What James Bond Did Next
By Bill Dunn
It's Monday morning and Pierce Brosnan is at work behind a desk in Santa Monica, California. It's an odd sight. Brosnan is a hugely successful film star, so you'd forgive him for resting on his laurels a bit; after all, he has now completed four Bond films, and the latest broke all Bond box-office records.
So why isn't he soaking up the sun at his Malibu Beach home? "It's Monday morning, I've got a miserable cold and I'm in the trenches, hustling for work," he deadpans. The reason? Well, there's the small matter of a film-production company to run. Irish DreamTime was founded by Brosnan six years ago with his friend of 20 years, Beau St Clair. She's also in the office early.
Being Bond is a double-edged sword - while Brosnan never actually uses the word "typecast", he is acutely aware that the character could dominate his marketability as an actor and dictate future roles. The 49-year-old classically trained actor (who has been working in the business since he was 18), has just signed up for a fifth Bond film.
It's certainly true that no one in their right mind would have offered post-Bond Brosnan the role of Desmond Doyle in Evelyn, Irish DreamTime's latest film. In it, the man audiences know as a tuxedo-wearing action hero plays a down-at-heel, drunk and despairing single father fighting the courts and the Irish church to get his three kids out of children's homes. And because he knew no one else would have thought to cast him as Doyle, Brosnan decided to make the film himself.
"I saw Irish DreamTime as a chance to take some control over my career," he tells me, "to create opportunities for myself as an actor. Bond can be a real shackle to any actor that plays it - I've seen men go before me and live with that mantle - but how do you make it beneficial to yourself?
"The climate has changed in Hollywood, and in England," Brosnan says. "Actors are taking more control. Studios seem to be in a state of disarray from week to week - what does the audience want? If you have the wherewithal and the presence, then you should use it."
Setting up his own production company was a way to get that control (though he was clearly also motivated by a genuine love of film). Ironically, though, it was only possible to enter the film-making business because of the power that playing a successful Bond gave him.
"In the last six years we've got three movies going. Those have certainly been made possible through my work playing Bond, no question about it. Die Another Day allows Irish DreamTime to have a home in the studio. If it hadn't performed well, or it had crashed, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation now."
Bond studio MGM gave Irish DreamTime its backing, but only up to a point: "They started off with some wonderful figure per year, and then it diminished to an office, a phone and a fax machine."
Initially Brosnan and St Clair didn't even have a film in mind; they just knew that they wanted to strike fast. "We'd both known development deals that went nowhere, so it was, 'Let's make a picture. Let's get something we like - or something we half like - and let's make a fuckin' picture!"'
The picture was The Nephew (1998), a small Irish production about a young black American man coming back to Ireland to scatter his mother's ashes and find her roots. Brosnan and St Clair didn't even have a name for their company when they signed the contract: Brosnan held the rights to a company in Delaware called Dreamtime, but the name was in use. It was his attorney who came up with the idea of putting "Irish" in front of it.
"Beau takes a lot of the responsibility and does the hard graft while I'm off doing a Bond movie or other projects," says Brosnan. "But I come into the office and pick up the phone and have meetings."
So how does he deal with Hollywood's money men? He laughs: "When in doubt, say nothing. Just nod sagely. If you don't know what you're talking about - shtum. Let other people do it." St Clair agrees: "We complement each other pretty well. I'm more the day-to-day person: reading scripts, moving things along. Pierce comes along and unites the whole process when we finally knuckle down to picking one thing. There's a lot of balls in the air and when we select one we team up pretty aggressively to make it happen."
Brosnan sees The Nephew as the picture during which they were "laying the ground and learning", but as a small independent film it was a dangerous experiment. "You're out there in the wilderness alone - you don't have the umbrella protection of the studio - but that's also the thrill of doing them."
The Thomas Crown Affair was totally different: a big-budget production. An audacious 1999 remake of the 1968 classic starring Steve McQueen, using MGM money, it was a commercial success. The new film, Evelyn, to be released in Europe shortly, was well-received by US critics but hasn't enjoyed corresponding box-office takings.
"Well, you know, God, it could have done better," says Brosnan. "We had a very fine film and marketing is everything. There's a certain disappointment and heartache because it really is a stellar little picture."
It has the same heart-warming charm as Frank Capra's 1946 classic It's A Wonderful Life, but that doesn't cheer Brosnan: "People were saying that, but then I found out It's A Wonderful Life made no money!"
"We're learning all the time," says Beau, "and marketing and distribution seems to be the last piece. We can make movies but we can't make people see them. Our business has never been tougher. I want to reach outside the film-marketing community into other types of marketing and advertising. America is one noisy mall where everyone's flogging their wares, so how do you define yourself and make people curious and build an awareness around individual pieces?"
At the Cannes film festival last year, Irish DreamTime announced two new projects, one a romantic comedy about divorce lawyers called The Laws of Attraction, and the other an 11th-century epic called The Legend of Lochinvar. Both will star Brosnan.
"We [the film industry] are going through our epic period right now, because of Gladiator," says Beau St Clair. "You hear of projects like Troy, Alexander the Great, Hannibal - with great film-makers attached." She observes that, since 11 September 2001, comedies have been the big box-office draw. "If we go to war I don't think people want to be reminded of it so much unless it's reinforcing their own nationalistic viewpoint, which I'm not necessarily interested in. I find it really boring - I mean, Pearl Harbor was a waste of time. Why tell that?"
Pierce Brosnan's advice after six years in movie production is simple: "Just be bold, find the best material you can possibly find and fight tooth and nail to get it made." His partner is more sanguine: "The movie business is unstable; movies fall over all the time. You learn to thrive in that. What's the worst that can happen? You're out of work? In our business you're out of work all the time!"
Evelyn opens in the UK on 21 March and in the rest of Europe later in the year