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'Why Would I Do a Poster? Would Robert De Niro?'

The Remington Steele actor has decided to ride his own 'hunk' appeal to stardom - but he's not happy with his decision.

By Mark Murphy and Frank Swertlow
(TV Guide, June 9, 1984)

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Pierce Brosnan is sitting in the back of a limousine on his way to that ultimate symbol of Hollywood stardom--The Tonight Show. The man who plays the mysterious but ever-so-suave Remington Steele is nervous. He rubs his palms to calm himself and then stares through gray windows at the deserted streets of Burbank. Suddenly he notices his left eye is blinking. Perhaps it is an attack of stage fright. His wife, Cassandra Harris, who once played a sultry temptress in a James Bond thriller, tries to comfort him. But as the limo rolls on, her fears increase. Maybe Pierce is having an acute reaction to months of working 14 to 16 hours a day.

Minutes later, she and Pierce are inside his dressing room. NBC's leading leading man is surrounded by his publicist, his secretary, a wardrobe person and a variety of backslappers. Abruptly, Brosnan clears the dressing room, except for Cassie. He stares into the mirror. Never mind his anxiety about meeting Joan Rivers, Brosnan is terrified about his face. He touches his right cheek. It feels like ice. His right eyelid seems glued open, leaving him with a macabre stare. His mouth doesn't work, either. He can only speak from his left side.

Could this be a stroke? he wonders. There is no time now for a medical opinion. A knock at the door tells him the show must go on.

On camera, Brosnan's facial paralysis is not readily apparent. After jokingly referring to himself as "Hunk of the Month," he confronts a series of rapid questions, which, luckily for him, Rivers mostly answers herself. Then she elicits from Brosnan that he and Cassie were not married when their two oldest children were born. In fact, they got married in 1977, when their children were 5 and 4. How did that happen? Rivers asks. Before Brosnan has a chance to answer, the show ends.

On this night that was supposed to signal triumph and recognition, Brosnan has ahead of him, in a few hours, an interview with Pat Collins of the CBS Morning News. The interview with Collins goes well. Here, too, Brosnan's condition isn't obvious.

The next day, he walks onto the set of his NBC series and collapses.

First reports say he suffered nervous exhaustion. Brosnan later says he caught a rare virus while working on location-in a river, naked to the waist. The virus may have led to his facial disorder, known as Bell's palsy. Brosnan's doctor tells him to take 12 days off. The set shuts down for three days, but then Brosnan goes back to work. He is put on cortisone and some of his scenes are shot from his left side. In two to three weeks, the malady disappears. Such is the price you can pay for being the ''Hunk of the Month."

At 33, Pierce Brosnan is the latest overnight sensation. Born in Ireland, he first came to U.S. attention as the star of ABC's miniseries The Manions of America.

After completing that production, Brosnan returned to London and decided to gamble. He and Cassie went to a bank and asked for a loan to fix their house. But instead of making the repairs, they traveled to Los Angeles on a job hunting expidition, which, within two weeks, landed Brosnan the role of a mysterious, high-styled private investigator, Remington Steele Brosnan and Stephanie Zimbalist were to team up as a modern-day Nick and Nora Charles (those debonair sleuths in the mystery classic "The Thin Man"). Except that Zimbalist's character, Laura Holt, was created as Steele's boss, and Zimbalist had top billing.

Brosnan, though, is not by nature a second banana. As Remington Steele struggled through its f irst season, his charm and striking looks began to dominate the series. And, again, Brosnan gambled. If he was going to be a star, then he might as well hire a press agent and start acting like one. The timing was right. Tom Selleck was the reigning "Hunk of the Year." The campaign began to try to supplant Magnum P.I. with Remington Steele. "What it means," says Jay Bernstein, the manager-producer who engineered similar campaigns for Suzanne Somers and Farrah Fawcett, "is that every waking moment when he is not in production, his press agent is waiting with requests from magazines, radio, newspapers and television." It is, says Bernstein, a "game."

Pierce Brosnan never anticipated the anxiety of the game. "I feel like I stepped into the lion's den," he says. "I feel like there is no breathing space. I am like a mouse running around on a little wheel. I see Jeremy Irons doing a play on Broadway and I say, 'What am I doing? What I am doing is fast food.' Then I read that I am a hunk! I'm not a hunk! I'm an actor. Hunk is really a disgusting term and if I were really being honest, I would love to ram it down their throats.

"I worry that I am selling out, I am selling out. I am thinking about doing a poster. Why am I thinking about doing a poster? Don't I get enough coverage in magazines? Don't I get enough publicity on television every week? Why would I do a poster? It's to promote Pierce Brosnan. Would Robert De Niro do a poster?"

Brosnan is sitting on the sofa in his home in the Hollywood hills. He is wearing a white silk shirt and light pants and his hands are clasped behind his head. Hw has black Irish loooks: ivory skin, icy blue eyes and raven hair. Beside him is Cassie. She is a tall, striking blonde-once listed among the world's most beautiful women by photographer Lord Patrick Lichfield. Now, she mostly serves as her husband's manager - companion, and has made two guest appearences on his series. She supports her husband's career, but acknowledges his new status as a sex symbol has been troublesome.

Brosnan is supportive. "This is a pretty fast town and the woman are terrible. Some actresses do this whole number, proposition me, right in front of my wife, and sometimes I am just so naive that I don't get it until maybe 10 minutes later. I cannot believe the gall of these people."

Cassie moves closer to her husband. "These women are horrible." she says. "They try to use me to become friendly with Pierce. Or else, they just cut me dead, and only want to speak to him. Sometimes I feel like bursting into tears."

Pierce interrupts, "She copes with the whole thing so well, If it were her up there on a series being a sex goddess with men falling all over her. I think I would go crazy."

Their three children-Charlotte, 11; Christopher, 10; and Sean, 9 months-also have suffered, he says. "We experienced culture shock. I felt like it was definitely the Wild West. England is so much more gentle. Sometimes when I am on the set, alone in my dressing room, and the kids are at school and Cassie is sitting up here in the Hollywood hills with the baby, I feel like we are five lost souls. We cling to each other."

Wait a moment, though. Isn't this the same man who borrowed money to come to the U.S.? The same man who hired people to help him achieve this fame and fortune? "Well," he says "here I am in Hollywood, so damn it. I'm going to make a go of it." Last month, Brosnan finished shooting "Nomads," a psycological thriller in which he plays a French anthropologist. It's his first starring motion-picture role. "I don't want to be next Cary Grant," he says, " but I want to be as big as Cary Grant. I don't want People magazine to say my name sounds like a casserole dish, as they once did. I want to be really big, up there with Paul Newman or Clint Eastwood or Gary Grant."

His ambition has not made things easy for Stephanie Zimbalist. "She was a name before I was a name because of her father [Efrem Zimbalist Jr.]," he says. "I was a name only to the people who had watched The Manions of America. I always got the feeling that they thought maybe Brosnan couldn't carry the show."

Is his co-star envious? "Yes," he says. "She's jealous, but we talk about it. I was always totally honest. I told her, 'I'm getting a publicist. Now you do it. Go for it'."

Asked if she had discussed with Brosnan the matter of her jealousy, Stephanie Zimbalist says: "I am not sure we used that word. We were sitting in the back of a limousine waiting for a shot, and we had a long talk about our insecurities. We acknowledged that we've both had them about each other and we needed to talk about it. It was a good talk," she adds, "He is charming and funny to work with. He's a very good actor and I realize, in the end, if he does marketing and he promotes himself, then it's really for my good and we really are each other's pal. We are not in a race."

Brosnan's ambition springs from childhood. Shortly after he was born, his father left his wife and child. When Brosnan was 4, his mother placed him with grandparents in Ireland while she worked as a nurse in London. When his grandparents died, he moved from one relative to another. Finally at 11, he rejoined his mother in London, where she had remarried.

"I probably don't understand myself very well," he says. "I feel very black, moody. I don't feel like a whole person. I've buried a lot of pain. A friend asked me if I had ever thought of going into analysis, nut I'm my own analyst. Besides, why dig up all these things?"

He pauses for a moment and rethinks what he has said. The self-assured pose of Remington Steele slides away. "There are questions I would like to ask my mother, things I have just skirted around in conversations with her, like: Why did you leave me? Why did you go to London to be a nurse? Why didn't you stay in Ireland? Why did you leave me with Granny and Granddad? I have never talked to her as directly as that. We have always skirted around it."

Those unanswered questions still haunt him. "Because of all the emotional upheaval in my life, I could not handle things academically. I wish I had gone on to university. I was frightened by the Christian Brothers [Brosnan's grade-school teachers]. Everyone was, but I had no one to back me up, so there was constant fear."

He turned to acting, spending three years at the Drama Centre in London. Then it was repertory theater. He played opposite Joan Plowright in Franco Zefferelli's "Filumena." Tennessee Williams chose him to play the male juvenile in "The Red Devil Battery Sign." Then came some movies, including "The Mirror Crack'd," with Elizabeth Taylor. He also appeared in Nancy Astor, which only recently aired in the U.S. on PBS's Masterpiece Theatre.

In 1981, following his summons to Ireland to star in The Manions, he took out the bank loan that staked him to success as Remington Steele and the dilemma of his life today.

"I feel this contradiction within myself," he says. "I am aware that I can fall on my backside and overkill, overhype and exhaust myself so people won't want to touch me. I m just an actor doing a series. I knocked on the door and the door opened. Maybe there is too much exposure, but, what the hell. When the star-making machine gets rolling, you either get out of the way or hop on."

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