When it comes to grandparents in the media, it’s hard to shake the image of Granny from The Beverly Hillbillies, or Grandpa Walton. But if you really want to see an example of today’s average American grandparent, meet Pierce Brosnan.
The average American becomes a first-time grandparent in his or her mid- to late 40s, and so did Brosnan, 52, whose daughter Charlotte gave birth to Isabelle Sophie in 1998. And though he exudes debonair charm onscreen, Brosnan hasn’t led a charmed life.
His father left when he was a baby; he was raised by his grandparents until the age of 6, when they died; his first wife died of ovarian cancer; one child was in a serious car accident, while his two oldest have battled substance abuse problems. His success is all the more remarkable because, always, family comes first. Brosnan calls himself a “homebody,” even though he often films in exotic locales, because his family travels with him-”Home,” he says, “is wherever I am.”
In an interview for Latitudes magazine, Brosnan was asked, “How does it feel to be a sex symbol and a grandfather at the same time?” He replied, “I think those two emblems of life sit well on the page, and I think if I can get away with it, why not? I’m very lucky to have come this far in a profession that I love with all my heart. To make movies and to be a grandfather and a sex symbol in the same sentence is a joy.”
Born in Ireland, Brosnan lived first with his grandparents and then with various relatives while his mother trained as a nurse in London. When he was 11, he joined her and was asked to give his blessing on her choice of a new husband, Bill Carmichael. One of their early male-bonding moments (no pun intended) was a trip to the movies to see Goldfinger; Brosnan swears that that was the moment he first had the urge to act.
After graduating drama school in England, Brosnan landed a role in the London premiere of a Tennessee Williams play, Red Devil Battery Sign. Williams himself approved Brosnan for the role, and Brosnan cherishes a telegram from the great man that says, “Thank God for you, my dear boy.”
Life changed dramatically for Brosnan in 1980. In rapid succession, he made his screen debut in two bit parts, got cast in a starmaking role in the miniseries The Manions of America, and married Cassandra Harris, 12 years his senior.
Harris had two small children, Charlotte and Christopher. While she and Brosnan were dating, Harris had been cast as a Bond girl in For Your Eyes Only. Brosnan accompanied her on the shoot and met Bond producer Cubby Broccoli, who earmarked him as a future James Bond-never anticipating how far in the future that would come true.
The newlywed Brosnans had just bought a house in Wimbledon when the Manions miniseries became a huge hit in the States-a prime opportunity for Brosnan to try his luck in Hollywood. Harris was also a working actress, so they agreed to uproot the family and put down new roots in California. One of his first auditions was for a new TV series called Remington Steele, which began shooting in 1982. Although his was intended to be a bit part, the audience loved him and he evolved into a starring role as the title character.
During the early Remington Steele years, son Sean was born. In 1986, after the death of their birth father, Brosnan officially adopted Charlotte and Christopher.
The Remington Steele role-described as “part James Bond, part Inspector Clouseau”-consolidated his position as the prime candidate to replace Roger Moore as James Bond. In 1986, Remington Steele was cancelled after six seasons, and Broccoli was ready to start shooting the next Bond film.
The timing seemed perfect-until all the publicity about Brosnan as Bond caused the summer reruns of Remington Steele to spike in the ratings. The network rescinded the cancellation and expected Brosnan to honor the last year of his contract. Not wanting to be the “bad guys” who spoiled Brosnan’s chance at the big time, NBC offered to allow Brosnan to film in Europe near the Bond sets. But Broccoli didn’t like the idea of his big-screen James Bond appearing simultaneously in a different role on TV, and chose to cast actor Timothy Dalton as Bond instead.
In 1987, Remington Steele was cancelled, and Brosnan moved on to other movie roles. The lesser demands were providential; Harris was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and began a four-year battle that ended with her death in 1991. Brosnan became not only a widower, but a single father of three children between the ages of 5 and 18 too.
While Brosnan coped with his grief and made a few unmemorable thrillers, the James Bond franchise was also languishing. Legal battles had put future movies in limbo after Dalton’s second outing as Bond, and Dalton moved on to other roles. In 1994, once again in command of the Bond film empire, Broccoli offered the James Bond role to Brosnan. As the first James Bond who hadn’t yet been born when Ian Fleming published his first 007 novel, it was perhaps appropriate that Brosnan made his debut in GoldenEye, the first Bond film not to be based on a Fleming book.
About the same time, Brosnan met TV journalist Keely Shaye Smith, and the relationship slowly grew from caution to friendship to more. They were living together when Smith became pregnant with son Dylan, born in 1997. The next year, daughter Charlotte gave birth to Isabelle Sophie, Brosnan’s first grandchild. Brosnan and Smith had planned their wedding for 2000, but son Sean, then a teenager, was in a serious car accident and the family chose to give him all their attention. The wedding finally happened in 2001, as did the birth of youngest son Paris.
Brosnan today has his own production company, Irish Dreamtime, which produced the film Evelyn, in which he played an unemployed Irishman battling the government for custody of his three children. It’s probably the role that, for Brosnan, hit closest to home.
When asked how his life affected his performance, Brosnan told Us magazine, “Living through and surviving the loss of a loved one-the mother of your children and your partner in life of 17 years standing-to just keep up and keep going on, surviving and working and paying the rent, making sure your children are secure and loved and that you are the one that they can come to-I don’t know how to explain it, really. You just have to do it. You accept the knowledge that you have to go on, then you put the best face on everything and just do it and weather through and endure the rough times until you get to calmer waters where you just draw breath and say, ‘I survived it’.”
Whether or not there is another Bond in Brosnan’s future is up in the air. His four-film contract is over, he has become an American citizen, and there’s been talk of a new, younger Bond to interact with some hot “Bond babes.” Brosnan says he will be content either way; being Bond is nice, but his real life is elsewhere. When asked to name his greatest accomplishment, he says, “I think that my personal achievement is really keeping a family together, keeping our children on track as much as possible, finding love a second time around and having a good life.”
Spoken like the truly typical grandparent.
Originally Published in GRAND Magazine Issue 7 Oct/Nov 2005