Not long ago we had the chance to talk to Pierce Brosnan about his latest role and producing project, The Greatest with Susan Sarandon and Carey Mulligan (read interview). This is one of his best performances to date. There is something so satisfying about watching Brosnan when he’s vulnerable and real – he completely entrances you. Yes he may look good in a suit and know how to make shooting a fake gun look real, but the man can act. In The Greatest, he plays a character whose son is in a car accident, and as he says below “it was me”. It’s a subtle performance about him trying to keep everything together while the strings are coming loss – thanks to the director Shana Feste who allowed for scenes to breath when needed, you finally get to sit with Brosnan and see what he’s capable of.
As I was reading through this transcription, I can’t help but remember the way Brosnan spoke about the film. Not only did he bring a sense of expertice and charm when he walked into the room, but also a sense of calm and clarity that is hard to get from some actors. He took his time answering questions and was very meticulous about everything he said. For those of you looking to be a part of the film-making process, in front or behind the camera, listen to what he has to say about film, it’s some much need honest advice…
This film is about all these characters dealing with grief individually, how do you create an environment where everyone can collaborate but you’re able to sort of operate in scenes independent of one another?
Pierce Brosnan: I’m not sure I can answer that question, really. This was a four-week shoot with maybe four days of rehearsal prior, so everybody had to be on their game. You didn’t have much room to wiggle around and say let’s talk about it or let’s discuss it; you really had to be prepared. That’s the exhilarating part of making films like this, independent films, where you have four weeks, the budget is slim, the schedule is tight, and if the script is fighting fit and good, and then you go shoot it and hopefully you have people and players who are prepared.
You can’t work yourself up into the scene, you can say, well, I need three to five takes to get into the scene; scene one, first take, you’d better be there with the performance – and everybody was. It was fun, it was very concentrated; everybody supported Shana. Shana, a young woman, she [directed] with maturity and great observation, and John Bailey was her godfather – he was there constantly with her, and that was a joy to see. Our cast, Susan [Sarandon] and myself, we know our way around the ropes, and that was it. It’s pretty simple, really. It’s a very simple business, and certain egos and people want to complicate it and tend to make it more than it actually is, but you act, you pretend – pretend you know what you’re doing and act as if you know what you’re doing. Just do something!
Talk about your relationship with Susan. What was the process of establishing how your characters interacted – did you do it together or individually, or is that once again part of acting?
Brosnan: Part of acting, yeah. Actors have done this for many years – you have a past history you share. She and I didn’t go into the nuances of who were and how we met – did we? No, we didn’t – and first day’s work was the scene in the bed with me grieving. That was the first day of filming, and I wished that it hadn’t been, but in hindsight it was a blessing. Because I was so terrified of showing myself; I had never really shown myself like that before. Susan was there at the end of the bed, and she’s a formidable actress. So you kind of know that you’ve had a history of love and life – you just know that. It’s just a given that these two people love each other, and they’re a middle-class, bourgeois family; he’s a mathematician and he lives for numbers. So you get all of this; it’s a quick assimilation, this past history, and the rudiments of acting – where are you, what do you want, how do you get it, why, how. So the score was fairly well drawn-out, and then we would go do it.
How was Shana as a first-time director?
Brosnan: She has a real grace and elegance and you just feel secure. You feel that you’re being taken care of and that you can go to her with any problem. And you want to work for her – you want to perform. She just gets that naturally. She’s sincere and she’s articulate, she’s erudite, she’s present, and has a good sense of who she is, so all of those ingredients make you as an actor want to leap off. And like I said, on the first day at work there was nowhere to hide, so you just had to go for it. we didn’t discuss how big or how loud I was going to cry or emote; just know that this man’s been holding back, he’s losing his wife and he’s losing his life, and we just went for it.
Did she provide you with a pretty complete portrait of the character, whether she talked to you about the details or they were in the script? Or did you have to research or do other work to come up with who the character was?
Brosnan: The character is me. It’s me. It’s Pierce, it’s not a transformation. It’s just, what if I were a professor and this was my work? And it’s me but it’s not me; he lives in a classroom, he lives by his computer, there’s a way of work and a way of his clothes and what does he wear, how does he walk. He’s a really kind, generous fellow, so you kind of do all of this homework and you put it into the domesticity of the story. I don’t know – When I was a younger actor I used to look for the quirks and the kind of shadow moves. You thought, oh, I’ll do this and I’ll do that and I’ll get a character [and ask], oh, what’s he twitching about, what’s he doing there, as opposed to just really saying the lines. If you’re cast correctly and you understand, then just say the lines, as simply and as clearly as possible.
Do you feel like your approach in general is to say that “what if I was this guy” as opposed to that sort of transformation?
Brosnan: Transformation comes with relaxation. That comes with the confidence of just being with the text and taking the time to say the lines and listen. If you do that, some actors just know how to do that from the get-go. Carey Mulligan says she’s untrained, but she’s brilliant because she’s so natural. Then you have someone who’s trained and they have done Shakespeare, and then you put them in front of a camera and it’s like, what are they saying? So to me it’s a constant work in progress, cinematic acting – working in front of the camera and being confident and relaxed and all of that.
Is producing exercising a different kind of creative muscle?
Brosnan: Oh, I love it. I really enjoy it. Beau St. Clair and myself, we’ve made eight movies so far, and each one is indelible and each one we have complete ownership of; we built them from the ground up. We found the scripts, sat there and read it, talked about it, who do we get the money [from], how do we get the money, what’s the budget, does it need a rewrite, can we afford a rewrite, can we do this, and then we’re ready to go. So it’s a great feeling, and then to go on the first day and see that you have a cast and crew, how good are the drivers, how good is the makeup, how good are the lighting guys, is everybody behind us on this, is everybody doing this for the right reason; we’re trying to create a work environment that is safe and exhilarating where people can work to their highest potential.
So yes, I really enjoy that. And no, I don’t want to direct (laughs). But yet I do think I want to direct. I don’t know but I’m so terrified of it. I like producing, but producing in the sense of instigating, just finding the techs, and when it comes down to it, Beau does the heavy lifting. And she loves doing it – she likes doing the budget and the scheduling and all of that that really confuses me. I like that “right this way, Mr. Brosnan.” “Can I get you a cup of coffee? Here’s your motor home.” I’ll have a tuna sandwich and a milkshake and I’ll do my little scene and go home.
Do you have a favorite character out of the many different ones you’ve played?
Brosnan: I think Julian in The Matador is the most-rounded and the most transformative of the characters I’ve done. I like him a lot. He was so outrageous and audacious and irreverent, but I don’t know. That comes to mind. My style of acting and what I’ve done is fairly keeping within my range as and actor as I’ve grown, and in the last years I’ve kind of grown and stepped out and took time to explore and play and do characters, dress up, put on fake noses and funny voices.
Have you found that people are more receptive to you now playing those different kinds of roles, since it seems like it can be limiting if you’ve been successful with certain kinds of characters.
Brosnan: Yeah. Well, because you’ve kind of given branches for so long, and then it’s time to do something else – and Matador was one of those sharp left turns that was just like, oh, wow, that’s who he is. I’d forgotten it myself, because when I was much younger and before America, there was all of this character and change. And then I kind of got easy with Remington Steele and that kind of performance – oh, I can just play myself and do light entertainment! But then that becomes really shallow and boring and you end up looking like wallpaper, and then it’s time to act (laughs).
See Brosnan alongside Mulligan and Sarandon this Friday, April 2nd in select theaters!