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Pierce Brosnan Deserves A Better Third Act Than This

Esquire (UK) logo Esquire (UK) 02/07/2020 Tom Nicholson
Pierce Brosnan wearing glasses and smiling at the camera: Cast him in 'King Lear' you cowards © John Wilson/NETFLIX - Netflix Cast him in 'King Lear' you cowards

Long-time Pierce Brosnan watchers have had a bonanza lately. Not only did he take part in a lockdown GoldenEye watch-along with Esquire (that's us, FYI), he's also just appeared in Netflix's Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga playing Will Ferrell's shouty Icelandic dad. (Will Ferrell is 52; Brosnan is 67.)

It's not brilliant, but Brosnan has resigned himself to this becoming his bread and butter.

"I have no desire to retire," he told the Guardian. "I am a man of 67 years now and the parts that will come to me will be the parts of the elder, the parts of the comedic turn."

In a way, it's heartening to hear Brosnan going gently into that good night, nursing no grudges and full of his own freewheeling brio. This is a man who finished an anecdote about the time his one-of-a-kind diamond-flecked Aston Martin Vanquish perished in a house fire with: "Ha! Life."

It's hard not to feel a tiny pang of sadness at the idea of Brosnan turning up for 10 minutes in thoroughly middleweight comedies for the rest of his career.

The Ages of Brosnan run broadly like this. First he was a techno-thriller dish, fresh from Remington Steele and admirably straight-faced in demonstrably slightly mad films like The Lawnmower Man, in which his character had to fight a gardener with an unspecified learning disability who'd escaped into the internet.

Then there were the Bond Years, when his winking charm and smooth, postmodern synthesis of half a century of leading men pushed him into Hollywood's front rank. After Die Another Day, things splintered.

Robinson Crusoé sitting at a beach: eurovision song contest the story of fire saga pierce brosnan as erick erickssong cr elizabeth viggianonetflix © 2020 © Elizabeth Viggiano/NETFLIX - Netflix eurovision song contest the story of fire saga pierce brosnan as erick erickssong cr elizabeth viggianonetflix © 2020

As we identified in the great rundown of Brosnan's oeuvre, the parts he's taken post-Bond fall into a few broad categories. There's Serious Political Thriller Brosnan; there's Midlife Rom-Com Crumpet Brosnan; there's Grizzled Action Dad Brosnan; and there's the lesser-spotted Evil Brosnan.

Aside from Mamma Mia! and its follow-up, it doesn't feel like anything's really stuck, and the "parts of the elder" Brosnan mentioned have probably already peaked with Edgar Wright's deployment of him in The World's End as the unctuous Guy Shepherd.

It's a shame. Remember, this isn't just some bloke. This is an actor who, after appearing in Tennessee Williams' The Red Devil Battery Sign as a very young man, got a note from the playwright reading: "Thank God for you, my dear boy." He's no mug, and certainly better than the bit-parts and walk-on larks he seems to have accepted as his lot.

On one level, you can see why. One of the most appealing things about him is his apparent unwillingness to take himself seriously, and given that his attempts at big dramas have been met with general indifference in the last decade, it makes sense to lean into it.

But a better, vindicatory third act is there for him if he wants it. He has the goodwill, and the standing, and, still, the grizzled good looks.

So what does he do? The obvious shortcut to a critical revival is through playing a historical figure: Gary Oldman, Michael Sheen, Colin Firth, Timothy Spall and others have done that in the last decade. No, you probably wouldn't greenlight a Gerry Adams biopic without some very serious thought, but it could happen.

The other obvious option is Shakespeare. There aren't that many parallels between the careers of Brosnan and Sir Lenny Henry, but Len's reinvention from Premier Inn spokesman to acclaimed tragedian in productions of Othello and King Lear could be a useful pointer that it's possible to find another gear in comfortable late middle age. Brosnan could do the same. Well, not Othello.

Brosnan certainly doesn't seem the type to agonise over things like legacy – though his incredibly long sons are doing great work on that front – and, frankly could you summon up the will to leave your Hawaiian dreamhouse for a six-month run in Uncle Vanya at Northampton Playhouse? Whatever happens, the Pacific breeze will keep rolling softly to his windows, and Brosnan will take things as they come.

"There’s no regret," Brosnan said later in the Guardian interview. "I do not let regret come into my world… It just leads to more misery and more regrets."

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