A few years ago, some of Dylan Brosnan’s closest friends showed up to his house in Malibu for his 21st birthday party, and there they met Dylan’s father, who turned out to be Pierce Brosnan. Dylan had never mentioned it.
Dylan laughs. “I don’t tell anybody that, under any circumstances,” he says.
It’s a hot but breezy Wednesday afternoon in that same Malibu property, which Dylan’s parents – Pierce and his second wife, Keely Shaye Smith, who married in 2001 – have owned for more than 20 years. Dylan is on a couch in the living room, looking out of the window at a blue gradient of sky and sea, explaining what it was like to grow up in a place where everyone knew his father’s face.
“I always thought he had a lot of friends, growing up,” Dylan says, “because people would come up to him in the street, and he’s like the nicest guy, so he talks to everyone for a really long time.”
Dylan is 25, born in 1997. His early childhood coincided with the peak of Pierce’s box office mojo – the years of 007 and Thomas Crown. Later he’d talk to his father about these experiences – Do you remember your friend, that guy who dressed funny and hung out by the movie theatre every day? – and only then would he learn that these enthusiastic friends on the street were mostly fans, all of whom were strangers.
Pierce Brosnan walks into the living room. “I was just getting the dog,” Brosnan says. “He popped away. Slipped out of my back pocket.”
He’s wearing khaki shorts and an old white T-shirt – a silver-haired dad with nothing on the agenda except this conversation. When it’s over he plans to pour a cocktail and watch the pelicans squabble on the shoreline. Next year he will turn 70. Time has softened his face, blunted its severity.
He’s still preposterously good-looking, though. Later I will feel obligated to ask him: Pierce, when did you know you were a very handsome man? He will laugh loud and long at this question and then politely decline to answer it, because, what could he say? This face is something he was born with, like the birthmark on his left arm: “It was a scarlet birthmark. My grandmother always said, He’s a lucky boy. He’s a lucky son.”
Brosnan shrugs. “So far, so good.”
Dylan went to high school and college in LA – but before that he and his brother Paris, 21, bounced back and forth between here and the family’s house on Kauai’s Hanalei Bay. Hawaii afforded them a comparatively normal-ish existence that Dylan compares to Stand By Me.
“A bunch of kids running around a forest, looking for something to do, riding bicycles down the street, going to caves and swimming and surfing and stuff,” he says. “I would be there and then come here for a few days.” He says all that shuttling made him a transpacific man of mystery at school: “Kids would be like, ‘Oh, yeah – you’re that guy. I went to fifth grade with you for, like, one week and then you left.’ ”
Dylan and Paris also spent time on their father’s sets when they were younger – Dylan remembers exploring the ice palace from Die Another Day – and as adults they’ve both worked behind the scenes on his films. But Brosnan has always advised them against careers in acting.
“Just because it’s fucking hard work,” Brosnan says with a shrug. “It’s a cross to bear. You’re constructing and destroying yourself.”
So far the Brosnan boys have taken their father’s advice and pursued less existentially risky forms of creative endeavour. Paris – the one with the bee-stung lips – paints and surfs and has walked runways as a model for Balmain, Dolce & Gabbana, and Moschino.
Dylan – the tall one with the long hair – posts psychedelic demos to SoundCloud, pitches in whenever someone’s band needs a bassist, and plays every instrument on a record that he’ll put out one of these days. (He lists Chet Baker and Scott Walker as key influences, and still can’t quite believe that his dad saw Nick Drake play live in London in the ’70s; he seems way more impressed by this than by the whole Bond thing.)
In 2020, Dylan and Paris did make headlines (“Meet Dylan and Paris Brosnan, Pierce Brosnan’s Hunky Sons”) when they helped pass out hardware as “ambassadors” on the Golden Globes broadcast, a job that’s been a springboard to the big screen for second-generation stars from Laura Dern to Dakota Johnson.
Dylan and Paris say they’ve learned a lot from their father’s example – lessons about preparation, passion, confidence, showing up on time. And humour, Dylan says: “Don’t be afraid to make fun of yourself.”
That in-on-the-joke quality comes through in the elder Brosnan’s self–deprecating responses any time the conversation veers into craft talk. It’s always been key to his appeal. He’s there when the movies need a Pierce Brosnan type to put on a tux, but he also meets our need to see a Pierce Brosnan type be made to look silly (traversing a hotel lobby in The Matador wearing nothing but boots, a moustache, and a pair of Speedo’s). He’s been pelted with fruit by Robin Williams, transformed into a disembodied head by Martians, and once sang Abba’s “SOS” to Meryl Streep.
Judging by the trailer, he appears to be having more campy fun in his first comic book movie. It arrives in October, and he’s allowed to say very little about it: “Black Adam, Dwayne Johnson, DC Comics. I play Dr. Fate.”
In the comics, Black Adam is a once-enslaved Egyptian turned semi-immortal antihero – think Superman as a brooding Middle Eastern head of state – and Fate is a sorcerer in a mystical gold helmet. Brosnan did the whole superhero-movie routine, motion capture suit included, and found it all “humorously and delightfully rewarding.”
They shot in Atlanta – you haven’t lived until you’ve heard Pierce Brosnan say “Atlanta,” as if savouring the word’s rich terroir – and he spent his downtime painting “renditions of helmets.” When Brosnan is working, the pages of his scripts end up filled with drawings and artwork. “Repetitions of symbols, self-portraits. Emblems of some Celtic past,” he says, with a self-puncturing chuckle.
The drawings usually find their way into paintings. He’s painted for years.
“It assuages,” he says, “the kind of solitary life that you lead as an actor making films – sitting in trailers, sitting in parking lots, sitting in fields. Up a mountain, down a mountain. Waiting in the wings. So I create studios wherever I go.”
The oversized painting on the back wall of the room we’re in – a four-panel Pop art-style blowup of the instructions from a package of disposable foam earplugs – is his from 1995, painted between setups on GoldenEye, which was six months of loud gunshots and explosions.
Brosnan tends to paint abstract human faces in buzzing psychedelic colours. But he’s also intrigued by vernacular images, like the illustrations on aeroplane safety cards. “The hieroglyphics of our day,” he muses. “The woman changing the baby’s nappy. How to escape, how to put your mask on. There’s a vocabulary and a silent diction there that lends itself to this type of art.”
He trained to be a commercial artist, before acting derailed him. He likes Warhol and Lichtenstein but also Surrealism. He says it was his idea to have Thomas Crown rob the Metropolitan Museum of Art – the original script called for him to hit the Guggenheim.
“The first night we got to New York, I had this beautiful apartment,” he says. “Dylan was a little baby. There was a book on the table. René Magritte. Raining men in bowler hats.” He called director John McTiernan and suggested that having Crown wear a bowler in tribute to The Son of Man, Magritte’s image of homme obscured by pomme, would be perfect for the character. “The visible in the invisible. What you see, what you don’t see.”
His first real gallery show is scheduled for spring 2023 at Seasons LA. Ear Plugs will be in it, although that one’s already been sold to an undisclosed buyer.
The show will be a true retrospective, Brosnan says; the earliest works in it will be from 1987, when he first started painting.
I ask what brought that on. The answer snaps us back into real life.
“My late wife was in her second year of ovarian cancer,” he says evenly. “Dealing with that disease.”
His wife was Cassandra Harris, also an actor. They met in the late ’70s. Brosnan was just out of acting school then – a working-class kid from the banks of the River Boyne in County Meath, Ireland, who’d moved to London and found a creative life at south London’s Oval House Theatre (where he occasionally worked the spotlight at plays and dance performances put on by the British Black Panthers). He and Harris were married in 1980, the same year Brosnan made his film debut in John Mackenzie’s The Long Good Friday as Irishman #1, an IRA thug who holds a gun on Bob Hoskins.
Brosnan soon booked a lead on The Manions of America, an ABC miniseries about migrating to the United States during the Irish potato famine. He and Harris took out a second mortgage on their house in Wimbledon and moved to Los Angeles to be closer to whatever opportunities Brosnan’s big American TV job opened up.
He’s told this story a million times. He rents a lime green AMC Pacer for 50 bucks a week and is driving to his first LA audition when the car craps out somewhere in Laurel Canyon. Brosnan walks down the hill in his good jacket and slacks, makes the meeting, and books the job: Remington Steele, which makes him a star.
Critics saw the show as longer on style than substance, but its style holds up; the show is a perfect retro-’80s stream, a Champagne bubble bath for your brain. Ratings were good and the gig ran for five seasons. Brosnan splurged on art supplies, which went into a cupboard. “I was on American TV and I was earning a lovely wage and I thought, now is the time to paint. And all I did was work.”
Harris got sick around 1986. One night the following year, Brosnan says, “Carrying the weight and pain and the fear of that illness, I took out the paints. And started painting. With my fingers. With my hands, actually.”
That canvas will be in the show. “That’s how we start – heavy. But beautiful, beautiful.”
Remington Steele got the attention of the legendary James Bond producer Albert Broccoli, who, the story goes, saw Brosnan’s photo and said, “If he can act, he’s my guy.” US network NBC got wind of this and kept Brosnan under contract for another curtailed season; the next Bond would be Timothy Dalton. But Brosnan would be the next next Bond – he took over the role, starting with 1995’s GoldenEye.
For the record, Brosnan has never had a few drinks and played the Nintendo 64 game GoldenEye 007 – has never played it at all, in fact, except once, on TV, with Jimmy Fallon. The game might be the most fondly remembered aspect of the Brosnan Bond era, but the movies get a bad rap – they’re the last Bonds with a touch of camp, an echo of Roger Moore’s arched eyebrow.
Around 2004, the Bond producers rang him in the Bahamas to let him know they were going another way. He was briefly pissed off – “It’s bloody frustrating that the fuckers pulled the rug when they did,” he told Playboy in 2005 – and then relieved to be free. His successor, Daniel Craig, glowered through five films, a haunted-badass Bond for increasingly dismal geopolitical times. Now Craig’s time is over, and another reinvention is imminent. Brosnan answers the question he knows is coming: “Who should do it? I don’t care,” he says.
“It’ll be interesting to see who they get, who the man shall be,” Brosnan continues, in a tone that indicates it’s maybe not actually that interesting. “Whoever he be, I wish him well.”
“I saw the last one,” he says, “and I saw Skyfall. I love Skyfall. I’m not too sure about the last one.” A pause. “Daniel always gives of his heart. Very courageous, very strong. But…” he says. The thought goes unfinished.
Paris had come bounding into the room, fresh from a fashion fitting for this story, wearing immense furry boots that could be Flintstones props. End of Bond talk, to Pierce’s obvious relief.
Brosnan tells Paris about a movie he’ll be shooting in September.
“You could get a job on the movie,” he says.
“I’ll be another PA,” Paris says. “The lunch runner.”
It’s a joke, but it sounds like he might make it happen, just so he can go off to make a film without saying goodbye to his son again. Brosnan never knew his father, a carpenter who left the family not long after Pierce was born; his sons have lived a very different life, personally as well as socio-economically. Brosnan has a painting studio in the garage, and sometimes he and Paris go in there and paint together – Paris likes to work with an oil stick, homaging Basquiat.
“He just devours these canvases,” Brosnan says. “It just fills me with the greatest pride, fatherly pride, to be painting alongside him, just to be quiet in the garage or wherever we’ve painted. It’s a really beautiful experience.”
Paris and Dylan have grown up watching their father make art on any available surface – drawing on tablets, painting on their shoes, on Paris’s surfboards. They’re excited to see his work on view in a gallery after all these years.
“He’s, like, evolving into a legit artist,” Paris says, with zero irony, “and taking it to the top.”
His father laughs and, with more than a little irony, says, “Thank you.”
For now there’s still the day job. Brosnan gets up, grabs a wooden cane with silver accents, an old Tod’s briefcase, and takes a few steps, dropping into the stooped posture of an 89-year-old. He’s about to go to Belfast and Normandy to film The Last Rifleman, based on the true story of an octogenarian Royal Navy veteran who escaped an old people’s home and legged it from East Sussex to northern France for the 70th anniversary of D-Day. The cane and the grip are his tools for this performance, along with “a lot of prosthetics.”
“I found a wonderful company,” Brosnan says. “They do great work. They just made Kenneth Branagh look like Boris Johnson – it’s unbelievable.”
He whips out his phone, scrolls through photos, then finds it: a tight headshot, resembling a smiling weathered potato with the sharp, bright blue eyes of Pierce Brosnan. He makes quite a charming old man.
Alex Pappademas is a longtime GQ contributor and host of the podcast The Big Hit Show.
A version of this tory originally appeared in the October 2022 issue of GQ with the title “The Brosnan Boys”
Photographs by Danielle Levitt
Styled by Simon Rasmussen
For Pierce Brosnan: Grooming by David Cox using Kevin Murphy
For Dylan and Paris Brosnan: Grooming by Heather‑Rae Bang using Balmain Hair Couture
Set design by Brian Crumley for Rob Strauss Studio
Produced by Isaac Féria