With his charm, disarming good looks and rich, baritone Irish brogue, Brosnan has graced the stage as well as the large and small screens. He trained in the theater in London before moving to Los Angeles, where he won the role of a thief-turned-private-investigator in the popular TV series Remington Steele. He then followed in the footsteps of Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Timothy Dalton in the James Bond franchise, starring as 007 in four films, including GoldenEye and Tomorrow Never Dies. He set up his own production company, Irish DreamTime, and produced numerous features, including The Thomas Crown Affair and The Matador. Brosnan is now returning to television in Sonar Entertainment’s The Son, a family saga that spans three generations, which is based on Philipp Meyer’s eponymous novel and will air on AMC. Brosnan plays patriarch Eli McCullough, who sets out to build a ranching and oil dynasty in Texas after suffering great loss early in life.
WS: How did you hear about The Son and what appealed to you about the project?
BROSNAN: I thought I was going to rush and make a movie, but it fell apart. I said to my agent, I don’t want to sit around on my backside, I want to work. He said, You’ve been offered an AMC series called The Son. I said, I know that book! And he said, The scripts for five episodes are coming over to you today. I read them, I enjoyed them, and I had a meeting the next day with the writers and producers. My wife and I went to CAA and we did the deal by the end of the day. It was as simple as that. What appealed to me was the character of Eli. I identified strongly with this man as a father, as someone who is a survivalist, and as someone who, in his case, was burnished by violence and the loss of three families by the age of 40. There was something of an archetypal American hero about him. Against all odds, he’s bringing his family into the 20th century. He’s a forward-thinking man. He’s a man, as I said, who was burnished by the greatest brutality that could be bestowed on someone—losing his mother and father, then another family and a Comanche family—and he still manages to have forward motion in his life. And the writing appealed to me—Philipp Meyer’s writing is so glorious! We had him on the set with us every day and that was a luxury unto itself.
WS: Eli has an extremely dark view of human nature. Is it hard to inhabit a character whose traits are very different from your own?
BROSNAN: You can lend yourself to those traits very easily if you have the imagination, the wherewithal and some education of life and humankind. That’s my job as an actor—to interpret that violence and that malevolence of mankind, which you can read every day in the newspaper and see on the news every night. Most people don’t have to go to that place, but if you’re an actor, whether you choose a Jacobean or Shakespearean tragedy, the story is swamped in blood and gore and what man does to man. There is a great release and satisfaction in portraying these types of characters and walking a tightrope with the audience, so you don’t lose them. You’re toying with the emotions of an audience, or you’re trying to take them to a place that might be uncomfortable for them without losing them. That’s part of the challenge of playing Eli, but what softens him is his granddaughter, so there is a theatrical device there that you can use. He is a good man, he loves his sons, he has the greatest love for his family and he is of good heart. But he will let nothing stand in his way of getting what he wants.
WS: You mentioned Eli’s granddaughter, with whom he has a unique relationship. She turns out to be very successful in the oil industry.
BROSNAN: He identifies most strongly with her and also wants to protect her because he knows that it’s is a very dangerous era for a woman to grow up in and he doesn’t want anything to befall her. She is the one who is most like Eli. She is the one who makes his world turn and the one that he lives for.
WS: The television industry has changed enormously since you starred in Remington Steele. Did you see a difference in the way The Son was produced and shot?
BROSNAN: The mechanics are the same, but yes, the production values on this were superb. It’s like making a 10-hour feature film, really. I sat with the producers beforehand, and they showed me the technicians and the people they were using and their credentials were impeccable. Then you just hit the road and you do it. It’s a TV schedule, so it’s fast, which I like because that’s how I was trained when I came to America back in 1981 and I did Remington Steele. That never leaves you—that repetition, that fierce scheduling—which I like. Sometimes in movies, a performance can die on the vine because you have so much time on your hands. Working on The Son was very agreeable to me. I loved working down in Austin, Texas, though the heat was fairly severe. I have said if we do go again I’d like to go later in the year just because it’s brutal.
WS: What projects are in the works at your production company?
BROSNAN: I lost my producing partner Beau Marie St. Clair last year. We shared 30 years of friendship and many years of making movies, including The Thomas Crown Affair, The Matador and Evelyn. My wife Keely and I are now Irish DreamTime, and she has just completed her first documentary, Poisoning Paradise, about pesticides and GMOs [genetically modified organisms] on the island of Kauai. The film won Best Documentary at the Hollywood Reel Independent Film Festival. Now, Keely and I are looking at material that has been in operation for some time in our company. We have spent a year mourning Beau’s passing and now Keely and I, as husband and wife, will step out there and try and make movies together. We have two boys; one is at USC studying film, and the other is going to be out the door soon enough. This allows Keely and me to have a life together and go and have some fun making movies and documentaries.
WS: Is Irish DreamTime looking specifically for feature films or would you like to try television as well?
BROSNAN: Oh, I’d like to do TV. TV is a glorious medium. I’ve done my feature films, and I’ve gone out and been a “movie star,” but I’ve always been an actor first and foremost. It’s just that I’ve always wanted to do movies. I love movies, but I just love acting. So at Irish DreamTime, we’ve got to put the documentary to bed and then we’re going to move on and look at feature work and go out as a partnership to do features as independents. I love the independent film world; it’s harder now than it ever has been, but there are so many outlets for the work. I watch my son Sean, who has just made his first feature film, My Father Die, and he’s had success with it. He and I are also collaborating on a piece we want to do. The idea is you have fun and hopefully make something that is meaningful, and you might even make some money!
WS: What feature films do you have coming out this year?
BROSNAN: The Foreigner is a thriller that I did with Jackie Chan. Martin Campbell directed it; he and I did the James Bond film GoldenEye together. There is another film called The King’s Daughter, which I made over a year ago. I’ve got bits and bobs here and there, and The Son. I’d been looking for some time to find a series, because television is so fertile. I wanted to have something that had a resonance of security to it and I believe that we’ll get a second season out of this. I’ve signed on for three seasons and if that happens then that would be wonderful! But I always manage to work one way or another, so one just keeps showing up!