Brosnan. Pierce Brosnan.

Pegged as the best Bond since Sean Connery, the former "Remington Steele" star takes a hard look at himself.

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Money was tight and that worried Brosnan. "We were scratching along. And it would be, 'Are you sure you picked the right man here, woman? So far so good? Are we hanging in here?' Because she could have had anyone. There were lots of men around her at that time when I met her. Merchant bankers. Actors. She moved in circles which I was not accustomed to. But I was an actor. I was a purist. I was hungry. And I was determined and I was ambitious. I was also someone who was loving, someone who was caring, someone who was funny, someone who was artistic. Someone who had dreams and passion. She had gone through a lot of suffering herself, a lot of negative pain."

With this kind of love to nurture and protect, Brosnan worked as hard as he could. "I was doing theater, traveling to Glasgow, to Manchester. I did two West End productions, a play by Tennessee Williams, and then I got a part as an IRA terrorist in a movie called The Long Good Friday, my first film. I also did a TV movie about Irish horse racing. Some American producers saw it and offered me the lead in this miniseries called 'Manions of America,' about the Irish potato famine." It promised to be good money and great exposure.

Soon James Bond entered their lives. Harris landed a part in For Your Eyes Only, with Roger Moore. "During my early years as an actor, Bond was never a desire," says Brosnan. "But when Cassie was playing in For Your Eyes Only, then, of course, it became a joke. I would do my own impersonations of James Bond. Just for fun. Just driving her home from work, or going out, or talking about her experience on it. But even so, it was not an ambition to play James Bond. I had my sights set on other aspects of the work."

With the proceeds from her Bond role and some of Brosnan's work, they managed to scrape enough money together in 1979 to buy their first house. "The house was in foreclosure and it was pretty run down. But it was magic. There was nothing; we were just living on the floorboards. It had damp old wallpaper, and I started stripping it and renovating it and working on it and sanding it and repointing the fireplaces and knocking down walls. We did it all ourselves; we had no money at all for that sort of work."

They certainly didn't have any money for luxuries, such as traveling overseas. As a youth, Brosnan had been captivated by America, relishing the romantic images it conjured up in his mind. He would soon have a chance to see them firsthand.

"In going from Ireland to England in 1964, as an Irish boy, it was a disappointment," Brosnan recalls. "Because I had confused England with America. I was looking for the big cars with the tail fins and the very tall buildings. London never really entered into my imagination, only in name, but America somehow filled me with visions. When the miniseries was ready to be aired, Cassie suggested we do something bold. Cassie said we should go to America, we should really go to Los Angeles for the premiere of this miniseries.

"But how are we going to get to Los Angeles, Cassie? We don't have any money. We've just bought this bloody house. How are we going to pay the mortgage?' She said, 'I'll think of a way.' So we took out a second mortgage on the central heating. We already had central heating in the house, but she found a loophole, and we went to the bank manager. I said I had a job in Hollywood and could we get a £2,000 loan? Somehow the central heating issue came in and we got the two grand.

"The trip to America, it was such a great joy to go there with Cassie, to take that leap of faith and go to the New World--all that nonsense you read about in books. But again it was a liberation. In Los Angeles, I rented a car from Rent-A-Wreck, a lime green Pacer, with a cushion, because the springs were coming through, and I got a map and went on my first interview in Hollywood. Somehow I found my way out to Laurel Canyon. I got up to the top of Mulholland Drive and the car broke down, blew up. I did eventually get to the interview and saw a casting director from Mary Tyler Moore Productions. Boom! They were looking for Remington Steele.

"The last thing I was looking for was a TV series. I went to America thinking I was going to work with Scorsese. Taxi Driver I'd seen about 10 times and Mean Streets; that's where my brain was at. I was going to do movies. But I needed work. I went through several more interviews and then Cassie and I came home to Wimbledon. Then the call came: Would I return for a screen test? And it was, 'My God, what have we done? What have we done? What are we going to do?' Panic, panic, panic. Don't panic! We'll go to America. We'll take the kids to America. So Cass, the two kids and I hopped on a plane and went to America.

"When I first worked on the part, I was bitterly frustrated. 'I'm just not funny,' I'd tell Cassie. 'I'm just not funny.' Then she told me, 'Just be yourself. Be how you are with me.' The series ran for four and a half years."

Brosnan and Harris settled into southern California and had a child of their own, Sean, now 13. And, thanks to "Remington Steele," Brosnan's lifelong financial worries disappeared. "It was very, very hard work. My family rarely saw me during the first year. But suddenly we had this incredible lifestyle. I had these little bits of plastic in my pocket, which were credit cards. I was so scared to use them. But once I got the hang of it, I did pretty well. And we moved into this big house; never do anything by halves."

After so many years of struggle, it gave Brosnan a deep sense of fulfillment to properly provide for Harris and the kids. "It just felt so right. And it made being an actor even more enjoyable and more immediate. In the sense that you had to work. Because you had to provide. And providing was a wonderful feeling. It was a great responsibility, and one that did provide a great sense of achievement and happiness. And that's all one wants, really."

During his "Remington Steele" years, the show made a brief visit to Ireland, and Brosnan had an unexpected visitor: Tom Brosnan, the father he had never known. "Our trip to Ireland generated a lot of press, and I suspected my father might surface. And he did. One Sunday afternoon he came to the hotel. He came up from Kerry, with many first cousins I never knew. There came a knock on the door and you knew that when you open the door, the man you're going to see is your father. I opened the door and there was Tom. I expected to see a very tall man. He was a man of medium stature, pushed-back silver hair, flinty eyes and a twizzled jaw. He had a very strong Kerry accent. And Tom and I sat and had afternoon tea, with all those cousins in the room.

"We were strangers when we met. And I regret that we met under such circumstances. I wish I had met him in a pub or somewhere on his own terms. I would have loved to have sat with him alone and just talked. There are parts of my character, I just don't know where they come from. They say he was a snappy dresser and a great whistler."

Did he feel like family?

"No. No. And of course the burning question beneath the course of the conversation was, 'Why did you leave?' But how do you cut to such a question after such a long absence? I was 33 at the time. I had been angry with him. And I was angry after the meeting. Because I didn't ask him the questions. There was enough pain already."

During his third year doing "Remington Steele," Brosnan developed a taste for fine cigars. "I wouldn't call myself a connoisseur, but I know a good cigar when I see one. I enjoy them. People give me fine cigars and I enjoy sharing them with people who really appreciate a fine cigar. There have been times when I've gone out with business guys and smoked cigars, and they've been among the most pleasurable evenings I've had. Good cigars and good company. Hard to beat."

Years later, when he made the recently released Dante's Peak on location in Idaho, cigars again proved to be one of the great pleasures of his day. "I had my fishing rod with me, I'd take a walkie-talkie with

me, so the set could be in communication with me, and I would spend the morning fishing. Or sometimes I'd go out in the evenings. The cigar was always a great companion."

Painting, too, remains one of his closest companions. His work is figurative and he works with color, and he usually travels with an easel and paints. "Painting and smoking a good cigar is wonderful," he says. "They help me relax."

As his El Rey del Mundo burns down low, Brosnan comes to his first rendezvous with Bond. In 1986, Albert "Cubby" Broccoli, the famous Bond producer, was looking for the right man to take the mantle from Roger Moore. Brosnan was exactly what Broccoli had in mind. "I was offered the Bond, I tested for the Bond, came here to the studio. I had been through wardrobe and had even been photographed with the late Cubby Broccoli. But there was a clause in my contract [for "Remington Steele"] that said if the show got canceled, NBC had 60 days to try to place it with another network." On the 59th day, NBC decided to renew the series, and Mary Tyler Moore Productions refused to let him out of his contract.

"Cassie, I think, took it harder than I did. Because you want for your partner in life, you want the best for your partner. It just didn't happen. Timothy Dalton was signed the next day. And I became the guy who coulda been, shoulda been, might have been Bond."

Losing Bond hurt--and worse was to come. By now Brosnan had expanded his credentials with lead roles in the NBC miniseries "Noble House" and in a miniseries for the BBC called "Nancy Astor," and he had co-starred with Michael Caine in the film version of Frederick Forsyth's The Fourth Protocol. In 1987, still fuming about the Bond that should have been, Brosnan and Harris went to India, where he was to play the lead in The Deceivers, a Merchant-Ivory production.

During the shoot in India, in the baking heat of Rajasthan, the usually effervescent Harris began to tire and feel run down. "She got very fatigued, very worn out, and we weren't sure what it was. She had had pain, slight pains, and in a checkup, six months before, the doctor had said, 'It's all right. Don't worry.' If only he had looked closely. When we finished in India, we came back to London. She went to the doctor and he took her into the hospital the very next night."

The diagnosis was full-blown ovarian cancer. "A young woman making her way through life, as a mother, as an actress. When your partner gets cancer, then life changes. Your timetable and reference for your normal routines and the way you view life, all this changes. Because you're dealing with death. You're dealing with the possibility of death and dying. And it was that way through the chemotherapy, through the first-look operation, the second look, the third look, the fourth look, the fifth look.

"It came with a certain grace. Actually, life was sweet. Life had an incredible peace to it. Because you cherished every moment. The ordeal of going into the doctor's for the examination. To see if the white [blood cell] counts are up, or to see if there's anything there. And then the joy of it being all right, and coming back out and going down to the beach. Those moments were just intoxicating."

Their struggle against the cancer lasted four years. "Cassie was very positive about life. I mean, she had the most amazing energy and outlook on life. She could read people extremely well. She had, above all, the greatest sense of humor. She had this wonderful laugh, which her children have inherited. Both Christopher and Charlotte, and Sean, have this contagious way about them, of making people feel good. Which is such a gift."

Harris died in 1991. "It was and is a terrible loss," says Brosnan. "And I see it reflected, from time to time, in my children. How do you carry on afterwards? Slowly. Very, very, very slowly. It hurts. And you have to sit and endure it. There's nothing else to do; it won't go away."

Brosnan's world would never be the same. The loss of his wife, he said, brought him to his knees. But now he had to be both father and mother; for their three children, he was now the sole source of emotional sustenance and stability. To get himself through, to give his children the reassurance that life would regain some form of balance, Brosnan somehow found the fortitude to keep on working. He made a string of movies, two of which he is particularly proud: Bruce Beresford's Mister Johnson, the 1990 film in which Brosnan plays a British colonial administrator in West Africa, and the 1993 smash comedy Mrs. Doubtfire, with Robin Williams and Sally Field.He played the role of Field's handsome, pompous suitor, to the great irritation of Williams' character. "Mrs. Doubtfire was a wonderful, beautiful ray of sunshine in my career. For the first time I was in a studio picture and I was working with wonderful actors who were all working at the top of their game. It allowed me to do comedy and play a character who was viewed as a jerk."

Then Bond reappeared, and this time it was meant to be. Goldeneye turned out to be a huge success, and Brosnan is glad now that he did not take on the role back in 1986. "Bond is a man who is in his 40s. Bond is a man with a past. He's seasoned, a man who has loved and lost. And he's somewhat of a solitary figure. Playing Bond at this time in my life is much better than I could have played it in my 30s."

Brosnan won't talk about Roger Moore or Timothy Dalton. But there is no way to sidestep Sean Connery's Bond. "I cannot replicate or be what Connery was. He's the only one in my books. And when I did Goldeneye, he was the one that I wanted to be able to stand up there beside. There was no sense of intimidation; even then I felt a strong sense of who I was. I just wanted to make the man human. And I wanted to find my own reality within it."

Brosnan has never met Connery. "He hasn't sought me out. We shall meet. At the right time. People ask me, constantly, 'Did you ask for advice?' Nonsense. Why would I go to him for advice? I was seeking advice, but you have to find your own path with such a character. Someday I would dearly love to sit with the guy and drink good malt whiskey and smoke cigars somewhere quiet and hear what he has to say. Because he's certainly someone I admire greatly, the way he has conducted himself in the business."

Tomorrow Never Dies is the story of a global media baron run amok. The villain mogul, played by Jonathan Pryce, runs a worldwide newspaper called Tomorrow, and he operates a global satellite TV network with the capacity to beam into every TV set in the world. Inspired by how CNN capitalized on the Gulf War to build its global audience, the mogul decides he's going to provoke a little war of his own, by stirring up trouble with China.

Roger Spottiswoode, best known for the brilliant Under Fire and other films, went into this project with one clear objective: to bring the James Bond films firmly into the 1990s. "Since Connery, too many of the Bonds edged toward self-parody and the ludicrous," Spottiswoode says. Now the aim is to keep what everyone loves about Bond-- the characters "Q" and "M," the signature music, the high-tech gadgetry and a terrific villain--and use them to create an action thriller with contemporary texture, pace and realism.

"This film will be darker, tougher than many past Bonds," the director says about Tomorrow Never Dies, which opens in England on Dec. 12 and in U.S. theaters on Dec. 19. He's using moodier lighting and more realistic sets. The media baron is also cut close to reality; hello Ted, hello Rupert. To foment trouble with China, the baron uses a stealth ship cruising in Chinese waters and this, too, is a touch of high-tech realism. Spottiswoode claims the U.S. Navy already has one in the water. China also makes a believable foe for Bond and the West; no other country looms as such a likely or formidable adversary.

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