Pierce Brosnan entered the public imagination as a hit man and spent most of the next 25 years defining the urbane super sleuth, on the little screen as “Remington Steele” and the big as James Bond. Attempts to go against type -- “Evelyn,” “Laws of Attraction” -- met with mixed reviews at best.
But in “The Matador,” opening Dec. 23, he plays Julian Noble, a hit man having a midlife existential crisis. It’s a role that has the gun and some acting guts -- and now a Golden Globe nomination for best performance by an actor in a motion picture musical or comedy.
Only the second Golden Globe nomination of his career, the nod increases Brosnan’s Oscar potential. (He has never been nominated for an Academy Award.) But more important, it validates the rumor circulating since “The Matador” debuted at the Sundance Film Festival: That for all his square-jaw good looks, Brosnan is actually a pretty good actor.
“I got one of these when I came to this country years ago,” he said. “I figured, ‘hey that was easy, I’ll get one every year.’ Instead, it’s been slow and steady. The timing is delicious,” he added. “It’s nice to have people say, ‘He does have it, he’s pulled something out of the bag.’ ”
Brosnan, 52, tends to be practical and frank when discussing his career -- when he was told last year that his services as James Bond would no longer be required, he responded with surprise and anger rather than the typical Hollywood spin. Now, with a glint in his baby blues, he wishes the newly anointed Daniel Craig all the best.
“Compared with all the Bond insanity,” he said, referring to the many midcareer revival interviews he has given about “The Matador,” “this is nothing.”
Brosnan’s looks have defined him since he hit the screen. Many people remember him from 25 years ago, as the IRA hit man in “The Long Good Friday,” despite the fact that he had no lines. “I cannot tell you how many people come up to me and say, ‘I loved you in that movie,’ ” he said, “and I show up in the last 15 minutes and say nothing. Baby-faced Brosnan with those blue eyes.”
He cultivated the suave but steely image that has taken him so far, so he can’t be too upset that it has occasionally worked against him.
“In my 30s, I got that pretty boy tag,” he said, “and I hated it. I kept squinting to try to create lines around my eyes, to give myself more character. But it’s given me a great career.”
In the darkly comedic “The Matador,” he saw an opportunity to take his image a bit off-road. A ruthless professional, Noble is everything Bond is not -- scruffy, coarse, drunk and, as he loses his nerve, pathetic. “I could always play the nasty well-groomed gentlemen and get a good payday,” he said. “But it’s nice to do something a bit more meaningful.”
Brosnan is currently shooting “Seraphim Falls,” a post-Civil War drama, in a role that has required the actor to sport a long beard and spend months filming outdoors in New Mexico. “It’s great,” he said, adding with a laugh, “but I am looking forward to getting back to the nice suits and pretty women.”