“I know something of the life that this man lives in this film,” says Pierce Brosnan, when asked what attracted him to Love Is All You Need. It’s without doubt his most personal role to date. He plays a character very different from the cool, calm and collected men of action that dominate his résumé, which includes the title role in the TV series Remington Steele, and leads in movies such as Dante's Peak, The Thomas Crown Affair and The Tailor of Panama, as well as a four-film stint as James Bond, in Goldeneye, Tomorrow Never Dies, The World Is Not Enough, and Die Another Day.
Though still suave and sophisticated, in Love Is All You Need, Brosnan’s character Philip is also very vulnerable beneath his expensive suits and default crabby demeanor. Philip is an English businessman isolated by geography in Denmark, and cut off from love due to the untimely and sudden death of his wife. As a coping mechanism, he divorces himself from his emotions and thrusts himself into his work running an international fruit and vegetable import/export empire. However, on the way to his son’s wedding at a picturesque but neglected Italian villa, surrounded by orange and lemon groves, that he once shared with his late wife, love literally and metaphorically crashes into Philip's life.
The somewhat chaotic Ida, played with extreme candor and subtlety by Danish actress Tinre Dyrholm, is the last thing Philip wants in his well-ordered and controlled world. But she is everything he needs. They bump into each other when Ida reverses her beat up car into Philip’s pristine one in an airport parking lot. As they exchange information, to their mutual horror and embarrassment, they realize they are both en route to the same wedding since Ida is the mother of the bride.
Ida’s vulnerabilities are far less well concealed than Philip’s. Indeed her wig is knocked off when her car airbag inflates, revealing a scalp left hairless due to the rigors of chemotherapy. But her hair – and a breast – are not the only losses Ida’s recently endured. Her husband has also just walked out on her, and into the arms of a younger woman. As a result, Ida is barely able to keep it together as she suffers the weight of Philip’s frustration and scorn. But her kindness, dignity, and cheerful spirit in the face of adversity prevail, and ultimately chip away at the stone that surrounds Philip’s heart.
Though dealing with the grim realities of breast cancer in an unusually honest way, the film –– which was directed by Academy Award-winning Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier and produced by Vibeke Windeløv, who has worked extensively with Dogme director Lars von Trier –– is very much a celebration of life and love. The two central characters ultimately come to terms with their respective losses, and find a way to move past them, and it’s this aspect that resonates deeply with Brosnan’s own experience.
The Irish born actor lost his first wife, Cassandra Harris, after a four-year battle with ovarian cancer in 1991. She was just 43. Like Philip, Brosnan eventually allowed himself to love again, and married journalist Keely Shaye Smith after a 7 year courtship in 2001. The couple have now been together for over 19 years and tirelessly campaign to raise awareness and money for environmental causes and women’s healthcare issues.
I recently met up with Brosnan at the Regent Beverly Wilshire hotel to talk about Love Is All You Need, which is in theaters now.
Nicole Powers: You must have been at this all day.
Pierce Brosnan: I have actually. All day, all yesterday, all week, but it’s good, because the film is a beautiful film.
NP: I was just going to say how beautiful it was. It’s a very unusual love story too, because it’s not just about the transformative power of love, it’s about the transformative power of a little honesty and a lot of kindness.
PB: It is. You’re absolutely right in that regard. It is about kindness, it is about affairs of the heart, it’s about the humanity of people’s lives who are mangled by love or by their own infidelities. It’s also about a woman who’s dealing with the rigors and the stress of breast cancer and trying to cleave her way through the healing of that, and a man, like myself, who is dormant within his own widowdom. That’s the power and the glory of Susanne Bier, she’s a really fantastic writer, a fantastic director.
NP: I love the brave choices she made. I mean, there’s the traditional Hollywood portrayal of cancer, but she chose not to take that route. There’s a particularly powerful bathing scene where you actually see…
PB: Her breast.
NP: And her wound. And that was important, to see that and have that honesty in the portrayal.
PB: Yes. I think it’s one of the most gorgeous scenes in the movie. I think it’s probably the epicenter of the movie. You see the vulnerability of this magnificent woman played by Trine Dyrholm. You see the joy away from the pain of cancer [as she’s] just bathing in these gorgeous waters – naked and abandoned to life. Then he thinks she’s drowning, it’s very tender and really beautifully done. It was an amazing setting to play the scene out in, and to see Trine do it with such courage and be naked. It’s not easy to be naked and have a camera on your as well.
NP: I also think it was a very courageous film for you to take on, because it must have brought back some painful memories from your past.
PB: It was come the day for the memories to go there, to go back to the loss of a wife that you loved, to go back and touch into that space and time and heart. But one does that in many different ways in your work. That’s what the job and the art of acting is, to go back to places that you don’t necessarily want to go back to and to bring them alive. That’s the challenge. And if you have a piece like this that is so supportive for those memories, and you have a director like Susanne Bier, who’s directing you through the piece, then you can surrender to it. And you have actors like Trine before you who make you real.
NP: Yes, she’s incredible. When you first saw the script what attracted you to it?
PB: Because I could identify with the emblems that were in this character’s life. Losing a wife, being a single parent, being a widower, being, not necessarily a workaholic – because I do like to do work. I love working, I love acting, and it’s what I do.
NP: And finding love again?
PB: And finding love again, I knew about that. I’ve got a great girl, a great woman who’s my North Star, nineteen years together going down the road. So, you know, I know something of the life that this man lives in this film. It’s about faith, new beginnings, all in the celebration of a wedding. Everyone can identify with a wedding. It’s the bringing together of two families, it’s a bringing together of a man and a woman, a boy and a girl, their love in the eyes of god, so there’s all of that ceremony that is timeless, generation after generation. And then the crazy, madcap world within that when they clash and the alcohol flows and the music flows and the resentments come out and people really begin to show themselves.
NP: The whole thing with family is that you have to love them despite their flaws.
PB: Yeah, you do. Because we’re all cracked and fractured, that’s love and only love really. It’s the essence of being human, being kind with whatever you do – writing, painting, being a dentist or being an accountant or whatever – I think it’s to be kind, to be loving.
NP: How long did you get to spend in Italy? The location was stunning.
PB: We spent just over a month there. It was amazing. It was just fabulous. Sorrento is a gorgeous part of the Italian coastline.
NP: I went on vacation there. It was the best trip I’ve ever had in my entire life. And seeing that villa set amongst the orange and lemon groves made me want smell-o-vision, because it must have smelt good.
PB: Oh, it was mighty, it was really, really unbelievable. I had the time of my life. It’s a film that I will carry in my heart forever and a day, because of the nature of it. Then that it’s there on film, that Morten [Søborg], the DP, captured it in such glorious color. And to wake up every day and go to work and Vibeke [Windeløv], one of the producers on the film, who’s a very charismatic lady. She found a villa for me, so I lived in the Villa Tritone, which was down the back streets. Do you remember when you were there, you could go down the back streets of Sorrento, down to the little village, the little bay? Well, as you go down that avenue, just before you get to the Saracens’ Gate, if you remember that, where the Saracens came through all those centuries ago, on the right there were green gates, and there was the Villa Tritone. So I stayed in this villa. Vibeke made a deal with the lovely owners, I stayed there, and then consequently all the cast and crew could come in – because they wanted to have James Bond in their house. [laughs] God love ‘em! God bless ‘em! [Puts on thick Irish accent] I’m just an actor. There you go, let’s party guys!
NP: This movie, and Mamma Mia, which is also set in a Mediterranean surrounding and centered around a wedding, made me realize that Europeans know how to eat, drink, and be merry, in a way that…
PB: Americans do, Americans do as well.
NP: But the lushness of the land, and the connection of it to the wine and the produce on the table…
PB:: Well, there is that old worldliness to it – that’s what’s so beguiling and captivating. These films are like bookends, Mamma Mia and this one. They sit there like bookends on the shelf. Because both are surrounded by the epicenter of a wedding.
NP: Did the locals enjoy the fact that James Bond was staying in their town? Were there any particularly funny moments with the locals while you were in Sorrento?
PB: Erm…Yes, but I can’t really talk about the one that comes to mind. [laughs] It involves…Oh no, I couldn’t. You’ll have to read the memoirs for that one. [laughs]
NP: [laughs] Damn, that’s a tease!
PB: It’s a tease, isn’t it? No, not really, I wondered around and, you know, the locals…I’d get out and about and I’d go to church Sundays, because the churches are everywhere, on every corner, and they’re so magnificent and such a celebration of faith. And the food was fantastic. I met a family who had a boat, so some days I’d just go around the coast and down the coast of the Amalfi.
NP: Ah, the Amalfi Coast.
PB: It was just around the corner, literally.
NP: Yeah, I took a bus trip along the coastal cliff road, and the bus was so long and the corners were so sharp it felt like we were going to plunge over the edge at times.
PB: Yeah, best not to look too closely. That opening scene with us in the car, that was all along the Amalfi Coast. I don't know how the hell we managed to do it but we did…But it was an embarrassment of riches.
NP: Well your career’s almost been an embarrassment of riches. I mean you got a big break early on when Tennessee Williams handpicked you to be in the UK premiere of his play [The Red Devil Battery Sign], and then you’ve work with Roman Polanski on The Ghost Writer – is there anyone you feel that you’ve yet to work with?
PB: Oh, so many, so many.
NP: Who? Put their names out into the universe and see what comes back.
PB: I’d love to work with Ang Lee and David O. Russell, I’d love to work with Robert De Niro, Quentin Tarantino – he wanted to do James Bond.
NP: I could see that actually.
PB: We got so, so polluted one night, he and I. Just absolutely in our cups at the Four Seasons.
NP: That’s a nice euphemism. What were you getting “polluted” on?
PB: Apple Martinis.
NP: They’re lethal.
PB: Ah, lethal.
NP: Because they’re so fruity.
PB: Ah, fruity, we were being very fruity that night, the two of us.
Publicist: [walks through the door and interrupts our conversation to bring the interview to a close] On that fruity note…So sorry
PB: On that fruity note…there we go…
NP: Nooo! Just as I’m getting the story of the night Pierce Brosnan gets drunk on Apple Martinis with Quentin Tarantino – Argh!!!!