation of the role. You can't really blame people for this fear, but it was based on the assumption that Brosnan's take on Bond would be the same as his take on REMINGTON STEELE. But when THE FOURTH PROTOCOL came out, anyone paying attention should have been able to see that Brosnan is capable of putting aside the sophisticated Cary Grant routine; his performance as the KGB assassin had a serious, lethal edge that was clearly appropriate for playing the British secret service agent with the '00' license to kill.

Surprisingly, Brosnan expresses no regrets over the circumstances that prevented him from taking over the role at that time. 'No, I think someone was watching over me with respect to doing it back in '86,' he declares. 'If you saw photographs of me in 1986--I have seen photographs; I've got photographs of me with the late Cubby Broccoli, signing the contracts, standing outside the soundstage with his Rolls Royce--I look like something out of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER. I mean...it's Remington Steele. That script sat beside my bed for all the negotiations of what ultimately became THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS. So I was lucky that I didn't do it then, very lucky.'

Of course, the actor was very disappointed when the renewal of REMINGTON STEELE created a scheduling conflict that allowed Timothy Dalton to step in, because at that time Brosnan had no idea that the opportunity would ever role around again. This has led to some media depictions that he felt as if he had lost out on a role he had long coveted, but had he really always pictured himself as playing 007? 'No, I didn't,' he says today. 'I read, and have read, that it was my life ambition to play this role, and I dreamt of playing this role--which is complete untruth. I grew up watching the Bond movies, and they certainly sparked my interest in cinema at the age of ten when I saw GOLDFINGER. But I never wanted to be Bond or dreamt about being Bond. It wasn't until I was doing REMINGTON STEELE that these kind of mutterings and whitterings were going on about me being Bond, because my late wife had done a Bond movie and because we knew the Broccoli family. You already know the history of that from '86. But I guess he and I were just meant to meet on the stage: destiny, destiny, destiny. There was no getting away from it. And I enjoy playing the role enormously.'

Brosnan helped breathe new life into a franchise that had lain dormant for six years, since the box office disappointment of LICENCE TO KILL. The Bond films had gone through a phase of self-parody during Roger Moore's tenure, and the attempt to return to a more serious tone with Timothy Dalton had fallen flat due to a reluctance to completely abandon the over-the-top antics for which the series had become known. (For instance, the stunt-and-effects-packed chase scene near the end of LICENCE is an impressive piece of action-choreography when taken out of context, but within the film it detracts from the dramatic core of the story, which is about the personal conflict between Bond and his antagonist, the drug lord Sanchez.) With Brosnan in the role, the '90s films have struggled hard to maintain the proper balance between witty one-liners and action-packed violence, harkening back to the glory days of Sean Connery.

Says Brosnan of his predecessor, 'Well, going into the ring, it's about taking the belt. Connery's got the belt; I want the belt. It's as simple as that. It's a game; the whole bloody thing's a game. You go in knowing that there's only one man in the ring. There's that analogy, which is kind of dramatic and makes for good copy, but there's also just one's own self esteem and respect for the character, respect for the millions of people who loved the character. Doing GOLDENEYE was huge. The tension was there from Day One when I put the phone down after my agents said, 'You've got the job,' right through to finishing the press junket. And Connery was the Man. He was Bond; he was the one I grew up on. You have this kind of thing of wanting to take the belt, but you also have to find your own path with it and not get too blind-sided by the competition and someone else's performance.'

Continuing somewhat in the direction of Timothy Dalton, Brosnan has moved away from playing Bond as the tongue-in-cheek caricature of Roger Moore. 'For me, he is a human being,' says the actor. 'To come into the role the first time round, it had such a mighty mythology to it. How do you make it real for yourself; how do you find your [own way]? Because what Fleming put down on paper and what Connery did in the beginning are two different things, really; there's two different men. So you have to find the man for yourself. You pose the questions to yourself, 'What if I were this man?' He's highly trained, respected, solitary. A survivalist. Doesn't simply like trying to kill anybody, but kills. Is always looking over his shoulder. Drinks too much. Did smoke too much at one time but has given up--I think he has a quiet cigarette behind the set. For me, it was just trying to make him human, and that's a dangerous thing to do with any kind of fantasy-figure character. We did it more this time than the last two movies.'

Part of humanizing Bond in the new movie results from twisting familiar situations in unexpected ways: violating the sanctity of MI6 headquarters with an explosive attack, placing the character of M into unfamiliar situations, including mortal jeopardy. This allows 007 to show a little more concern for the character, instead of just the usual respectful banter laced with wit. 'Yes, he does love this woman,' says Brosnan of Bond's boss. 'Yeah, she's a Bond babe--she is THE Bond babe. So there is a great love and respect, and I wanted to see more of that. Michael Apted, who is a very adept director and has a fine ear for dialogue and storytelling, [wanted to explore] what is the relationship between Bond and M, to put us in a situation where they could actually feel something for each other. You see something behind the mask of the charade they might play.'

This is in keeping with one element that Brosnan has emphasized in order to distinguish his characterization: a more obvious compassion for the women in the Bond films. This was on view in TOMORROW NEVER DIES vis-à-vis Teri Hatcher, suggesting a certain vulnerability not always apparent. 'I cannot do, nor do I want to do, what Connery did,' he says. 'Nor do I wish to do that kind of character who smacks women around and smacks them in the mouth. I mean, he could do it, and he has done it: with Famke Janssen in GOLDENEYE, he gives her a ding in the jaw, but then she deserves it.'

Brosnan is perhaps being a bit disingenuous here, considering what happens in THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH: Bond's compassion re-emerges, even more pronounced, in regards to Sophie Marceau, but it turns out to be misplaced. 'In the context of this film, he is so conflicted and torn by what has happened, and he is also very seduced by this woman,' he says of showing Bond's fallibility, 'and I think there's nothing wrong in letting that seduction happen within the film. It adds to the drama.' Yes, it does, but it also creates a situation wherein Bond ends up giving a woman more than just a ding in the jaw.

This is all part of a move toward pushing Bond into a morally gray area. As in GOLDENEYE, the villain of THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH is a former friend or ally turned hostile because of past mistreatment. In this new film, however, Bond himself is at least somewhat implicated in the moral malfeasance. 'That is good,' says Brosnan. 'We talked in that direction, Michael Apted and I. Bruce Fierstein, who has penned all the ones that I've been in, has always talked in that gray area of ambiguity from the beginning. I think GOLDENEYE had it in miniscule amounts, maybe in one particular sequence on the beach with Izabella Scorupco. The second film, I think they wanted to be so bigger and bolder and brasher than the first that it was just wall-to-wall action. But this time around they allowed us to have story, to have character-to have interaction of character and subtext of character, and subtleties. So you have this incredible heroic character, but there is that gray area--an elliptical side to him--and that's what intrigues me: how far you can push that and how far you can go with that, without pulling it all down.

'When you dig into the dark side of this character, that's when it gets really interesting--dealing especially with the killings, his license to kill, what really goes on in his head when the door closes in Hamburg or Helsinki or wherever he is in the world-the quiet moment,' Brosnan continues. 'Michael Apted [is] not maybe an obvious choice for a big action movie, but I think at day's end will be viewed as a man who brought it around in a different way. Certainly for me he did, because of his intelligence and storytelling and his own wry sense of humor. He was wise enough to let the boys who handle all the stunts and special effects get on with their job. People have talked about Michael coming back. I haven't even talked about whether he would want to do another one or not. It would be wonderful to work with him again. It would be wonderful using this as a platform to push the fourth Bond out into an area that is not radical but following the train of thought that we've got right now with the character.'

Making the rather safe assumption that WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH will be successful enough to justify a fourth turn by Brosnan as Bond, what would the actor like to extract from the character? 'I'd like to see the quietness of him,' the actor reveals. 'I'd like to see him just alone on the stage there-how it all affects him, the mission, the killing of someone. We see a little bit in this, but he's so heroic and always gets the job done; he always has the gadget at hand. But what happens when he doesn't have the gadget at hand? What happens when it goes wrong? What happens when it's the betrayal that he deals with in his life the whole time?

'I think we've kind of got the foundation to do a fourth and maybe a fifth,' he continues, referring to events in WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH that point in the direction he would like to go: 'Because of his guilt, he lends himself to a particular woman, and then how foolish could he be to let it get out of hand so far?' He adds that he would like to extend the character by 'taking all of those sequences one step further. You have a rating on this film, which is PG, which should always be there. But there's a part of me that would love to do an R-rated Bond, or just take the PG rating off it and do it--not for real, because you want the fantasy--but just to see some surprises and explores facets of the character more.'

Before doing a fourth film, however, Brosnan would like some time off to recharge his batteries and to do other films. 'I was trained and taught with the belief that I could do many different characters,' he says. 'When you're a younger actor, you feel you can do the whole gamut, but as you get older you realize you have limitations. So there's that side to the question, but then there's just me having a good time. Then there's also me as the guy who needs to work to pay the mortgage, and you don't have that many choices of scripts on the table, so you take that job because you have to take that job, because if you don't take the job there might not be a job in two months time. So there's been that element of my career. There's an element now, a different side where I have choices, a few choices, most of which I'm making myself. There's a flood of scripts coming in the door. But you make your own work for yourself, create spaces for yourself where hopefully you get the work, with luck and timing.'

Despite his desire to play other roles, Brosnan definitely wants to return as 007. 'I want to do a fourth,' he states. 'There is contractually the option of a fourth, and I would like to do a forth film. But I don't want to go as quickly as we have done the last three. It's just exhausting. I knew if GOLDENEYE hit, and hit hard, that we were going to be off running. When it did come in strong, then I knew that they were going to want one every eighteen months. So, if you are successful with it, you are going to be known as this character, because I have the knowledge and history of seeing what Sean Connery went through and what Roger Moore went through. So I would like some space between this one and the next one, but of course the studio will want it differently.'

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