The burnt-out hit man Pierce Brosnan plays in “The Matador” cowers in a stairwell after another botched job, reduced to tears, blubbering: “I’m a wreck. I’m a parody.”
The 52-year-old actor appreciates how those words might have haunted his real-life career if he hadn’t been cashiered from Bond.
“I certainly connected with the line. It’s rife with sweet irony,” Brosnan says. “I certainly didn’t want to become a parody.”
But, as he puts it, “That problem got solved without me having to do anything” — except take a phone call informing him that after four James Bond movies, his services were no longer needed.
“You know going into that gig that someday the door is going to close on it. You’re not sure when. And you’ve seen guys who kind of stayed too long on the stage and then you saw ones that just kind of came and went in the blink of an eye,” he notes. (Roger Moore and George Lazenby, anyone?)
While he was admittedly miffed at first, Brosnan is now glad he got 86’d from 007.
“With the chapter of Bond past now, there is a wonderful sense of liberation and freedom from having to carry that part,” he says. “You have more ownership of your life and the direction your life is going to go and choices of parts. And ‘The Matador’ is kind of a really wonderful transitional time. Serendipitous, really.”
Destroying his suave imageGoing into “The Matador,” Brosnan wasn’t thinking: “I’m going to destroy an image that’s gone before. But as I got more and more into it I realized that’s exactly what’s going on.”
Brosnan’s Julian Noble does act like a vulgarian — the antithesis of so many of his debonair, sophisticated characters — although “The Matador” begins as any Bond film might: He wakes up next to a beautiful woman he clearly hasn’t known for more than a few hours.
Then he takes her nail polish and paints his toenails.
He later struts through a hotel lobby wearing nothing but boots and black briefs, cigarette in one hand, beer in the other, before plunging into a pool. He comes face to face with a shark, which makes no attempt to devour him. Professional courtesy, perhaps?
While Brosnan has played a dissolute, amoral character before (in 2001’s “The Tailor of Panama”) he’s getting the biggest raves of his career. He received a Golden Globe nomination, and topped The Associated Press’ list of top 10 overlooked performances of 2005.
Richard Shepard, writer-director of “The Matador,” was intrigued by the possibility of having Brosnan play the inappropriately named Noble precisely because “in the past almost every character he has played, Bond, Remington Steele, Thomas Crown, have always been characters in absolute control, and Julian, while appearing in control, is a complete mess.”
Casting him paid off, he says.
“Ultimately he found a heart in Julian that was only hinted at in the script. He found his soul. And because of that, he took a completely unlikeable character and somehow gets the audience to root for him. It’s an amazing achievement.”
Life after BondThe movie raises the curtain on what’s at least Act 4 in Brosnan’s professional life. His acting career started in England — where he even learned to entertain with fire-eating — then he moved to the United States, lining up the “Remington Steele” job within two days of landing stateside. After losing the Bond role in the mid-’80s because NBC changed its mind about canceling the series, he got a second chance with 1995’s “GoldenEye.”
In the future, Brosnan jokes: “I want to do more musicals, and more cross-dressing roles. I really would like to explore that. And possibly in Vegas.”
Seriously speaking, he doesn’t know where his career is going and never really has. He just has a sensation of where he’d like it to go — drama, comedy, horror, science fiction, musical. “I’d like to do it all.”
He’s gratified by the credit he receives for resuscitating the Bond franchise, adding: “You revel in it for a second or two, and then move on. Always move on.”
But the true satisfaction of acting is “the day-to-day of doing it. ... Come home from work and say: ‘Nailed that scene.’ ... Because [when] the movie comes out, you have no control over it. If it’s great, it’s great! And if it’s crap, it’s painful — beyond words. You just live with it.”
Currently, he’s filming a Western, “Seraphim Falls,” co-starring Liam Neeson and Anjelica Huston. It’s set after the Civil War, which explains the Vandyke on his face these days. He’s also planning a follow-up to 1999’s “The Thomas Crown Affair.”
‘It was good to be mad’Born in Ireland, Brosnan was raised by relatives after his father left while he was still an infant. Reunited in England with his mother by 11, he quit school by 16.
He eventually found sanctuary with people he could identify with (“crazy, mangled, artistic, funny”) especially after coming from an “Irish, cloistered, Catholic, repressed” background of the ’50s and ’60s. A community of actors served as his university while he voraciously read Sartre and Dostoyevksy.
“And I realized I wasn’t alone,” he says, laughing heartily for the only time during the interview. “I realized it was good to be mad; it was good to feel conflicting emotions.”
Even though he had gotten roles in West End productions by Franco Zeffirelli and Tennessee Williams, he felt typecast and longed for America and the movies.
“Thank God for my late, dear wife, who was the one who said, ‘This is what we should do. We should go to America,”’ Brosnan says, referring to Cassandra Harris — a Bond girl (in 1981’s “For Your Eyes Only”) who died of ovarian cancer in 1991.
In the early ’80s, they took out a loan and booked a cheap flight.
“I just felt lucky. I got to America and I felt reborn — brand-new. I thought anything is possible.”
Life as an American citizenAnd in 2004, he became a U.S. citizen — after being disturbed by the disputed presidential election of 2000.
“I went to the polling booths four years prior with my wife (Keely Shaye Smith), who’s American, and by the time we got back on our bikes the world had changed. We’d been scammed, shimmied. Right before our eyes. In the most arrogant way.
“I thought Reagan was a joke. When I was in England, I thought, ‘No, they’re not going to elect an actor. This can’t happen. This is outrageous.”’
Now, he says: “Give me Reagan. Give me anyone but Bush.”
While maintaining he’s not a political animal, he says he wanted to have a voice and ensure a better life for his children (five, all told: two young sons with his second wife, and one with his first, whose two children he adopted).
In between — and even during — acting jobs, Brosnan likes to paint, a talent that dates back to his first job at a commercial art studio, where he recalls his main responsibilities were watering the spider plants and making tea for senior staffers. (Examples of his work, including a self-portrait of his character in “The Matador,” are on his Web site.)
Though mainly self-taught, he now has a teacher and likes to paint in his Hawaiian getaway. “A bottle of wine, a good cigar, a couple of beers, whatever ...” And he’s ready to put brush to canvas.
It might be a creative outlet later in life, he says, when he doesn’t want to or have to work — “or nobody will employ me.”