Pierce Brosnan was in New York this week promoting his new romantic comedy, “Love is All You Need,” in which he has his meatiest role to date as a man who emotionally shuts down after the death of his wife.
The movie, which is about second chances, opened yesterday, and is directed by Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier, who received an Oscar in 2010 for best foreign film for “In a Better World.”
A decade ago, I met Brosnan when he promoted a small gem of a movie, “Evelyn,” in which he starred and which he produced for his newly formed Los Angeles-based production company Irish DreamTime. He had just learned his contract would not be renewed as 007, and he candidly told me he was disappointed not to get the chance to make a few more Bond films. Looking back, this may have been a lucky break for the Irish actor, who is having a terrific second part of his career.
“Love is All You Need” is an entertaining and touching film about a work-obsessed executive who falls for Ida (Trine Dyrholm), a Danish hairdresser who is lovely but somewhat klutzy, and who is battling breast cancer and dealing with a husband who has dumped her for a younger woman.
In the midst of this turmoil, she and Brosnan’s character meet at the airport parking garage where she accidentally rams into his car; unknowingly, they are both off to Sorrento to attend the wedding of his son and her daughter. Underneath her wig, Ida is completely bald, which doesn’t seem to bother Brosnan’s character at all. In Denmark the movie was called “The Baldheaded Hairdresser,” a title Brosnan said is “blunt, truthful, honest, up front, but I don’t think would fly here.”
Brosnan turns 60 in May, and he’s acquired a few lines around the eyes, but he’s as handsome and charming as he was in his James Bond days. He’s a dapper dresser, and he wore a crisp white shirt, partly unbuttoned, and a dark elegant suit.
“Love is All You Need” is set on the gorgeous Amalfi Coast, which prompted someone to say it was like “Mamma Mia” but without the singing. This inspired Brosnan to burst into a song – singing off key – about lemon trees.
The Irish actor spoke passionately about the film for 20 minutes. After the press conference, a middle-aged female journalist told him her husband had recently died of a heart attack and he hugged her for a long time.
The women journalists – and even some of the men – were smitten by the charming Irish actor.
Below are some highlights from the interview:
Pierce Brosnan: I’ve just always been making a living at this game and getting away with it one way or another. What can I say? I love what I do. Sometimes I should have probably challenged myself more and sought material with more substance. I might have taken the easy way out. I suppose also this script found me at the right time in my life. I’m in my middle years and now pushing towards 60. There comes a time to show yourself as a man and let the veil down. You hope that you have the material to substantiate those emotions and feelings and desires. This found me at the right time, and Susanne found me at the right time and the right place, and it seemed to make sense with my own personal life and story and bit of talent.
What do you mean by the right time?
A middle-aged dude. (He laughed.) Just a man who’s been down the track before and all the ingredients of which I’ve just spoken of, and it just makes sense to play in that arena of life, certain projects find you at the right time.
I love women. I love this kind of movie, and it just seemed to have the heart and meaningfulness.
You said you were attracted to the role of Phillip because you saw yourself in other circumstances of your life. Do you want to elaborate?
I think my life is fairly well documented in the sense that I spoke about the loss of my wife Cassandra [Harris, who died in 1991], and the endurance of going through that and the rigors of losing her to ovarian cancer. So I knew something about that loss and I knew something about being a father and a single parent, so it goes back to that script finding me at a good time in my life so I could have enough distance and comfort of heart and courage, and being able to surrender to playing that kind of role.
Your character puts all his energy into work and then this woman comes along. Did this help you through some of the difficult times, and was it hard remembering those times? And what got you through it?
No, it wasn’t hard to remember those times. Those times come easy with memory and it was a joy to be in Sorrento. I had a villa, which was right off the lip of the Bay of Naples, so the making of this movie was a beautiful warm embrace of filmmaking and hopefully for the audience too. What was the second part of the question?
About being shut down and not open to love?
Well, that was his path. My own personal experience was certainly one of grieving and grief, and I worked. I just worked. It was all I knew how to do, and when you go through a long illness, certainly one of cancer, there’s a certain release of it and relief that it has come to an end, because the suffering can be unbearable as opposed to an abrupt stop to life when they go out the door, and the loved one never comes home because of some accident. The inertia from that is paralysis, let’s say.
What got you through it?
Me? Pierce? There you go, keep it simple, please. My wife, Keely, that’s who. [He married Keely Shaye Smith in 2001.]
This is not exactly the Golden Age of romantic comedies in Hollywood, is it?
It would be great to have more romantic comedies, but in Hollywood they pick up stories that are so thin, and they beat the snot out of everything before it even gets to the public. So you have a great director, a writer who’s got some fantastic take, and it’s at a studio and it just gets diluted and worn down until it evaporates. It’s meaningless. Susanne Bier is someone who deals with the complexities of life and the nuances of life in interesting ways, so you’re always alert as the audience and turned out by what’s going to happen last.
I did suggest I might sing some songs in this movie [he sang briefly, off key, a song about lemon trees], but Susanne cut me down. There are [similarities to “Mamma Mia”], but I never thought it when we were doing it. It was the farthest thing in my mind that we were making something that could be in the vein of “Mamma Mia.” I just thought that this was a very human story. I thought it was a warm embrace of characters and place and setting. It had an innocence, yet it had a bite to it of what life really deals us.
You did a really good job with the difference between your character from the beginning of the movie, from the harsh guy obsessed with his work, and then by the end you were sorting lemons and had become vulnerable and real.
That’s storytelling. If it’s on the page and then if you can hit those notes, then it’s great because you have the security as an actor knowing that you have to push the audience away and then hopefully [he laughed], not push them so far that you can’t reel them back in. And then comes with the balance of the director like Susanne and a brilliant actress like Trine who stands front and center, so you hang onto the coattails of that character as she leads him to new life, and you surrender to that as an actor.
You have found pieces that turned our expectations around in various ways; that seems to be your tendency.
I hope so. It’s work in progress. I was trained as an actor to transform, which I haven’t really done that much of. I’ve played safe and played Mr. Handsome and gotten away with it, and it’s been very profitable. But as the day gets longer, the body changes, the heart changes and so to the playing of characters in life.
What is it about this duration of your career — that filmmakers seek you out for interesting roles more than ever, or have you been pursuing them?
I’m passionate about my work. I love what I do. To a greater or lesser degree, the passion ebbs and flows. The pieces find me. They have a knock on effect. I’ve never asked Susanne Bier why she cast me in this, but I look at the “Mamma Mia” of it all and there was something there in the character that I played which is not dissimilar to this. The romantic leading man banner that you fly under or you use to seek employment has kept me in good stead over the years. Having my own company came out of the good success of James Bond, and what do you do with that? How do you have longevity? And ostensibly, I think that’s what it is, how do you build a career that will have some color on your palette and some variation and texture and meaning. I don’t really know how to express it more than that really.
About a decade ago when I spoke to you for “Evelyn,” you said you had hoped there would be more James Bond movies. Are you glad things have worked out as they have?
Yes. You know at some point the doors will close down and my contract was honored in four movies … It had a bit of a sticky end to it there in the sense that they said come back and then it was their prerogative to make another choice and that’s how it goes sometimes and you just have to bite the bullet and have grace under pressure.