What could get Pierce Brosnan — a macho action-hero who answered to the digital name 007 — to dress up in spandex and platform heels and sing in a movie? The actor answers with a word: “Meryl.”
He repeats the word and expands on it, his voice soft and wistful: “Meryl Streep.”
The movie is the screen adaptation of the musical “Mamma Mia!” and, Brosnan told TODAY’s Meredith Vieira in New York Thursday, he really had no idea what it was about. “For me, ‘Mamma Mia!’ was just a kind of poster on the side of a bus,” he said.
And then his agents called him with a job offer. “They said, ‘Meryl Streep. Mamma Mia. Greece,’ ” he recalled. “I just said, ‘Mamma Mia? Greece? Meryl Streep?’ And I’m in. She’s so brilliant.”
Brosnan didn’t even know which of the three male roles in the movie he was to play. All he knew was that he would get to share a set with Streep, whom he greatly admires. But it didn’t hurt that the musical was built around the songs of the rock group ABBA, a group for which he has a great fondness.
“I think the music is so timeless,” he said. “I remember seeing these guys win the Eurovision song contest in 1974, and they just kept going with hit after hit. Everybody has a song and a place in their heart for this music.”
Memories of 007
What Brosnan didn’t know immediately was that in addition to filming on location in Greece, ‘Mamma Mia!’ would also film on a London soundstage at Pinewood Studios, the same studio where he had starred in four James Bond films. He had expected to appear in a fifth, but in 2005 he was unceremoniously dumped by the producers of the series in favor of a younger Daniel Craig.
Brosnan hasn’t hid his anger at the move. But, he told Vieira, he has gotten over it.
“I made my peace,” he said. “Everything happens for a reason. I had the greatest time on Bond, the greatest time of my life. It allowed me to do many other things, have choices.”
One of those choices was doing ‘Mamma Mia!’ and working with Streep. Still, his first day at his old studio had a surreal air to it.
“When they told me we were doing it at Pinewood, I just chuckled to myself,” Brosnan said. “I walked through the gates on the first day, and they showed me to my dressing room — luckily it wasn’t the old dressing room, thank God — I drew the curtains and there was 007; there was the big, tin soundstage. I just thought, ‘How ironic.’ ”
The musical chased away any remaining discomfort about working at Pinewood, he went on. “All the ghosts got blown away because ‘Mamma Mia!’ is so big and so powerful, and this company was so beautiful to work with. To be there every day and watching Meryl do her thing — everything faded away.”
The 55-year-old star, who got his start co-starring in the television series “Remington Steele,” lost his first wife, Cassandra Harris, to cancer in 1991. He married Keely Shaye Smith in 2001. He has three children from his first marriage and two sons by Smith.
A coincidental nameWhen he agreed to do ‘Mamma Mia!’ he didn’t know anything about the plot or even which of three male characters he would play. In the movie, Streep’s character, Donna, owns a fading resort on a Greek island; her daughter, Sophie, invites the three men there.
About to be married, Sophie has found her mother’s old diary and discovered that one of the three men is her father, but her mother doesn’t know which one. Brosnan, Colin Firth and Stellan Skarsgard play the possible dads, and show up on the island where Donna is preparing for the wedding, helped by her two best pals, played by Julie Walters and Christine Baranski. Chaos ensues, accompanied by much singing and dancing.
To get a handle on the plot, Brosnan took his family to see the play in London.
“It was actually a very sad time, because my father [had] just passed away,” Brosnan told Vieira. “We had his funeral and we went to see the play the next night. I sat there watching the musical and my daughter turned to me and she said, ‘Daddy, who are you playing?’ I said, ‘I don’t know. I forgot to ask. I’m just one of the dads.’ My father’s name was Carmichael, and then this character came out and said, ‘My name’s Sam Carmichael.’ ”
Both he and his daughter knew right there that he would be Sam Carmichael. “I thought it was a kind of lovely, divine-intervention touch,” Brosnan said.
The actor had done some singing in movies, but never a musical.
“I was mildly terrified” at the prospect, he admitted to Vieira. Brosnan lives on the ocean, and he said he’d take his two young sons to school every day, then put on his iPod, go down to the beach, and sing karaoke.
“I’d just sing to the seagulls,” he said.
His kids weren’t sure how it was going to work out. “At first they were very nervous about dad singing — very, very nervous,” Brosnan said. “They didn’t tell me until long afterwards how nervous they were.”
But he must have done something right, because one reviewer wrote in a review of the movie, which opens July 18, that he has “a sexy, Bruce Springsteen style.”
“I’m a big fan of Bruce’s. I’ve seen him six or seven times,” Brosnan said in response to that characterization. “Something maybe seeped in there. That’s high praise. That’s a compliment.”