Guest Blogger: Tom DeMichael, author of James Bond FAQ. Today, we celebrate Pierce Brosnan’s 60th birthday with a reflection on his iconic role as 007.
Celebrating his sixtieth birthday today, Pierce Brosnan was well-known in the 1980’s as the title character of private investigator Remington Steele, from the ABC-TV show of the same name. But that notoriety nearly cost him the role of James Bond.
Pierce Brendan Brosnan was born in County Meath, Ireland. An only child to mother May, Pierce’s dad, Thomas, was a carpenter who walked out on the family after only a few years. May moved to London to seek work as a nurse, leaving Pierce to move among relatives, friends, and even a Christian Brothers mission. In a 1997 interview in Cigar Aficionado magazine, Brosnan admitted, “It wasn’t all bleak…you learn how to create your own happiness.” When May remarried, eleven year-old Pierce joined the couple in London. One day, stepdad William took the boy to the cinema to see a film called Goldfinger. Young Pierce was very impressed, realizing, “…James Bond was very cool.”
Brosnan attended school to be a commercial artist and landed an apprentice job in a small South London studio at the age of eighteen. But he had become enamored with movies and, at the urging of a co-worker, joined up with a local theater workshop. Soon, they had formed the Oval House Theater Company and Pierce quit his art job. He waited tables, cleaned houses, anything that allowed him to be free to act in the evenings. Brosnan attended drama school, acting in repertory theater and London West End productions like Red Devil Battery Sign by Tennessee Williams. The playwright had personally selected Brosnan for the lead role.
British theater led to appearances in British TV by 1980. His wife, actress Cassandra Harris, landed a supporting role in the 1981 Bond flick For Your Eyes Only. Brosnan would amuse Harris by offering his impression of 007 when he would drive her home from the studio (Perhaps a view of things to come for Brosnan. Tragically, Harris would succumb to ovarian cancer in 1991.) A successful 1981 ABC-TV mini-series, The Manions of America, lead to Brosnan’s casting in NBC-TVs Remington Steele in 1982. The detective show ended up being in the top twenty-five TV ratings, but was canceled after four seasons as those numbers waned. Broccoli recalled Brosnan from the For Your Eyes Only days and he tested for the role of Bond for the upcoming The Living Daylights. Pleased with the results, producers named Pierce Brosnan as the new James Bond.
Apparently, NBC read the trade papers that day and, realizing the ratings boost having the “next James Bond” would give the network, they immediately renewed Brosnan’s contract as Remington Steele – effectively blocking his chances to play Bond. Ironically, the series would only air six episodes before getting the axe once more, but the damage was done. The Living Daylights would shoot with Timothy Dalton as 007.
Brosnan was understandably upset, but continued to work on TV and in films, including hits like Lawnmower Man in 1992 and Mrs. Doubtfire in 1993. When the 007 legal snafus were cleared up in 1994, it became apparent that Pierce Brosnan would be Bond in GoldenEye (over suggestions that included Mel Gibson and Ralph Fiennes) and it wouldn’t be enough to rescue the world – this time, he was expected to rescue the character from oblivion.
So, with that small task at hand, it was Pierce Brosnan who brought Bond into the 21st Century. It was Pierce Brosnan who had to come to terms with a new boss – still M, but this time, a female (gasp!). It was Pierce Brosnan that, with his four Bond films, brought nearly $1.5 BILLION to box offices worldwide. In his four turns as James Bond, Pierce Brosnan brought the suave and calm demeanor to the character that one would expect from an experienced performer. In 1995, he told Big Screen magazine, “The way I see James Bond is as a man with a passion to get the job done…This film is…not a cure for cancer, it’s supposed to be fantasy.” Film critics like Roger Ebert praised his portrayal of 007, offering that Brosnan was “…somehow more sensitive, more vulnerable, more psychologically complete, than the (other) Bonds.” High praise, indeed.
No matter, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson decided to (get ready, here it comes…) “reboot” the role of Bond once more in 2005, just as Brosnan was in negotiations for a fifth whirl as 007. In a 2005 interview for Premiere magazine, he said, “It would have been sweet to go back for a fifth…It would have been wonderful to go out there for one last game and pass the baton.” Less poetically, he added, “…it f***ing sucks.”
Since leaving the world of Bond, Brosnan has worked steadily in films, with a wide variety of genres – drama, comedy, romance, western – even singing his own parts in Mamma Mia!, the quirky musical featuring the music of ABBA.
Like several of the actors who played 007, Brosnan has used his celebrity status to further many philanthropic causes. He has championed environmental activities by organizations like Save the Whales and Global Green, among others. Brosnan’s work for children’s welfare includes First Star and UNICEF in his home country in Ireland. The actor has also supported animal rights and women’s health.
James Bond FAQ is a book that takes on the iconic cinema franchise that’s lasted for so many years. Sometimes serious as SPECTRE, sometimes quirkier than Q, but always informative, this FAQ takes the reader behind-the-scenes, as well as in front of the silver screen. Everyone’s included: Connery, Lazenby, Moore, Dalton, Brosnan, and Craig; little-known facts about TV’s first shot at 007, the same Bond story that was made into two different films; whatever happened to those wonderful cars and gizmos that thrilled everyone; plus much more. It’s a book for the casual, as well as hardcore, James Bond fan.