For those of us who think 1995 to 2002 was a golden age of TV, movies, and music — or simply for whom the period holds particularly strong nostalgia, Pierce Brosnan is our Bond. His was the affable, warm James Bond who brought back the Aston Martin in GoldenEye, but also the down-to-earth regular guy who forgot to take the parking brake off in real life. Brosnan was the first 007 to insist that Bond no longer smoke on screen, and began the franchise’s long association with Judi Dench, a moment when Bond became if not more feminist, at least less problematic. In short, if you had to choose, Brosan’s Bond was one you would most trust to babysit your kids, partly because all our moms loved him in Remington Steele first.
Brosnan has earned the nice-guy badge off-screen too. He’s been a UNICEF ambassador since 2001 (Roger Moore was too), an advocate for breast cancer awareness and research, a supporter of Greenpeace, and was once named “the best-dressed environmentalist.” In 2022 he sharply criticized the body-shaming of his wife, Keely Shaye Brosnan, saying “I strongly love every curve of her body. She is the most beautiful woman in my eyes.” But when he talks about his kids — and his grandkids — as he did in his interview with Fatherly this week, you can see that kindness truly come to life. “I have four sons, 22 to 50, and now they're my teachers,” he says in full-throated earnestness, with no dad joke or Bond pun to cut through his sincerity. “They're the ones that guide me.”
To that end, he wants fathers to be aware that the most important parenting lesson he can impart is to be present. “Being there,” Brosnan says wistfully. “The thing is to revel in every moment of their lives. Celebrate that. Because it all goes by with the speed of a flame.”
Kind as Brosnan is in real life, on screen he still has no problem playing, well, badasses. Twenty-one years since his final 007 film (which he refers to as a “generation ago” but also, in the cultural memory, he calls it “spitting distance”), Brosnan is back on screen with a gun in hand, playing an aging mob hit man living in Biloxi, Mississippi.
Fast Charlie, directed by Phillip Noyce, is a movie that is both darkly funny and often romantic. Brosnan makes it clear his collaboration with Noyce (of Patriot Games and Salt fame) and screenwriter Richard Wenk didn’t include any winks or nudges toward his famous superspy.
“I mean, we had a chuckle,” he says. “Philip knew that I knew that he knew that I knew. But that’s a past life. This is the world of Charlie Swift.” That world is more compact than the globe-trotting world of 007. Here, Charlie is sneaking around seedy bars, and ordinary houses, and ending up in the beauty of New Orleans. Charlie Swift comes from pages of Gun Monkeys, the debut novel for the prolific novelist and comic writer Victor Gischler.
Co-starring with the brilliant Morena Baccarin, Fast Charlie also pairs Brosnan with the legendary James Caan in his final film ever. Caan plays Charlie’s boss and father figure, Stan, an aging mob boss who Charlie is determined to protect, and if necessary, avenge. Brosnan says that Caan only filmed for a week, but that the time he spent with the late actor was magical.
“He was held together by breath and soul and life,” Brosnan recalls. “To work with him was beautiful. It was the most poignant week. One that I will never forget and one that I will always cherish.” While people of a certain age may see Brosnan as a kind of cinematic god, we’re all in the same club with Brosnan when it comes to loving James Caan, the man who starred in so many classic films, from The Godfather to Bottle Rocket and even Elf.
“I have been a fan of James' work for so many years,” Brosnan gushes. “When you see a performance that seers into your heart like Sonny Corleone [in The Godfather], when you see an actor who gives of himself, always commits to the work with such passion and heart and soul, it changes you. And in Fast Charlie, I got to be his minder. He’s my brother, and they’re both ratbag gangsters, but there’s true love there.”
Even though Fast Charlie feels fresh, Pierce Brosnan isn’t exactly playing against type. At 70, he’s not pretending like his famous past didn’t happen. But he also embraces his craft with the soul of a poet, or even, a memoirist who is fine with looking back at his life and legacy.
“Every movie is a dream. And you are in it as the man you are, the actor you are. And in this case, a man who was James Bond, back in time,” Brosnan says of his process in Fast Charlie. “Charlie Swift is a hit man. He’s a military man. So, he knows about weapons. And as soon as that happens, you have the gesture of Bond.”
Brosnan is known for doing his homework when it comes to art and literature. Yes, he read the Ian Fleming novels back in the day and felt captivated by Gischler’s novel, hoping to do it justice in Fast Charlie. “You start with the book, and in this case, the book just invigorated me.” Clearly, we all need to get into Pierce Brosnan’s book club ASAP — or perhaps a painting class.
While promoting Fast Charlie, he’s simultaneously in Miami, where he tells me “I’m trying to sell my paintings.”
Earlier this year, Pierce Brosnan attended the Met Gala with his wife of 22 years. But, unlike many of the celebrities there, Brosnan really is a visual artist, a painter since before he became an actor. From moving self-portraits to wonderful pieces of nostalgic art (he’s got a great one of Bob Dylan), Brosnan’s paintings reflect the man he’s always been, a guy who loves the arts and loves pouring his heart and soul into that work. “That’s just where I feel comfortable,” he says.
One of his paintings is called “The Gunbarrel Opens On...” and seems to be another kind of self-portrait. Like Charlie in his new film, this face isn’t quite James Bond, but it’s not quite Pierce Brosnan either. As a man who played a platonic ideal of masculinity for so many men, Brosnan’s paintings reflect a rawer side to his cinematic confidence. His new film gives us a glimpse of that, while also, in a sense, giving us what we want, what we hope for, from a Pierce Brosnan movie. In life, in movies, Pierce Brosnan isn’t just playing Charlie Swift or James Bond. In a way, he’s playing all of us, too. We see ourselves in him, and, because of the kind of artist he is, he sees himself in us, too.