The peachy, beachy life of Pierce B. Brosnan
The latest Gentleman's Journal cover star takes a sandy stroll back along his shining career...
Life’s a beach for Pierce Brosnan. It’s one long, lazy, hazy, do-what-you-want, cocktails-at-sunset stretch of sand. It’s where he’s made waves with the role of a lifetime. It’s where he’s dipped his toe into the Hollywood riptide. And it’s where today — sun still shining — he’s drifting happily into his golden years. But the actor is far from washed-up. In fact, he’s as busy as he ever was. No, for Pierce Brosnan, things are still as peachy and beachy as he could ever have hoped they would be…
There’s an actual beach, too — on top of all this metaphorical nonsense. The actor’s blissful home of two decades sits on 117 sprawling feet of prime Malibu real estate. In fact, that’s exactly where these sun-drenched snaps were taken; and it proved the perfect place to capture the laid-back calm and cool of Pierce Brosnan.
“Water has always been a part of my joy and my existence,” smiles the 68-year-old, a week later. He’s away from his beach now, Zooming in from landlocked Atlanta — and missing the ocean.
“I grew up on a river on the banks of the the River Boyne, in Navan, County Meath. And I have fond memories of the seaside. It was a fair distance away, but we would travel, nevertheless, to the beaches in Galway.
“So, when I dropped into America in the 1980s,” he continues, “there was only one place to be — and that was on the coast. L.A. just didn’t hold the same magic for me as the Malibu coastline. I need the water. I need to be beside the ocean.”
But Brosnan’s making a move. His Malibu property, known as Orchid House, is currently on the market (for a cool $100 million, no less) and he’s planning to put down permanent roots in Hawaii with his wife, journalist and filmmaker Keely Shaye.
“Although we’ve been in Hawaii for twenty years,” says Brosnan. “We wanted to get away somewhere tropical, and both Keely and I had been to Hawaii and loved it. We’ve got a property there with great bamboo, so I put up palapas — which are grass huts — on the beach, and sit there to have breakfast or lunch”.
Life’s a beach indeed. And, when Brosnan isn’t rustling up palapas on his Hawaiian estate, he’s paddleboarding. Or snorkelling. Or fishing. Or just submerging himself in the local Polynesian culture.
“And I think that has come into my work slowly,” he nods. “Subliminally. Sometimes intentionally. The motifs of the plants, or the silhouette and shape of the island. They subtly dwell in my work.”
The ‘work’, of course, is not Brosnan’s vast and varied acting career — but rather his artwork. Because, while the world may know him for playing roles including James Bond and Robinson Crusoe, Brosnan’s most heartfelt expression of his personal creativity can be found elsewhere; not on celluloid, but on canvas.
And it’s been that way all his life. Not long after those childhood trips to the beaches of Galway, Brosnan was sent to be schooled in London. He endured a “wild and woolly” experience in the comprehensive school system, before leaving Putney’s Elliot School and landing his first job — as a ‘trainee commercial artist’ — for a small studio just south of the Thames.
Since then, it’s always been about the art. Brosnan discusses no other subject with such pace, passion — or curiosity. In fact, he’s sketching as we speak.
“Because, sometimes, you just have to paint! Sitting on calls, sitting on Zoom, sitting here looking at people. It’s nice to stay active.
“It’s my little bit of Carl Jung,” he chuckles.
But Hawaii, for all its shapes, silhouettes and rich aboriginal culture, is not the sole inspiration for Brosnan’s artwork. The actor also cites Picasso, Matisse — even Hemingway — as key creatives in his sphere of influence. Currently, he tells me, he is re-reading Gabriel García Márquez’s ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’.
“It’s a magnificent book,” he says, brandishing the hardback. “Salma Hayek gave this to me as a birthday present”.
Brosnan’s affinity for art has occasionally crossed over into his day job. He wrote René Magritte’s surrealist ‘The Son of Man’ painting (think face-obscuring fruit and bowler hats) into his 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. And, where possible, the actor will create a studio space that he can escape to when filming on location.
“I’m actually on location now,” Brosnan says, gesturing around the room. “And, here in Atlanta, in this beautiful apartment, I have a studio. It’s just a spare room, turned into a studio, where I set up work. But, if you’re going to be away somewhere for a long time, I find it’s good to come away with one or two pieces of work that you’ve done there.”
And do these locations — the far-flung filming destinations — inform and influence Brosnan’s work?
“Not necessarily, no,” he says, pen still firmly pressed to paper. “I’ve been to some of the galleries here in Atlanta, and there are some wonderful artists. But the inspiration comes from life, from drawing, from the work at hand — and from my scripts.”
Which explains the breadth of Brosnan’s art. Because few artists have run the cinematic gamut quite like the Irish-American actor. From The Long Good Friday to The Lawnmower Man, from Mars Attacks! to Mamma Mia!, Brosnan’s acting choices have always been eclectic. Even after a four-film stint as James Bond, the actor resisted being typecast into his tuxedo. And, this year, he’s setting a new record for range.
Kicking off the genre-jumping is a thigh-clenching turn in Hulu horror False Positive, in which Brosnan plays a Faustian fertility doctor — all reassuring smiles and massive syringes. Next comes The Misfits, an action heist thriller that casts the actor as a suave master architect. And then there’s a leap to children’s animation, where Brosnan will voice an anthropomorphic elk in a whimsical retelling of Riverdance.
It’s an eclectic filmography, energetic — and looks to be the career of a man just having fun; unashamedly doing whatever he wants to do. Is that how Brosnan calls it?
“Yes — somewhat,” he says with a pause. “I like to take time off, and it’s nice to have choices with work — but sometimes, of course, you don’t. There are no real guidelines to it. Other than the script! Everything starts with the script. Also who’s doing it: who is making this movie? But, first and foremost, the script.”
And many scripts have come Brosnan’s way. One of the first, given to the actor within months of graduating from Drama Centre London in 1975, was for Tennessee Williams’ The Red Devil Battery Sign. Williams, a living legend by that point, hand-picked Brosnan to star in the play’s London debut. And, since that early success, the actor has read countless more scripts, learning his lines for roles from King Arthur and Louis XIV to Phileas Fogg.
The latest script to land by Brosnan’s easel is Black Adam, a superhero epic starring Dwayne Johnson as the titular antihero. Brosnan will play ‘Doctor Fate’, a sorcerer who wears a magical helmet. It’s the first time the actor has been offered a superhero role since he turned down Tim Burton’s offer to star in 1989’s Batman.
“And I’m having a fabulous time,” says Brosnan of Black Adam. “I love these films very much. But I’ve also been a big fan of the comic book world. There certainly was wonderment around whether I’d ever be approached to play anything.”
As a time-served sorcerer, Brosnan thankfully doesn’t have to go toe-to-muscular-toe with Dwayne Johnson. The actor says he hasn’t even noticed the ‘superherofication’ of Hollywood — where almost all modern leading men are expected to look a certain, strapping way. But take Daniel Craig’s James Bond as an example. When 007 sashayed out of the sea in Casino Royale, it was clear that this new, burlier Bond wouldn’t get anywhere near Brosnan’s slim-fit, sleekly cut Brioni suits. So is the actor glad he missed the age of must-have muscles?
“I actually don’t know about that,” Brosnan reasons. “Daniel was magnificent as Bond, but there’s always been a physicality to acting. It’s an essential part of being an actor — knowing how to use your body; how to perform physically, how to perform spiritually and technically. I don’t think much has really changed.”
Except for Bond himself, of course — for whom things have undeniably moved on. Brosnan even told ‘The Hollywood Reporter’ in 2019 that he’d find it “exhilarating and exciting” to see a female Bond take over from Craig. And, as we speak, news is breaking of the much-opposed Amazon-MGM merger. Brosnan agrees that it would be cinema’s loss if Bond slipped off the big screen, but he also acknowledges that these aren’t his decisions to make. Despite playing an integral part in the franchise’s history, Bond has moved on — and Brosnan no longer even gets invited to the films’ premieres.
“I don’t think so,” he says, when I ask if he’s ever received the red carpet call. “I don’t recall being invited.”
But Brosnan is better off not dwelling on the past. Today, he shakes tequila cocktails over martinis (“At the end of the day, sitting on the beach”). And, despite starring in two seasons of Western television drama The Son, he deems a limited revival of Remington Steele, the 1980s television show that made him a star, “highly unlikely”.
Even if the offer did come, Brosnan’s docket is full. After Black Adam, he will film romantic comedy Not Bloody Likely — a spin on the story of George Bernard Shaw’s attempts to bring Pygmalion to the West End in 1914. Another Irish-influenced project will follow, titled The Last Rifleman. Inspired by the true-story tale of Bernard Jordan, Brosnan will play a Northern Irish World War II veteran who breaks out of his care home on the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
There’s even another film coming out this very summer; a musical retelling of Cinderella. Brosnan plays the part of ‘King Rowan’ alongside Camila Cabello’s titular princess, and the actor’s fans all have the same burning Brosnan question: Will this be a singing part?
“I do sing, yes,” he smiles. It’s a measured smile — one likely recalling the pitch of his performance in the exuberantly ABBA-charged mega-hit Mamma Mia!. (Brosnan bagged himself an infamous Golden Raspberry Award (or ‘Razzie’) for his singing efforts in the 2008 film.) So how did he approach the music this time around?
“With an open heart!” he laughs good-naturedly, “and with grandeur of spirit!”
The last time Brosnan starred in a musical, he admits, the chance to get a song on the soundtrack evaded him. Starring alongside Will Ferrell in 2019’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, he reveals that “[he] threw [his] hat in the ring, but they weren’t forthcoming.”
“And I have a platinum album!” he laughs, “and a gold album!”
It’s true. These albums, the soundtracks to Mamma Mia! and its 2018 sequel, have sold millions of copies around the world. Part nostalgia-fuel, part summer-anthems — but wholly good fun — Brosnan has lent his divisive vocal stylings to six different ABBA tracks so far. And, despite filming on location in Greece, he learnt these songs on his Hawaiian beach, singing karaoke to his own personalised backing tracks.
“Yes, I had the songs recorded,” he nods, “and the music for them. And, living out in the wilds of Hawaii, there’s a lot of space! Mamma Mia! brought me such joy. When we made that movie, it really was one of the great summers.”
And Pierce Brosnan is built for summer. Just look at him. He may have a slick mafioso’s mane and thick, distinctive beard — “this is a Van Dyke,” he says, pointing as his face — but everything about the man shrieks summer. The tan. The squint. The shirts and sunglasses. He’s like a poster boy for exotic adventures, easy living and responsible sunbathing.
“Last summer was also actually a great summer,” Brosnan considers, his head bobbing gently from side-to-side. “Ironically. Because we were in lockdown on the island. I painted, I gardened, I swam. And we did that every day. And Keely cooked meals and we took walks. But all of this amidst the terrible pandemic and this font of anxiety that people lived with every day — this acute awareness of suffering and pain.
“I lost two friends to Covid,” he adds. “Dear, dear friends. And yet, we were in this kind of idyllic landscape. So it wasn’t until afterwards, really, that we felt as though we’d had this amazing summer. I feel gratitude to have had that in my life.”
There’s a softness to Brosnan — in both voice and temperament. He’s clearly content, happy to follow his own path and be his true self — but he’d never let this freedom of spirit bring detriment or discomfort to others. Speaking to the actor, one thing is clear: we should all be more Brosnan. Because this is a happy man happily growing old. He’s happy for his hair to go grey — “I just let it go…”. And he’s happy living by his short, time-tested list of considered mottos and mantras.
“Be kind,” he says, checking them off. “Show up on time. And be patient. You might have to step back and take a breath. You might have to think about what you’re doing, think about the situation. I don’t get angry. I could get angry — but where would that anger go? There would be no point.”
Instead, he meditates.
“You sit down, quietly,” says Brosnan, explaining his process. “You close your eyes — or focus on a point. And you sit there for ten minutes, five minutes, even just a minute. And you quiet the mind.”
There’s a pause, as if he’s lost in meditation himself. But then it’s back to the sketchpad. Because Brosnan’s approach to his work — of any kind — is iron-willed and unwavering. Whether he’s pushing through a multi-million dollar passion project or just doing some gentle shading, the actor places the greatest importance on getting things done. And there’s even more he wants to do.
“There are movies I want to make,” he nods, “There is art that I want to create. And a book. There is a book somewhere in me, which I would like to put down. The memoirs have been talked about, and I work from time to time on them. I have poetry. I have books and writings. I’d like to try sculpture — I’d like to try ceramics and pottery. And I’ll get there at some point.
“Since we’ve been in lockdown,” he adds, pausing with his pen, “my [art]work has got bigger. Also since I’ve been in Hawaii. And the process has just become a little more meaningful. There are more opportunities — more possibilities. Take the world of NFT. We’re dropping an NFT — ‘Earplugs’ — just to play. It’s there, so why not? It’s kind of the gold rush; everyone trying to make a buck.”
‘Earplugs’ is a piece of art the actor painted in 1995, while filming GoldenEye. And an ‘NFT’, or ‘non-fungible token’, is a unique digital asset — a single unit of data (in this case, an artwork) that can be sold, usually at a high price, to a single owner. It’s a practice still in its infancy, however, and one many people still don’t fully understand.
“I can’t say that I do, either,” laughs Brosnan. “It’s rather abstract. But it’s good fun, and I think it’s here to stay. It will cultivate itself into different avenues, and artists will be made. And money will be made.”
But money, unsurprisingly, is not the goal for Brosnan. The art is something that the actor — still sketching — feels compelled to do. A similar impulse drives his environmental work; a long list of philanthropic endeavours that spans decades, and focuses mainly on ocean conservation.
“I love nature,” says Brosnan. “I grew up in the countryside. But it was because of Ted Danson and his oceans campaign that I began to support this work, as an environmentalist. He is a very passionate man. And, because of his concerns for the ocean, and living in Malibu, my interest was spawned there. Once you put your toe into those waters, there’s no going back.
“Because we are in a pretty bad shape, you know?” the actor adds, setting down his pen. “With what we do to the oceans, and the dismantling of the old growth trees and deforestation. So that work is very close to my heart and I try to balance it in my life. Because you can’t fight all the battles. You have to choose your causes.”
He’s holding up his sketchpad to the camera. The picture is an abstract set of blocks and beads, surrounded by spines. There’s a female face gazing off to the left. But there are also leaves; the actor’s environmental interests put down in ink.
So how does Brosnan pick his battles?
“They find you,” the actor shrugs, returning to the sketchpad. “It’s what moves you, what angers you, what you can do about this or that — trying to do the right thing by a cause. And finding the right people to stand with.”
Brosnan stands, most closely, with his wife. The two have been partners-in-conservation for years, and recently produced Poisoning Paradise, a documentary exposing the use of restricted pesticides on Hawaiian islands. Brosnan promoted the film on Instagram, sharing the important findings with his 1.5 million Instagram followers. But the actor doesn’t feel a duty to use his social media accounts for activism.
“I don’t feel a responsibility, no,” he says. “It’s just what moves me, and what I’m passionate about. I would like to leave the world, as they say, a better place. I’d like to come away with something that’s really meaningful.”
And, in addition to art and conservation, Brosnan finds few things as meaningful as family. He speaks as effusively about his sons as he does the environment — detailing how Dylan, a graduate of the University of Southern California, is currently working as a documentary filmmaker. And how Paris, a second-year student at Loyola Marymount University, will fly to Atlanta next month to join Black Adam as an assistant director.
“The boys have a creative life,” Brosnan acknowledges. “An artistic life. They’ve grown up in the business — surrounded by movie-making, so it’s been a natural progression for both of them to go into the arts. And they’re both very good at what they do.”
Before settling in London, Brosnan spent his childhood being moved around the British Isles — and largely separated from family. Could that be why he’s so keen to keep his children close?
“I suspect so,” he nods. “I cherish family very much. I cherish being a father. I did not grow up with a father figure or with a solid family. There was deep fracture, a certain isolation and an aloneness which wielded the wonderful power of my imagination. I had to get by on my own sensing and intuition.
“So I value and love the family. Keely is the most amazing mother and woman — I’ve watched her grow up over 27 years, watched our life together just blossom and grow. And there are still many more dreams to be had.”
One such dream, Brosnan says, is the pursuit of another perfect summer. In an unlocked world, the actor reveals, he has a desire to return to one of his favourite cities; Paris.
“I have a deep love and passion for Paris,” he nods. “Keely and I will talk about Paris from time to time. We always stay in the same hotel; right opposite the Tuileries and the Rue de Rivoli. And it’s close to the Musée d’Orsay and the Louvre. I’ve had some wonderful summers in Paris.”
But, for now — and after selling off his sunny slice of Malibu — the actor will have to make do with hot, tranquil Hawaii. When Black Adam wraps, it’ll be back to the island, and an enviable existence of paddleboarding and palapas. Life’s a beach, after all…
“It’s work and play,” Brosnan lilts in agreement. “And I have friends out in Hawaii. We paint, play golf, repeat. And that’s a good day. Nine holes in the morning, a good lunch, afternoon in the studio, swim at the day’s end. Watch the sun set. Fire on the beach. Play some music. A cocktail, sitting on the beach.”
He puts the pen down.
“I live a rather glorious life.”
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