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February 23rd, 2019

Pierce Brosnan Interview, The November Man

Pierce Brosnan returns to the world of international espionage in the action-packed spy thriller “The November Man” directed by Roger Donaldson. Brosnan, who has wanted to do a grittier version of the James Bond character ever since leaving the 007 franchise, is back to form playing Peter Devereaux, a lethal ex-CIA operative who comes out of retirement for one last mission. He finds himself embroiled in a deadly game of cat and mouse that pits him against his one-time protégé, David Mason (Luke Bracey). Caught in the crossfire is Alice Fournier (Olga Kurylenko) who knows the real story behind a decades-old conspiracy.

At the film’s recent press day, Brosnan, Kurylenko, Bill Smitrovich, Donaldson, and producer Beau St. Clair talked about the genesis of the longtime passion project, how the story based on Bill Granger’s bestselling book series was perfect for adaptation, why the complex character of Devereaux was a good fit for Brosnan, why reteaming with Brosnan appealed to Donaldson, how the role of Alice was written specifically for Kurylenko, what Australian newcomer Bracey brought to the film, how Bourne was a game changer in the spy movie genre, and why Brosnan has always been attracted to the genre of the hero.

Here’s what they had to say:

QUESTION: Beau and Pierce, as producers, can you talk about this journey that you went on? I understand this project started many years ago shortly after you finished the Bond franchise. What led you to Bill Granger’s work and this particular book in the series?

BEAU ST. CLAIR: The kernel of the idea was when Pierce was doing the Bonds, he always talked about the exploration of that character and what made him tick. And so, after the Bonds, I thought it would be a big challenge, but maybe we could find a character that was a character Pierce could play in that genre that he could inhabit in the way he wanted to do before. Dino Conte, who was an old-time producer, had mentioned “The November Man” books. I went back and I read all of them, and the one, “There Are No Spies,” was for me a really good way to insert Pierce back into this world when he’d done this role professionally. But it’s also a character and a story. It worked for me to see that we could develop that book and it seemed like the right way to go in.

PIERCE BROSNAN: It felt after the Bonds, after my four outings as James Bond, there seemed to be unfinished business. And the way that the Bond finished in my life and the demise of Bond going off stage left into the night, it seemed like there was a certain void there, as they say, of unfinished business. Beau came to me with the idea, and she and I have now made numerous films – “The Thomas Crown Affair” and “The Matador” — and we had a good friendship and understanding of each other’s lives and lived so much life together with families. The Bond was so big and mighty in my career, and it is the gift that just keeps giving. I wouldn’t be here today talking about “The November Man” if it hadn’t been for James Bond. So, there was a desire, a want, and a need to make this film, “The November Man.” I loved the title. It has a sensuality and a mystique to it. And the writing of Bill Granger had a complexity of character and a punch and a grit to it which gave me the opportunity to take the gloves off and be hard as nails and be ambivalent in my moral values as a character. There was a complexity there which was seductive and enticing. It really came together when Roger Donaldson [became involved].

Q: Bill, I was wondering if you had read the book and if you took anything for your character from the book and applied it to the movie? Or did you just let the character in the screenplay speak to you?

BILL SMITROVICH: No, I did read the book, and it did inform me about the world that Hanley lived in. And it was that much more informative when I got on set, and the script kept on getting better thanks to Roger and his re-writes and the things we did on set. What we did on set and throughout the script was organic to the book and to the story that we were telling. The book is not the same story obviously, but the characters come together in an unusual and entertaining way.

Q: Pierce, can you talk about the complexity of the role and getting to show that range which we normally don’t see in spy stories?

BROSNAN: He’s a highly trained individual. He’s a sassy operative. He’s a cultured badass. He’s a man who has a life all of his own. And he’s someone who has been manipulated by his seniors. He’s a man who somewhat has found peace in his life, and we started the story there, with this man in semi-retirement so to speak. The character of Devereaux written by Bill Granger appealed to me because of his humanity, because of his workman-like attitude to the profession that he’s in. There are fractures in his psyche, and yet he’s extremely brutal and savage in his execution of what has to be done. He’s a working man. He’s a working operative. And there are no bells or whistles or gadgets. He lives a very simple life for his daughter. I thought it was a great springboard to launch this man onto the stage. That really came from Beau, Mike Finch and Karl Gajdusek (screenwriters), and Roger. Roger is a good mate and friend. He really came to the table and hit this piece out beautifully. He gave it an orchestration of cinematic flair, and it fell into place so beautifully when he addressed the script and characters.

Q: Roger, you’re no stranger to the spy genre. Can you talk a little bit about this project?

ROGER DONALDSON: I love suspenseful movies. I’ve made movies like “No Way Out” and “The Recruit” and “The Bank Job.” I’ve known Pierce and Beau forever, both of them, before we made any movies together. In fact, Bryan Brown I think introduced us initially back during the time I was doing “Cocktail.” So we’ve known each other for a long time. And then, we did “Dante’s Peak” together and we had a great time doing that. Beau and Pierce came to me and said that they had this script and was I interested in doing it. The idea of doing a political thriller in Europe appealed to me. So yes, I was onboard from the beginning. I saw the potential in it. I felt like I could bring something to the table that was challenging for me personally.

Q: You have a loyal Bond fan base and we’re all excited to see you back to form playing this gritty anti-hero. You obtained the rights soon after you left the Bond franchise, but the tone of the Bond films in the 90s is very different compared to today’s spy films. What is the relevance to you of this film and the relevance to moviegoers now?

BROSNAN: That’s a very difficult question. I don’t know where to begin. (Laughs)

ST. CLAIR: Bourne was the game changer.

BROSNAN: It was.

ST. CLAIR: And you saw it affect the Bond big time. Pierce had already had the instinct to head that way in the Bond character, but that wasn’t the tone of the Bond in that period of time. That shift happened when Bourne came, so with this one, we had to leapfrog past.

BROSNAN: When Matt Damon and Mr. Greengrass and “The Bourne Identity” (note: “The Bourne Identity” was directed by Doug Liman while “The Bourne Supremacy” and “The Bourne Ultimatum” were directed by Paul Greengrass) came on the stage, you could feel the circle had shifted and it had gotten more muscular. The franchise of Bond did the business the way they did the business and it makes sense. I probably wished that I had picked up the gun sooner, but I picked it up when I picked it up. This is the moment in time that we set sail with this. The serendipitous scenario we find ourselves in now with the geopolitical state of affairs with Russia seems to be a sweet irony for us as filmmakers with “The November Man.” That’s a complicated answer to a complicated question.

ST. CLAIR: I just wanted to say that this time we’re in where we have a connection to everybody instantaneously, we were trying to feel our way with what kind of heroes you would want now, because the world is so unpredictable, and it’s so dangerous, and it’s hard to know what the truth is anymore. So, Devereaux is someone that’s seen it, and he’s kind of jaded and cynical, and he fits that for us when we talked early on about what a modern hero would be like.

Q: Olga, you acted opposite Daniel Craig in “Quantum of Solace.” Now you’re working with Mr. Brosnan who’s also played James Bond. What was it like to appear in this film?

OLGA KURYLENKO: Wow, it’s like I’ve done two Bonds now. (Laughter) It was wonderful. Of course, I’d always admired Pierce. He’s an amazing actor and it just felt to work with him was a gift. I like a good thriller myself, so it’s great to be involved in that. I was really honored that they offered me the part. When you guys told me that you were writing it for me, I was really touched.

BROSNAN: We’re all big fans of Olga’s work – Beau, Roger and myself.

ST. CLAIR: We based the character early on from when Olga did “Hitman.” She was the prototype for this character of Alice in the movie, and it was amazing how time worked out and we got her. She’s our perfect Alice.

KURYLENKO: It was great. There was tons of action and we both already have certain skills. We came prepared. We had all our past from all the Bond movies.

BROSNAN: There was a sweet irony in it all because Olga had been with Daniel in the Bond movie. That’s the joy of making a film like this, but it was Olga’s work. It was her talent and beauty and vulnerability. It just made sense and it felt good. I mean, this came together as a beautiful company with Bill (Smitrovich), Will Patton, and Luke Bracey, who cannot be here today because he’s held to his contract at his other job. We formed a company that had good hearts, and everyone brought their game to the table, and everybody was in on the joy on entering back onto the stage with me as a spy in this magnificent country, Serbia, in Belgrade making a movie. Everyone was passionate about making the movie.

Q: What was it that you saw in Luke and why did you think he was right for the part of David Mason?

ST. CLAIR: Roger found Luke and had a real connection to Luke.

BROSNAN: (to Donaldson) Go ahead, mate.

DONALDSON: Actually I found him. We looked at a lot of actors and Luke just stood out. It’s hard to find somebody that’s original and new on the scene, and Luke just has what I felt was a masculinity about him. He was capable of doing the action as well as doing the acting. He was a good choice.

BROSNAN: I was in Santa Monica one day dropping my boy off at one of those tutorials, and Beau called up and said, “Look, come into the office. We have three actors to look at.” I went in, and Beau and Roger were sitting in this tiny office in Santa Monica. They gave me the laptop and there were three men there, all great actors, but one man won the day. And that was Luke. He was passionate, powerful. He had the voice, the face and a vulnerability. I realized in that moment and having worked on this piece for such a long time that we were about to leap off here, and a choice was going to be made for a young man’s career. I looked up and I saw Beau and Roger looking at me, and it was an easy choice really. I said, “This guy. Luke Bracey.” They said, “Great. That’s our man because that’s the one we wanted.”

DONALDSON: You take a leap of faith when you go with an unknown actor in a major part, because everybody is always looking for that confidence. When you see an actor you’ve seen before, you don’t question whether they’ve got the chops or not. So it’s always a big leap of faith to go with those new actors. But I have in the course of my career taken that leap of faith with a number of people and so far it seems to have worked out pretty good for me. Hopefully, the audience is going to see what I see in Luke.

Q: Pierce, you have an intense fight scene with Luke. Can you talk a little about what it was like shooting that?

BROSNAN: He’s a tough boy. Oh that’s for sure. Lots of Epsom salts. A martini at the end of the day. Luckily, no bruises, no cuts, no bones broken. Mark Mottram, who was my stunt double on James Bond, he and I saved the world a couple of times. He’s a mighty man and so he was our stunt coordinator. Mark Mottram doubled me on Bond, and he brought over a bunch of lads from London who were great car guys and bike men, and they really worked on this scene extensively.

DONALDSON: The business and stuff like when you’re strangling him with the hose, I mean, he was strangling Luke with the hose. You had him with the hose. (Laughter)

BROSNAN: The younger actors! Just as I’m getting the hang of it, you step onto the stage. (Laughs) Anyway, it’s just full out. He went for it and I went for it. When you do a fight sequence, you’ve just got to go for it. And it worked well, this vicious, hard, intense and brutal [fight], and yet sorrowful, too, because there’s the father and son emblem of these characters and we wanted that. I wanted that. I wanted someone that had to have that feeling towards someone that comes from love, so that when he sees him on the streets after all this shit hits the fan, and the explosion, it’s like, “Good Lord, how did I get pulled back into this game?” There’s a humanity there that you want to have in these people and everyone brought that. All the characters did.

Q: Roger, you can almost do these political thrillers with your eyes closed at this point. What is still the challenge for you and what was the particular challenge of this? Was it the location or was there a particular scene that was difficult?

DONALDSON: Well, I think the challenge is to make them suspenseful, because suspense is what drives these movies and that’s what I’m attracted to. The fun of directing a film like this is you get to do drama as well as you get to do some action. So, it’s never boring and every day on the set is a different day. The scene that probably was the most demanding was the scene where he’s got the young girl hostage. Pierce does an amazingly brilliant job at that and manages to give this feeling of you don’t know where the scene is going to go. You know something bad is almost certainly going to happen, but you don’t know what it is. So, for me, the way that scene plays out probably is the most [difficult]. That day was the highest point of making this film. But there were lots of days that we worked our butts off. It was a demanding schedule, but we had a lot of cooperation from the Serbians who were part of helping us. We had a stage and we were closing down streets, and there’s stuff that makes it difficult, but all in all we had a lot of fun making it.

Q: Roger, you seem to repeatedly work with the same actors. What is the advantage of doing that as a director?

DONALDSON: Well, the nice thing is to be asked back a second time and have actors who work with you more than once. Usually, it’s indicative that the first time worked out okay. The advantage is you know the shortcuts, and you have a mutual respect for each other, or otherwise you wouldn’t do it a second time. I remember Tony Hopkins and I, years ago, we were ready to kill each other at the end of making “The Bounty.” We were like we were never going to work together again, but we did. Working with Pierce a second time around was for me a really… You know, it’s good to have friends, but it’s even better when you get to work with your friends. You find a new sort of depth to your friendship, so we had all of that. Pierce was also producer along with Beau on the film, as well as being an actor, and so I was under him and over him. (Laughter)

Q: Sometimes when a role is reprised, it’s because an actor relates to the character so well and wants to do it again. Would you talk about your personal James Bond and why you relate to this so much?

BROSNAN: It’s because I love movies. I adore movies. I grew up on Steve McQueen and Clint Eastwood and Warren Beatty. The list goes on. Spencer Tracy. I wanted to be in movies. (Laughs) As an innocent, romantic lad of maybe 11 or 12 or 13 with not much in the back pocket but some dreams, there you go. And then, I became an actor, and I found that I was good at it, and it made me happy. It made me happy to make people happy. And so, it’s kind of as simple as that really. And there’s the genre of the hero and James Bond. I saw the first James Bond in 1964 as a lad and it was bedazzling and beguiling. I never thought, I never dreamt, that I was going to be such a man, such a character, but I became an actor. I don’t know. A man becomes what he dreams so to speak.


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