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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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Brosnan believes that the character of Bond--and the image of maleness that he radiates--also need to be updated and made more real. He feels Bond needs to be more accessible, more human, more emotionally open and mature. "The audience nowadays is so sophisticated, compared with the days of Sean Connery. The heroes we have now, and the actors we have, men like Harrison Ford and Mel Gibson, bring an incredible charm and accessibility and vulnerability to their maleness. Which can only be a celebration of the man, the actor and the character. And this makes for even better heroes."

Playing Bond the super-male, imprinting that image on millions of impressionable minds, carries with it a heavy responsibility, as Brosnan knows full well. He remembers the impact Bond had on him as a boy of 10, when he saw Goldfinger, and he knows that many kids go to a Bond movie and come out wanting to be as cool as Bond, as tough as Bond. "That's what you strive for as an actor. And that's what one still goes to the movies for, to go in and be transported, to be turned on, to say, 'I want to be that, or I want to live like that, or I want to feel that way'. It's pure entertainment, but it's more than that. It changes people's lives."

Bond, of course, has already changed Brosnan, most tangibly in his star status and his impact in the film industry. Playing Agent 007 has also opened many new doors: "Bond has been a celebration in my life. I adore the role. I don't feel trapped by it. When Goldeneye began to soar high and mighty, I formed a company and I used it to my advantage. Bond allowed me to go off and do something like Mars Attacks, The Mirror Has Two Faces and Dante's Peak." With his new company, dubbed Irish Dream Time, Brosnan produced and appeared in a movie called The Nephew, about a unique and moving love affair in Ireland. He is now planning a remake of Norman Jewison's 1968 film, The Thomas Crown Affair.

His new stature in the industry and the public eye has brought Brosnan new responsibilities that he is happy to embrace. He has become a prominent supporter of a Los Angeles charitable organization called Entertainment Industries Foundation/Permanent Charities. He also gives high-profile support to environmental groups. Because of what his late wife went through, supporting women's health care has become one of his top priorities.

Brosnan's renewed prominence in the public eye has brought one infuriating downside. During the making of Tomorrow Never Dies, Brosnan became a prime target of the British tabloids and their shameless gutter sleaze. They ran stories claiming trouble on the set and in Brosnan's private life. The stories were pure fiction, Brosnan says, but the damage they caused was all too real.

"It hurts, it stings. It's just shocking, absolutely shocking to read things about you and your loved ones. It's extremely painful and hurtful. I haven't received too many barbs from the press, but certainly now there seems to be an interest from very [small-minded] people who do not investigate their stories and just basically print lies."

Brosnan has decided he won't be turning the other cheek; if it happens again, he'll strike back. "One story in particular really crossed the bounds. I found out who the man was, and I know where he lives and I know his life. It's kind of my job to find out who the little shit was. So if he does it again, I'd nail him. I'd nail him. I've got no qualms about going after someone like that, if they're going to do that. It's very damaging to my family."

The tabloid barbs came at a stressful time, when everyone in the production was working furiously to get Tomorrow Never Dies wrapped, edited and released by Christmas. To unwind a bit, Brosnan and some of his pals spent an evening at Monte's on Sloane Street in London, probably one of the world's classiest cigar clubs. "We wined and dined and smoked the finest cigars," Brosnan says. "It's a wonderful place. The cuisine is impeccable. And the interior is designed to look and feel like an ocean liner. We had a marvelous night out."

This aside, Brosnan these days is counting his blessings. Three years ago, on a trip to Mexico, he meet Keely Shaye Smith, a TV producer in Los Angeles. They have been together ever since and are the proud parents of young Dylan Thomas. When you see Brosnan admiring photos of little Dylan, photos of a happy daddy playing on the grass with his baby son, you can understand why the actor feels his life has begun anew. And when you reflect back on his stories of the pain of his childhood and the pain of losing his wife, you can see right down to the roots of Brosnan's evident inner strength and grace under pressure.

"I've been very lucky in my life," Brosnan says. "Very lucky. I have been able to go through quite a few lives and still retain a certain identity and love of life. I have a new life, a new woman, a new baby. I also have a new realization, as a man and as an actor: This is where you belong. It's a great feeling, knowing you don't have to prove yourself or step on tippy toes to be seen or be heard. Just to be comfortable in who you are." *

Paul Chutkow, a freelance writer based in northern California, is the author of Depardieu, a biography of French actor Gerald Depardieu.

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