In a few weeks’ time, Pierce Brosnan will celebrate his 60th birthday, but he is entering his seventh decade with a self-deprecating blend of good humour and appreciation for life’s blessings.
“Growing older just creeps up on you,” he says. “You’re on a movie set and you look around and you suddenly think, ‘S**t, I’m the oldest one here!’ I’ll celebrate with my darling girl and the kids – you give thanks and then on you go. I’ve got a lot of gratitude for the wonderful things in my life.” And he has much to celebrate – a happy marriage, five much adored children and beautiful homes on the ocean in Malibu and Hawaii.
He can also look back on a career that took him from theatre here in the UK, via a BBC costume drama (Nancy Astor) and American TV series (Remington Steele) in the 1980s, to playing James Bond in four films between 1995 and 2002, before he stood aside for the latest 007, Daniel Craig.
He has no regrets. Craig is a friend and a “brilliant” Bond, he says, and the legacy of his own time in the tuxedo and driving the Aston Martin DB5 is still with him. “Bond is the gift that keeps on giving,” he says. “It was a monumental part of my career – I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity to play Bond and I loved playing him. Really, who wouldn’t? It’s a small group of men who have played him and I’m very proud to be one of them. But once it’s finished you have to look in other directions and you have to move on. Bond allowed me to go forth as an actor and play the characters that I do now.”
One such character is Philip, a middle-aged English businessman still grieving after the loss of his wife, in Love Is All You Need, a bittersweet romantic comedy from acclaimed Danish director Susanne Bier that’s released in cinemas on Friday 19 April.
It’s a particularly poignant film for Brosnan because there are echoes of his own past in the story. He lost his first wife, Australian actress Cassandra Harris, to ovarian cancer in 1991 when she was just 43. They had a son, Sean, now 29, and Brosnan adopted Cassandra’s daughter, Charlotte, and son, Christopher, from a previous marriage.
“You cannot escape your own life and the experiences, good and bad, when you play certain characters,” he says. “Losing Cassie to cancer was part of the vocabulary of playing Philip. You draw upon your life when you create a character. I didn’t find it acutely painful because at the same time the story had its own tone and narrative, but there are many emblems in there which I could identify with as a man, as an actor, and that was part of the reason I wanted to do the film.”
Brosnan met the woman who would turn his own life around, journalist and broadcaster Keely Shaye Smith (50 this September), three years after his first wife died. They married in 2001 and have two sons together, Dylan, 16, and Paris, 12.
“We met when I was like Philip, adrift,” he says. “I’d lost my wife and been a widower for three years. Keely is the backbone of our family, of my life, and I tell her that I love her every day. I tell her that she’s beautiful and I couldn’t have done it without her.”
The actor was raised in County Meath in Ireland by his mother, May, after his father walked out when he was a toddler. They then moved to England in 1964 when he was 11. And now almost five decades later, his matinee idol looks may betray some signs of his age (his thick hair is greying, there are lines around his eyes), but he could still pass for a man 15 years younger.
“I like my golf, I get on the bike, I get on the treadmill, I kayak and, you know, living in California is conducive to that lifestyle. I live right by the beach and I get up and hike up into the hills with the dog. It’s a simple life, really.
“If I’m not filming I take the kids to school, go to the office and see what’s on my desk, pick the kids up from school and go home and make dinner. You have to look after yourself but I put it down to some good Irish genes and good lighting…”
Post-Bond, he’s relished taking on vastly different roles. He starred with Meryl Streep and Colin Firth in Mamma Mia! and the musical based on Abba’s songs became the biggest UK hit of 2008. “Doing Bond was fairly terrifying but I think Mamma Mia! was even more so,” he laughs. “But it was worth it. It really was the best of times.”
He’s as busy as ever and recently finished filming a comedy, Love Punch, with Emma Thompson. He will also play a disgraced TV personality contemplating suicide in A Long Way Down, based on the Nick Hornby novel, and hopes to work with his son, Sean, in The Ghosts of Belfast, an adaptation of Stuart Neville’s thriller, set in the aftermath of the troubles in Ireland. “It’s about a man released from prison who has to deal with the venom of the past and Sean will play my character as a young man. So if we can make it happen, I’d obviously love the chance of working with my boy.
“Sean is doing well and he’s creating a career for himself. And my son Dylan goes to film school in the summer and makes his own movies. You get apprehensive, regardless of what they do. It’s part of being a parent. But I embrace their decisions as long as they get an education. If they choose the world of film-making then I’ll certainly help them in any way I can. But in the end, they all have to find their own way.”
Love Is All You Need is released in UK cinemas on Friday 19 April