Pierce Brendan Brosnan: A Biography
Pierce Brendan Brosnan
Ian Fleming had just published Casino Royale, the first of his James Bond 007 novels, when Bond’s future cinematic incarnation was born on May 16, 1953. But Fleming could not have imagined that the shy child from County Meath, Ireland born on that day would someday grow up to bring Bond to a new generation of devoted fans.
Pierce Brendan Brosnan is the only child of May and Thomas Brosnan. The couple divorced soon after Pierce’s birth, and then when Pierce was age 4, May left for England to study nursing. As a young child, Pierce lived with his grandparents, Philip and Kathleen Smith until their deaths when he was six. After a brief period with relatives, for most of the next five years, Pierce was in the care of Eileen Reilly, who ran a local boarding house. During those years in the boarding house, Pierce first found a creative outlet – in drawing. This is a passion he would return to, first as a young man making a living as a commercial artist, and then later again, as an outlet for his grief during his first wife’s illness.
When Pierce was eleven his mother, now established as nurse in London, and about to marry Bill Carmichael (the man Pierce considers his father), sent for him. It bears noting that some biographers of Brosnan have pointed out that he first arrived in England on August 12, 1964, the day that Ian Fleming died. This would be the first of many strange coincidences that link Pierce Brosnan to the character that he will be remembered for.
His pre-teen and teenage years in England were both joyful and difficult. On the one hand he was reunited with his mother whom he loves very much. He also had a father for the first time in his life in Bill Carmichael. Indeed Carmichael treats Brosnan as if Pierce is his own flesh and blood. The young family was frequent visitors to the local cinema. It was here that Pierce saw his first color film, Goldfinger. As those slightly older than Brosnan found themselves enthralled with Ursula Andress coming out of water in Dr. No, young Pierce found himself captivated by Shirley Eaton, painted in gold.
But England in the 60’s was strife with anti-Irish and Indian racism. Adding to his misery, the young Pierce was six feet tall before he reached his teens. The combination of his accent and his unusual height made Brosnan the target for the local bullies. Preferring to joke his way out of confrontations rather than fight, Pierce quickly adapted the cockney accent of his working class neighborhood and used humor to win over his classmates. Brosnan’s first major acting role, that of an ordinary English boy, was a rousing success.
Brosnan left school at age 15, and after a short time as a fire breather in a circus, he began work as a commercial artist at Harrods. His work left his nights free, and Pierce began joining friends at an experimental theatre group in London, the Oval House. It was at the Oval House that his peers and their teachers first saw the gifts in Brosnan that fans around the world have come to adore: his ability to impersonate others to near perfection, his skill at adapting different voices (not just accents), and that remarkable presence of being that drew all to him.
After studying at The Drama Centre in London during the mid seventies, and performing in works from Shaw to Shakespeare, Brosnan began to work in the theatre, first as a stage manager, and then as actor, eventually winning acclaim for his work in such plays as Filumena, Wait Until Dark, The Changing Room as well as Red Devil Battery Sign, whose playwright, Tennessee Williams, personally selected Pierce to appear in that play.
During the 18-month run of director Franco Zefferelli’s Filumena, Brosnan’s co-star Joan Plowright, married at the time to Laurence Olivier, encouraged Brosnan to join a rep company. His ambitions, however, were larger than to follow Olivier to the National Theatre. He said, "I wanted to be an American actor. American acting is much more sensuous." Brosnan also performed at the prestigious Glasgow Citizens Theatre from 1977-79 in productions including Semi-Monde, Painter's Palace of Pleasure, No Orchids For Miss Blandish and The Maid's Tragedy.
It was also in the late seventies that Pierce was introduced to the actress Cassandra Harris. While their first meeting was not on the best of terms (Cassandra caught Pierce eating food that was meant for her children), the two soon found that they had a lot in common. Soon they were inseparable, living as man and wife in the Wimbledon section of London. Pierce became a father to Cassandra’s two children Christopher and Charlotte, from her relationship with Dermot Harris, brother of Sir Richard Harris. In his relationship with Cassandra, Pierce was able to give to Christopher and Charlotte the stability of a family that he himself did not have at their age.
With his private life settled, Pierce set about becoming a public figure. After smaller roles in the British films Riding Rough, The Long Good Friday, producers of the miniseries Manions of America cast Brosnan in the starring role of Rory O’Manion. The miniseries was a surprise hit in American in the fall of 1981, and inspired by that success Brosnan decided to try his luck as an actor in the United States.
By that point, his wife Cassandra, (they had married on December 27, 1980), had found success as her own as Countess Lisel, one of the Bond girls in 1981’s addition to the 007 canon, For Your Eyes Only. Taking advantage of a standing invitation to visit Bond producer Cubby Broccoli at his home for dinner, and a loan from a local bank in the UK, Brosnan and Harris scheduled several auditions for him in Los Angeles. The very first one was for a new NBC program called Remington Steele. He got the part.
For the next five years Brosnan gained fame and fortune playing the suave private detective with a mysterious past. The series found itself moderately successful, running four full seasons and producing an impressive 92 episodes, eight short of the industry one hundred episode benchmark. Brosnan found himself very successful, appearing on several magazine covers, being asked to appear in commercials (ads for Cuervo Gold liquor and Diet Coke are two that immediately spring to mind), and finding himself the center of attention of millions of devoted females worldwide. His private life met with equal success. He and Cassandra had a son of their own, Sean in 1983, and he legally adopted Christopher and Charlotte in 1986.
In several instances Remington Steele, Brosnan as Steele posed and postulated like another very famous Englishman – James Bond. From the moment producers caught sight of Brosnan as he visited his wife on the set of For Your Eyes Only, Brosnan was the favorite to replace Roger Moore when the latter gave up his reign as Bond. But before he could do that, Brosnan had to shed his image as Remington Steele, as well as the role itself. He was unsuccessful on both scores.
In 1986, Brosnan made the film Nomads, notable for being the directorial debut of John McTiernan (who, twelve years later would re-team with Brosnan to make The Thomas Crown Affair), and for a daring scene featuring full frontal nudity. As the troubled anthropologist Jean Charles Pommier, Brosnan stretched his acting muscles by playing a man whose walk on the dark side lead him to brutally killing a man – a role very far from the Remington Steele everyone knew and loved. It was that stark departure from the role he was best known for that led, in part, to Nomads failure in the box office.
With the announcement that Brosnan was to be the new Bond, the now cancelled Remington Steele’s ratings during the summer made it to the top ten for the first time during its history. Realizing that having the incumbent Bond was good for the ratings NBC began to play hardball with Brosnan and Cubby Broccoli, they’d hold him to his contract and renew the series. Broccoli was willing to let NBC have him for 6 episodes, NBC insisted on a full 23, Broccoli called off negotiations. On the 59th day of a 60 day option NBC retracted their cancellation and Brosnan had to decline the Bond role. Brosnan grudgingly returned to Steele, only to find the show canceled, after 6 episodes, for good in 1987, when the series could not keep its newfound success without a 007 attached to it.
Now without Bond or Steele, Brosnan found himself in the worst period of his life. While he found success playing businessman Ian Dunross in the miniseries Noble House he continued to have little success on the silver screen. While the films The Fourth Protocol and The Deceivers were received well critically, and The Fourth Protocol did fair business at the box office, his MGM / BUA film Taffin, did not and the Merchant / Ivory production of The Deceivers (where Brosnan worked with legendary Bond set designer Ken Adams, who worked as set designer on this film), proved to problematic in its filming and, in part, lead to the greatest tragedy of his life.
While in India, his wife Cassandra began to experience some discomfort and fatigue. Originally she was told that she would be fine, but upon returning from the filming of The Deceivers, she was informed that she was suffering from ovarian cancer. For the next few years, Brosnan worked very little as he devoted himself to taking care of his wife, and spreading awareness of the disease. For a time, Cassandra recovered, and Brosnan allowed himself to film such works Around the World in Eighty Days, The Heist Mister Johnson, and The Lawnmower Man. However, Cassandra’s recovery was not to last, and on December 28, 1991, she passed away.
Devastated by her loss, Brosnan threw himself into his work. He filmed the first of his two appearances in Alistair MacLean Detonator series, as Lawnmower Man became the surprise hit of the spring of 1992. Following that success, Brosnan appeared in a supporting role in the mega hit Mrs. Doubtfire. He would have happily continued his work as a supporting actor in large Hollywood films, and as a lead in smaller films and TV movies, but a second chance at Bond intervened.
A long-term lawsuit with MGM had prevented Eon Productions from making another James Bond film following release of License to Kill in 1989. Now, in the mid-nineties, Timothy Dalton, who had replaced Brosnan as Bond in 1986, no longer wanted the role. With no contract obligations standing in is way this time, Pierce Brosnan finally got the chance to play the role that many think he was born to play.
Brosnan’s first venture as Bond, 1995’s GoldenEye proved to be an immense hit, making 350 million dollars at the box office worldwide – making GoldenEye the highest grossing Bond movie, inflation adjusted, since Moonraker. He quickly followed that success with another Bond adventure, Tomorrow Never Dies, which grossed more in the US for Eon Productions than GoldenEye.
Tomorrow Never Dies was not Brosnan’s only success in 1997. He appeared opposite Linda Hamilton (of Terminator fame) in the blockbuster Dante’s Peak. With his new found clout, Brosnan began to use his power to work on projects that he could only dream of doing in the early 1990’s. Brosnan was finally able open his own production company, Irish Dreamtime. To date, IDT has produced four films: The Nephew, The Match (aka The Beautiful Game), The Thomas Crown Affair and Evelyn. The latter is due for release in the winter of 2002.
Brosnan was also instrumental (by taking a substantial pay cut) in getting the movie Grey Owl made. As was the case with Grey Owl, Brosnan’s presence helped to get the film The Nephew made. In fact, Brosnan did not originally intend to appear in the film, but did so to guarantee the film’s financing. Made for under five million dollars, The Nephew had already made its money back before release from the TV rights money. But for all his clout, he could not force MGM or any other film company in the US to release The Match, The Nephew and Grey Owl. (These films are, however, available for purchase and rental in the US.)
The trouble with The Match, The Nephew and Grey Owl aside, The Thomas Crown Affair proved to be another tremendous success for Brosnan and left no doubt that with or without Bond, Brosnan could bring bodies to the box office. It also further proved that as a producer he could successfully, this time on a larger scale, develop a film, bring it in on budget and on time, and turn a profit. His success in the role of Andy Osnard in the surprise 2001 sleeper hit, The Tailor of Panama reaffirmed Brosnan’s talents as an actor and gave him the best reviews of his career to date.
Brosnan once said that if he had not become an actor, he would have become a social worker, no surprise given the amount of passion, time, and money he gives to the charities closest to his heart, and his success has enabled him to bring a new strength to those charities. He is a tireless supporter of cancer charities, testifying before Congress, helping launch the Revlon Run / Walk in 1993, and has served as chairman of the Women’s Health Charities division of the Entertainment Industry Foundation.
In spite of some very funny one-liners in Remington Steele, Brosnan is a devoted environmentalist. His work on behalf marine life can be seen in his devotion to the IAFW, and his narration of such environmentally conscious works as the IMAX film Dolphins (2000) and a recent National Geographic special on the work of the Jane Goodall Foundation. He also serves on the advisory council of the Grey Owl Trust.
In 2001, (following the example of Roger Moore), he became an UNICEF ambassador to Ireland. Again, as part of the James Bond tradition, Pierce also does extensive work on behalf of the Prince’s Trust, working with underprivileged children.
As seems to be the pattern in Brosnan’s life, when all is well in his public life, all is well in his private life. In 1994, while attending a benefit for the National Resources Defense Council in Mexico, Brosnan met television producer Keely Shaye Smith. She asked him for an interview, which he granted, and he asked her to sit with him at dinner that night, a request she granted. They have been together ever since. Their son, Dylan Thomas was born in 1997, and their son Paris Beckett was born in 2001. A few months later, Brosnan and Smith were married in a lush ceremony in Ireland, captured for all posterity on the pages of Hello Magazine. Together the Brosnans led a successful NRDC fight to stop oil drilling off the coast of Mexico.
At this writing, following the success of 1999’s The World is Not Enough, Brosnan is returning for his fourth James Bond, in the film Die Another Day, scheduled for release in November 2002. He has strongly hinted that would like to return for a fifth Bond. Given his relatively young age, (not yet fifty at this writing), and his remarkably youthful appearance, one can suppose that Brosnan, if he so desires can make a sixth Bond movie (tying him with Sean Cannery’s record), and indeed a seventh tying the record set by Roger Moore.
A half-century has past since Ian Fleming first sat down at his typewriter (a typewriter Brosnan now owns), to give the world its first view of James Bond. In those fifty years many men have attempted to bring Fleming’s hero to life, but few have found the success that Brosnan has found. And few can boast of coming so far, with so little, to do so very much for the world.
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