Pierce Brosnan gained global fame as James Bond, and earned his best critical kudos as an unraveling hitman in “The Matador,” but the actor’s fans may well find his turn in “Love Is All You Need,” a Danish film set in Sorrento, Italy, to be their favorite Brosnan performance. Directed by Dogme 95 veteran and Oscar winner Susanne Bier (“In a Better World”), this sweet-and-sour, Murphy’s-Law dramedy casts Brosnan as Philip, an irritable English widower and produce salesman stationed in Denmark. Philip heads to Sorrento for his son’s vacation wedding, and comes across humble hairdresser Ida (Trine Dyrholm), the Danish mother of the bride, in a classic meet-cute. The movie proceeds to reveal both families’ mad ups and downs, including Ida’s struggle to bounce back from cancer, and her husband’s flagrant flaunting of his young mistress.
Bier largely achieves a fine tragicomic balance, transcending clichés of character and plot by digging up true humanity. For Brosnan, it proved an opportunity to bare emotion in a way he never has before, resulting in some of his most affecting work. The material hit close to home, as like Philip, Brosnan saw his first wife, actress Cassandra Harris, pass away, succumbing to cancer in 1991 (the actor has since remarried, wedding journalist Keely Shaye Smith in 2001). Passing through New York to promote his endearing new project, the dapper Irish actor caught up with Indiewire at the Waldorf Astoria Towers, and chatted about how life influences art, how he finally got around to watching his Bond successor, and how he faked his way through starring in a (partially) foreign-language film.
It’s great to see you in this exotic production with all these international stars. How did you and Susanne Bier first connect?
My agent called me up and said, “Susanne Bier wants you for a movie called…’Bald-Headed Hairdresser.'” I knew of Susanne’s work, and I’d been aware of all the Dogme film developments—followed the rise and great success of these filmmakers. So I knew her film history and liked her work very much. I read [the script], and I thought, “Beautiful. Brilliant. Poignant. How do I fit in here?” I didn’t want to rock the apple cart as an Irishman amidst all this wonderful story that is so Danish. But she said, “Don’t you worry about that. You’ll be fine. Come and join us.” So I hopped on a plane and I did.
Your character, Philip, is this closed-off curmudgeon—an appropriately sour lemon salesman. It’s an archetype we’ve seen a lot of on screen. What was your approach to putting your own stamp on it?
Read the script, listen, and tap into your own story of life. There are many emblems in this film that I could identify with—being a father, being a single parent, losing a wife (in my case, to cancer), trying to find love, being disillusioned by love, meeting the wrong people, getting on with your own life and working, the trials and tribulations of trying to keep a business together (in Philip’s case, this fruit and veg business that he has in Copenhagen), having a son that you’re distant from. I’ve lived a fair bit of life myself, and you use of yourself, within the context of the story.
I was going to ask you about the loss of your first wife, Cassandra. There’s a great scene in the movie that sees Philip recall his wife’s death, and it’s a really vulnerable moment, perhaps one of your best as an actor. Did you find yourself accessing a lot of your own pain when shooting that?
Well you access as much of yourself as possible in the parts that you play. In that particular scene, in that particular moment, yes, there’s a certain reflection of what happened in my life. You use, as they say, sense memory, to express what is on the page, whether it be a Jacobian tragedy, or Shakespeare, or, in this case, a contemporary piece of writing. You use the emotions and the memories that have had some resonance in your life.
Save for the last scene, I don’t think there’s ever a time when Philip isn’t wearing blue. Is that something you and Susanne discussed extensively—the wardrobe and the colors?
She did it. That was her, yeah. And Signe [Sejlund], the costume designer. My dear friend. Beautiful woman. She created the palette with Susanne. Susanne only wanted me to have a blue suit. So I wore the same costume.
And everyone in the film has blue eyes.
Do they? Well, you know…Danes. But, no, being a clothes horse myself, I thought, “Oh, I’ll have a costume here and a costume there.” But she said, “No, just keep that suit.” And I thought, “Okay, fair enough” And it made sense.
Some people might not know that you’re an artist and a painter as well. Do you feel like that makes you hardwired to appreciate projects like this—films with distinct color palettes?
No, but I do like them. One of my films, “The Matador,” had a distinct palette—high tone, saturated color. I love color. When I paint, I use a lot of color. I love art that has a vibrancy of color and compositions. I adore the Impressionists, and I’m influenced strongly by them as a self-taught artist. For this particular film, I wasn’t thinking about the color scheme; I just was thinking about the characters, and how to make it meaningful on a day-to-day basis.
Surely the Sorrento locale couldn’t have hurt in attracting you to the project. It reminded me of the Greek Isles in “Mamma Mia!“
There are great similarities. They’re bookends on the shelf, really, these two films, without any singing in this one, of course. The world is safe—they don’t have to hear me sing again! The beauty of the setting was a surprise to me, actually. I really hadn’t thought about it until we went to Sorrento. And then, every day we’re in this beautiful lemon grove. And they found a villa for me. I thought I’d be in some little hotel somewhere, but the producers found this gorgeous villa, and I stayed there, right on the cliffs, overlooking the bay of Naples. And Sorrento’s on a peninsula, so it’s a very intimate town. We had lunches, and dinners, and enjoyed the weeks as they rolled by, and went to this gorgeous place every day to make the movie. The property in the film is owned by a brother and sister, and it’s a very old lemon grove. So everything you see in the movie is authentic.
I’m going to switch gears and talk 007 for a minute. What did you think of the whole “Skyfall” phenomenon?
Well, that was the first time I’d seen Daniel Craig play James Bond. I was in London at the time when it was all bursting forth into the universe. And it was brilliant. I really, really enjoyed it. And enough time had passed for me to really be objective about it. I remember trying to watch Daniel’s first outing as James Bond, “Casino Royale.” I was on a plane to New York, and it came on. I started watching and I thought, “Okay, 37,000 feet is a good distance from the earth.” [Laughs] And while I was watching it, the player broke down. I said, “Can we fix this? Is it possible?” They fixed it, and it broke down again. So I thought, “I’ll just leave it.” So I never saw Daniel do his James Bond until “Skyfall.” I had to see it. Everyone on Earth had seen this film. And it was really impressive, all that work that Sam Mendes did. It was a powerful piece of history—for the 50th year, to bring it home.
Your production company, Irish DreamTime, has some movies in the works, like “November Man” and the follow-up to “The Thomas Crown Affair.” Anything you can say about those?
Well, “November Man,” yes. We start shooting next month, and that’s been in the works for a good number of years. Finally, [director] Roger Donaldson and I got together and started talking about it, and we put together a really fine cast [which includes Dominic Cooper]. “The Thomas Crown Affair” sequel is dormant. It’s just sitting there. We’ve talked about Rene Russo and myself, but it’s never really been solidified. We have at least three scripts on it—three different kind of takes on the movie—but nothing’s really happened.
Speaking of Rene Russo, you’ve certainly starred with your share of leading ladies, and coming up, you have “Love Punch” with Emma Thompson and “A Long Way Down” with Toni Collette. Was there something that made Trine Dyrholm stand out from the rest?
Trine is a magnificent actress. She really is quite powerful. And this is a role that she doesn’t normally play. She plays very strong, dominant, domineering women. And, to play in this realm of love and vulnerability was, I think, exhilarating for her, and for all concerned. She’s someone who we should definitely see more of. I told her,
“You’ve got to get your bags packed. This film is such a great calling card for you to come to America—to start knocking on doors.” You now have Mads Mikkelsen, who’s brilliant, doing “Hannibal.” These Nordic, Danish actors, they just have such a presence, and they’re captivating to watch. So hopefully Trine will do that, and have a career here.
And what about any language barriers with this project? Did you struggle with any of that?
Well, I think the conceit of the film, really, is that you buy into the idea that this guy speaks Danish or understands Danish, but I didn’t understand a word of it, really! [Laughs] It’s just great acting when you think about it! “And the Best Performance Without Understanding a Word of Danish goes to…” I said one line, which I added, and that was “du er smuk.” It means “You are beautiful,” and I say it when I see Trine’s character in the red dress. I said, “How do you say, ‘You are beautiful?'” “Du er smuk.” I tried a few other lines, but, oh god, I couldn’t get my head around it. But there are CEOs in Copenhagen who run companies, and they don’t speak Danish. And the Danes all speak English. So you think Philip speaks Danish, but I only say one line. It’s kind of smoke-and-mirrors.
Much of “Love is All You Need” involves what parents can learn from their children. As a father of five, what have you learned from your kids?
Patience. Endurance. Love. The constant challenge of listening and paying attention. The inspiration to be a good man, good father…
Good actor. [Laughs] Those are the hopes of every day. Just help me get another job. Yeah, my family’s crucial. First and foremost. Without them I’d be adrift.