For Bond fans the world over, Pierce Brosnan was the archetypal British secret agent. Smooth, sophisticated and seductive, he encapsulated the very essence of 007. It’s something of a surprise then to hear him talk about the trials of becoming “a horse’s ass”.
The horse’s backside he refers to is his latest incarnation, the half-man, half-horse god, Chiron the Centaur he depicts in the forthcoming family action-adventure Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief.
“I play a teacher, Professor Brunner, who’s a paraplegic philosopher of the gods and then he goes into this ’other’ world where he becomes this powerful horse’s ass,” says Pierce.
Based on Rick Riordan’s New York Times best-seller, Percy Jackson & The Olympians: The Lightning Thief, and directed by Home Alone’s Christopher Columbus, the movie introduces Greek mythology to a modern-day setting.
At the centre of the story is the trouble-prone Percy Jackson, who’s forced to embark on an adventure of epic proportions when he discovers his real father is Poseidon, god of the sea. A demigod, (that’s half-human, half-god), Percy is sent to Camp Half Blood, where he’s trained by Chiron to harness his newly-discovered powers in order to prevent a devastating war among the gods, secure the fate of the world and save the life of his mother, whom Percy must rescue from the depths of Hell itself, no less.
“I think it’s great storytelling in the hands of a very fine storyteller, Chris Columbus,” says Pierce in his recognisable languid voice. “Christopher has done this for many years and his enthusiasm and passion and creativity I think is as potent now as it was back when he was working on Mrs Doubtfire,” he adds, referring to the 1993 film in which Pierce starred alongside a cross-dressing Robin Williams.
“And I think Rick Riordan’s done a magnificent job of blending the here and now with the world of Greek mythology. For a young audience, it lends itself to a wonderful exploration, to get them delving into and looking at the Iliad and Homer and see the genesis of storytelling in society.”
Making fun of himself for his “long-winded answer”, Pierce continues to attribute what he hopes will be a successful franchise, not only to “good film-making” but to a wonderful cast, led by 18-year-old Logan Lerman in the title role.“They’re really cool, young actors who are ferocious for the golden light, ferocious for being part of movies, who have a burning passion to be out there,” says Pierce, who says he wasn’t tempted to pass on his own wisdom to them.
“No, didn’t need to,” he says. “Stayed well clear of that one. Just hung out with them. They all have their own vibe going, you know. I came in, did my job and went home.”
Like many of Colombus’s films, the parent-child relationship is at the heart of the story and that’s something that resonates with 56-year-old Pierce, a father to five. There’s Sean, 26, his actor son by his first wife, Cassandra Harris, who died of ovarian cancer in 1991. He also adopted her two children, Charlotte, 37, and Christopher, 36, when their father died in 1986. He also has two sons, Dylan, 12 and Paris, 8, by Keely Shaye Smith
“My 12-year-old’s just done Oklahoma and plays guitar and my eight-year-old’s a drummer and sings,” he says.
“They write poetry and write songs, so give me strength!” he adds, laughing at the fact it looks likely they’ll be following in their father’s footsteps. “If they want to act, then yeah that’s fine but they’ve got to get the grades.”
Describing his young son as “smart, brilliant”, he admits he found his own formative years tougher. “I had ’it’ but I didn’t have a good teacher and it’s to do with teachers and how you’re taught and how you come to your own knowledge and thinking. I didn’t have that.”
Born in Ireland, today Pierce only has the slightest hint of an Irish accent but his experiences under the tuition of the religious community The Christian Brothers had a lasting effect.
“Yeah, they weren’t the greatest educators for me. I learnt about nothing at school, I learnt how to fight,” he says with a chuckle to himself. In Percy Jackson, Percy is dyslexic and struggles at school and although he’s not dyslexic, Pierce said he struggled all the same.
“To know that you have an intellect and an intuition in life but not to be able to comprehend what someone’s saying in the classroom is horrific,” he says.
By the time Pierce moved to London with his mother and her new partner in 1964 and entered the comprehensive school system, he says he was completely inarticulate.
“I could see my short-comings. I felt the sting and the stab of not knowing and saying the wrong thing. That traverses your life, so it’s constant, constant work but when I found the life of an actor, I found the life of literature.”
Embarking on an acting career in 1979, Pierce has to date appeared in around 60 movies and TV series including James Bond, The Thomas Crown Affair, Dante’s Peak and the 2008 box-office hit Mamma Mia! (based on the Abba musical).
“I’d grown up with Abba and seen them celebrated and ridiculed but ultimately people love them,” he says. “Colin Firth, clever b****r that he is, said there’s only two people in life, the people who love Mamma Mia! and the liars. I thought how clever are you Colin? Smarty pants. And he was right on the money there because everybody loves Abba.”
As for reprising his role in a Mamma Mia! sequel, he says, “I don’t think it’s going to happen. I think we did it, it’s done and dusted.” Then he hears there are rumours that a script’s already underway. “Well, I’m in then!” he jokes.
His singing abilities in Mamma Mia! may have been ridiculed but he says it was nothing compared to the humiliation he faced in having to don a pair of tights for his role in Percy Jackson. Fluorescent blue tights with orange spots at that.
“Christopher, he was a clever b****r,” says Pierce recalling being offered the role. “He sent me this script with a beautiful artist’s impression of me as Chiron, looking great and fantastic and brilliantly buffed and I thought ’I’m goood, this is splendid!”’
“So, of course I said ’yes’ and then we came to the moment of glory (filming the scenes) and I’ve got good leather straps here and there (pointing to his chest) and buckles and knives and a sword, but then I had to get into tights, so they could put the horse’s ass on me,” he says, referring to the blue tights that allow the special effects team to later add CGI effects.
“You know it’s not easy to be all butch up here and look down and you’ve got tights on,” he says. Then he puffs his chest jokingly. “It takes a real man to wear tights!”
EXTRA TIME – PIERCE BROSNAN
He was born on May 16, 1953, in County Meath, Ireland
He became a citizen of the United States on September 23, 2004, although he says, “My Irishness is in everything I do.”
He has a scar above his top lip following a stunt that went wrong during the filming of 1997’s Tomorrow Never Dies. In his spare time, Pierce puts his artistic flair to good use and paints pictures he sells to raise money for charity.Having worked with “people who didn’t know their arse from their elbow and they call themselves directors”, Pierce hopes to make his directorial debut soon.
Percy Jackson And The Lightning Thief is released in cinemas on Friday February 12