First published by the Cherwell.
“I’ll have a whisky on the rocks,” drawls Brosnan in the most bizarre accent I have ever heard. The voice weaves together his Irish childhood, his current American life, and the dozens of characters he has given life to on stage and on screen. His speech is soft but authoritative, fully aware of its right to almost anything the world has to offer, while never quite demanding it. Brosnan is sitting beside me; the whisky is on its way. He leans forward and loosely folds his hands together. Everything he is wearing, from his grey silk tie down to his improbably polished shoes, exudes money. He does not look showy or extravagant, just quietly and confidently expensive.
Even his face seems expensively crafted, the wrinkles are sharply defined, each one seems deliberate. His skin is lightly freckled and glows with a respectable tan, the product of an enviable life in California and Hawaii. The voluminous brown hair is swept back over his head, adorned with a few brushes of white silver. His flawless presentation, combined with the slightly disturbing familiarity of his figure, produces a man who is known by all and yet who you never really expected to exist.
Despite his fearsomely elegant veneer, Brosnan has been in ‘the industry’ 23 years too long to maintain illusions about the nature of celebrity. He recognises that the status of celebrity is consciously cultivated, built up, hyped up and then sold in magazines, adverts and films. The modern celebrity was created as fodder for the multi-billion dollar advertising and entertainment industry and Brosnan is fully aware of it. He refers to his first encounter with “the sheer volume of advertising” that went into the Bond films, admitting that he was “somewhat blind-sighted” by it all. Along with his first big role came the watches and the suits and the floods of contracts, all asking for the rights to Brosnan’s image. He describes with humour seeing his face suddenly appear across billboards the world over next to some item or another. “It’s not something you’re taught about at drama school,” he wryly comments. But Brosnan is not out to challenge it: “Unfortunately that’s the state of the business…in James Bond it was wall to wall advertising!” Brosnan continues, “I tried to sidestep some of this, but in the end I succumbed to being a part of it.” He sees the inevitability of advertising in show business, and instead of bemoaning it he makes sure it benefits him: “You try to take it with a sense of humour and a healthy outlook, and make sure that you get the best possible contract and get some financial reward from it.”
The global predominance of the American film industry means that celebrities of Brosnan’s level have access to international press coverage. And this is a position – if the celebrity is able to have any control over it – of some power. Although some celebrities are criticised for not using this power to promote good causes, many who do are dismissed as opportunistic. For Brosnan the matter is much more personal. His first wife Cassandra Harris died in 1991 after four years of Ovarian cancer. During the illness the couple realised that deforestation was limiting their chances of finding potential medicines. After Cassandra’s death, Brosnan became an active environmentalist. “The tragedy of losing a wife,” he reflects, “spurred me on to being more active for the environment.” He describes environmentalism as his “first and foremost” campaign issue. Brosnan is currently Campaign Chairman for the Entertainment Industry Foundation, which distributed $15 million last year alone. With access both to the media and to extraordinary amounts of money, Brosnan has the luxury of being able to transform personal tragedy into substantial action. “It’s an extremely powerful position to be in as a celebrity,” he notes, “It comes with as huge weight of responsibility.”
And Brosnan has taken his ‘responsibility’ as a world famous actor beyond the environment, and into politics. An active supporter of John Kerry in the 2004 American presidential elections, Brosnan is severely critical of Bush and of the war in Iraq. “I think Bush has a lot to answer for,” he bluntly states. “This man is a very hard man to tolerate or to have any faith in.” He insinuates that Bush’s administration is acting on the basis of extreme religious grounds and “seems to be determined to cleave away the world and cause a great deal of consternation to other world leaders and other religions.” Brosnan’s voice is now more fervent: “They have created a great sadness in the world… I think the war in Iraq has been a fiasco.” He quickly adds, “I certainly support the troops and the young men who have lost lives and their families,” but remains adamant about the disgraceful human cost of this escapade. “I think we were very foolish in making the move to invade Iraq and to start this war…It is a stab to my heart that this great country America could be so blind. I will be voting Democrat in the next election.”
Brosnan feels so strongly about the war that he became an American citizen in order to vote in the 2004 election. But he has been a man of America for far longer than he has had formal citizenship. Growing up in Ireland in the late 50s, Brosnan was not the first Irish boy to fall in aspirational love with the ‘land of opportunity’. “My greatest achievement,” Brosnan muses, “was having the courage to go to America. My life has been Americanised: I wished it, I dreamed it, I wanted it and I found it.” But now he has found commercial success worldwide, what keeps his home in the States? “I have embraced America and America has been extremely embracing of me,” Brosnan enthuses. “I love the country, I love the people, I love the enthusiasm of the nation.” This is why he find the current state of American politics so painful, and puts time into Democrat support.
But he admits that his “blood and bones are Irish” which is why his new production company is called Irish Dream Time, with a view to going back to Ireland and making films and supporting the industry there.
The ‘American Dream’ was and continues to be embodied in film, and becoming an American film star was Brosnan’s greatest fantasy: “For me as a young actor it was all about the movies. Movies for me had the greatest magic and had the greatest mystery and the greatest character.” He describes how Goldfinger was the first film he saw when he arrived in America, and says it “had an indelible impact; the whole fantasy world of film captivated me.” James Bond in particular got Brosnan running after the role of what he assumes to be “the greatest male iconic fantasy in cinema.” And it is in the context of James Bond that Brosnan first mentions another actor as having a great influence over his life. “I hoped and wished to be as good as [Sean] Connery. He was, and is, a huge touchstone in my life as an actor.” When I ask him, however, whether he dreamed of a James Bond lifestyle in addition to movie part he laughs: “Life is far more interesting and far more exhilarating and tangible than a James Bond film.”
Well maybe his life is. But the adventures of real life are waning even for Brosnan and he is trying to expand his repertoire, and move into other parts of the industry. He is adamant that he wants to play more humorous roles, and he has already moved into the production side. “I’d like to try my hand at writing,” Brosnan adds. “I do write…I’ve written poetry, I’ve attempted to write a novel, I’ve attempted to write a screen play, but my attention is very short lived. I suffer from ADD and I suffer from crises of confidence.” Brosnan is even thinking of going back to study: “I thought of going back and studying at UCLA. My education was really short changed by a life in Ireland.” He attended a “school system which was overcrowded and left one with no room for knowledge or learning,” and laments that the rest of his life has been “a constant catch up.” “I left school at 15, I’m still to this day amazed that I’ve come so far in this profession.”
Even though he was deprived of a thorough high school education, Brosnan has reached the highest echelons of success in his profession, and luckily for him it is a profession which happened to be one of the most over-valued in the world. “What can I say?” grins Brosnan. “I’m just a working actor and I’ve been fortunate to have employment for many, many years.”
Even as he sits close to the very top of the global celebrity hierarchy, Brosnan maintains no illusions over what his life is about. He constantly reiterates that the most important thing is keeping together his family and providing for them, while also growing and facing new challenges as an actor. Brosnan is a decent family man with convictions and a voice, and an unusually impressive, influential platform from which to speak.
Images by Eddie Gallacher