Pierce Brosnan may tell you that singing with Meryl Streep in Mama Mia was intimidating, but in his latest movie, The Greatest, that just premiered at Sundance to rave reviews, the Irish actor goes places, emotionally, he has never gone before, playing a grief-stricken father opposite Susan Sarandon.
In this exclusive interview, Brosnan talks about the challenges he had preparing for this role and the conscious decision he made not to have in family around during filming. He talked one-on-one to Paul Fischer in Park City.
Question: Did this film come to you as an actor first and then as a producer? Or were they both kind of – synchronized?
Brosnan: They came to Irish DreamTime as producing, acting. And Bo said, ” Read this.” And I read it, and I thought it was wonderful, then I threw it under the bed, and I said, ” I just – let it lie there.” Literally put it under the bed. I have a little house, out and away. I didn’t really want to go there, just because it was so well-founded by Shana, and the emotions of it. And then Bo kept on at me, saying, ” Read it again. Read it again.” And I read it again. I said, ” All right, let’s meet with Shana and Lynette, the producer.” And I said, ” Okay. Let’s go ahead, let’s do it.”
Question: Was this, in some ways, the most intimidating character you’ve had to play for a while? I mean, I know that Mamma Mia had a different sense of intimidation about it, but in terms of getting into a character, the acting side of it. Where you had to go to places where you haven’t really been for a while.
Brosnan: Well, I haven’t played this emotional register since I was really a young actor. I mean, I’ve steered away from it, in some respects, and taken an easier road. And also, I haven’t been really offered them. So that’s the great thing about having your own company. You get offered these pieces like The Matador, or Evelyn. There was enough of my own life history in there as a father, to explore this character. I know a little bit about grief.
Question: I was going to ask you. I mean, you’ve had it rough.
Brosnan: We all have it rough one way or the other, at some point.
Question: Did you reflect on that time in your life, in order to play the grief?
Brosnan: You certainly use your life’s history of pain. There’s enough pain in there to draw upon. And it was also in the writing, too. When writing like this comes along, it taps in there pretty easily. And then your casting. You begin to cast, and you look – I call Susan up. And I say, ” Look. I hear that you like this.” I left a message on her machine, and I said, ” I love it. I’m gonna do it, come hell or high water. And I don’t know what you’re doing over the summer, but why not?” And she called me back the next day, and she said, ” You got me with ‘why not?'” So once Susan was on board, she is such a – such a talent. And fearless. Then y begin to put the cast together. Carey Mulligan’s screen test was beautiful. So when you’re with great actors, then you get a lot. You get a lot back. Then you just have to prepare yourself emotionally. And it’s – ironically, the first scene we shot, the very first day of shooting, and my very first day, was my breakdown sequence at the bed. That was it. And there was no way around it. I said, ” Hey, guys. Come on, give me a break here. You know, I haven’t swam in these waters in a long time.” So – there was no way around it. You know, when you’re on a small budget, and small time restraint. We had to shoot that day, there and then. It was the only day we could get the hospital.
Question: How do you leave something like this behind at the end of the work day? Do you just look forward to going back and spending time with your own family, and reminding yourself that –
Brosnan: Well, work like this is best done alone and I was away from the family. It’s sometimes better to be by yourself. It’s much more productive, when you’re doing something like this.
Question: Was that very reflective for you?
Brosnan: Yeah. You reflect. You become very solitary about it. And, you know, you have your journal, and you have your art, and paint, and you have your music, guitar, or whatever. And you have all those tools at hand, and your music, and your hotel room. And just – it was in New York City, I adore. So it gave me time to be by myself and walk in the park, and think about this bad [INAUD], and grace. And just – live the part.
Question: Do you see this film as being a film about healing, as well as about grief?
Brosnan: I think it’s a study on grief, but it’s definitely about rebirth, and definitely about healing. It’s about that. It’s unabashedly about grief. I mean, the sequence in the limo. The accident, and the scene in the limo, the hammer drops there for the audience. And you are with this family. You’re with this mother and father and son, and their grief.
Question: Now when the camera is close up on you, there is a distinct feeling that everything you’re saying, you’re saying in your face. How difficult is it for you to do silence, as an actor?
Brosnan: Hopefully you’ve got an inner life going. Hopefully, you have something there. You’re present, in the piece. And I don’t know how to talk about it, really.
Question: Is it a difficult process? Do you intellectualize it? Or is it very instinctive for you?
Brosnan: It’s really instinctive. I’m not very good at discussing it. And, you know, we had a week of rehearsals. And Susan is a very articulate lady, and she could talk on any subject. I’m much quieter. And Carey was very articulate. The director, Shana, is very bright and articulate. I find it very hard to express myself. I can do it, I hope. But I’ve never been good at talking about it, really. I can talk about it up to a point. But thenif it’s good, if it’s on the page, let me do it. Let me move it. Let me get up and act it.
Question: Does this encourage you to want to go now, for things that really get you to act in ways that you’ve never had a chance to do?
Brosnan: Yes. Yes. You know, I wish I’d done it sooner. But I hadn’t. I came to America, and I did Remington and I should have probably explored the avenues of drama. But I kind of coasted on a nice plateau.
Question: Well, Bond is something that obviously gave you opportunities that you would never have, perhaps, had.
Brosnan: Yeah. The Bond franchise was brilliant timing. And was – I’m forever grateful to play that role, and to be part of that coterie of men, that small club. And, you know, from that, it allowed me to create Irish DreamTime, and make my own movies, which wouldn’t necessarily come my way. Like The Matador, or like this film, The Greatest.
Question: What’s your next project? Do you know?
Brosnan: With Marleen Gorris, it’s called Heaven and Earth and I’m going off to South Africa, to do this film, set in 1826, about the first Governor of Capetown. It’s a true story about Lord Charles Somerset, who falls in love with his doctor. And then I’m going to work with Mr. Roman Polanski on The Ghost.
Question: And what’s happening with Topkapi?
Brosnan: We are full steam ahead. Full steam ahead. If we do not have it by this year, then we shall just say we gave a best effort. But Mary Parent is a magnificent supporter of the piece. Mr. Paul Verhoeven is still with us as a director and we have great executives over there at MGM now, who are passionate to make this film. So, we have a fabulous writer.
Question: Were you surprised that the biggest film you’ve starred in since James Bond was a musical?
Brosnan: Yes. Yes. I would never have guessed that, in a million years. But it was a great film to be a part of. but for me, I just love the world of independent filmmaking, going off and making these pictures. And if 12 people see it, then so be it. But just to make movies – it’s great if something like this comes along, and possibly can have a high profile.
Question: I know I’m not the only one who cried so much during The Greatest..
Brosnan: It’s good to cry. It’s good to cry. I mean, it’s great to laugh, but it is great to cry, because there’s so much pain in us all, that to connect to something like this, it’s good.
Question: Is this the best time for you in your life, personally and professionally? Are you having the best time in your life?
Brosnan: I’ve had a great time. I’ve had a great time all the way through this life of acting. I’ve loved every moment of it. Everything I’ve done, I’ve enjoyed. Whether they’ve hated it, criticized it, never saw it. I – just that I got to work and make a living, and create a life for my wife and children.
Question: How do you remain so nice?
Brosnan: I don’t know. I don’t know. I have no idea. I just like people, and I love what I do and, you know, you just keep showing up.
Question: Do you still live in Hawaii?
Brosnan: We’ve been living out there, yeah. We live in Kauai. We’re up there, but we’re back in Malibu now. We have to. The boys have got to go to school, and stuff like that. I’ve got to pay attention to some of these pictures going on I’m trying to do. And it’s very hard to do it from over there.