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Pierce Brosnan on the sage wisdom he gave—and learned—as Black Adam's Dr. Fate

Even if he absolutely does not want to discuss James Bond, Pierce Brosnan reflected on the differences between action filmmaking between the '90s and now

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(from left) Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Fate and Aldis Hodge as Hawkman in Jaume Collet-Serra’s Black Adam.
(from left) Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Fate and Aldis Hodge as Hawkman in Jaume Collet-Serra’s Black Adam.
Photo: Warner Bros.

Pierce Brosnan absolutely does not want to talk about James Bond—and who can blame him? It’s a role, for decades, that has come with endless expectations, speculation, and judgment, which explains why there’s almost a refreshing distance from the legacy he’s a part of whenever he’s publicly quoted. But also, if as an interviewer you get too close to asking a question about it, his understandable impulse may be to shut down the conversation immediately.

The other reason for him to tire of Bond questions is because he’s frequently terrific in other films—especially Black Adam, where he plays Dr. Fate, a conjurer and mustachioed dispenser of wisdom to his scrappy young costars. Brosnan recently spoke to The A.V. Club about his scene-stealing role opposite Dwayne Johnson, Aldis Hodge, and others, which evidences an approach to acting that’s no longer beholden to the public’s expectations—until this press cycle began, anyway—and discussed how his black box theater work enabled him to play a part where so much of what he did was gussied up (or otherwise invented) in post-production.


The A.V. Club: Having in the past played roles where you shouldered significant expectations from a lot of people, how did this compare in terms of either anticipation or perhaps judgment?

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Pierce Brosnan: I’ve actually felt it acutely more these last few days as I’ve begun to talk about it and we’re coming to showtime, curtain up. When I was offered the job of Doctor Fate in Black Adam, I was just absolutely enamored and charmed and honored to be part of such a magnificent movie. I was aware of Black Adam a little bit, and Dr. Fate—my sons are comic book aficionados. And so they told me that I was absolutely right for the job, and what a spectacular opportunity it was for me. And the making of the movie was relatively easy and kind of casual and there was a big responsibility there, but the cast was so welcoming. And the character, Dr. Fate and I seemed to fit. We seemed to meet at the right time in life. And the look of the character, the costume by Bart and Kurt, was just magnificent. The digital effects were spectacular. I didn’t know what I was going to look like. My character puts on the helmet and then he becomes Dr. Fate, so it was really just jumping into the kind of the wild blue ether and the whole theatricality of it all.

Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Fate in Black Adam
Pierce Brosnan as Dr. Fate in Black Adam
Photo: Warner Bros.
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AVC: Your character dispenses sage wisdom to these younger statesmen. As a person who has a different kind, but a greater experience than a lot of the people who are your costars, what if anything did you teach them, or perhaps learn from them?

PB: I learned a lot from them, actually. They gave me the greatest energy, of wisdom in their passion and their own intellect. And as I say, just from today, as they speak, because I’ve been sitting here for the last few days listening to Aldis talk about the research that he did and the passion for the character. This film works on so many different levels—politically, socially, culturally, and of course, theatrically. It’s a spectacle. But just their voices as a company is so rich to listen to and so invigorating. And it was the same when I was on the set working with everyone. You know, I’ve been in this business many, many years, and to come in as the elder, so to speak—you look around, you’re the oldest man on the set—and to see the wisdom and the passion of these players was invigorating. And we became a family. There was a real kinship between us. So I want the world for each and every one of them.

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AVC: There’s a tremendous ease to this character, particularly as a juxtaposition to the typical anxiety superheroes have. What reasoning did you come up with to explain how a person who knows everything that’s going to happen can take it all in stride so effortlessly?

PB: Grace under pressure, my liege, grace under pressure. It’s wonderful when a character has secrets, and most characters do have secrets. Every character has secrets. But in the proscenium arch of this theatrical story, it’s a very significant one. And so as a sorcerer, as one of the Justice Society, as one of the most beloved characters in the JSA, you feel the burden of that. But at the same time, the text, the story, the company of actors, Jaume Collet-Serra as a director gave me confidence, gave me an ease to play within it and to be able to sit back and observe.

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AVC: You talk about grace under pressure, which is very much a hallmark, I think, of James Bond. Do you look at your former roles and go, “Oh, that’s a thing that I can draw upon to bring to this character,” or do you look at them completely separate?

PB: I don’t look. I see the movie at the premiere, and that’s it. I move on. I’ve never watched the James Bond movies with my sons, much to their chagrin. Maybe one day I will. But I don’t particularly enjoy looking at the work. It’s done. It’s over. It’s on to the next one.

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AVC: Well, I’m really referring more to your creative process. Do you think about a former role that you played and go, “That was something I figured out that I can apply to this role here”?

PB: In regards to this character, I think of my own mortality. I think of my own life—time past, time present, time future. This character, Kent Nelson, has lived and endured the sacrifice of his own father from entering the tomb of Naboo and being given this curse and a blessing, the helmet of Naboo. And so you have to enter into this and then try and find a way to personalize it, as fantastic as it is. And those are my secrets. Those are my own personal moments of turbulence, tragedy, loss. And you dwell on them or you think about them. And then you have to do the text that is there. But having sat with such emotions, then you have to play. And luckily I’m opposite people who are very gifted—Quintessa, Noah, and they were all pitch perfect in casting, and Aldis. I mean, Aldis and I are like brothers. It’s a father-son relationship. It’s whatever it takes to create a believable, truthful moment.

Black Adam - Official Trailer 2

AVC: There are many more things that can be done on film that couldn’t be done 20 or 25 years ago. Was this experience different, shooting an action or an adventure film, than the ones you did a few decades ago?

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PB: Well, it’s all about listening. It’s all about the emotion that you bring to the words. As an actor, I was trained in the theater, black box theater. So I was used to working in an empty space and having the presence of one’s own body and one’s own voice. But this was exhilarating, because this works on a completely different level of technology I’d never seen the likes of before. When you have six or seven cameras on large tentacles floating around you and the director is way down at the end of the soundstage and there’s just three or four or five of you on a small set, which is maybe just a pillar and a throne, you have to use your imagination and put your trust and faith into what they’re doing. But it’s really the interconnectedness of two people. So I try not to get caught up in all of that. Otherwise, I lose myself. And I can’t play all of that. I can only play what you and I are dealing with as characters.

But it is extraordinary. Having done the Bond movies, which were exhilarating, and when you read a text like Bond or you read text like Black Adam, you think, “How are they going to do this?” And that’s the joy, that’s the magic, that’s the thrill of being able to enter into this world. And then you get to go on to the soundstage and you get to see how they put it together. So every day was a joy. Every day was an exhilaration of storytelling.