Opening this week is director Roger Donaldson’s (The Bank Job, No Way Out) action thriller The November Man. Based on Bill Granger’s novel There are No Spies from the bestselling November Man book series, the film stars Pierce Brosnan as an ex-CIA operative who is lured out of retirement on a personal mission. While on the assignment, he finds himself trying to protect a valuable witness (Olga Kurylenko) while his former pupil (Luke Bracey) is trying to hunt him down. The film also stars Eliza Taylor, Caterina Scorsone, Bill Smitrovich and Will Patton. For more on The November Man, watch the trailer or check out all our previous coverage.
Last week at the Los Angeles press day I was able to speak with Brosnan. He talked about reuniting with Roger Donaldson, getting back into the action genre, casting Luke Bracey, filming in Belgrade, future projects, the last time he played Goldeneye on the N64 (the interview was done before this bit on The Tonight Show), why audiences have responded so strongly to older actors becoming action stars, and more. Hit the jump for what he had to say.
Note: This interview was done with Merrill Barr from Nerdist. I’ve noted who asked each question.
Steve: I run a site called Collider. We have at least five readers.
Merrill: I’m with Nerdist, and we’ve got at least three so he beat me.
Steve: I really want to ask you one of the most important question of the day – and hopefully you haven’t been asked this yet – when was the last time you played GoldenEye on the Nintendo 64?
BROSNAN: May 13, 1995.
Steve: Is that really true?
BROSNAN: Or something like that. I remember when it came out. I think I did the GoldenEye in 94, 95. My sons got it, I played it. I remember sitting in the garage playing it with them. I think I shot myself in the foot many times.
BROSNAN: And I just said, “F*ck it. I don’t want to do this.”
Merrill: And when did they come up with the cheat codes and be like, “You gotta see this! They got paintball mode on this thing!”
BROSNAN: I know. I lost track of it thereafter. I wish I had a piece of it. That would have been very, very nice. It was one of those little things they get you on the Bond and then suddenly your face is every which way.
Steve: The thing about that game, and I’m not sure if you’re aware, it’s gone down as one of the iconic games of any system. People love that game.
BROSNAN: It’s still out there? They still sell them?
Steve: I don’t know if they still sell it, but I know that people still talk about it. It’s revered as one of the classic games.
BROSNAN: That I’ve heard.
Merrill: I don’t remember if they did. Either they were talking about it or they did do an HD remake of it and put it out on Xbox.
BROSNAN: Did you play it?
BROSNAN: Why? Why was it such a huge game?
Steve: The gameplay.
BROSNAN: The interaction?
Steve: Yeah. The fact that you could play four players. It was just a well-made game. And it’s unusual also because games based on movies are usually terrible. They’re just notoriously horrible. And that game was just really good.
BROSNAN: Yeah. My 13-year-old, he plays fierce games. I buy him an Xbox and …
Merrill: Does he play Daniel Craig’s Bond games? [Laughs]
BROSNAN: No. He’s not playing Daniel’s games, but whatever Combat something or other. When we go out to Hawaii, he has one there and he digs it out when his mother’s not looking. I go in there and he’s like [makes shooting noise]. It’s brutal.
Steve: Well let’s jump into why we get to talk to you today.
BROSNAN: Anyway, there you go. November Man. Here we are.
Merrill: You’ve been on this for a while. You’ve been developing it for years. Is this the one you were waiting for to jump back into the action spy game?
BROSNAN: Yeah. There’s no question about it. Beaumarie St. Claire and I, we created Irish DreamTime after GoldenEye hit. We made movies like Thomas Crown and The Matador. And in between my stints as James Bond, I’d go off and I’d do something like The Matador or Tailor of Panama, which was spy related, just so I could shake it up. It’s a genre which really appeals to me. I love these kind of movies as a kind of cinema-going geek myself. Those characters, you want to be like those characters when you go to the movies. You know, when you see a movie with a guy who’s really cool and the killing’s slick and easy. I don’t know. There’s something intoxicating about it. So she found the book, sent it to me, I loved the title, November Man. I thought it was really punchy and kind of had an aura or mystique about it. And the writing by Bill Granger was complex and character driven. Then in came Mike Finch and Karl [Gajdusek] and they just cleaved their way through it. Then I went off and I did another film – I don’t know the timing of it all. And then one day it was Roger [Donaldson]. I said Roger’s name. “Roger should direct this,” and Roger said yes, and we were off to the races.
Steve: That’s actually what I wanted to ask you about is working with Roger. I really think he’s an underrated action thriller director. I just like his work a lot. I grew up with No Way Out, which is one of my favorites.
BROSNAN: Well, the day I said it to Beau, because we’re all mates and we’ve known each other a long time, and he and I had done Dante’s Peak together and I loved all his movies, just like you do. They’re suspenseful, and he does suspense, his timing. He’s a shooter. He just loves the camera and loves creating the shot, and how to get the most bang for your buck out of that shot, that lens. He’s good on character. That’s kind of it. We sat down at the house in Malibu. My wife made lunch. Roger, Beau, myself, we talked about it and said, “Let’s go. Let’s do it.” That’s how it happened. And Belgrade, I’d been to Belgrade before. I’d worked before the war, during the war, and after the war in that part of the world, so I knew that landscape and Roger loved that landscape. It’s kind of unique. It hasn’t been seen much in films. And we didn’t have the money to shoot in Berlin, [laughs] because the story takes place in Berlin. So we kind of skewed it Belgrade, Montenegro. It’s as simple as that, really, and they embraced us. They let us come in, the government there. They gave us palaces, and hotels, and buildings. When you’ve got eight cars out on the streets with camera mounts, live action, it’s kind of a bit sketchy, but exhilarating.
Merrill: First of all, I agree with Steve because I am a huge fan of The Recruit, which he did. But because it’s your second time with him, did you notice any difference in your working relationship with him this time around? Was it an easier time?
BROSNAN: Oh, it was an easier time, yeah, because I was a producer on it.
Merrill: That would make things a little easier. “I can tell you what to do!” [Laughs]
BROSNAN: No. I don’t do that. That’s not my style. I’m an actor first and foremost. My producing credentials are just to say, “Yeah, I love this story and now let’s bring the people, the ensemble together,” and I get out of the way. I have no desire to check on schedules and shooting schedules and money and stuff like that. I’ll make phone calls. I’ll call anybody and knock on any door to try and get a location, or get an actor, or get an actress. But no, it was just very easy. We just hit the ground running. And he’s the boss. I go on the set and he’s the man. He directs me. He likes to go many takes, many takes, many takes. I like to keep it down to two or three and move on, but he likes to go, so that’s okay, too. It was a joy. What can I say? It was just a great treat to have Bill [Smitrovich], Olga [Kurylenko], Luke [Bracey]. Luke was a great find. Beau and Roger really looked at many, many guys’ work and then one day, I was in Santa Monica dropping my boy off, and they said, “Why don’t you come by the office? We’ve got to show you some guys for the part of Mason.” And there were three great guys and Luke was the dude. I sat there with the headphones on, watched the laptop, they sat over there and I thought, “Shit, man. This is the moment of truth. Wow. I’m going to pick one of these actors to play opposite me in this spy genre movie, which has the potential to hopefully do some business. And because of my legacy as Bond, blah, blah, blah, one of these guys is going to be the dude.” And Luke was the man. So when you push the button on that, I mean, I remember my own days as a young actor going and auditioning. You get a break here, you get a break there. And Luke stood up the task. Luke was brilliant. I’m just sorry that he can’t be here. He’s doing Point Break and he’s off to the races with his movie career.
Steve: I personally think you guys made a better decision filming in Belgrade than Berlin because Berlin has been shot so many times.
BROSNAN: So many times.
Steve: One of the things I took away from the film was this is a landscape and a situation that we’re not used to seeing on screen. What was it like filming there in terms of day in and day out, and also, was there any location that just really blew you away that you got to film at?
BROSNAN: The White Palace was pretty impressive. Very impressive, in fact. The day to day running of the set was everybody showed up for work. They are seasoned filmmakers over there. They have an infrastructure for filmmaking, which is very healthy. It’s small, but they were tenacious, polite, timely. Everybody gave 100%. I mean everyone, because they all knew that the film had the bones and the heartbeat of something that could be good. And everyone was in on it and wanted it for me and wanted it for Roger and Beau. I got to Belgrade. I turned 60 on a Monday. I was there on a Tuesday. I was sick as a dog on the Wednesday, 102 temperature. And Friday was my first day at work. So, [makes whip cracking sounds]. I was like, “F*ck me. This is not a good way to start an action movie!”
BROSNAN: Well, yeah. But your heart’s pounding. You’re thinking, “Oh my god.” It was hard work, but great work.
Merrill: It feels like there’s a big push right now from a lot of directors and actors to do more of the ‘70s style thrillers and revenge films. Everyone talks about how they are so hard to get off the ground these days in this big budget world, like Transformers. But this is that ‘70s style thriller revenge film. One, did you have any problems with that? And two, was that always the goal to make it have that ‘70s vibe, because the book does come out of The Cold War?
BROSNAN: Yeah. It was. I didn’t think that and I didn’t verbalize that to myself or within meetings that we ever had, but we wanted to make a hard-nosed, gritty, realistic spy thriller. Roger talked about using lenses. He shot hi-def, but using anamorphic lenses that he’d found from this warehouse. He was so thrilled with that. Him and Romain [Lacourbas] were just like kids in a toy store with their lenses. And consequently, you have this rich looking film, which gives it this kind of muscular feel, deep focus, soft focus look. I’m not that great on development. I can see where things go wrong, but Beau, Carl and Mike Finch, they worked on it relentlessly. And then I would see the material and I would say, “Well, that just doesn’t ring true. I don’t quite know why that’s happening.” So that would be my input and I’d go off and I’d work on another film, and then I’d catch up with them later on in the year. We just kind of nursed the piece along. There was no timeframe. We didn’t have anyone pushing us except ourselves to make the film, and a desire. And then the organic kind of naming of Roger; then it happened really fast.
Steve: I think I speak for a lot people when I say it’s really nice to have you kicking ass on screen.
BROSNAN: Thank you, thank you.
BROSNAN: Well, it would be great if this finds traction to go again, to set sail, and we’ll know that pretty soon. We’re developing a piece called I.T. right now which is a thriller. That’s got action in it. It’s good. That’s as much as I know of what I’m going to do. My son, Sean Brosnan, we’re going to do a movie called Last Man Out. Craig Ferguson came to us with a piece, which I really liked. It’s a really violent, caustic little piece set in Belfast. It’s good. It’s down and dirty. Go to Belfast, do it there, do it in Ireland. Sean, who’s my boy, he’s a writer, director, actor. We’re doing that after Christmas.
Merrill: Jumping off Steve’s thing, because you guys are trying to turn this into a series. There’s 13 books in the series. Have you thought about what you want to do next with Devereaux and where you want to take him next? Did you get to that point?
BROSNAN: I found myself in the changed man theory the other night thinking, “Yeah.” I thought, “My god. If we could do this again,” but there was nothing specific there. There’s just the kind of vague sensation of how I’d like it to go. I allowed myself that gift to think that. Luke would be there. I would be there. Who are these men? How do you find these men? Where do you find these men? Is Olga still there? I don’t know. But you have to go to the books. You go back to the books. There’s a few books there that have an amalgamation of story and characters that we like. I don’t know. More will be revealed after the 27th.
Steve: One of the things that I’ve noticed, audiences have really responded to Liam Neeson kicking ass as an older gentlemen. And Colin Firth is going to be kicking ass in Kingsman: The Secret Service. I guess where I’m going with this is, audiences seem to respond right now to, I don’t want to use the term older actors.
BROSNAN: Older actors, mature actors. Men.
BROSNAN: I don’t know. I really haven’t given it much thought. I have been asked this the last few days and I should probably give it some thought. There’s a familiarity there. And if the material is well-suited, like it is to Liam. I mean, Liam has a powerful presence. He’s a great actor. Great physique, voice, style, presence. It just works. There’s just something that is comforting and beguiling about it all. It’s the material. It has to be good material, really. And I think we’ve just seen so many young guys come out there and talk the good talk, but really not kind of deliver that much.
Steve: Do you think that people want to see the scars or they want to see the impact of life?
BROSNAN: Honest to god, I don’t know. I really don’t know and I don’t give it that much thought and I don’t care. [Laughs] As long as it works for me, then great. I love seeing Liam do it. Liam in Taken has been great to see. My boys love it. They love him. And there’s just the gravitas to it. It’s believable. You know the guy’s endured. You know the guy’s lived some life. Someone like Liam has lived a lot of life. Myself, I’ve lived a lot of life. There’s loss. There’s success. There’s loss. There’s doubts. And there’s some heartbeat there.
Merrill: Do you think it’s important that they have to be flawed characters? Because Devereaux is a flawed guy. He’s borderline alcoholic, he’s retired, he’s not the guy he used to be, but that’s what makes him sort of interesting to watch.
BROSNAN: Yeah, no question about it. And it gives us all hope with our own flaws, and fragility, and fractured lives to go on and be successful and find happiness. Ultimately, that’s what he’s trying to do and that’s what we try to do as people, be happy. It’s the ultimate goal every day you wake up, to be happy. At the end of the week, you want to be happy. Happy in love, happy in work, happy in life, happy with yourself. It’s pretty simple.