Half a lifetime since his 1982 debut on the police procedural Remington Steele, Pierce Brosnan, who turns 65 May 16, has launched Season 2 of his second TV series, AMC's The Son. He plays Texas patriarch Eli McCullough in this epic that's based on Philipp Meyer's Pulitzer-finalist best-selling novel. Brosnan shared a few of his professional secrets with AARP.
You were raised in Ireland and England and won fame as James Bond (back when Bonds had a sense of humor). But as Eli McCullough, you remind me of an all-American icon: John Wayne's scary hero in the western classic The Searchers.
Thank you for saying it, because I did reference John Wayne and was very much inspired by his persona. I was brought up on a [cinematic] diet of cowboys and Indians as a young boy in the South of Ireland. So to play Eli was a rare treat. I was enthralled by the duality of the character.
Who is Eli — a good guy or a bad guy? A homesteader like his parents, or a warrior like the Comanches who kidnap him, rename him “Pathetic White Boy” and make him the chief's adopted son?
Eli is a good guy, a good man who does bad things, a man twisted and turned and molded by his life. It's the only way he knows how to survive. His parents were massacred by the Comanche, and his second [Comanche] family is also massacred. So he is a man born of violence, of a resilience of will. He's managed to survive and become an archetypal American hero — to traverse the world of the white man and keep all the traits of the Comanche. The character played to my heartstrings and to my strengths as an actor at this point in my life. I identified with being a father, being a grandfather.
You're such a youthful grandpa, you were recently voted No. 3 among the best-aging actors on earth, right after Richard Gere and Liam Neeson.
I'm very happy to be No. 3.
But after making TV hits and films that earned $4.1 billion, do you still face ageism?
There's always ageism. So you just get on with it. But when people say you're too old, it can strike a real heavy blow on your heart, on your psyche — if you let it.
Innovatively, The Son keeps flashing between three time lines: the mid-1800s, when Eli joins the Comanche; 1915, when Eli becomes a pioneer oil baron; and 1988, when Eli's granddaughter Jeanne (Lady Bird's Lois Smith, 88) confronts some deep family secrets and shows the ruthless moxie Eli taught her.
He teaches his granddaughter that you can't be sentimental in this world. I don't think there's another show like The Son, really, which traverses so many different storylines.
You've said TV writing is more audacious, brutal, smart, kaleidoscopic and just plain better than 1980s TV. But are you a better actor now?
It's always about the confidence — you don't want to have too much or too little. You just want the right balance of humility and grace under pressure to be the best you can be.
An actor is like St. Peter walking on the water — until he loses confidence and starts to sink.
Oh, yes. Oh, and I've sunk many times. You just have to get out of your own way and know that you can do the work at hand.
You did four films and a TV series last year, and you've got five films coming right up. Do you have retirement plans?
I don't know. I haven't really thought about it. As Michael Caine said: “Actors don't retire. The phone just stops ringing.” But it doesn't. It doesn't because I don't let it. I strive to keep working. If you have the passion, the drive, the deep desire to work, then you must work. What else would you do?
So 65 is no longer the official, mandatory retirement age?
Sixty-five is still very young. Sixty-five is a great age to be, a powerful age of life. You have time past, time present, time future. And the strength to acknowledge, which makes you very present within the moment.