Pierce Brosnan back in the saddle
As far as TV work goes, it took a western to get Pierce Brosnan back in the saddle again. Based on Philipp Meyer’s sweeping novel, The Son is the story of three generations of Texans, with Brosnan in the lead as family patriarch Eli McCullough.
It’s not just a western, says AMC programming president Joel Stillerman. “It’s a tale of “greed, oil and the price of progress.”
Brosnan chose it as his return to television, committing to three seasons.
“I love television,” Brosnan told a small group of reporters after AMC presented The Son earlier this year in Los Angeles. “I was brought up on television and I was brought up on westerns.”
Brosnan grew up in Ireland, as he says, “on the banks of the Boyne and Ganymede.” Black and white U.S. network westerns such as Bat Masterson were broadcast on Irish television when he was a lad, importing a sense of America as a land of saloons, six guns and rootin’ tootin’ western heroes.
Brosnan’s McCollough is not exactly cut from the same All-American cloth as John Wayne, Roy Rogers and Gene Autry. The Son is part Dances with Wolves, part Dallas.
Captured as a child in 1849 and raised by Comanches, McCollough adopts their ways despite the slaughter of the rest of his family. The story jumps ahead a few generations, with Eli now the grey beard among grandchildren contending with cattle thieves and untrustworthy oil barons.
Brosnan grew his own grey beard for the role and, at age 63, embraced his gruff grandfather character. In real life, he and second wife Keely Shane Smith have fi ve children and three grandchildren. “To play this role,” he says, “has good resonance and meaning to me.”
That extends to his own outsider roots. While Brosnan is Irish, McCollough is Scottish. “There was a certain familiarity of character which allowed me to play the man,” he says. That extended to McCollough’s Wild West accent. “I gave myself the grace to let the Irish burr come in from time to time.”
To find the voice, Brosnan says he studied various Texans, “from Rick Perry to Waylon Jennings and Senator Ted Poe,” as well as some of the local farmers and cowboys he met while working on the series last summer in Austin, Texas.
“You’re surrounded by wonderful actors,” he says, “and you’re in the heart of Austin, Texas, and you just jump in.”
Some days that meant jumping onto a very hot saddle.
“It was hotter than sin,” says Brosnan. “When you wake up at 5 o’clock in the morning and there’s a heat advisory saying do not go out and you’re on a hot horse on a hot land at 9 o’clock, it can be a long day.”
Still, Brosnan had a fairly cushy movie star schedule. He had every second weekend off to go back to his family in Malibu, Calif.
“It’s like the old Robert Mitchum adage,” Brosnan told reporters. “What do you look for in a script Mr. Mitchum?” “Days off.”
Things were cooler and a lot less rugged 30 years ago when Brosnan wrapped production on his last TV series, Remington Steele (1982 -87). Co-starring Stephanie Zimbalist and Doris Roberts (Everybody Loves Raymond), the romantic detective series was initially canceled in 1986, but, at the last minute, then head of NBC programming, Brandon Tartikoff ordered a fi nal season of 10 episodes (later shortened to two TV-movies). The extended TV run scuttled plans for Brosnan to follow Roger Moore as the next James Bond, a role he’d eventually get after Timothy Dalton’s two turns as 007.
Brosnan shot four Bond features, including Die Another Day, before giving way to the sixth Bond, Daniel Craig. He has appeared in several other theatrical hits, including Mrs. Doubtfi re, The Thomas Crown Affair, The Matador and opposite Meryl Streep in the film adaptation of Mamma Mia! In 1999, he played Canadian conservationist Archibald Stansfi eld Belaney in Grey Owl.
Despite all his film success, it hadn’t escaped his notice that, in recent years, the great roles seem to have migrated over to the small screen.
“I really had a yen to get back to TV,” he says, adding he’d been scouting opportunities the past four or five years. “I was watching all these great shows appear on the horizon season after season. And this one came to me graciously and gloriously out of left fi eld. The writing is so fertile and robust now for writers and directors and actors. It’s a different landscape than when you joined TV back in the early ’80s.”
The role of Eli in The Son was originally filled by another actor. Sam Neill (“Jurassic Park”) had the part, but dropped out for personal reasons. Brosnan was a last-minute replacement.
“I didn’t expect such a role to come out of nowhere,” says Brosnan, “but there you go -- it found me and I found him.”
Brosnan acknowledges that remakes of ‘80s franchises are all the rage on TV these days, with re-boots of everything from Lethal Weapon to Twin Peaks to Dynasty in production or already part of the mix.
If there is a re-boot of Remington Steele, however, don’t expect Brosnan to get back in a tux.
For one thing, he rules out a return to a regular, network, 22-episodes-a-season schedule. “I don’t really have the heart or the wish, the desire to do such brutal episodic TV like that. This 10 episode [fi rst season order] is very manageable and doable.”
As for playing Remington specifi cally, “that will be another man’s job.” He says. “I’m now into my, kind of, grey beard acting.”
That doesn’t mean he’s completely hung up his holster.
“I do have a romance actually yes,” he says of The Son.
“One of the loves of my life comes back into my life and we have a delightful bedroom scene. You’ll have to wait for it and see how it all plays out.”