February is about to get really interesting for Pierce Brosnan. A mere week after his debut as a self-proclaimed "horse's ass" (aka Chiron) in Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief on February 12, a much smaller and much more controversial thriller he's in will be hitting art house screens in New York and Los Angeles. Brosnan is one of the heavy-hitting stars in Roman Polanski's The Ghost Writer, the movie Polanski was doing post-production on when he was arrested in Switzerland on an outstanding warrant from 1978, when he fled the US before being sentenced for having sex with a minor. (Polanski finished the film while under house arrest.) Pierce Brosnan, who plays ex-Prime Minister Adam Lang, is part of an impressive ensemble; Olivia Williams is Lang's intensely intelligent wife Ruth, while Ewan McGregor is the titular writer who reluctantly signs on to help Lang with his memoirs after the first writer turns up dead.
Brosnan spoke to Cinematical about working with the legendary figure on The Ghost Writer, as well as Percy Jackson, dealing with Robert Pattinson's screaming fans on the set of Remember Me, and much more.
Cinematical: How did you get involved with The Ghost Writer?
Pierce Brosnan: Well, I was in London, I think wrapping up Mamma Mia! or doing something like that on that movie. My agent said, "Roman Polanski would like to meet you. He's doing a movie." And I said, "Great!" And I hopped on the train over to Paris. I was with my son who's 26, Sean, and my mother, and I said, "Do you want to come to Paris for the weekend?" And that's how it happened. I got over there on a Saturday morning, my son and my mother went off 'round the city, and he and I sat and had the most long, long, long lunch and we talked briefly about the movie and established that I wasn't doing Tony Blair, and once we established that, then we talked about everything else but the movie.
Wow, what's it like to be a fly on the wall during a lunch like that?
PB: We talked about life, we talked about our losses in life. We talked a little bit about Sharon [Tate], and the deep loss and the deep pain that he still... It was a very kind of man-to-man talk. [We talked] about children. We talked about movies, making movies, the economy of movies; country, travel, food. It was very delightful – most, most charming. I did go home on the train and I thought, "God, maybe he might not want me for the job! [laughs] Maybe he might change his mind!" A director told me when I was starting out, he said, "You're always going to have to test for someone." So no matter whether you've got an Oscar or two Oscars in your back pocket, there's gonna be someone, sometime that you just have to test for. But anyway, we got on very well, and then I didn't see him until my first day on the set in Berlin.
I was under the impression that in the book, your character Adam Lang was supposed to be a thinly veiled version of Tony Blair. I thought yours had a twist of George W. Bush in there as well.
PB: Well, I certainly didn't go to Bush within it; I kept front and foremost Tony Blair and [David] Cameron and those people, and the rest was just me and my imagination – what if I were a Prime Minister and first and foremost, the great pretender, the great [performer]? And the vortex and the crisis that this man is in at this point in his life and the sham of his life and his leadership – that's what intrigued me.
Once I was off the hook, and I realized that I wasn't going to be doing a Tony Blair impersonation or trying to be like Tony Blair – Michael Sheen had already done that – you know, I just had great fun with it. There was a real sense of irony to the character, and there was humor, and I'd like to think there was some heart to the man, and that his life was a bit of a sham, really, and he knows it and he knows that he's absolutely hamstrung without his wife, and to... have so little to really fight for, that's what kind of I tried to bring to the work... Once the camera starts rolling, the performance starts pouring out of him -- the populist [who] wanted to be charming, wanted to be loved and to be witty, but absolutely has no f*ckin' idea how to run a country. Absolutely none whatsoever. A total puppet. A total puppet.
What's interesting is that it's a very timely movie politically but it has an old Hollywood drama and moodiness to it from the very first shot. Did you feel that tension on set? Everything was very gloomy, and everything was very dramatic.
PB: Well, you know, Roman comes with a lot of legend, and baggage with legend written all over it – as a filmmaker, as a man, as a controversial figure in life. And it was fairly palpable on the set... We wanted bad weather, we got bad weather. The style of filmmaking is a throwback – in style, in composition, in pacing -- to the '70s, maybe. He hasn't made a thriller – he's never made a political thriller – so here he is doing his first political thriller, and getting away with it beautifully. And it's evident up on the screen. It's very elegant and claustrophobic and tight. There's no wriggle room for the characters or for the audience, really. The set was a very happy one, but Roman is Roman, and he is the director, capital letters. He knows what he wants and how he wants it, and he's a great actor. In his world, he's a great actor, and he knows how to act, he knows how to put on a performance, and he does. But he was very happy, I think, in making the movie, and nothing was really discussed on a day-to-day basis. You know, it was very workmanlike.
What was your reaction when you heard about Polanski's arrest? Were you concerned that the movie would never see the light of day?
PB: No, I wasn't, actually. I wasn't concerned for that. I was concerned for him, as a man and as someone who had become a friend. And, you know, I hoped for closure, I still hope for closure for him and for all parties concerned. I think what happened back then was wrong in every way, and I think he certainly would like to have closure. And again, I never had discussions with him, but it's certainly adds a controversial spotlight to the movie.
Do you think people will be able to see The Ghost Writer on its own terms, despite how they might feel about Mr. Polanski?
PB: I don't know. It's not an easy question to answer, really. I can't tell what other people will react [to]. He is heralded in Europe as a magnificent director and very much appreciated here in America within the community of filmmakers as a fantastic, magnificent director. You know, but the media will certainly wring this for every ounce of blood that's in the story because it's very controversial. So I don't know how [people] will react. All I know is I came to this to work with one of the great directors of cinema.
To shift gears a bit, speaking of media-centric figures, you're in Remember Me with Robert Pattinson, which must have been totally bizarre to try and film in New York City.
PB: [laughs] It was. Well, I've seen it. I've never encountered such attention in my career. I mean, I certainly had it but on a day-to-day basis, this young man certainly acquitted himself very well. And I think he was just completely blindsided by everything. And here he was doing a drama, which he's executive producer on, and he had a heavy workload every day, and it's a hard one to be wrenched out of every time you step out of our trailer.
Especially in New York.
PB: And there's nowhere to hide. There's nowhere to run. You know, you're damned if you do, and you're damned if you don't... You have to go to emotional places where you really need to [put your] head down and [look] straight ahead... It's a very dramatic movie, and it's a beautiful movie. It's a love story. I play his father. What can I say about it? I'm very proud of that.
And, of course, you've also got Percy Jackson coming up. It's great how you go between these very different roles.
PB: Well, I don't know. I was taught and trained and was told and learned to believe that I could do anything so I'm endeavoring to do that, having done the same thing most of my life, and I'm finally becoming a character actor, I hope. Going back to what I did in my early days before I became whatever I became. I don't know. It's just lovely right now to have the freedom to do anything, and I've said to my agent, I said, "Find the most interesting roles." I said, "They don't have to be leading roles, I don't need that. My ego is quite happy. Just the best, most interesting work that will captivate me and keep me alive and [keep my] career going." You want to be able to have as many colors on the palette as possible, and some will be purer than others, but Percy Jackson was a great joy [and] to be reunited with Chris Columbus, who I'd worked with on Mrs. Doubtfire all those years ago, was magnificent. A real joy.
Sounds like it could give Harry Potter a run for his money.
PB: Yeah, I think so. I mean, it's darker than Potter, and it's scary, but I saw it with my wife and children. They put a private viewing on for us at Fox the other day, and it really is a beautiful film. And Logan Lerman and Alexandra [Daddario] and Brandon [Jackson] – you know, off to the races with being movie stars! They're all three of them are fantastic.
You're probably tired of hearing about this, but what is the latest on The Thomas Crown Affair 2?
PB: Well, oh dear. Well, again, the studio is in such disarray at the moment. We're not sure who's going to buy it. I think someone's bought it. We have the script in; I think this is about the fourth draft. We're all very happy with it, but it still needs work. So there you go. I would like to say that come the autumn we will be ready to start shooting... There's a few other things before that, other pictures I'm signed up to do, so I still have employment... [There's] The Ghost Writer, Percy Jackson, The Greatest. The Greatest is a movie I made with Irish DreamTime [production company] and it has Susan Sarandon and Carey Mulligan. It's a family drama... I play a horse's ass, an ex-Prime Minister, and two grieving fathers.
That's a fantastic cast. Carey Mulligan is wonderful.
PB: Carey Mulligan is impeccable. She's quite the artist and quite the actor. She's beautiful in this film of ours, and it packs an emotional punch. We sold it at Sundance two years ago, and then the company fell apart that bought it, and then it got picked up again and it's coming out here in April. It'll have a life. It will be seen... Oh, it's a lovely family film, and I think for people who have suffered the tragedy of losing a son or a daughter, I think it will have some cathartic resonance for them and I'm very proud of it.
So to wrap things up and come full circle, what's your favorite Polanski movie?
PB: Chinatown. Rosemary's Baby. Knife in the Water I'd never seen until I started working with Roman, and it just blew me away. It just blew me away, that film, and anyone who's a lover of films, they must see that film by that young man all those years ago.