Why I’d rather sing and dance than shoot to kill (and why Tom Hardy should be the new 007): Pierce Brosnan is back on song with the new Mamma Mia!
Bonds have more fun …but these days, Pierce Brosnan tells Event, it’s more about sequins and twirls than guns and girls – as he ditches the DJ for Spandex and board shorts in Mamma Mia 2 (and says the next 007 absolutely HAS to be a man)
In a suitably Bond-like lair hidden away in a grand New York hotel, Pierce Brosnan is recalling the moment he first watched himself singing in Mamma Mia! – sitting side by side with his Malibu neighbour and good friend, the music legend Barbra Streisand.
Brosnan, whose voice was later likened by critics to a ‘water buffalo’ and a ‘wounded raccoon’, chuckles. ‘We had a screening at Barbra’s house. She really wanted to see the movie and see Meryl performing, so we settled down in her movie theatre and the lights went down.’
Pierce Brosnan has never stopped working since his career took off in the mid-Eighties
He pauses for dramatic effect. ‘Inevitably it came to the part where I sing, and just as I was cringing because I was sitting next to the greatest singer in the world, she put her hand on my knee, squeezed it and said: “Very good.” I was so grateful, I put my hand on her knee and squeezed it but got immediately bitten by her little dog Sammy – the one she had cloned. Sammy clearly wasn’t a fan.’
Ten years on, the Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again multi-million-dollar juggernaut is rolling into the cinema multiplexes and, at 65, Brosnan, the star of four James Bond movies, will be singing and dancing again despite the harsh criticism of his vocal talents. ‘Oh yes, nothing is stopping me, although I noticed I was asked to do less singing this time.’
He has not had singing lessons and seems more tickled than incensed by the criticism. ‘I had a whole range, from sounding like a young Bruce Springsteen to one that said: “Pierce Brosnan couldn’t hold a note if it had the Queen’s head on it.” It made me laugh. I sing as I sing in the shower, and if you like it, good, if you don’t, well I can’t help that. I was picked for being an actor not a singer and the movie is not about being a perfect singer, it’s about joining in and having fun.’
Fans all over the world have been clamouring for years for a follow up to Mamma Mia!, a film that cost £40 million to make and earned a whopping £465 million
‘Love, loss, fatherhood, risk and resilience,’ Brosnan says. ‘I’ve certainly had my fair share of dealing with all of these things’
Fans all over the world have been clamouring for years for a follow up to Mamma Mia!, a film that cost £40 million to make and earned a whopping £465 million, making it one of the most profitable films ever, while the DVD is the biggest-selling of all time in the UK.
The blistering sequel, which stars Lily James as the young version of Meryl Streep’s character, Donna, tells the story of how she came to her beloved Greek island and discovered she was pregnant with Sophie (Amanda Seyfried) after three separate flings with Harry (played by Colin Firth and Hugh Skinner), Bill (Stellan Skarsgard and Josh Dylan) and Sam (Brosnan with Warhorse star Jeremy Irvine playing his younger self).
Event was exclusively invited to see the very first screening in the UK. Lily James gives a standout performance in a magical feelgood movie with a jaw-dropping turn by the preternaturally youthful Cher (as Donna’s selfish, superstar mother, Ruby Sheridan), who brings a brilliantly over-the-top Vegas dimension to the film, and Abba’s Bjorn Ulvaeus and Benny Andersson in cameo roles.
Brosnan’s role as Sam Carmichael, far from the suave spy action hero that turned him into an A-list star, sees him trying to look after his daughter Sophie while recovering from a terrible tragedy. It strangely mirrored many of the themes in his own life. He has lost both his first wife, Cassandra, and adopted daughter, Charlotte, to ovarian cancer, and struggled with the drug dependency of his other adopted son, Christopher (who is now sober).
‘Love, loss, fatherhood, risk and resilience,’ he nods. ‘I’ve certainly had my fair share of dealing with all of these things and there were moments during filming that I found myself automatically going back to those feelings.’
He runs his hand through his still remarkably thick salt-and-pepper hair (‘yes, it’s all mine’). There is a gold band on his wedding finger – next year he will celebrate quarter of a century with the documentary-maker and environmentalist Keely Shaye Smith. Brosnan, a practising Catholic, says Shaye Smith has ‘changed his life’, while Mamma Mia! also finally laid to rest the ghost of 007, which haunted him for many years.
Brosnan took over from Timothy Dalton as the world’s most famous secret agent in 1995 and has said that – bar GoldenEye – his Bond was ‘never good enough’. ‘I was caught between Sean Connery’s Bond and Roger Moore’s Bond,’ he explains, ‘and it was only really in GoldenEye that I did my Bond.’
Brosnan has said in the past that he was shocked that he was dropped by the Bond producers and admits it took him years to get over it
His last 007 outing was in Die Another Day in 2002. He wanted to make a fifth Bond, but during negotiations he received a tearful call from 007 producer Barbara Broccoli, telling him she was sorry. In one phone call his globe-trotting adventures on Her Majesty’s secret service were over. Brosnan has said in the past that he was shocked that he was dropped by the producers and admits it took him years to get over it.
In 2008, two years after Daniel Craig made his debut in Casino Royale, Brosnan found himself back in Pinewood filming the first Mamma Mia! ‘When I took the role, I hadn’t even looked at the schedule bar seeing that I was going to be on an island in the sun for several weeks. Then I looked out of my dressing room window, saw a huge 007 on the wall opposite me and realised we were on the James Bond set.
‘That was the moment I faced up to my past. I had issues for many years but then you think, I’m doing another great movie and I’m really happy. Now I just have great feelings about Bond. I loved the irony of being an Irishman playing this quintessential English character. I love what it did for me as an actor.’
Ask who he believes will inherit the role of James Bond – or even whether such a misogynistic hero can exist in post-#MeToo Hollywood – and he pauses to give both questions some thought. ‘Bond is Bond and you can’t change that. I think a woman could play Bond but it wouldn’t be James Bond. Daniel Craig has been an incredible Bond. He’s very physical, he looks lethal. You genuinely believe this is someone who could kill a man. He’s complained about doing the part because he’s put himself through a lot physically, but he will do the next movie, and then I think Tom Hardy could be a good Bond. I’d be happy to see him do it. You need an actor who can put a bit of wiggle into it – that’s what makes Bond.’
Brosnan in 1981 with first wife Cassandra Harris who passed away following a four year battle with cancer
Brosnan’s current wife, Keely Shaye Smith, with sons Dylan and Paris in 2001. ‘I think most women know very quickly what sort of a man I am. I am a one-woman man,’ Brosnan says
Brosnan with the three children from his marriage to Cassandra (from left, Christopher, Charlotte and Sean) and his mother, Mary May, after the premiere of The Matador, 2006
Brosnan has never stopped working since his career took off in the mid-Eighties. From The Thomas Crown Affair and The Fourth Protocol to The November Man and Mrs Doubtfire, he averages two to three movies a year. What took him back to Mamma Mia! was the chance to get back together with the likes of Walters, Streep and Firth.
‘I realised ten years had passed since the first movie, and I was going to have a reunion with a group of friends on Vis, this beautiful island in Croatia. I didn’t take singing lessons, I didn’t take dancing lessons, I just rolled up ready to enjoy it. Part of the fun of the movie is that we’re this bunch of people, some of whom can do all that and some who can’t. You can’t take yourself too seriously. Especially when you have to put on Spandex for those Seventies dance routines and you realise your belly isn’t as flat as it was, and then you look at a photograph of yourself in the costume and you think: “Oh Lord, what have I done?”
‘Stellan, Colin and I were the old blokes, laughing about getting vertigo from platform boots, trousers that were too tight and being in agony because Colin had got his jockstrap on the wrong way round. On day one we had to do a huge number for Dancing Queen, which for me was less about dancing and more about skipping.’
Brosnan – now worth an estimated £60 million – grew up in the small Irish backwater of Navan, the only son of a 19-year-old local beauty called Mary May and a ‘scallywag of a fellow’ called Tom Brosnan, who upped and left his young wife and child within a matter of years. Rather than face life as a single mother (scandalous in Catholic Ireland of the Fifties), Mary May went to London to work as a nurse and left her son to be brought up by her parents.
By the time he was six, both his grandparents had died and he moved into a boarding house run by his mother’s friend, Eileen Riley, where he lived on the ground floor with his bed closed off with a curtain. ‘Eileen was a lovely, big, buxom motherly woman, always covered in flour with her hair done up in two buns over her ears. She was very good to me, she was like a second mother.’
At ten, he moved to England, where his mother had married a man called William Carmichael who Brosnan adored. He swapped his village school for a comprehensive in Putney with 2,000 pupils, where he was bullied for ‘being the only Paddy’ until, he says, ‘I thumped a lad called Billy who was being over the top with a girl I liked called Angela Grossman and from then on no one bothered me.’
He was not, however, cut out for great things. ‘What drives me, what pushes me every day, is the fact I left school at 16 with one CSE in art and a cardboard folder full of my drawings,’ he says. ‘I didn’t have a lot of confidence and I was a pretty shy kid, but I did want to make something of myself. I felt I had absolutely nothing to lose. I’m still pushing every day, I’m still pushing to be the best I can. I never feel I’ve arrived.’
At 16, he began doing workshops at the Ovalhouse Theatre in London, which specialises on giving opportunities to under-privileged youngsters. Then, after setting up his own street theatre company and a stint as a fire-eater, he won a place at the Drama Centre school and immediately began working in theatre. In 1977 he met, and later married, the actress Cassandra Harris, adopting her two children Christopher – now 45 – and Charlotte (who died in 2013), and in 1982 made the decision to sell up and move to Los Angeles with less than a few hundred pounds in his bank account. Within a week, he had landed his first major leading role, in the tongue-in-cheek TV detective show, Remington Steele.
Brosnan with his Bob Dylan portrait, which sold for $1.4 million at a charity auction earlier this year.
Brosnan with some of his other paintings in 1994. ‘What drives me, what pushes me every day, is the fact I left school at 16 with one CSE in art and a cardboard folder full of my drawings,’ he says
Even as a long-haired, bell-bottom-wearing teenager back in the Seventies, Brosnan had perfect model looks with black hair, pale blue eyes and razor-sharp cheekbones. Now in his mid-60s, without a hint of surgery (‘Oh God, no!’) and only the occasional addition of colour to his greying hair, he has the elegant bearing of an English gent (borne, he says, from all those years standing perfectly straight as an altar boy), knows the names of the waiters and orders without referring to the menu. ‘I still have everyone fooled,’ he says. ‘Underneath this is a shy little Irish boy waiting for someone with a hard piece of two-by-four to bash me over the head and tell me to clear off.’
Did his looks help his career? ‘I was extremely lucky to be born with this face. I was about seven when I won a comb in a lucky dip and that was my introduction to Brylcreem. I work hard at keeping it – I train and work out pretty much every day – but even when I was a kid I knew there had to be something going on behind the looks. I’ve also been told I’m too tall, too dark and too handsome for a lot of the parts I really wanted to do, like Angela’s Ashes. But, hey, who is ever going to complain about being told they are too good-looking?’
Brosnan admits he was so devastated by Cassandra’s death after her four-year battle with ovarian cancer that he could never imagine being with another woman. ‘When you go through the hideous journey of cancer with someone you love, the mother of your children and you have your life turned upside down, all you can see in front of you for a while is just dealing with your own grief and desperation, and trying to look after those around you and deal with their grief.
‘I found myself a single parent, on my own as a father, which was hard. I had no father. I had to work it all out on my own, but you get through it and I worked. Work helped me through that grief. And then a few years later I met this incredible, smart, strong woman who I’ve now been with for almost 25 years.’
With those looks has he ever fallen foul of the temptations of Hollywood?
He shakes his head: ‘I love women, I love women who flirt. Barbra is a great flirt. But I think most women know very quickly what sort of a man I am. I am a one-woman man. It’s possibly the Catholic in me but it’s also who I am. Why on earth would I want to let a great woman who makes me happy slip through my fingers?
‘There are women who try and push it but Keeley is very good at pushing back. If I have a love scene in a movie, she calls that “legal cheating”, otherwise she knows she never needs to worry. My life wouldn’t mean a lot without her.’
GONE IN SIXTY SEC0NDS
Three years ago, a fire broke out at Brosnan’s £15 million beachfront home in Malibu and he had to stand and watch as his handbuilt, silver 2002 Aston Martin V12 Vanquish from Die Another Day (above) went up in flames
Three years ago, a fire broke out at Brosnan’s £15 million beachfront home in Malibu and he had to stand and watch as his handbuilt, silver 2002 Aston Martin V12 Vanquish from Die Another Day (above) went up in flames. ‘It was in the garage. I was about 40ft away. It had a full tank of petrol but it was the tyres bursting into flames that caused the big explosions. There was nothing I could do. That car meant a lot to me. And then Keely just said: “It’s gone. There’s nothing we can do. Let’s just start renovating and make it even better than before.” That’s the right attitude. Although I do still miss that car – all I have left are a couple of silver plates from the doors with my name on.’
The actor is now a father to four sons and grandfather of three. He paints, he writes and since Trump came into power he is seriously considering ‘moving back home’ to Ireland.
‘That man has torn this country apart and you have to work out how much longer you can stay here,’ he says.
His eldest son, Christopher, who struggled with drink and drug issues is now ‘in a good place’ and his son, Dylan, 21, is studying film at university while his youngest son, Paris, 17, has been walking the runways of Milan for Dolce & Gabbana. ‘He’s inherited the old man’s mug,’ he says with a wry smile.
As for the Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again debut home screening, it is already being arranged, this time chez Brosnan, who is keeping the seat next to him warm for the flirtatious Ms Streisand. Babs, you’re in for a treat. ‘Mamma Mia! is all about cutting loose and having a bit of fun. God knows in the times we’re living in we all need a lift. If Mamma Mia! puts a bit of joy out there, we’ve done our job.’
‘Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again’ is in cinemas nationwide on July 20
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