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Pierce Brosnan on reteaming with 'GoldenEye' director Martin Campbell for 'The Foreigner'

Ethan Alter
Senior Writer, Yahoo Entertainment
Jackie Chan and Pierce Brosnan in The Foreigner. (Photo: STX/Courtesy Everett Collection)

It’s Jackie Chan vs. James Bond in the new action drama The Foreigner, which pits the Hong Kong superstar against the fifth 007, Pierce Brosnan, with all of London as their turf. And who better to choreograph this overdue face-off between this pair of action icons than Martin Campbell, the director who rebooted the Bond franchise not just once, but twice. Eleven years ago, Campbell launched the Daniel Craig era with Casino Royale. And 11 years before that, Campbell and Brosnan brought Ian Fleming’s signature creation out of mothballs for 1995’s GoldenEye, which found the critical and commercial success that eluded ’80s installments like A View to a Kill and License to Kill. “That was a baptism of fire for us,” Brosnan tells Yahoo Entertainment of the friendship that he and Campbell forged while making GoldenEye. “There was a lot at stake; expectations were at a fever pitch on how it was going to go down. And we’ve remained friends ever since! I’m extremely fond of the man; it’s a joy to see him work and execute, and do it with such devilish humanity, focus, and concentration.”

It should be noted that The Foreigner isn’t a long-lost Fleming spy yarn. Rather, it’s based on a 1992 novel penned by another British thriller writer, Stephen Leather, set against the backdrop of a series of Irish Republican Army-organized bombings that roiled the U.K. in the early ’90s. (The film takes place in the present day.) Chan plays the titular foreigner, Ngoc Minh Quan, who watches his daughter die in one of these explosions and subsequently pursues the man he comes to blame for the attack, Liam Hennessy (Brosnan), an ex-IRA leader now ensconced within the British government. Drawing on his Navy SEAL training, Quan executes a series of sneak attacks — including a few improvised explosive devices — as he closes in on Hennessy. It’s a different version of Jackie Chan, and his co-star says that’s precisely what the action icon was looking for. “Jackie really wanted to find something to sink his teeth into, and he did in this. It’s a departure, emotionally and tonally. When I was on set, I was on set with Quan, not Jackie Chan.”

Brosnan in The Foreigner. (Photo: Christopher Raphael/STX/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Chan’s transformation was aided by Campbell, whom Brosnan characterizes as a rigorous taskmaster behind the camera. “Once you’re on the set of a Martin Campbell movie, the clock is ticking and you’d better come prepared. Martin has this impish joviality to him, but he’s also deadly serious.” With that in mind, Brosnan rarely visited the set himself if he wasn’t working, which meant his opportunities to see Chan in action was limited. “The last thing Martin needs is some actor lurking about just looking. And when Jackie wasn’t working on this film, he would fly back to China to work on another film! The man is in constant motion.”

One stunt that Brosnan did make a point of seeing in person was a bus explosion that was staged on London’s Lambeth Bridge, an experience that he describes as “devastatingly horrific and real.” Too real for some — news reports indicate that observers weren’t aware that the explosion was part of a movie. “The men who do this are top guys in the business and their preparation was set in motion many months prior,” Brosnan says. “Permits were allowed, and everybody in the community was notified by letter. However, not everybody gets the letter! There were a few concerned citizens, because when that [bus] blew, it was huge. But everybody found out it was a movie, and no one was hurt.”

Having waited two decades to team up again, Brosnan and Campbell are wasting little time arranging their next collaboration. Once the actor wraps production on the currently filming Mamma Mia! sequel, he’ll join the director on the set of Across the River and Into the Trees, a long-gestating adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s 1950 novel. “It’s basically the story of a man, Col. Cantwell, who is dying over the course of a weekend,” Brosnan says. “Cantwell is a kind of Hemingwayesque character and somewhat semiautobiographical. The character falls in love with a young contessa, which Hemingway did. It’s beautiful, poignant, and funny and will definitely be a change of tempo for the two of us.”

Brosnan as James Bond in GoldenEye. (Photo: United Artists/Courtesy Everett Collection)

Campbell’s commitment to Across the River and Into the Trees likely precludes him from returning to the James Bond franchise to direct what Craig has said will be his last time carrying 007’s license to kill. Asked whether Campbell expressed to him on The Foreigner set any desire to bookend Craig’s tenure, Brosnan says that the specter of Bond never came up between them. “That’s good thinking — it would be a trifecta for him,” the actor says, laughing. “Maybe Daniel will do this one, and in another two years there’ll be the next Bond. He gives of himself so physically to the role; I think he’ll do this one and then bow out gracefully.”

At that point, Craig can join the club of retired Bonds that includes Brosnan, Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Timothy Dalton, and — before his death earlier this year — Roger Moore. While fans would like to imagine that group getting together once a year for shaken-not-stirred martinis, Brosnan says that’s a tradition that has yet to be initiated. “That has never happened. Roger and Sean were good mates, and Daniel and I know each other, but we haven’t seen each other since those ships passed in the night. It would be funny!”

The Foreigner opens in theaters on Friday.

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