Still looking every inch a star, Pierce Brosnan is back on our screens, playing a grieving and overworked CEO, in Susanne Bier’s upbeat romantic comedy drama, Love Is All You Need. Empire’s Ed Gibbs caught up with the Irishman at the Venice Film Festival, to discuss his return to comedy, dancing to Italian music, how he drew on his own experience as a widower and parent, and why he feels now is a good time to be revisiting the spy game.
Italy seems like a good place to fall in love…
It seems so, yes. But I think there are many places to fall in love. It depends who is telling the story and how the story’s told. In this case, it’s Susanne Bier and Sorrento, with this wonderful cast of Danish players, with some Irishman in the middle.
So why get involved?
I knew of Susanne’s work, I’d seen In A Better World, and was bedazzled by it, the virtuosity of storytelling. So I said,"Fantastic." I read it like that [snaps fingers]. It just made sense. It connected to me, as a man, and some of the knowledge of my life, what’s happened in my life, I suppose. I said to Susanne, I don’t know how I’m going to fit into this, and she said, Don’t worry about it, everybody speaks English. And I jumped, I leapt. That was it, really.
Did you feel isolated, at times, being English, surrounded by great Danes?
There was a certain sense of mild isolation, because they all had such a unity. However, they were all so welcoming, actors at the very top of the game. It’s such a small landscape of filmmaking, but with such a long lineage. It was a joy. It’s one of those experiences that will be forever be treasured.
It’s quite different to your other work…
There’s a vulnerability here, and I haven’t done that before. The sensibilities of the man, isolation, the loneliness, being a widower, dealing with mid-life, middle age, all those things are part of my world, which I know something about it. This great director, I felt a great trust, she trusted me, she reassured me it could work. You try to be an unexpected surprise [laughs]. You get typecast. I’ve played the same note maybe many times over, in different ways. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, I don’t think. You hope to push and find, think time present, time past, time future, where do I fit in and how do I go on, as an actor.
Is it particularly important for you to do more comedy?
Yes and no. I have pieces now that my company, we have a spy genre piece, so I want to go back and explore that, we’re putting that together now. It’s something that’s been on the plate for a while now, and the time’s right. It’s a piece called November Man, from the books by Grainger. To go back into that realm, it’s appealing. There’s enough space now between my time as James Bond, to see what it’s like, to have that curtain go up again, and see how it plays out.
How do you draw on your own personal loss in life, as an actor?
Cancer is just cruel, cruel and insidious. My first wife [Australian actress Cassandra Harris] lost her life to it [in 1991]. That leaves a mark across the psyche, the soul, the heart. You have that in your quiver, so to speak. As an actor, your job is to open your heart, to explore your emotions and share with your audience, and hopefully entertain. You have to draw on your own experiences in life. This was surrounded by the joy and hope of life, the faith of life.
Is falling in love when you’re older, again, different?
People want to be loved, we all want to be cared for, it’s an essential part of being human. However, we get closed down by our own insecurities, or just the sheer brutality of life. Movies like this are a celebration of it, this movie will hopefully go on and have a life out there. Families who are going through the grief of cancer, maybe, hope. Some gleam of faith that there are new beginnings around the corner.
What’s the key to a strong, lasting relationship?
Hard work. The love comes and it goes. You can’t love her, love him every day of your life. There’s disillusionment. But to hang in there and support each other. Friendship is the best: kindness, and to really like somebody. You see your partner and you wake up in the morning and there she is, and you go, God, I love you. You see the strength it takes to bring the family up, the sacrifices she makes for your career, maybe. I don’t know. It’s hard to talk about it, really.
Does your family travel with you when you work?
Very much so. The last job I did was in Paris and my children, my wife came over, it was a family affair. I went to work with the lovely Emma Thompson [for Love Punch] and danced over there, then came home and dancer over there [laughs]. My wife calls it legal cheating [laughs]. She said it one day at a dinner party one day. I was like, Wow, all right, OK, ker-chunk. My wife Keely [Shaye Smith, a journalist and author, whom he married in 2001] is a very strong woman, and we’ve made a good life. It’s not easy at times, but we’ve been blessed.
What about being parent: do you get better at it, as you get older?
I think so yes, there’s just the patience and the knowledge that it will change, that they will grow out of it. And yet, the benchmark for being a good person is, you know, constant diligence, to be kind, to pay attention, to do the homework. Yes, there’s a part of me that wishes I could back and do it. Because I came to fatherhood from being a stepfather to being a young father to being an older father [he has five children]. I have grandchildren. I’m Pappy, to a 14-year-old and a six-year-old.
It’s funny to see you dancing to the sound of Italian music. Was that fun?
Oh, dancing is always silly and pathetic, I hate it, it’s horrible. Well, I enjoy it, comedic dancing, it’s really nice if you can learn a dance and do it elegantly. Renee Russo and I [for The Thomas Crown Affair], we learnt so many dances for that movie, we learnt steps and rumba, we were so nervous to do it. But by then we had some moves.
It’s easy to fall in love with [co-star] Trine Dyrholm, isn’t it?
It is, because she’s so beguiling, spellbinding, she has such a countenance about her. The inner life she has, it’s amazing. She really holds the camera. Those eyes, that face.
Did you ever feel like you had to hold back at all, given your profile?
No. I know what you mean. I knew they all knew each other, and I’d seen Susanne’s films. I knew this was a company of players. The gift of the piece was the fact that the gentleman didn’t want to talk very much. He just wanted to make sure the vegetables were on time for Romania, the lemons were OK, and have a good cocktail with his buddies. That was the back story. I just sat back and listened and followed them, really.
Do you know any Danish at all?
Only how to say ‘You’re beautiful’. It’s a good one to know, guys.
How do you look upon the Bond franchise, how do you evaluate?
I leave that to the history books, really. [There’s] gratitude that I was there, that I managed to do it. You know. The movie came into my life, went out of my life, came back into my life, then went out of my life [laughs]. You’re forever a Bond. It’s a small group of men who’ve played the role. It will grow. Every guy has their time on the stage. It allowed me to go off and form a company and explore producing, and do Thomas Crown, [The] Matador and Evelyn. To be a filmmaker, to have a say in your career.
Do you keep an eye on the franchise?
Of course I do. Daniel Craig is a great Bond.
You’re soon to turn 60. Is there anything you still want to try?
Workwise, I’d like to have a crack at the classics on film: Shakespeare, [and] I’ve always loved Chekov. Maybe the stage. It keeps tugging at me. I don’t have the balls to do it, or the talent to do it. Or the voice to do it, although everyone’s miked these days. I love making movies. I have a film I want to do with my son, Sean. The espionage game, something dark and heavy and brooding. I don’t know. Things just show up. I want to do European films. I never know where it’s going. The career’s like a carpet unfolding. Hopefully, you get a job, and get to work with the best people possible.