Pierce Brosnan: I can’t remember how many takes. It said in the script that they sit in silence and look out the window. The positioning was me in the middle. I was really wondering why no one was talking to me, and I was wondering what time lunch was. I thought, “Where’s my per diem? What am I going to do tonight? When am I going to have dinner?” That’s the kind of flippant answer to it. But you read the text and you put yourself in the story. You’re constantly revising, as an actor. You’re looking at where you’ve come from and where you’re going — previous circumstances. The previous circumstances of that moment in time were just grief, pain, loss… Absolutely rudderless. No words to express the feelings. You can’t reach out to him and you can’t reach out to her, and they’re all isolated. So, simplicity. She kept it going and then the camera rolled, and then the big discussion of, “Do we put this in the movie? Is it too long? Is it too uncomfortable? Is it going to hold?” So we went with it.
EI: It probably feels even longer than it looks onscreen. What do you think?
PB: A second in reality is two seconds onscreen. The camera plays with time, and performance always elongates things. I thought it was very courageous. I had no real say whether to cut or not to cut it. I thought it was good. I gave me tuppence worth. I think it’s a wonderful way to allow the audience into these characters’ worlds.
EI: When you’re producing a movie like this one and other you’ve done, what’s your first duty to the film? Is it as a producer or as an actor who’s playing a character?
PB: It was to play the character first. Beau [St. Clair] and I have made, I think, eight movies now, and all the movies I’ve been in. We keep talking about finding material that I’m not going to be in, but I like to act and this was a piece that Beau sent me. I read it, I was moved by it, and I threw it under the bed and said, “Okay, let’s let sleeping dogs lie,” so to speak, but Beau was very tenacious and said, “Look, have a look at it again. Read it, because we can make this movie.” So I read it and so, “Okay, let’s do it. Lets produce the movie.” We met with Shana [Feste], and she’s very erudite and passionate. I said, “Good.” It came together so quickly and effortlessly, it was amazing. We said, “Good. Let’s make it. Let’s move. Let’s get Susan [Sarandon], Carey Mulligan…” and before you knew it, we were in New York rehearsing for four or five days and then shooting.
EI: Did you shoot in Long Island?
PB: Nyack was the town we were in. It was almost like a workshop. It was almost like, “Let’s go make a movie,” and then we did, and it’s been two years now since we did it and launched it at Sundance, so it’s strange coming back around to it after that period of time.
EI: When you’re meeting with first-time directors or younger filmmakers — you mentioned Shana and her passion — what is it that you’re specifically looking for in a director? Is it a quality that jumps out at you within four or five minutes?
PB: Courage, strength, being able to articulate ideas and to be able to get on with people and to have a healthy sense of their ego. You don’t want to be working with screamers or shouters — people who are going to fall apart come day one when they can’t think on their feet and have to compromise a shot or a location. She had all those ingredients that seemed to make sense in a room. She talked a good talk and ultimately walked a good walk as well. John Bailey was an incredible benefit to have because, within her lexicon of films, Ordinary People was the blueprint for our film. John Bailey shot that, and we got him and he was just such a fine figurehead for her. Then you see young Carey Mulligan opposite Susan Sarandon, and you see this admiration with both actors.
EI: Shana mentioned that she went into this movie believing she had two movie stars, and now of course it’s come out with three post-An Education. As a producer, did you have input on Carey, or had you seen An Education prior to shooting The Greatest?
PB: I hadn’t. I’d heard about An Education, and Shana came out to where I live in Kauai and she wanted to show me the girls. She came out for the weekend. We sat down and I looked at all these girls’ work, and there was only one girl, and that was Carey Mulligan.
EI: Was that an audition tape you were watching?
PB: It was a screen test. They were all good, but there was only one that you went, “This girl is amazing. It’s incredible watching her.” I know the text and I’m reading the text, and I’m watching her, and there’s just such a natural, organic, intuitive performance. So that was the one that I hung my hat on, and we all agreed, and we could see that she was just so gifted. Johnny as well. Johnny is such a young actor but so beautiful. You see that kind of talent and sense of themselves in the performance, and it’s just intoxicating. It’s like, “Wow, I wish I was that good when I was that young.”
EI: You’ve been doing this now for something like 30 years. Do you feel like you’re still learning at this point?
PB: Yes, you do. You learn from the young ones. You learn from the old ones. You just learn. It’s a constant state of exploration and constructing and destroying of yourself, in some regards. How do you really just nail it down? The next one is going to be that one, I feel.
EI: Are you producing your next one?
PB: No, I’m just a hired hand. It’s a good one.
EI: Are you still looking at material to produce at this point?
PB: Yes, Beau and I have another piece that we’ve just set the wheels in motion on. We’ve got a director. It’s a comedy.
EI: Are you going to film in Ireland anytime soon?
PB: I don’t think so, no.
EI: Is it getting tougher to shoot over there?
PB: I don’t know. I haven’t been there in ages. It probably is.
EI: I hear that the money…if it’s tight here, it’s really tight over there.
PB: Yes, they’re going through hard times again, and they’re kind of used to hard times over there. They’re a pretty resilient people. I’d like to go back to Ireland, I really would. Beau and I are just kind of slow and steady. One film after another…
EI: Are you going to be in the next film you and Beau are producing?
EI: Can you say anything about it yet?
PB: It’s a romantic comedy.
EI: A leading lady yet?
PB: We don’t have her yet, no. We’re still talking about them though. “Maybe this one; maybe that one. Why not her…?”
EI: What about the next film you’re in — the one you’re not producing? What is that?
PB: We start the 27th of April. It’s called Salvation Boulevard. I play a mega-church preacher who’s building his church on the hill. Greg Kinnear is my disciple. I get into a bit of trouble at the beginning of the movie. Ed Harris is the atheist. Jennifer Connelly is Greg’s wife.
EI: Are you going to get in trouble with the Pope or something?
PB: No, he has a sense of humor, I’m sure. It’s from a Larry Beinhart book of the same title. This young director has taken it and really molded it. His name is George Ratliff. He did Joshua and Hell House, so he knows this whole kind of religious world.
EI: I heard you say that you decided to play this character before you became a producer. What was it about this character that made you want to get involved?
PB: It was the whole story. I just thought it was a beautifully rendered piece of storytelling and had a simplicity and a complexity to it. I thought it was heartbreaking. I thought it could break the hearts of the audience and make them cry, and make them feel and touch them. Hopefully, at curtain’s end, it can make them feel hopeful and that it was a good hour and a half spent in the cinema. For people who have found themselves in tragic circumstances, maybe there’s some healing for them — something to hold onto. I just thought it was a great piece of writing and a good way to spend the summer making a movie. It was there and it had to be done. My producing skills of picking up the phone and trying to get someone like Susan Sarandon or Carey Mulligan — luckily I have a partner in Beau Marie St. Clair who loves the details of the story-boarding and the money. I just say, “Do we have enough money? Do we have enough time? Can we keep going?” She finds the time and the money and allows me to get on with play-acting.