I hopped a Trailways bus to the Four Seasons in Beverly Hills recently, where I teamed with CraveOnLine’s Fred Topel for a rousing chat with Pierce Brosnan on his latest action thriller, The November Man.
Brosnan spoke candidly about using the 007 character as a springboard to success. Since parting with the franchise, Brosnan has gone on to star in three first-rate variations on a Bondian theme, all of which outclass the recent Daniel Craig aberrations.
For an added kick, click on the links to read Duncan Shepherd’s reviews of the Brosnan Bonds. He slams all four, and in the case of three, rightfully so. (Brosnan would agree!)
During the course of the interview, it began to sound as though I got a cut of the Tailor of Panama Blu-ray sales. (Director John Boorman’s audio commentary is more entertaining than most features, and it’s priced to move at $4.98 on Amazon.com.) The moment the houselights at AMC Fashion Valley #1 went up lo, these 13 years ago it became apparent that I’d just experienced the best film of 2001. My feelings held fast come January 1, 2010, when I called it the decade’s finest. It was also the first time I began to take note of Brosnan as a serious actor.
What happened the day Brosnan met Quentin Tarantino over cocktails to discuss the possibility of a Bond collaboration? Can Brosnan distinguish one Bond flick from another? Has he ever been mistaken for Charles Bronson? The answers to these and many more questions await you.
The door to the suite parted and there he stood, tall, tan, and terrific, minus the tuxedo and constant adjusting of his cuffs. After a hearty handshake, he looked down and spied the movie-cover edition of Bill Granger’s novel. We pick it up from there.
Pierce Brosnan: I haven’t seen this actually. It’s interesting to see the name there. There’s a lovely sense of accomplishment and achievement. As you know, it was a long road to get here. But it seems to make sense as we stood there the other night at the Mann Chinese Theater, which is a mighty venue of cinematic celebration.
Fred Topel: We were talking beforehand how you’ve had a few films that really played with the spy genre: Tailor of Panama, The Matador, and now The November Man. Was this another chance to play with and twist our expectations of the genre?
PB: Somewhat. Yes. (Smiling.) I kind of relate it to someone like, you know, Monet, painting haystacks over and over again. You find a subject that turns you on, that engages you, and the spy genre is something which, as a fan of movies and a movie geek myself, I just love the cinematic joy that they bring.
Scott Marks: Do you still see movies in theaters, and if so, who selects the evening’s entertainment, you or your wife?
PB: There’s a duality there. I try to go. I mean, I’ve been working so hard the last two years — I’ve done seven movies more or less back to back. It’s difficult to get to the movies. It depends. Now that I think about it actually, sometimes Keely wants to see a movie like Marigold Hotel, and I go along.
SM: You’re dating yourself. It has been a long time since you’ve been to the movies.
FT: They have a sequel coming out already.
PB: I was going to do the sequel, but I couldn’t. I was doing something else. I usually catch all of the movies, but at the year’s end. All the screeners.
SM: Tailor of Panama, The Matador, and November Man are the three greatest James Bond movies ever made…without the official dispensation of the Broccoli crime family.
(Brosnan’s eyebrow arches while managing to stifle a tickled look.)
SM: You don’t have to say anything. As far as I’m concerned, The Tailor of Panama is everything. Everything clicks. I’ve heard you speak about how you entered the film knowing full well that James Bond was essentially going to play this character. [Director] John Boorman also spoke about weaving Bond qualities into the character. It’s a wonderful satire, only this time you play Bond as a schmuck. [Laughter.] Could you take me through the discussion you and Boorman had about incorporating Bond into Andy Osnard?
PB: I met John Boorman, who is a mighty man and someone I have the greatest admiration for. I’m a huge fan of his films. He was sitting there in a little restaurant in Malibu, and I was so excited to be playing the tailor of Panama. He said, “No, no. I don’t want you for the tailor. I want you for the spy.” I said, “Of course. Of course.” That was our first meeting. I don’t know what happened in my agent telling me, but I went to the meeting thinking this is great — he wants me to play the tailor. “No, no,” he said. “Geoffrey Rush is playing the tailor. You’re playing Andy Osnard.”
SM: Did you ever have a conversation about Bond, or was it just a given?
PB: It was just a given, yeah. It wasn’t necessary to talk about Bond. I know the rules, I know the joke, I know the gag. I know what we were playing with here. I know the hijinks of what he was up to using me as Andy Osnard, the sleazebag. This morally mangled dude.
SM: I’m sorry, but they should’ve killed Osnard at the end of the movie.
FT: They shot that, right?
PB: Yes. The ending when they shoot me was so great. There was a helicopter sequence, and you can’t hear anything. And you just see him look down, and there’s blood in the money as it’s flying everywhere. And Andy Osnard looks at him and says, “What did you do that for, you stupid c---?” And then he f---ing dies. (Brosnan briefly channels his character’s obnoxious laugh.) It was such a f---ing great exit line.
FT: Were you able to go as dark as you wanted to with The November Man’s Peter Devereaux?
PB: Yeah. I think it’s pretty dark. I think it’s got an edge to it. It’s got a bite to it. There’s a visceral kind of underpinning. We wanted to take the gloves off. It was after James Bond moved stage right in my life. There was this certain kind of vacuum of unfinished business. I think it was palpable for Beau Marie [St. Clair] and myself as producers. For me, as the actor who thought he was going in a certain direction with the next production of James Bond that was suddenly somewhat derailed, there was a desire and want on my behalf to do something like this again. She was the one who found the material. It just took a long time to get here.
FT: Is likability ever a factor, because we often like the very despicable bad guys in films?
PB: Was likability a factor in playing Devereaux?
FT: Is it something you think about?
PB: Yeah, I mean the femoral artery scene is a fairly brutal example. To be able to push the envelope to that point — to be able to go to that place and do something as brutal and audacious as that without losing the audience — you hope that you’ve set down some yardage of the heart and the accessibility of the character with an audience.
SM: November Man is about the CIA dropping a building on innocent civilians and blaming rebel terrorists to give Russia an excuse to attack the Chechens and later split the oil profits with America. In your opinion, has the CIA and/or other government agencies colluded in situations similar to the one in this movie?
PB: I couldn’t answer that question.
SM: I knew I should’ve thrown it out the second I wrote it.
PB (Laughing): You’re overthinking it and gilding the Lilly a lot here. We look like we’re ahead of the curve here with our storytelling. We knew that when we had the book — there are no spies in it. We all felt we had to juice it up and make it more relevant to the geopolitical situation we’ve seen happen in the last few years. And, of course, we now have the whole issue with Putin in the Ukraine.
We look like we’re very clever, and astute, and hard-hitting. It’s serendipitous. It’s good for the movie, and it’s good for the character. Whether you’re dealing with the Chechen rebels or with the issues that were dealt with in The Tailor of Panama, this country has gone into situations where they shouldn’t have gone in. Deeds have been done and lives have been lost because of the hulkish ways of America.
SM: You believe in this movie. You acted as executive producer, and to me that’s a pretty good indication of your support. What initially drew you to the novel?
PB: The writing of Bill Granger had a complexity, a nuance of character and style of storytelling. He was a journalist from Chicago. It seemed to be steeped in some relevance and immediacy to his time. Good storytelling.
FT: Seeing this movie at the premiere reminded me of a story I heard about the Dante’s Peak premiere back when they showed movies on film. The story went that one of the projectors broke, and they had to show the movie one reel at a time. Is that true? Did people stay and stick it out?
PB: They did. It was a full house that night. [Director] Roger [Donaldson] had to get up and announce that we had a problem with the projector, we didn’t have the right lens, and we’ll be five minutes. 20 minutes went by, and time ticked on.
FT: So it was the lens, not the print.
PB: The guy had the wrong lens on the projector. It was a delay. When they got the right lens, the curtain went up and everybody enjoyed the movie and many deals were made in the interim. (Smiling.)
SM: You are obviously someone who is not afraid to take risks. You’ll notice I’m not sitting here asking, “Hey, how did you enjoy your role in Expendables 3? November Man is an R-rated movie. People nowadays generally don’t like R-rated movies. I was listening to John Boorman’s audio commentary on Tailor of Panama last night and he said something like, “I love words like f--- and c---, and I’m going to do my best to keep these words alive!” (Brosnan lets loose with a mighty guffaw.) I don’t have to bring a comic book to the theater when I go to see your movie.
PB: Good man! You want to do stuff that turns you on and hopefully turns an audience on. Beau and I created [production company] Irish Dreams right after Goldeneye happened — I hadn’t made a pig’s ear of it all — to make movies. We do one at a time. We’re pretty slow moving.
SM: You just finished telling me that you made seven films in two years. That doesn’t sound slow moving to me.
PB: That’s just me being an independent contractor. Beau and I, we’ve just made ten movies. Before The November Man, the last movie we made was The Greatest, a little family film. It’s just a joy to be able to have choices and create your own work for yourself. After Goldeneye, I knew I had my work cut out for me to distance myself from Bond or to create and cleave another existence for myself as an actor.
SM: Instead you merged the two.
PB: Well, it just kind of happens. Once Bond, always Bond, forever and a day. It’s a small group of men, and Bond is the gift that keeps giving. Without Bond I wouldn’t be The November Man. There’d be no Tailor of Panama, no Mamma Mia!, no Matador. Everything has its own kind of organic footstep.
FT: It’s funny that Scott mentions The Expendables. Sly has been doing press and mentioned your name as someone he wants for the next Expendables. Has he said anything officially do you? Do you know him?
PB: Avi Lerner has, because I did a movie called Survivor over there in Sofia, Bulgaria recently. Avi is the man there. I said, “Sure, yeah, I’d love to do it. Send me a script.” It was in the Hollywood Reporter the next day that I’m doing The Expendables. We’ll see. Why not? Right now I’m free as a bird. I can do anything I want to do and go anywhere or play any (hopefully) level of performance.
FT: You’ll be the first Bond they have in their cast.
PB: Uh-huh. Well, slow and steady. I looked at the Post the other day and I thought, “I’d like to be in the one with all the women. The Expendabellas. That’s the one I want, Avi. Let me go in with the women. I’ll jump in there. It seems only fitting.
SM: I have two first names and wish I had a dollar for every time someone called me Mark. Are you related to Charles Brosnan?
PB (Laughing): Charlie lived in Malibu, and I used to pick up his laundry. They’d give me his stuff. “No,” I’d say, “I’m Brosnan.” “No, no,” he says affecting a perfect Charlie Chan dialect. “Bronson! Bronson!” There you go. I almost changed my name. My stepdad’s name was Carmichael, so I almost changed it to Pierce Carmichael. Tom Brosnan, the old scalawag that he was, gave me the name.
The November Man: Official Trailer
SM: Devereaux was a great character name, too. So is Andy Osnard. You find these characters with terrific names.
PB: Well, that’s just the luck of the Irish. Devereaux is good. And The November Man has got a sensuality to it. I love the name. It was like doing The Thomas Crown Affair. I love the song, “The Windmills of Your Mind.” (Laughing.) That’s why really I wanted to make the movie.
SM: That’s one of the few remakes that’s better than the original.
PB: Well, we got away with it, that’s for sure. [Steve] McQueen is one of my all-time favorite actors. What you get on film was so magical. I’d go to the pictures and live for the rest of the afternoon as Steve McQueen.
FT: In the Bond documentary they did a couple years ago, Everything or Nothing, there is a funny moment when you’re telling the interviewer that aside from Goldeneye, you couldn’t tell the movies apart. Is that true that you couldn’t tell Tomorrow Never Dies from The World Is Not Enough or Die Another Day, or were you sort of playing it up for the camera?
PB: There’s a certain truth in that. Goldeneye was so unique, so palpably exhilarating and absolutely mind-blowingly daunting to step onto the stage and into the shoes of James Bond, so it stands alone. The next one was this…I don’t know. It just seemed to be unwieldy. I think the last one…was it Tomorrow Never Dies? (Pauses.)
FT: You want me to help?
PB: Die Another Day?
FT: Yes. So it’s true that you can’t tell them apart? Well, I’m a fan and I can tell apart.
PB (Wryly): Good. I’m so glad you can. Good.
FT: There was a time when Tarantino was trying to do Casino Royale, and I think he wanted you for it. Did he ever get as far as talking to you about it?
PB: Yeah. He wanted to meet me right before Tomorrow Never Dies when he was doing Kill Bill II. It was at this hotel, and I came up and I met him. I was going to have a beer, and the waiter came up and said somebody sent you a martini. I had a martini (and the beer). While I was waiting for him I had another martini. Quentin came down and he was like, “Yeah, man! F---ing great, man!” We got so f---ing blitzed. He’s banging the table saying, “You’re the best James Bond. The only James Bond!” And I said to him, “Quentin, people are listening, for f---’s sake.” I could hardly get out the door. Luckily I had a car. I wasn’t driving. I went to the Broccolis and said “Quentin Tarantino.” They didn’t swing.
FT: What was his take?
PB: How could I remember after six martinis? (Laughing.) The take was that we had a great bloody time. Quentin didn’t know what his take was except that he loved me as James Bond and wanted to do James Bond.
SM: You’re carrying on the tradition in an adult manner.
PB: One tries one’s best.
SM: Tailor of Panama was the most eye-opening performance…I’m sorry to keep going back to that film.
PB: I’ll have to look at it again. I don’t see any of these films. I do them and that’s it. I haven’t seen any of them.
SM: You’re like George Raft. Do not like looking at your likeness on screen?
SM: You’re the only one!