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.