The two-time Golden Globe nominee reflects on embracing new challenges in his latest film project, the romantic comedy, Love Is All You Need.
Actor Pierce BrosnanOriginally aired on May 1, 2013
Tavis Smiley: Good evening. From Los Angeles, I’m Tavis Smiley. Tonight a conversation with Pierce Brosnan. His new movie, “Love Is All You Need,” is an emotional roller-coaster ride about finding happiness in a new relationship after the death of a loved one – a subject that the actor admits echoes what he experienced in his own life.
But before we get to Pierce Brosnan, this is our 10th season and we’re coming up on our 2,000th episode, so we continue to introduce you to some of the folk who make this program possible.
Joining me now, my man Mike Quain, one of my camera operators. He’s been with me from the very beginning of this program 10 years ago. I don’t know why you’re still here, but I’m glad you are.
Mike Quain: Hey, man, I got bills. (Laughter) I mean, you know, it is PBS, but we still do get paid, so I appreciate it.
Tavis: Yeah, well, I’m glad you’re here.
Quain: I got one question, though.
Tavis: What’s that?
Quain: When’s Prince coming back on?
Tavis: Oh, well – Prince? Prince is – Mike’s the biggest Prince fan in the world.
Quain: Come on, man.
Tavis: So we’ll get him back just for you.
Quain: Thank you.
Tavis: I’m glad to have you here.
Quain: I’m glad to be here.
Tavis: Take it away.
Quain: All right. I’m glad you joined us. Conversation with Mr. Pierce Brosnan, coming up right now.
Tavis: Embracing new challenges keeps artists vibrant, and that’s what Pierce Brosnan has done with his new movie. It’s called “Love Is All You Need,” which opens this weekend.
It’s mostly in Danish, from acclaimed director Susanne Bier, and it deals with two grieving people who find love again while attending a wedding in Italy – far from the sort of challenges he met while playing James Bond. We’ll take a look at a scene now from “Love Is All You Need.”
Tavis: So knowing your story as relatively well as I do and being a fan of yours for all these years and having had you on this show many time before, when I saw this I was shocked that you were doing this, because of the parallel in the film in your own life. My first thought was, why does Pierce, why did he want to go there?
Pierce Brosnan: Well, I was acutely aware of the similarities between my life and this character’s world, but Susanna Bier is such a wonderful director, and Susanna’s work, as you know, is pretty complex and nuanced. It just seemed like the right time in life to enter into this world, to go back there.
I did, I lost a wife to cancer in ’91, and so I knew something of that part of the heart and I knew something about being a father, being a single parent, and all the other emblems in the script just appealed to me. I thought well, if not now, when? Also, Sorrento is pretty cool.
Tavis: Yeah, not a bad place to hang out.
Brosnan: You know, Sorrento’s a gorgeous part of the world.
Brosnan: And the filmmaker and the text is such an uplifting piece. I thought if you get it right, then it might have some healing qualities to people who are suffering the onslaught of cancer, that suffering that people endure in their lives.
Tavis: It might have turned out to be healing for others who are struggling, but that was no guarantee that it would, in fact, be good for you.
Brosnan: Oh, it was great for me. Listen, I enjoyed it enormously. This was a film that was about love. This is a film that’s not necessarily about cancer and dying. This is about love and new beginnings and the faith and the hope of people’s lives.
All the people in this film are somewhat mangled in their own way, fractured in their own way, and searching in their own way. So there was no remorse, there was no sentimentality; there was no kind of me trying to work out past histories of my own life. This was purely for entertainment value.
Tavis: The process of you speaking English and everybody around you speaking Danish.
Brosnan: Yeah, that was more troublesome than anything else. (Laughter) That was really, as I said to Susanna Bier, I said, “Listen, how does an Irishman fit into this? I don’t want to rock the apple cart here, I don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb,” and she said, “Don’t worry, everybody speaks English. We’ll look after you.”
I said, “Okay, fair enough. Well, I’m in.” I set sail for Copenhagen and I went there and I was embraced by all these wonderful actors. She just made it work. When you see the film, you almost believe I speak Danish, but of course I just say one little line, which is (speaks Danish), “You are beautiful.” (Laughter)
So it was a good one, it’s a good one to have up your sleeve, wherever you be in the world.
Tavis: Yeah, you’ve said that line a few times in your career, given the characters that you’ve played.
Tavis: These beautiful women, so you’ve got that worked out.
Brosnan: It’s a good line of work if you can get it, you know?
Tavis: If you can get it, yeah.
Brosnan: That’s, don’t know what else to do now, really. (Laughter)
Tavis: When I saw Chris – Chris is one of my producers who happens to be a male, like I am, in case you hadn’t noticed.
Brosnan: Right, yeah. (Laughs)
Tavis: So Chris and I looked at each other and the first thing we said to each other, basically, was, after we both saw the project was, “Did you cry at the last scene?”
Tavis: Without giving away the last scene, I think both of us are guilty of getting a little sentimental, a little emotional.
Brosnan: Well, this is an unabashedly romantic movie, and with that romance and with the scenarios of the people’s lives – Trine, who plays Ida, her husband is cheating on her, her son’s off in the Iraq war – so there are tears involved in the joy of this film, but particularly the ending. I think it’s left on such a beautiful note.
Tavis: Yeah, it’s shot beautifully, too.
Brosnan: Yeah, it was a remarkable place to be in. Sorrento, I ended up staying in this gorgeous villa right there overlooking the Bay of Naples. Every day I would leave up through the cobblestone streets to this other location.
I’d have to call my wife. She says, “Everything okay?” I said, “Yeah, it’s fine. It’s terrible.” (Laughter) “No one’s talking to me, it’s just miserable. The food is terrible.”
Tavis: Speaking of locations, I can’t imagine – I’m sure there are some folk who would qualify for this list, but given the breadth and depth of your work, certainly during the Bond years, I don’t know that there’s an actor who could brag about filming in more places, more exotic and beautiful places than you.
Brosnan: Well, I don’t know. I just met Sir Ben Kingsley in the dressing room. I think Sir Ben has been around the world.
Tavis: He’s been around, yeah. He’s been around, yeah.
Brosnan: It’s one of the joys of being an actor, to set sail, to go off to glorious parts of the world. It’s what I enjoy. When I pick up a script I wonder where next. I love having the bags packed, I love to go, and I love to come home. Hopefully the check doesn’t bounce, (laughter) and hopefully the movie gets made and people enjoy it and you move on.
Tavis: To your point now, what are the factors that you, that Pierce Brosnan, what are the factors that you weigh when deciding at this point in your career what you do, in fact, want to do? It’s not just about getting out of the house, it’s not just about – the script obviously matters, but what are you making your decisions on these days?
Brosnan: Always the script. Always the script and the people involved in it, the director. Sometimes you have choices, sometimes you don’t. I’ve been very fortunate that I’ve worked since I left drama school in 1976. I’ve made a living as an actor, and they just – I don’t necessarily go and seek projects; they just find me, so to speak.
My agent calls up and said, “Somebody wants to work with you, this is a good text.” You’ll read it, and if the timing is right you set sail and do it. I’ve been a journeyman actor all my life, really. Love what I do as an actor, love the work. Hopefully one gets better. Hopefully there’s some resonance there of authenticity in the work, and a strength.
Tavis: I wonder if – I don’t know that you have any authentic way of answering this question, but let me just ask it anyway. Sean Connery is now famous for – my word, not yours – decrying what happened to him as a result of playing Bond. He doesn’t even talk about Bond; he doesn’t do interviews about Bond.
He just doesn’t do it because I’m sure while he had a good time doing it, there were some consequences that happened as a result of playing that character for the years that he played it.
On balance, I don’t want to ask whether or not the Bond years were good or bad for you with regard to the rest of your career, but give me some sense of what that, you think, opened up for you, or perhaps foreclosed playing Bond for as long as you did.
Brosnan: I always go to higher ground. Just gratitude. Gratitude for playing a role which is so iconic, gratitude for bringing the film back onto the world stage after it had been dormant for six years. Gratitude because it allowed me to make my own company, Irish Dreamtime, and then go on and do “The Matador,” “Thomas Crown,” “Evelyn” and we’re about to set sail next month in Belgrade, Serbia.
I’m going to go back into the spy game. We have a piece of material which we like very much, and a series of books called “The November Man,” written by Bill Granger.
So yes, there’s always the rejection, the suffering of any actor in any career, and that just makes you tougher. But you cannot get bitter by that. You have to have a certain sense of grace under pressure, a sense of humor about yourself within it, and for me, it’s the family, the Broccoli family, have been a powerful influence and force in my life.
Barbara Broccoli was a great friend of my late wife’s and continues to be someone who is very gracious with me, my family, and our life. So there you go. That’s the way it is, and that’s the way I look at it. Because it’s such a hard game, you have to be as tough as old boots to be an actor. If you take all the knives – excuse me, this one belongs to you, (laughter) this one belongs to you.
If you take all that on, it’s going to just kick you down, and then you get all twisted and mangled. It’s not worth it.
Tavis: Yeah. That’s a healthy way of looking at it.
Brosnan: It is, yeah. It’s the only way of looking at it, really, whatever you do. Whatever you do. Just to rise up and be strong, and just be grateful for the work at hand and what you have in life.
Tavis: So that experience, those Bond years, allows you, to your own admission, to set up your own company and to do stuff that you wanted to do. How important has that been in your career, to be able to, to some degree, control what it is that you want to do?
Brosnan: Oh, it’s been a joy. Beau Marie St. Clair, who’s my producing partner, we’ve been friends for nearly 30 years now, so we just go from film to film, and it allows me to find roles which wouldn’t necessarily come my way. Something like “The Matador” I don’t think someone would have given to me, because you get stereotyped, you get pigeonholed by your own talent, your own shortcomings as an actor, possibly.
So it’s a great partnership, it’s a great friendship, and consequently, my sons are doing the same thing. I have three sons, 12, 16, and 29, and just this weekend I was with my 16-year-old and my 29-year-old.
My 16-year-old has just done an adaptation of a Joyce Carol Oates short story, and I was in the movie and I was a teamster. I was making the coffee and I was watching my sons (laughter) make the movie and acquit themselves grandly.
Tavis: You couldn’t talk them out of this, knowing what this business is like?
Brosnan: No, their want and desire is there. The only thing I request of them is that they get good grades and stay at school and go to college. Then they’re free to do whatever they want to do. I’m not going to try and dissuade them or persuade them otherwise.
They have a passion. My 16-year-old is a gifted writer, and the 12-year-old is likewise has a talent, charisma. So it’s all theirs. My 29-year-old son, Sean, if I gave him anything, I gave him poetry and literature. He’s an actor – powerful actor, strong actor, strong performer, writer, producer, director. So it’s great.
Tavis: Since you mentioned poetry and literature, you have me curious now as to what it is that you like to read. What turns you on that you’re passing on to your sons? I’m trying to get inside your head now for what’s on your bedside table or in your library.
Brosnan: Ooh, a lot of Yeats. The Irish boys, the great ones – Beckett, Joyce. I was just talking to somebody the other day about some Shakespeare, maybe doing Shakespeare on film. Chekov, I love Chekov.
Tavis: How could you not?
Brosnan: Yeah, I like Chekov a lot. Working with my boys here and doing this film, because the filmmakers now are such powerful young people, because they’re like the predators. They write, they produce, they direct, they do it all. We’re talking about doing “Waiting for Godot” up in the hills of Malibu. (Laughter)
Tavis: I’d come see that. I would come see that.
Brosnan: Why not, you know? (Laughter) So yeah, because to stay alive as an actor, reading scripts you fall off the twig pretty quickly, so you try and stay in tune with the works that stuck to your own heart and your own tapestry of life growing up as an actor.
Tavis: Have you – and maybe I missed this – have you done Shakespeare on stage before?
Brosnan: No, never.
Tavis: I didn’t think you had.
Tavis: Why not?
Brosnan: It just never showed itself, really. When I came here in 1981 to America, I went straight into “Remington Steele.”
Brosnan: Everything took off, and I didn’t really have the want or the desire to go back on the stage. As I’ve gotten older and I’ve watched people in productions, I go to the theater when I go back to London and see friends in Broadway, I think maybe there might come a time here to get back up there and prove oneself. It’s just an itch; it’s a nagging itch to go back there.
Tavis: I’m not sure, I’m not an actor, but I’ve been reading a lot lately about Bette Midler and her return to Broadway in this – I can’t wait to get back to New York to see her -
Tavis: – in the piece that she’s in now. But as I read about her and I read about Cicely Tyson, who’s now 88 and she’s back on Broadway -
Brosnan: Mm-hmm, mm-hmm.
Tavis: – they say it doesn’t necessarily get any easier as you get older.
Tavis: So if you’re going to do this, man, you might want to -
Brosnan: (Laughter) Check in.
Tavis: You might want to figure something out. You’re still a young guy, but it doesn’t get any easier. You might want to figure something out soon.
Brosnan: Thank you, Tavis. I really needed to hear that. (Laughter) Oh, good.
Tavis: No, I’m just saying I don’t want you to live where you get to the point where you regret that you didn’t do it.
Brosnan: Well, that’s true.
Tavis: That’s all I’m saying.
Brosnan: That’s true. Sixty’s knocking on the door here.
Tavis: You don’t look anything like it, though.
Brosnan: Just a few weeks away, here. But we’ll see. Right now – and I always have done, I like making my movies and I love the world of filmmaking. That’s what really turns me on, always has done, still does. So we’ll see about the theater.
Tavis: Where, how, do you find the joy and the love for doing stuff that isn’t the blockbuster stuff when you know what that sort of acclaim feels like? Not that everything has to be a blockbuster, but the stuff that you – like this project we’re talking about tonight, “Love Is All You Need.”
Brosnan: Right, mm-hmm.
Tavis: This ain’t -
Brosnan: This is not a blockbuster.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah.
Brosnan: Well, it’s a good question. I’m not sure that I can answer it correctly. I just follow my heart, and the work is there. I don’t look for blockbusters. If somebody were to give me a blockbuster and it was the correct one, then I’d probably say yes.
But I’ve always, as I say, considered myself a working actor, and you have to find the work and you have to find the best work for yourself, and the most meaningful work.
So there’s three movies coming out this year. This one, the next one is with Emma Thompson, and the one after that is with Toni Collette. So there’s a trifecta of films there. They’re small films. I love the world of independent filmmaking. I’ve always felt in some regards outside the system.
Tavis: Wait, hold up, hold up. What do you mean by that?
Brosnan: Outside the -
Tavis: You, outside the system?
Brosnan: Outside of – in the sense that I’d love to be inside and making blockbusters all the time, but it just doesn’t happen like that. Bond was the biggest blockbuster that’s been in my life, and I’ve already spoken about that.
So then you have to figure out where do you fit in and how do you fit in, and how do you keep up and how do you stay relevant as an actor and as you get older. How do you duck and weave through the years to stay in shape, to keep the stamina and the passion alive for acting.
Tavis: So what’s the secret?
Brosnan: A good wife. (Laughter) She helps.
Tavis: Happy wife, happy life.
Brosnan: Happy wife, happy life.
Brosnan: Keely and I have been tripping down the road, the light fantastic road for the last 19 years. We have a good relationship and we have a good kindness and respect of each other, and so -
Tavis: Did you think that wouldn’t happen again for you a second time? Had you sworn off it? Had you decided you weren’t going to look for it, that you didn’t want it another time?
Brosnan: Yeah, and there was – when you lose a partner to such a disease as cancer, you just lose a partner. You’re in the wilderness there for a while. You have to find yourself again, and that takes just trial and error and bumping into the furniture.
I was at that point after three years of being a, quote, unquote, “widower,” and around the corner came this beautiful girl into my life, and we set sail. It just felt good, it felt right, there was a happiness there, and sincerity and an authenticity, and here we are. So that’s part of the reason. That’s part of the reason I’m still at the table, so to speak, and working.
Tavis: I want to circle back to “All You Need is Love.” I was kind of chuckling to myself at my house before I popped in the screener, anxious to see the film and knew you were coming on the show, of course. But I just kind of chuckled and had a thought that I had never thought before.
I started thinking back on these 10 years of doing this show here, and all the movies that I’ve had conversations about that are centered around or certainly have as a major part of the plot a wedding.
Tavis: It just occurred to me that Hollywood gets a lot of mileage out of storylines that are developed at weddings.
Tavis: Because that’s where this thing kind of starts, basically.
Brosnan: Well, I think the great literature of life, you’ll see weddings permeated through it throughout. Shakespeare did it, Chekov did it, to name those men that we already have. Something about the human nature and about a man coming together, about these two families coming together, the baggage they both bring, this young couple, whoever they may be, or the old couple.
It’s part of the human race, it’s part of our existence. The eyes of God, and then the wine flows and the liquor flows, and out come the demons. (Laughter) Out come the people really showing themselves.
Tavis: The real people, yeah.
Brosnan: What are we doing here? Why is he marrying this girl? It’s a great platform for drama.
Tavis: My granddad used to call that “liquid courage.”
Brosnan: Liquid courage.
Tavis: Liquid courage.
Brosnan: Liquid courage, Dutch courage, call it what you will. (Laughter) But a wedding is always a great place to start any yarn.
Tavis: Yeah. I will offer this as the exit question. What is your measurement, your unit for success of this project? It’s a beautiful project, beautifully shot, gorgeous to look at, made us cry at the end, two guys. (Laughter) But what’s your, what’s your -
Brosnan: I would love this to be a resounding success. Come the end of the year I can look back and say, “A winner. A beautiful winner, and one that will be revisited time after time.” You want to make material that lasts, that can be picked off the shelf on a rainy night, and say “Let’s watch this movie again.” There you go.
Tavis: Yeah. And cry at the end again.
Brosnan: And cry at the end. (Laughter) There’s nothing wrong with crying, Tavis, come on.
Tavis: Yeah, I know. Yeah, I had to admit it. “Love Is All You Need” is the project starring our friend Pierce Brosnan. I am always delighted to have you on this program.
Brosnan: Thanks a million.
Tavis: Thank you for coming back.
Brosnan: Thank you, Tavis.
Tavis: You’re not aging at all. You’re just as dapper and handsome as ever.
Brosnan: Ah, well, two-way street, brother. Two-way street.
Tavis: Yeah, yeah, I appreciate that. That’s our show for tonight. Until next time, thanks for watching, and as always, keep the faith.
[Begin film clip.]
“Philip:” (Into phone) Michael, Michael, your (unintelligible) worthless and unambitious. Get yourself a (unintelligible). He won’t even remember you being there. Just buy him a card and get on the plane. Are we clear? Good. Thank you.
“Ida:” I really don’t understand why anybody will work for you when you’re so awful and stupid and not nice.
“Philip:” I pay him good money.
[End film clip.]
“Announcer:” For more information on today’s show, visit Tavis Smiley at PBS.org.
“Wade Hunt:” There’s a saying that Dr. King had, and he said, “There’s always a right time to do the right thing.” I just try to live my life every day by doing the right thing. We know that we’re only about halfway to completely eliminate hunger, and we have a lot of work to do. And Walmart committed $2 billion to fighting hunger in the U.S. As we work together, we can stamp hunger out.
“Announcer:” And by contributions to your PBS station from viewers like you. Thank you.