NEW YORK — A debonair Pierce Brosnan, Bond-like in black jacket and gleaming white shirt, strides into a Manhattan hotel room for an interview.
"I don't normally dress like this," he quickly notes.
Glamour has always come easily — almost too easily — for Brosnan, whom his fellow drama school students dubbed "Hollywood" long before the Irish actor became a star. But if Brosnan has occasionally leaned too much on his good looks, he's recently settled into more of a character actor's life.
Brosnan has four films out in the coming weeks, a diverse group of movies that speaks to his simple desire for work and his increasing comfort in challenging himself. A few years ago, he may have been in a "post-Bond" phase with such movies as the offbeat comedy "The Matador" and the Western "Seraphim Falls." But he's now post-post-Bond, less self-aware of his iconic stature and more a working, maturing actor.
"I have said to my agents, `I want to work,'" Brosnan says. "I want to play character roles. You can be a leading man for so long and it's wonderful, but there comes a time where you have to deal with life and move over on the stage."
The first of Brosnan's four upcoming films is "Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief," a mythical fantasy that adapts Rick Riordan's kids best seller. Sean Bell stars as a demigod, whose self-discovery is guided by Chiron (Brosnan), a centaur. (Yes, that's half-man, half-horse.)
In Roman Polanski's "The Ghost Writer," Brosnan co-stars as a former British prime minister, a character clearly modeled after Tony Blair. In "The Greatest," a Sundance entry in 2009, he plays the father of a family (Susan Sarandon, Johnny Simmons) dealing with the grief of their teenage son's death. And in "Remember Me," Brosnan — with Brooklyn accent — plays the father of a rebellious New York teenager (Robert Pattinson).
The role of James Bond was a long time coming for Brosnan, who began acting in London's West End. His breakthrough was the title role in the TV detective series "Remington Steele." When it was initially canceled in 1986, he was asked to take over 007, but NBC (more intent on retaining talent in those days) decided to resurrect the series, preventing him from taking up Bond.
But his chance would come again, beginning with 1995's "GoldenEye," and continuing with three more Bond flicks that together breathed life (and box-office success) into the old franchise. When Brosnan was dropped after 2002's "Die Another Day," he had proven himself in other films such as 2001's moody mystery, "The Tailor of Panama," and the 1999 hit remake of "The Thomas Crown Affair." (A sequel is in the works.)
Then he became a brooding assassin in 2005's "The Matador," a charming dark comedy. He calls the part "a great confidence booster." "I really felt like I got a transformation there of some sort. I felt very shackled by the Bond and didn't want to rock the boat," says Brosnan. "It was good to actually act. You get tangled up in your own ego of image and how you're perceived. You can lose your way." The performance, which cleverly inverted the sophisticated spy, earned him a Golden Globe nomination. He cheerfully announces that he and his "Matador" co-star, Greg Kinnear, are "going to go again." In April, they'll begin filming "Salvation Boulevard," in which Brosnan will play a mega-church preacher and Kinnear his disciple.
Chris Columbus, the director of "Percy Jackson," first directed Brosnan in 1993's "Mrs. Doubtfire," where he was impressed by Brosnan's lack of ego."He's got like a third career now," says Columbus. "Because he's still incredibly handsome and kept himself in shape, he can still play leading men. But I like the fact that he goes off and sometimes tries these quirky supporting roles."Brosnan is especially excited about "The Ghost Writer" — which is timely not only because of Polanski's extradition to the U.S. to face sentencing in his 1977 case of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor — but also because the troubles of his character, Adam Lang, very much mirror the current British inquiry into Blair and the Iraq war.
Brosnan studied Blair, but never tried to mimic him, realizing he couldn't do what Michael Sheen has done in "The Queen" (2006) and "The Deal" (2003), both Peter Morgan-penned films in which Sheen memorably depicted Blair.
"I'm not doing an impersonation of Blair. But it's all about Blair," Brosnan says. "It's all about the politics of this fascinating historical time that has jolted us seismically awake."
As in "The Greatest" (which Brosnan produced with his partner Beau St. Clair), Brosnan plays a seemingly in-control man, whose facade is breaking. But he was hesitant to do the film, thinking it was too dark a place to go as a father. It was bound to dredge up a frightful memory when one of his sons was in a bad car accident in Malibu, Calif.
"The darkness and the abyss you come to," he says, shaking his head.
Brosnan stops himself from saying he never challenged himself enough, but he acknowledges his instinct is sometimes to "get away in a good-looking suit and some snappy patter."
But pushing yourself can be habit-forming.
"If not now, when?" he says. "If you fall down, so what? At least you did something."