The Spy Who's Loved Too Much
“It was,” says Pierce Brosnan, “too much like a job.” Admittedly a good job, with more than good pay. In a series that made an obscure Irish actor into an American TV star. With a role that painted him debonair and slightly devilish. And an image that made him the perfect, obvious, only choice to become the next Bond, James Bond. Although Brosnan had prospered as the roguish title character on NBC’s detective series Remington Steele, “I had just had enough,” he says. In fact, “I’d had enough after two years, but I’d signed a seven-year contract.” Brosnan was relieved—”really relieved”—when Remington Steele was cancelled last May.
But wait. Put the emphasis on the past tense: was cancelled, was relieved. For just when it seemed that Brosnan, 35, had snagged one of the most sought-after and profitable roles in movie history, he now finds himself once again tied to Remington Steele, and he is not pleased.
For most of the last two months, Brosnan thought he had fulfilled an ambition of long standing, to replace Roger Moore as 007. He had settled in London. Thinking he had closed a chapter of his career, he had taken to occasionally trashing Remington Steele and the high life in L.A. He had all but signed for The Living Daylights, the $40 million Bond film originally scheduled to begin shooting this month. Then, ironically, the prospect of Brosnan as Bond revived NBC’s interest in its show. The network saw a promotional windfall in beaming the man who would be Bond into America’s living rooms—particularly so after more than 1000 furious fans phoned and wrote NBC protesting the cancellation. This summer, Remington has greatly improved its ratings during reruns. In the halls of NBC, programming chief Brandon Tartikoff joked about his booboo, “Anybody can cancel a show in 59th place. It takes real guts to cancel one in ninth place.” Consequently, just last month, three days before options on the Remington cast expired, NBC made it official: The show was renewed for six episodes as a midseason replacement.
Since then, the legendary producer and protector of the James Bond film properties, Cubby Broccoli, has been making like Dr. No. Although he had been negotiating a three-picture deal with Brosnan, Broccoli didn’t want his 007 tainted by television. “He’s not going to have another company riding on our publicity,” says a Broccoli aide. To accommodate the movie’s schedule, MTM, the production company responsible for Steele, even suggested shooting the season’s first episode in Europe. “Obviously it would be to our benefit to have Pierce playing Bond, and we’re not giving up on the idea,” says Steele executive producer Michael Gleason. “Anything we can do, we are more than willing to do.” But Broccoli has remained decidedly cool to stopgap measures. The net result for Brosnan is a career catch-22: Because Remington was cancelled, Brosnan could do Bond. But because he might be Bond, Remington was uncancelled. And because Remington was uncancelled, Brosnan may not be able to be 007. The choice for Brosnan seems clear: Bond or bondage.
The network’s decision has started a worldwide scramble for another Bond, while shooting on The Living Daylights has been postponed to late September. The producers talked to 60 aspirants in one recent week alone. Earlier Mel Gibson and Bryan Brown were considered but not screen-tested. Australian model Finlay Light was tested and so was Sam (Kane & Abel) Neill, who was a front runner at last check. But the players change constantly. After Broccoli saw The Taming of the Shrew in London, new rumors surfaced last week that actor Timothy Dalton was the first choice. If you are a handsome, breathing male with a British accent, you are a candidate.
Brosnan has not talked publicly about his dilemma since Remington’s revival created it. But he was positively voluble when last interviewed in London, basking in the afterglow of what he considered a pro forma screen test for Bond—and in the midst of filming a kind of warm-up for the part, Frederick Forsyth’s thriller The Fourth Protocol, in which Brosnan plays a KGB bad guy. Had Steele been renewed, he said, “I would have risen to the occasion, but I would have gone back to work reluctantly, just gritting my teeth…. Under the circumstances [of the Bond offer], if it had gone a fifth [season], I would have been pissed off…. No risks were being taken. I wanted the show to get a little more hard-edged, but they wanted to keep it like it was.” He was particularly distressed by Moonlighting, which bears more than a passing resemblance to Remington. In fact that show was created by Glenn Gordon Caron, a former Remington writer. “Moonlighting [is] a direct steal which has just done it in a different, much fresher way,” Brosnan said. “At least they take risks.” Co-star Stephanie Zimbalist apparently agrees. “Now those people are doing at Moonlighting exactly what we’re supposed to be doing at Remington Steele.”
Brosnan’s trouble on Remington apparently involved more than creative differences: Almost from the start, stories of discord betweeen Brosnan and Zimbalist were common. Although the series was conceived primarily as a vehicle for her, he got more mail and publicity. To create the character, Brosnan said, “I’d look at old Cary Grant movies, steal a little bit from him and mix in my own personality. In some respects, it was a cross between John Cleese, Cary Grant and James Bond.” Zimbalist was clearly dissatisfied with the show’s shifting focus. “I have to do something,” she told one interviewer in 1983, “or when this show goes off the air, all anybody is going to remember is that Pierce Brosnan starred in it.” If her relations with Brosnan were occasionally frosty, they were positively frigid with his wife, actress Cassandra Harris, who reportedly saw Steele as a stepping-stone to superstardom for her husband.
In a show that relies on character chemistry, there was little combustion. As Brosnan put it, they “were never progressing in the relationship…. There was all this kind of cat and mouse, old movie rubbish…. The people who were behind it were never courageous enough to say, ‘Well, let’s just throw it up in the air, what we can do next, how we can keep it alive.’ ” On that he and Zimbalist were agreed, and the producers’ notable idea for invigorating the show—having them get married—infuriated both of them. During production earlier this year, Zimbalist said: “If they decide to marry Remington and Laura, they can find themselves someone else to play Laura. That is not the character I signed to play.” And, of course, in the season’s last episode, Laura and Steele were married. Brosnan recalls, “There was a lot of tension about that.” Exec producer Gleason observes: “Pierce and Stephanie are both quite vocal when it comes to their characters.” Although weddings are usually Nielsen bonanzas, the union did nothing for Remington ratings.
For Brosnan, television was no longer the most becoming medium. “You learn bad habits as an actor [on TV]. As the season goes on, you take short cuts, fatigue sets in. Then your confidence goes.” With it goes some measure of esteem. “The word ‘star’ doesn’t mean an awful lot to me. ‘Good actor’ and having the respect of one’s peers means more. You don’t really get much of that doing a show like Remington Steele.”
By the end of last season, Brosnan wanted to leave Los Angeles as well as the show. Despite the comforts of a home in the hills, “I was becoming so Hollywood. All it became was money—get as much as you possibly can. I just find that you can become a very boring person living in L.A. I tell you, living there on a day-to-day basis is vacuous, terribly fake.” So he particularly liked the prospect of shooting back-to-back features in London: “It’s extremely civilized working here.”
Brosnan has long considered playing Bond a career goal, but only recently has he pursued that prospect with passion. In fact, when he was first mentioned as a candidate he was reticent. “I said, ‘Why do I want to do it? It’s become an institution.’ ” But the idea kept coming back. Roger Moore told a newspaper that Pierce was his hand-picked successor. The mushrooming attention made Brosnan reconsider. So, no doubt, did the lack of attention given Brosnan’s feature Nomads, a quick fizzle released last March. Finally, he said, “I thought, if I don’t do Bond and some other guy gets it and I’ve been such a strong contender, I’m going to be really pissed off.”
Brosnan had begun to feel almost as if fate had assigned him the role. Bond, he said, was “part of my upbringing.” Among the first films he saw when he moved from Ireland to England in the early ’60s were Bond flicks. “For an Irish boy, age of 11, really green, very naive, sheltered Catholic upbringing, it was just mindblowing.” Some 20 years later, he would meet the maker of those movies face-to-face. It was 1981, and Brosnan’s miniseries, The Manions of America, was set to premiere in America. He and wife Cassie had had to borrow $3,500 to pay for their trip to L.A., but soon he was cast as Remington Steele (after Anthony Andrews turned down the role). Cassie, it so happened, was playing one of Bond’s girls in the 1981 flick For Your Eyes Only—and they were invited to dinner at Broccoli’s estate. “I remember turning to Cassie that night in this old Rent-a-Wreck car, and I was joking the whole way home saying, ‘My name’s Bond, James Bond.’ I said, ‘This is it, darling, there’s no looking back now’—little knowing that five years on, one would be stepping into the role. There are a lot of funny things that happen in one’s life.”
So there are. A few weeks ago, Brosnan returned to L.A., and there, barring strikes or other acts of a merciful God, he will begin shooting Remington Steele next October.