Pierce Brosnan halfway through an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival he spontaneously breaks into song.
“Lemon tree very pretty…“ he begins, in his now infamous tenor, before a broad smile curls across his rugged features.
Granted, he’s no Harry Belafonte, but after howling through Mamma Mia! to both cheers and jeers, he was confident enough to offer Danish director Susanne Bier the option of a brief musical exchange in her latest film, Love Is All You Need.
A romantic comedy that also includes the dark cloud of cancer and mortality, Love is All You Need features Brosnan as an uptight widower working in Copenhagen. He’s a produce trader with a penchant for lemons, and over the course of the bittersweet saga set in Southern Italy, he falls for a hairdresser recovering from chemotherapy and a mastectomy.
The Oscar-winning director of In a Better World politely turned him down on his Calypso, but the man who inhabited the persona of James Bond for the better part of a decade says he’s still got a proverbial song in his heart, and a lust for living in the moment.
It’s a conscious thing, he says.
“Some things will give you pain one way or another, but on a professional level, this is a nice place.
“I love being an actor,” he says. “I wanted to be in movies. I wanted success, fame, fortune and all the grand things in life — and I got it.”
The tough part is to figure out what to do next, he says, because fame and fortune come and go. Everything is uncertain.
“But that’s why I love it,” he says. “It’s a constant challenge. And you can lean into that drama, or not lean into it and be subdued and befuddled by it, and have huge resentment about it,” he says.
“I’ve had good success. I got to be centre-stage as James Bond, and I got away with it, one way or another. And that’s a gift that keeps on giving in many respects. It’s a small group of men who have played the role, and now is a time to do interesting work and have the unexpected surprises and really, just play,” he says.
“My wife calls it legal cheating: The whole Bond experience of it all let me play it all out as a man and as an actor, and then go home to my wife and my family. It’s what we all strive for in a way. But sometimes, you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone,” he says.
“Hopefully, you have a sense of humour about yourself, and can exercise some grace under pressure, but in the end, for me, it’s about the joy of making movies and being in a situation like this, where I get to work with a director like Susanne Bier to make a story of life, love and middle age —- and a son who doesn’t know if he is coming or going…”
Brosnan is wearing an azure jacket that looks like denim, but seems to be made of raw silk. His watch is one of those rose-gold timepieces that silently ticks away the seconds of a good life, and his entire demeanour suggests a man who’s eaten the world’s oyster raw and saved the pearl.
“I am happy,” says Brosnan, who turns 60 next May. “But there’s a fragility to it.”
Perhaps it’s this awareness that makes his lemon-man in Bier’s film so charming, and so convincing.
“Well, I know something about loss,” he says of his portrayal of a widower. Brosnan lost his first wife, Cassandra Harris, in 1991. The former sister-in-law to Richard Harris and a Bond girl in For Your Eyes Only lost her battle with cancer, leaving Brosnan with three children.
He remarried a decade later, and started a new family.
“I also know something about cancer and I know something about being a father, and I know there are times in your life when you end up with romance and affairs of the heart,” he says.
“But then somebody truly captivates you, and so, it can be as simple as that, and as complex as that.”
Brosnan says when he can, he prefers to keep things simple rather than complex. “I’ve always been grounded by my Irishness. I’m the same person I was when I started out. And I have a wonderful wife and children.”
Working with Bier let Brosnan explore the details of the everyday tragi-comedy called life through the lemon-man as he turns all the bitterness in his life into lemonade.
The key to squeezing it all out, he says, is love.
“Love is a very hard thing… and a very gorgeous thing. To feel something so strong in your heart and in your belly when you see someone who makes your world happy, it’s beautiful. I think Susanne captures it in the film,” he says.
“He finds someone who makes him feel alive again.”
Brosnan doesn’t think there are enough movies like Love Is All You Need, a romantic comedy laced with dark threads of mortality and sexual identity. Most films in a lovey-dovey vein turn away from the pain.
“Life is harsh and getting harsher, and there is a lot of confusion and bleakness. Susanne understands that, but she has such humanity, so that when you see a movie like this, it’s a breath of fresh air.”
Love is All You Need will be released in Canada by Mongrel Media in 2013.