An Interview with Pierce Brosnan
Pierce Brosnan is literally back in the saddle. Thirty years after Remington Steele, he stars in AMC’s new Western series The Son. With a gray beard and a Texas accent, Brosnan portrays what he describes as “the most complex and fierce man I’ve ever played.”
The star mastered his way around guns as James Bond. “To many, I’ll always be him,” he chuckles. Though the 63-year-old likes to kid about “not being a spring chicken,” he is startlingly handsome, quick to laugh, and has a sparkle in his eyes and a star presence that magically grabs your attention.
Jeanne Wolf: In previewing The Son, I watched you shoot down a slew of rough enemies, do a romantic love scene, and make boots and a hat look like a fashion statement. The director raves that you do your own stunts. What’s the secret?
Pierce Brosnan: Oh, that depends on the side of the bed you get out of. There’s the side of grace and the side of pain the next day. I’ve thrown this body of mine around. I’ve fallen off of plenty of horses. There’s the knees and the back and the shoulders. So I exercise and stretch and watch the diet. You have to maintain yourself somehow. I have to because I have a young family and a young wife.
JW: You have four sons. Would you consider yourself a good dad?
PB: I question myself over the years. Am I doing the right thing? Should I be the disciplinarian? Should I put my foot down? Why didn’t I make this decision? So yes, there’s a constant constructing and destroying of one’s emotions as a father. I’m proud of my sons. Some of them have put me through the ringer, but they’ve come out gloriously. Tender hearts are they, and strong. They have the understanding and commitment of life. They’ve seen how hard it is and how hard they must work and how hard I’ve worked as a father to, you know, do the right thing.
JW: You’ve needed strength through many tragic events in your own life. [Brosnan’s first wife, Cassandra, and their daughter, Charlotte, both died of ovarian cancer in their early 40s.] I always see you end up with optimism. Where does that come from?
PB: You know, I think it’s faith — the Irish Catholic of my youth is deeply engrained in my DNA. Having a kind of existence of being the only child of a fractured family and having to survive and get by on one’s own resources. I’ve had great luck and I learned that you need the capacity for the joy of life and not to be bitter. There’s always going to be the grudges and the times that you get kicked to the curb. You have to find yourself again and onwards you go, because otherwise you get mangled by resentment and bitterness and disappointment. The patriarch I play in The Son has been the last man standing too many times to count. That resonated in my own heart as a man who’s been around the block and has family and life and loss of love. And, remember, you have to be tough as old boots to be an actor.
JW: You have to be tough just to make it in our complex society today.
PB: It hurts my heart what I see going on the world here, and I love America. I’m an American citizen, and when I came here I felt incredibly fortunate and lucky and exhilarated to be in this country and to make a living and be accepted as an actor. Now, there’s a real strong ambivalence in my heart. I want it to be good and I have best efforts and fortitude of it being politically good, but I don’t see it happening. My wife, Keely, and I have worked for years on behalf of the environment. We see the violence every day — every day. It creates a damaging effect on our young people. There’s so little stability in our society now. I don’t have any answers for this except to find the higher ground and the good people in life and try to do good things — grace under pressure with a sense of humor about it.
JW: You’ve played such a variety of different men. Have these characters you’ve played taught you lessons about life?
PB: They’re all so much a part of my own psyche and my own being. They come from me. I only have my own life to draw on and sensibilities as a man who has experienced highs and lows within his own life. They’re all part of me and I am part of them, whether it be James Bond or Eli or Thomas Crown or Remington Steele. So they’re all emblems of Pierce Brosnan. I was taught as an actor to transform, and I was taught that method of acting that was all about transformation. When I came here and I did Remington Steel, I just got away with it all.
JW: People are making a very big deal that you’re back to television. Does it, in the end, feel very different from making a movie?
PB: No, of course not. You have the same principles — a camera and actors, lights, it’s all the same. I had been actively looking to come back to TV, so it was in my peripheral vision to find work because it’s so exhilarating what’s happening on TV, and everyone watches movies on TV. The writing is brilliant, and this came at the most opportune moment. It’s not exactly the same as making a movie — it’s faster paced, but I like that pace.
JW: In The Son, your newest character, you had to go back to a different era and a brutal mentality. You were working in Texas in hundred-degree weather, and a lot of it on a horse.
PB: It’s always daunting, no matter what it is. You’re exhilarated by the material, so you say yes and then you have to stand up and do the work. I ride horses. I’ve enjoyed the company of horses and being on a horse. The accent was a challenge. I’d never done a Texan accent before, but because I came in at the 11th hour to this piece, I had no room to second guess myself. I listened to recordings and watched videos from Waylon Jennings to Rick Perry and Willie Nelson, and I just jumped in. Then, of course, I go to Texas, where a lot of people are talking with the accent. There I am in Austin in a saddle. That’s the joy of acting. It’s the challenge to be able to try to pull it off and make it look natural and make it look believable. That’s what you live for as an actor.
I was lucky with the horses because some of the wranglers I knew from a movie I did with Liam Neeson, and these guys knew I could ride. Nevertheless, I’ve fallen off the damn things enough times. I’m no spring chicken. I didn’t want to hurt myself. Anyway, I rode to the best of my abilities. I even surprised myself sometimes.
JW: What’s the end game for you?
PB: I want them to look back one day and say, “He wasn’t too bad! He was all right.” It’s just the joy of doing what I do and going to work. It’s exhilarating.
An abridged version of this interview is featured in the May/June 2017 issue of The Saturday Evening Post. Subscribe to the magazine for more art, inspiring stories, fiction, humor, and features from our archives.