This week Pierce Brosnan is once again in New York to promote his hard-hitting new thriller ‘The Ghost Writer.’ An unsettling and deeply atmospheric film about a former British prime minister, its storyline could easily have been ripped from last week’s headlines.
For Brosnan it must feel like déjà vu all over again as he was just in town to promote his turn in ‘Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief.’ Very shortly he’ll be back again to promote ‘Remember Me,’ in which he co-stars alongside the screen hunk of the moment Robert Pattinson.
And after that he’ll be back once more to promote ‘The Greatest’ (a low budget film that is, he says, very close to his heart).
If he’s starting to dread the sight of John F. Kennedy Airport he should thank his lucky stars anyway. Quietly, and in his own dignified way, Brosnan is underlining his continuing status as an A-List Hollywood leading man. The multiple offers for top-notch films are all the proof he needs.
But with all the new flicks opening every week, does he ever forget which film he should be talking about this week?
“No, no, the definition is clearly drawn between Percy Jackson and this one (‘The Ghost Writer)’. In the case of ‘The Ghost Writer’ it’s an invitation to play in the house of Roman Polanski. It was a great invite and a wonderful experience in the company of actors like Ewan McGregor and Olivia Williams,” he told the Irish Voice on Tuesday at the Waldorf-Astoria hotel, where the film’s cast were based for a round of press interviews.
In ‘The Ghost Writer,’ the title character, played by Scottish star Ewan McGregor is commissioned to ghost write the memoirs of Adam Lang, the former British prime minister. The last man to attempt the assignment ended up dead, but the job offers great money, so reluctantly McGregor’s character signs up.
But before you even get to the film, which is one of the most perfectly realized thrillers in years, you have to grapple with a difficult fact -- the director, Polanski, is under house arrest in Switzerland after skipping the U.S. for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.
For decades now, understandably, Polanski’s personal life has threatened to overwhelm his films. The attention paid to his history is always a consideration that actors have to grapple with before they decide to come on board one of his films, and in this regard Brosnan’s no different. But he is careful with his words on the subject.
“I knew of this turbulent, brilliant life of his and I was enthralled and intrigued by the opportunity to play in this film. And then the experience of it was very satisfying,” he says.
“You have to be on your game with Polanski. He is all encompassing on the set, he has his finger in every aspect of the production, including the sets and costumes, almost the weather. He wanted bad weather and he got bad weather.”
Brosnan first heard that Polanski was considering him for the role of Lang when he was in London promoting ‘Mamma Mia.’
“Why do people laugh whenever I mention that film?” Brosnan asks with a wry smile.
“A political thriller was the last thing I was thinking of when the offer arrived, so I eventually met with Polanski and my first question to him was, ‘Am I playing Tony Blair?’ He said no, however all roads seem to point to one man only.
“So I looked at Tony Blair and his public persona, and then I took my other cues from the book on which the screenplay is based.”
There’s no doubt that the fictional film contains explosive similarities to the political realities that the U.S. and Britain lived through during the Bush administration and the Blair era. But working with a director who has been praised and vilified in roughly equal measure meant that there was no space to take anything for granted.
“You have the life of this director on the one side and you have the life of Tony Blair on the other. It makes for interesting drama. You have a lot to choose from,” Brosnan says.
It helps that Brosnan has actually met Tony Blair and his wife Cherie and got a glimpse of the security bubble they lived (and continue to live) in.
“I met Blair once and he was very charming, as was his wife. But I’ve lived in America for many years now and I don’t really pay deep attention to the politics of Britain,” Brosnan says.
“But Blair seemed to sweep into office with great expectations and then fell by the wayside. That’s just the observation I made from my shallow perspective on his life.”
In ‘The Ghost Writer,’ what looks like a private resort where the former prime minister has retired to is actually a nest of vipers at the end of Cape Cod. (The film was made in Germany, due to the fact that Polanski is a fugitive from the U.S. court system).
Into this paranoid mix where no one can trust anyone, the knives soon come out when it appears Lang will be prosecuted for war crimes.
Says Brosnan, “My character is in many ways this façade of a human being who’s being pulled asunder by powerful political forces and by the political decisions he has made in the past.”
And those decisions, the film dryly notes, were always in the best interests of the U.S., if not always the U.K.
But because of the constant isolation of his character -- the former prime minister trapped in a security bubble for the rest of his life, never able to take a commercial flight, and never meeting anyone who doesn’t actually want something from him -- Lang emerges as a tragic figure. A man who is in fact more sinned against than sinning.
“I had empathy for this man who wanted to do well by his community, his constituency and his country. It’s the unseen faces behind the curtain of power that ruin him,” says Brosnan.
“For me it seemed very tragic that he was going toward the fate he is. This middle aged man in the midst of his life whose whole world is falling apart. He’s a nervous dog trapped in the corner and he bites. There’s a sadness to it and when he leaves the stage we all think why, why did it have to happen this way?”
The tragedy of a good but misguided man who’s manipulated and finally disposed of by his handlers cannot fail to move the audience, and Brosnan doesn’t fail.
“The manipulation of society that we all see at times when you sit there and you’re supposed to believe what you’re politicians are telling you and you know it’s all bulls***. We’re in a situation where we’re going to war and sending out sons to war, and you have to ask yourself how is this happening and why is this happening.
“It’s what we’ve all just lived through. I certainly don’t have any answer to it; I’m just a working actor. But the film is asking powerful questions about the way we live now.”
McGregor is amazed by how timely the film is. “This week British politics is trying very hard to mimic our movie. One of the central elements in our plot is that Adam Lang is accused of committing war crimes and has to go in front of the a committee at the Hague,” he says.
“Last week Tony Blair sat in front of a committee there and had to defend his decision making in taking Britain into that war. It’s like the CIA are writing our promotional material.”
‘The Ghost Writer’ opens on limited release this week.
No Irish Need Apply? Not anymore