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Static crackled through the telephone line connecting County Kerry, Ireland, with Wimbledon, England, just before Christmas one year ago as Tom Brosnan tried to make contact with a son he had not seen in 29 years.
"Hello, son," the elder Brosnan said in deep Irish brogue, breaking with age and emotion. "Ah, son ... hello, hello.... How are you?" the old man tried once more as the static popped on the line again. It was just as well, because Tom Brosnan had run out of words. "It's all right, father, it's OK," replied Pierce Brosnan, deeply touched and emotionally drained for words himself. After composing themselves for a few moments -- fighting back tears and trying to clear parched throats -- father and son quickly agreed to write one another and terminated the brief conversation.
Two weeks later, young Brosnan wrote the first letter to his father, a man he has no recollection of. It was written on stationery from the Chateau Marmont Hotel in Hollywood -- his base of operation while filming the pilot for NBC's "Remington Steele," a show which now airs Tuesdays at 9 p.m. on NBC.
The letter referred to a largely unhappy early childhood, mostly due to loneliness, as he was left behind with sickly and senile grandparents in the town of Navan, County Meath, at the age of 3 while his mother pursued a nursing career in London.
It also stated that he was permanently reunited with his mother, whom he had only seen on important holidays, eight years later in London. She was now remarried to a "wonderful, gentle" Scot and remains active as a district nurse at Raynes Park, not far from his own Wimbledon family home.
Brosnan went on to describe how he left the Elliott Comprehensive School at 16 and subsequently went to work as a commercial artist trainee drawing pieces of furniture for advertising purposes. The clients included the Harrods and Selfridges department stores. An artist colleague who belonged to the oval house Theatre Club in Kennington had lured him into an acting class one evening after work. Though extremely shy, he had immediately been hooked.
There were a few words about his current status as a Hollywood television star, and his family, of course, but he was hoping to fill in the details in person some days. Their meeting may come soon because Brosnan is set to do an Irish-produced film in Dublin this spring called "Traveling On."
I have gotten a reply from him, mentioning various parts of his life and how he has worked as a carpenter these years, " Brosnan said, dabbing slightly moist eyes. "I shall look up Tom when I go back for the film, if he hasn't passed on by then -- he's getting up in years. It's exciting, though I worry about how we will leave the meeting after pushing the buttons to so many memories. I would be saddened if he passed away without me ever meeting him."
There is so much to tell, particularly since he graduated from London's Drama Centre in 1976 and went to work as an assistant stage manager and actor at the York Theatre Royal. Six months later, American playwright Tennessee Williams personally cast him in a lead role for his "Red Devil Battery Sign" production. "Thank God for you, my dear boy. Love, Tennessee Williams" read an opening night congratulatory telegram which Brosnan has hanging in at rather imposing frame at his London home.
Franco Zeffirelli also was impressed by the young man's performance in the play and signed him to a two-year production of "Filumena" in London afterward. His work there impressed BBC casting directors enough to give him a featured role in a docudrama titled "Murphy's Stroke." It was the vehicle which captured the attention of U.S. producers, who promptly cast him as Rory Manion in the ABC's 1981 miniseries, "The Manions of America."
"Shot on location in Ireland, the project allowed him to 'go home' for the first and only time in 17 years," he explained. "It was a very emotional experience -- I cried my eyes out as the plane left the ground in London that evening. It was an odd, crazy reaction, because you would think it would happen once I landed in Dublin. But no, there was no feeling at all there when I landed."
A large gamble propelled Brosnan to the title role of "Remington Steele" that suave, sophisticated, slightly larcenous and extremely well-dressed super-sleuth. "Cassie and I decided to visit Los Angeles for two weeks in September 1981, at the time 'The Manions of America" was to air," he said, displaying faint amusement.
"We had just bought a house in England and were completely broke, so we went to a bank and borrowed $4,000 for expenses. I told the banker that I was on my way to take a job in America -- which was a complete lie -- and we came to California literally on a wing and a prayer. It was mostly champagne and laughter, though I drove around to various studios for interviews in my battered Rent-A-Wreck car," he smiled.
The luck of the Irish went with Brosnan, as his first meeting with MTM Enterprises eventually panned out for the "Remington Steele" role.
But another six month went by before the powers-that-be decided on making "Remington Steele," forcing Brosnan to bide his time and bite his finger nails to the quick in London. Hoping the show would receive a green light, he turned down several lucrative feature film offers in the process. He did, however, manage to complete a nine-part BBC series, "Nancy Astor."
"Again, I gambled," Brosnan laughed, "and tried to keep the bank manager at bay by telling him that everything was already picked up -- though in fact it wasn't. When I finally went to work, we started paying back off all the debts at a rapid clip. The banker is very happy right now.
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