Thursday, November 27, 2008

Pierce Brosnan: Not the James Bond You Remember


He is cold and jet-lagged as we sit down in a cabana by the pool of a Los Angeles hotel. It's 70 degrees out, but Pierce Brosnan is desperate for a bowl of soup. This chill makes sense only when you consider that the place he calls home is a balmy Hawaiian oasis he shares with his wife, Keely Shaye Smith, and their two youngest sons, Dylan, 11, and Paris, 7.

Brosnan's denim shirt is unbuttoned just enough to reveal a strand of Tibetan beads, given to him years ago by a Buddhist monk during a turbulent flight. He wears the necklace for good luck whenever he flies. Raised Catholic on the Emerald Isle, he believes in the luck of the Irish. When you ask him if he's spiritual, he says, "I pray. And I pray there's a heaven!"
The suave guy Brosnan played for seven years still shows in the actor's fine features and the grace with which he, well, eats a bowl of soup. While it used to be his martini that was shaken, not stirred, now, at 55, Brosnan has got something else shaking. In his new movie, Mamma Mia!, he sings, dances, and woos Meryl Streep. "There's a sequence when we're all wet," he says of the film inspired by the songs of Swedish pop group ABBA. "Meryl grabbed for my shirt and ripped off the buttons, at which point I grabbed her with the wildest embrace and relished every moment of it." Thank goodness, the ladies' man lives on.

Q. What drew you to this movie? A. My agent called and said, "Meryl Streep, Mamma Mia!," and I said, "I'm in!" I didn't even know who I was playing. I kept thinking, I want to work with this wonderful actress.

Q. How did you fare with all the singing you had to do for the role?
A. I've never done anything as orchestrated or musically complex in my life. At first, I just made noises. Then I went to London and trained in the studio with Benny [Andersson] and Bj├Árn [Ulvaeus] from ABBA. My family let me know that they were very worried for Dad when they first heard Dad sing. But sing I did.

Q. I heard that for the dance routines, you wore tights.
A. No, we had the Mamma Mia! spandex fishtail flares and high-heel boots. I thought it was a hoot.

Q. Mamma Mia! is set in Greece, ABBA hails from Sweden, and you recently became a U.S. citizen. What drove that decision?
A. It was the pain that we've been living with since 9/11. I've been here 25 years. I've paid taxes. I wanted to have a voice.

Q. Have you held on to many of your Irish roots?
A. I'm very Americanized now. But the love of the country, the love of the land, and, I suppose, the religion live with me.

Q. Do you still practice the Catholicism you were reared with?
A. I was an altar boy. That never leaves you. So when there are churches around, I go to church. I just went yesterday. I also love the teachings of Buddhist philosophy. It's my own private faith. I don't preach it, but it's a faith that is a comfort to me when the night is long.

Q. Your father left when you were a toddler, and you were raised by relatives after your mother moved to London to go to nursing school. How did your childhood influence the father you've become?
A. My early childhood was very solitary. I was aware there wasn't a father figure, yet there was love there within a rather nomadic life, living with grandparents, an aunt, and an uncle before finally connecting with my mother. That said, I don't want my children to have that kind of life. I want them to feel like they belong and to know the love of family. It's what makes me tick. Having been a father for many years now, I'm very aware of how precious the time with my children is.

Q. Why did you and your family move from Los Angeles to Hawaii?
A. We went there thinking of the future, of a place to grow children. And it's a bit like Ireland with the heat turned up. It's got a mythology that fascinates me. Our home is a sanctuary, and Keely's a fantastic gardener. From weed and sand, she has cultivated Samoans, magnificent palm trees. We have fruit -- Meyer lemons, papayas, and mangoes. And bountiful gardenias where they said gardenias wouldn't grow.

Q. You and Keely were environmentalists long before it became fashionable. What's one green thing you do at home?
A. We have a compost bin. The boys know how to compost all the food, and it goes into the garden.

Q. Do you have other family rituals?
A. I make the kids pancakes in the morning. We have picnics. I'm learning how to surf with my boys. At their ages, they really want to rock.

Q. I've heard that you like to paint in your free time.
A. Yes. I find I do it best when I'm feeling out of sorts. And the boys and I paint together.

Q. Didn't you plan to be a painter before you became an actor?
A. I left school in England at 15 to draw and paint. My dream was to make album covers. I also did odd jobs like washing dishes, cleaning houses, and driving a cab. I didn't really dig that. I had a very bad sense of direction. I'd think, Oh dear, this is a challenge. Now we've got to drive. But once I found the world of theater, I was off to the races! And I have no plans of retiring. I will carry on making movies, being an actor, producing, or writing-or I'll make paintings.

Q. Are you an optimist?
A. Absolutely. You have to have hope. It's the only way to go on.

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