PIERCE BROSNAN on 'SERAPHIM FALLS' Contributed by Michael J. Lee, Executive Editor for Radio Free Entertainment
January 19, 2007
Using the American Civil War as its backdrop, Seraphim Falls follows a former captain in the Union army (Pierce Brosnan) as he is ruthlessly pursued by an ex-Confederate colonel (Liam Neeson) seeking vengeance over wrongs committed during the war. This quiet, wonderfully told tale has a timeless message on the tragedy of war without ever being heavy-handed, and focuses most profoundly on themes of forgiveness and redemption. But most impressively, it features a pair of strong lead performances in a subtle, unique setting: while this pursuit story has been largely categorized as a Western, it also infuses a surreal vibe at points, giving it an intriguing look and feel that transcends the genre's typical conventions. It manages to be both understated and filled with action, and it is abundantly suspenseful.
Pierce Brosnan has been doing some of his best work in the post-James Bond era of his career, turning in fantastic performances in both this film, and The Matador a year earlier. Ironically, parting ways with the rapidly aging spy franchise may have been the best thing for him artistically.
In this interview, Pierce Brosnan talks about working on Seraphim Falls.
MEDIA: Having that beard for such a long time, was it a relief to finally be rid of it?
PIERCE: It was a relief for my wife. I kind of rather liked it. I thought it gave me a certain gravitas, that I look like a goat. I was talking to Liam Neeson. I said, "Well, I've grown a beard actually and it's kind of grey. It's snow white." And he said, "No, no, no. I'm not going there." "Well," I said, "it's too late for me. I've already been popped by the paparazzi."
Why did the film's genre, being a Western, appeal to you?
Because I grew up on the genre...the Western, the John Wayne movies, although we didn't get too many of those. But you know, cowboys and Indians, it's a deep seated part of one's childhood. And then coming to England and Clint Eastwood's spaghetti westerns, Sergio Leoni, my coming of age, and having a fondness for the films, for movies, and the dreaming of being up on the silver screen, and all of that. You know, in my teenage years, I'd thought about it for some time and I kind of put it out there, I suppose, to the agents, and I thought about developing my own story about a bunch of Irish guys that show up in a Western. But I was beaten to the post...[writer/director] David Von Ancken sent me this script with Liam attached, and the script just touched me, and I thought it was very eloquently written and it had the challenges of the narrative--chase sequence with the underpinnings of redemption of war, forgiveness of war, the brutality of war, the history of this particular war which tore the landscape of America, and that is still going on to this day in its own disguised way. So that was it really.
What was the biggest challenge of the role?
Staying on the horse. But I like horses. I love riding horses, but I hadn't ridden in about ten years, maybe more than that, and that last time that I had ridden I ended up with back surgery and stuff like that because of a jump I took. So there was a certain hesitation there. And the first day out on the horses with the cowboys out there, the wrangler...There was Liam's stunt double and my stunt double. We said, "Well, shall we take them up to the gallop?" And we said, "Let's go." And we were flat out, six of us. That's powerful when you're out on the prairie and you're riding flat out and we came out of this kind of canyon, and I looked over and this horse just went down. And it was the stunt double. It was Liam's guy. And he's a big dude, and he's built like a rock. He just went flying through the dust. He was okay, the horse was okay, but it put the [scare in me] to no end and I thought, "Good Lord!" And Liam and I went back to the bar and said, "We need a large whiskey, please!" You know, this shooting was only four days away. They're fluky animals, too. When you have to do a scene 20 times and you're half a mile away and you're up at a full gallop and you've got long lenses on you, you just hope that you don't go down. Anyway, nobody did. But the rest was the challenge of acting without words. There's the challenge of an inner life. Do you have an inner life? In some ways, you've been hunted, so that gives you the inner life if you've done your homework. Like I read the history of this war and spoke to professors at UCLA and I had a dialogue, and so I was fascinated by it. And being, now, an American citizen, a part of my heritage and my children's heritage. There was a real passion for it which carried me through each day. I just loved it, and being out in the elements and going to work on this majestic landscape--Santa Fe, New Mexico--is a very powerful, spiritual landscape. It was just great. And getting paid for it...
Your character is very proficient with the knife. Did you have to do a lot of practice for that?
I've done a bit of that over the years. You know, the knife is his own Holy Grail, really. He lives by the knife, lives by the bullet, and he's fighting. He's a field agent in many ways. He knows how to survive. He's kind of his own iconic, mythological proportions. He went through the battle of Antietam, and when you read about that battle, it was bloody and ferocious and a fever of war that has never been seen since. And for a man to survive that and yet lose two sons and the loss of losing a son then losing a wife, that's all great food for an actor. So there wasn't a great skill really. You drop the knife, you throw the knife, you look like you know how to handle a knife. It's simple. It's very, very simple. But the complicated thing is how you put those pictures together and keep a rhythm of film going. And in many respects, it's old fashioned filmmaking. You went out there and you put the camera up on sticks, but you have someone like John Toll behind the camera who's a real master at the landscape.
You talked about some of the physically challenging scenes. What was the most emotionally challenging scene for you?
Oh, I think when I meet [Liam's character] and just...What do I say to him? How do I say it? How do I position myself at the end of a gun and the bullet that's going to enter your brain? And because we're so separate in the movie and because I don't speak much...Just as an actor, when you come to do that scene, and you're opposite Liam, and the two of us meet for the first...Even though Liam and I got on really well together and we knew each other not too well before the film, but that particular day's work is we now have to speak to each other and we're already into the film a good four or five weeks. So that was a challenge. Going down the rapids was a challenge. That was a challenge of another order, you know, and one which one was very, very fearful of. Very fearful of. I really was terrified. I was very scared by that just because things can go wrong, and when they go wrong, they go wrong very fast. And the hydraulics of that water is unbelievable, because it's in this canyon and it was just charging. You could hardly hear. You just had to shout. The whole day, you had to shout, and you're kind of on wires. To jump into the bottom of that water which is freezing, it's like a thousand knives in your head. [laughs] It's fun though, and if you get it right, it's exhilarating for an audience. And [my stunt double who] did the jump really did an incredible job on it. So it's just all a challenge, and you want the audience to have a good ride.
On a stunt like that, how much of it is you? Where does the stunt person come in?
I go down the river and you cut and he comes in. They bring him in on a helicopter. They put him on a decelerator. You're going down into nothingness. You're going down into the ether of this water. They don't know how big the rocks are down there so it was just a gamble. And we stood there at quarter to four in the evening with eight cameras going. When the helicopter came in, we all waited. We waited, we waited. And they took him out of the car parked on the end and he came in like this Christ figure, dropped him in, and I was standing beside David Von Ancken. And I've seen things go wrong, and I've seen men be battered, and he went into the hydraulics of it and disappeared, and then came out at the end, and everybody [applauded] and David said, "Let's go again. Let's go again." And I was like, "Oh my god. Oh, Jesus." And they went again because he got too much into the waterfall. And the guy who's flying the helicopter, he's just eyeballing it on a tree, apparently. You know, there's no computer or anything. He's just eyeballing it. This man just drops him and then pulls out at the last moment. So that was that. And then the next day, I'm on the wire, and then we're at the bottom of the waterfalls and I have to jump into it. And when you jump in there, everything closes down. You just prepare for [it]...You see nothing, you hear nothing, except just get in the water and hopefully the wires and the catches are going to be there. And it just picks you up so fast and pulls you down and then just spits you. It was good fun though. When you go home from a day like that, it's like, "Wow! How wonderful!"
Did director David Von Ancken have you check out specific Westerns or research the Civil War?
No, I didn't look at the Westerns. I looked at the history books. I just looked at the history books of what these men went through, the religion they found, the religion they lost, the lives they lost, the futility of it all, the sheer passion for killing each other, the heroics of these young men and old men who were in their winter years fighting battles, men who were just school teachers and accountants who went off to war. So that's what carried me through it. and that we're still living this kind of...this passion for war, and the mongers of war, and this government that we have now who has just taken us into this confusing state of the mind and the heart and has left so many people angry and confused and bitter. You know, a country that was respected and admired as a great country is now kind of mired by this meaningless war. And how do we find our compassion again? How do we find it as a nation to do good things? So I thought it was relatable to this film.
This was David's first major feature. Was there a learning curve involved between the two of you?
Well, we hit the ground running. I mean, he's a very erudite fellow, and I think he has a glorious career ahead of him. I went into this [based] on the script and to work with Liam Neeson, who was attached, and a small film that David had made called Bullet in the Brain, which is like a haiku of a film. Very eloquent. It's only 12 minutes. And I enjoyed his company and his passion for film and storytelling, and it is old fashioned in many ways. You put the camera up on the sticks and point the camera. And I watched him every day draw on strength. He was a general and he was somebody you could trust, and he had the most wonderful grace under pressure as a young filmmaker, and making decisions on the fly which is not easy--you know, being tested and tried by producers and time and budget and weather. And the weather gods were with us, and likewise, the movie gods were with us because there was no room for error in the time table. There were no whiners or moaners on it because it was hard. You're out in the heat all day, in the middle of nowhere all day. It was just you under a tent flap and that was it from sun up to sundown. That was the good thing, because you watched the sun. [laughs] You didn't have to look at the clock. You just thought, "Cold beer and a large whiskey!"