As Eli McCullough on AMC’s The Son, Pierce Brosnan plays a Texas titan as a mix of charming, nurturing, blunt, and brutal with the confidence and swagger of a man who is respected and feared and the darkness of a man who was baptized in blood. But while it may not be the kind of rakish role that instantly comes to mind when you think of the former James Bond and Thomas Crown, that might be on you. Pierce Brosnan sees a lot of things that resonate with him in the broader portrait of Eli McCullough and the rough and tumble west of 1915 Texas than one might expect.
We spoke with Brosnan ahead of the season two premiere of The Son (which airs Saturday at 10 pm ET on AMC) about that affection for McCullough, the show, the state of Texas, his thoughts on the decision to end the show after this season, the road map of his life, and what he’s looking for in his next project.
I had seen the pilot when the show first started, but there’s so much TV, so I hadn’t kept up. I dove into it hard in preparation for this and it’s a great piece.
I appreciate it so much. I think it is. I am very proud of the work. I’m very proud of the company of actors that I got to work with, and the ensemble of writers. They were so brilliantly, passionately informed and erudite about the history and the story of this family’s life. It’s a family saga which happens to be a Western. When I came to show the year before last, it happened really very fast for me, because I came in with four or five weeks to spare. I had read the book four or five years prior to that, but I was so impressed by the writing. They already had five scripts. So, I knew a thread of the character, and he was fleshed out. There was a lot of meat on the bone for me to play Eli McCullough.
I think the biggest challenge was the accent, which I gave it best efforts, and I allowed myself the grace of being an Irishman, and that so many of our forefathers were from Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Italy. For me, as an Irishman, I lent into the Celtic side of my soul, as it were, and it’s intrinsically there in me, because I spent the first 11 years of life on a rural landscape of hardworking men, farmers. And so, I knew a little bit of the landscape of men who work on the land and come from the land… the passion of the land. And that Irish mad, dark, melancholic, brooding, lyricism. You put that on the palette with trying to find the voice, the accent. And when you have only so much time, you have to be very instinctual and fearless to just make decisions… of articulation and speech patterns. And I really never actually opened my mouth with the accent, even though I would sit with a dialect coach, and go over it and go over it.
But when you actually come to the very first day of shooting in that first season, the very first scene where I’m with my son and my granddaughter, and we’re driving out on the land, and we see a man hanging, it’s one of our ranch hands. And that was… Suddenly, this voice came out of Eli, or came out of me. And so, that was the biggest challenge. I know something about being a father. I know something about striving to make a better world for my children. I know something about hard work. And I know something about living a dual life, or at least being an immigrant and trying to assimilate into a society. So, there were a lot of emblems there that I identified with.
What about Eli’s obsession with legacy? That’s a big part of the show. What about the idea of trying to build a legacy, is that something that concerns you?
It has, as I’ve kind of come into my 60th years. I’m 65 now. There was a certain poignancy to time past, time present, and time future, and to what that means to me and what I will leave behind for my children. And hopefully, it will be a roadmap of good-doings, and hard work, and generosity of heart and spirit to friends along the way. And maybe that I made some difference within the environmental movement. That is close to my heart and that of my wife, Keely, and our partnership over 25 years has been a joyous journey of love, friendship, adventure, children, and building homes… making homes. And also, saving … and part of a group of people like the NRDC, the National Resource Defense Council, and saving a pristine lagoon like San Ignacio Lagoon, the birthing ground for the whales, and many other environmental platforms that we’ve had success with. So, yes. I can understand it. I identified with Eli. There was really no acting required. [Laughs]
Well, maybe a little in some of the latter moments of the show when he becomes a particularly fierce individual, I hope.
But that’s as great a roadmap as one could draw for themselves. I guess, with regard to the films and work that you choose, how does that play into things? What are you looking for when you take on a project?
It’s the material. I read quite a bit of material, most of which is just rubbish. It’s very hard to… The landscape of entertainment, movies, cinema, TV have blended on the palette with such a finesse now that it’s really all TV. It’s all about TV. The movies are just… The main part of them are special effects, big tentpole movies, which is great entertainment. I love it as much as the next fellow. But the dramas of life… the nuanced, colorful dramas of human existence and endurance and interactions… [I] really find that the best work seems to be on TV. So, I was extremely happy to go back and work on this show. And I am looking, actively looking, for the next venture into the world of TV. I would love to do one again. But, in the meantime, I’m here in New York, about to set sail on a movie.
You want to have an emotional grasp on the material. You want to have something that moves you and that will excite you, and that when you’re finished turning the pages, you go back, and you read it again, and you can read it again. And that is the impetus of doing the work. That’s what’s going to get you up at 5:00 in the morning for six weeks and to work hard, to work long hours, to hopefully be an unexpected surprise and to be entertaining.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the show was initially mapped out for three seasons. There was a bit of break between one and two, but the decision was made to end it after season two. Can you tell me a little bit about the process of how that came to be and your initial feelings? Does the show end in a satisfying way for you?
I think it does. I think it’s a wonderful book-ended show. I didn’t really get into the politics of why they… Well, I did, because I asked the question, “Why has it taken so long?” And there was new management at AMC, and the powers that be who took over don’t have the same interest, I’m told. They don’t have the same passion. And so, that is fine. I have no ego about that. When I was a younger actor, I would have taken it very personally, but I’m wise enough now to just move on, let go, and let go fast. I was happy with two seasons. I thought they drew the character out to his final conclusion of a man in the most dramatic way. So, I was quite content to walk away after two seasons.
Eli’s style is a very important part of the character. The confidence of how he carries himself. He’s very well put together, obviously. You’re a man who’s known for his style. How much influence did you have on that part of the character? His overall look. Or was that pretty much set when you signed on?
Well, I want to say that I had a huge participation, but I have to tip my hat, and there are many hats to be tipped, to Cate Adair, who was the costume designer on the show. She really gave me the look. She came out to the house in Malibu there, two years ago now, and the wardrobe was just exquisite. The boots, they give you a certain stature and a certain walk, and they wore very high boots because you’re on a horse, and you’re riding through the chaparral. That’s when you need legwear. The tweeds and the cut of the clothes were very modern. The change of the style was very much influenced from France and Europe, and so it was a very exciting time for women and their dress code and for men. Cate really ran with that. And then, of course, you have the hats. The hats were beautifully vendored by Texas hatters. So, that gives you a great style. I grew the beard, which became quite a strong emblem of the character, and became quite a prominent beard.
It’s an enviable beard, absolutely.
Well, that’s kind of you to say. So, it was going to be just a mustache or a Van Dyke, but everyone agreed that the beard worked well. Cate Adair. She just made me look great. And then you add a good looking horse.
Obviously, when you’re doing this, you’re on location down in Austin for a bit of your life. I’m curious about what you miss most about the city, the food, and the culture?
Oh, I love Austin. Lady Bird Lake. I lived right there on Lady Bird Lake. So, I liked to bike. I had a great mountain bike. I brought my bike over, and I would just ride around that lake and out and around the mountains there. I used to row when I was at school many years ago, decades ago, and I’d always wanted to scull. So, I went sculling. There was a guy there who ran the rowing club. His name was Eli, Eli Brown, ironically. And so, he became a teacher, and I would scull in the evening. Or fresh mornings, go out on Lady Bird Lake and just go sculling.
Everyone talks about the food, did you indulge a bit in the food there, barbecue specifically?
I don’t really eat meat that much. My wife doesn’t. My children don’t. But occasionally, I’d have a little morsel of brisket, which was just delicious. There was an eclectic array of places to eat. It’s definitely one of the dining capitals of the world.
The people are just so good-natured, and so kind, and so welcoming, and have such a strong work ethic. Such really lovely manners. Very gracious. I was so pleased to be there, and I have fond memories of my time in Austin. Nothing like watching the moon come up over Lady Bird Lake or watching the sun go down out on the land. To really feel the ancient kind of winds of time, and what it must have been like for our forefathers to have traversed this land, thousands of miles, to make a new life for themselves. You are constantly drawn back to the memory of these men, and women, and children who endured so much.
‘The Son’ returns for its final season Saturday at 10 pm ET on AMC.