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Pierce Brosnan, the new James Bond, plays a convincing tough guy. Behind those cool blue eyes, though, is a man who's had to live his worst nightmare: the death of his beloved wife.
One night long before he got the role, Pierce Brosnan fancied himself as 007.
It's 1981 and Brosnan and his wife, Cassandra, fresh off the plane from their home in London, have just dined at the mansion of Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, the producer of 16 James Bond films. Cassandra Harris played a "Bond girl" in For Your Eyes Only; her dashing husband had recently starred in the miniseries The Manions of America. Now the struggling actors are rattling through posh Bel Air in the best auto they can afford: a lime green Pacer from Rent-a-Wreck. At that moment, though, it's transformed into an Aston Martin DB5.
"Doo dih-dih doo, doo dih-dih doo..." the 28-year-old Brosnan twangs, reproducing the famous 007 intro. He turns to his stunning wife and in his suavest voice intones, "The name's Bond. James Bond."
"Oh sweet, tender memories," Brosnan says today. A wistful smile sweeps across his face as he takes a sip of coffee on the palm-shaded patio of his secluded Malibu villa. In the driveway a Porsche has long since replaced the Pacer.
With the planned Thanksgiving release of GoldenEye, Brosnan finally is James Bond -- the fifth actor to portray the unflappable British spy in the 33 years and 17 films since Ian Fleming's character first graced the big screen. It's a role the black-haired, blue-eyed Irishman has seemed destined for since 1984, when seven-time Bond Roger Moore announced he was turning over the keys to the DB5 and suggested Remington Steele star Brosnan be its new driver. Brosnan actually had the role sewn up in 1986, only to lose it in the eleventh hour to Timothy Dalton when Remington producers kept Brosnan locked into the show.
Finally, at 42-after Dalton failed to captivate the public -- Brosnan has taken over the franchise. He's signed a three-picture deal, and as the new Bond is very good indeed -- rugged, sexy and exceedingly charming (as is Brosnan). Even Moore, after seeing a few reels, told his heir, "When your film opens, they'll forget Sean [Connery] and I ever did it."
That's good news for those who hope a witty, sophisticated spy who likes his martinis shaken (not stirred) and his women nubile can still find an audience in the politically correct nineties. (Bond's boss M is a woman this time around, but Bond still remains an unapologetic womanizer: "If you say this movie demeans women, you're in the wrong cinema," says Brosnan. "Go see Little Women!") It's also good news for the actor, who, despite recent film appearances (The Lawnmower Man, Mister Johnson, Mrs. Doubtfire, Love Affair), was considering a return to TV until Bond came along.
Only one thing is missing from this fairy tale: Brosnan can't share the thrill with his beloved Bond girl, who died in December 1991 after a four-year battle against ovarian cancer. Just 39, Cassie left behind three young children, as well as her mate of 14 years.
The pain of that experience has left Brosnan with a certain gravity, but not gloom. Those "sweet, tender memories" of Cassie still fill the six-acre homestead called Redtails, named for the hawks that circle overhead, as Brosnan talks about his loss. "It was a great friendship, a great love, a great adventure," he says. "The cancer" -- his eyes blink at the word, and he sighs deeply -- "was something which does haunt you, especially the memory of seeing someone deal with it. You brace yourself so much while you're going through it. But when it' s all over, then it comes in and you have to face it.
"My children and I have used the experience in a rich way," he continues. "We share a lot. You don't get over the mourning in a year, two years, three years, four. You just miss the person. And sometimes you get angry with her because she's not there. My daughter and I were talking about this the other night, and she was very scared of those emotions. I said, 'I get them. I've gotten angry.' It was very comforting for her to hear that. You end up just laughing about memories -- and you go on."
Bond, too, was a widower, and it seems uncanny, even to Brosnan, that the part waited for him until he was more seasoned by life and tragedy to play it to the fullest. Bond, however, didn't have to deal with being a single parent watching three children face life without their mother. (Charlotte, a 23-year-old actress, and Christopher, a 22-year-old writer-director, are from Cassie's first marriage, to Dermot Harris, a British producer and brother of actor Richard Harris; rambunctious, minibike-riding Sean, 11, is Cassie and Pierce's son.) "We just clicked as a family," Brosnan says, a statement borne out by the warm array of family photos in his art- and artifact-filled living room. "I was Pierce, then I was Daddy Pierce, and then I became Dad. Charlotte and Christopher [whom he adopted] have just been amazing in my life -- to grow up together with them, then to become a father to Sean, then to see them accept him as a brother and he to accept them. It's a rich tapestry there of life and kinship."
Since Cassie's death, Brosnan has found solace in acting, and he has often been able to bring the children along on shoots. It's astonishing that Brosnan has been such a devoted dad, considering that his own paternal model, Tom Brosnan, a carpenter, left home when his son was just a year old. But Pierce "never felt hamstrung as a man by domesticity, " taking his cues instead from the faithful souls who raised him in their small Irish village -- his grandparents, an aunt and uncle, and family friends -- while his mother studied nursing in London.
The thought of an acting career was as foreign to young Pierce as Hollywood itself. But when he reunited with his mother in London at 11, he was enraptured by his first-ever color film, which just happened to be Goldfinger. "Maybe the seed was sown there," he suggests. After a stint as an apprentice commercial artist, Brosnan joined an experimental theater group, studied the art formally, and began acting in local plays. He met Cassie when he was 23 and she was a year older.
In the past year, a new love has entered his life: 31-year-old environmental reporter and gardening journalist Keely Shaye Smith. Pierce is characteristically open about how he cautiously restarted a romantic life (which, according to media reports, included dating such women as Roy Orbison's widow, Barbara, model Tatjana Patitz, and actress Julianne Phillips). First he had to overcome his Catholic guilt and fears about sex in the age of AIDS. Then he had to get past a very tough gatekeeper.
"Sean is hard on any woman in my life," Brosnan says of his understandably wary youngster, "and I'm just a guy who wants to have a date! You need to be held, you need to be loved -- but you're also a father."
The kids, especially Charlotte, get along well with Keely, who's proved to be "a really good friend" and hardy travel companion, joining Brosnan everywhere from Bora Bora to Dingle Bay in Ireland, where they swam with dolphins. But despite wagging tongues in Malibu, where the down-to-earth actor is a familiar presence, Brosnan isn't rushing to the altar. "I don't wish to get married," he says. "She has her own life, and I go off and do my thing, and then we hook up. It's really nice. "
Meanwhile, Brosnan tries to stay "Zen" as he awaits the critical and -- more important -- box-office judgment. His 007 tips a hat to Connery more than to Moore, with a darker edge and hirsute virility. ("Got to show the old chest hair," Brosnan jokes, pulling open his sweater to display an impressive growth. "I grew it especially for the part. ") Turning serious again, he says, "I'd like to be remembered for, say, three films. Three films I can't find fault with -- wonderful stories with a humanity and a grace and a humor that will live on."
Beyond edge and virility, the new Bond brings more vulnerability to the role, both because the times demand it and because Brosnan can' t hide his own intelligence and sensitivity. "I just know now that I can do anything I want to do," he says, referring to what he's discovered about himself since Cassie's death. "I have the courage. I don't want to make it sound grand, but I found a strength and energy in myself that I wasn't quite sure I had.
"When you've been with somebody a long time and then you're by yourself," he continues, his voice almost lost in the Malibu breeze, "sometimes you think, What would she have done? But you have to find yourself and say, 'No ... what do I want to do? Where do I want to go? Who do I want to be? And that's exciting. Not knowing where life is going is exhilarating."
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