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Last Updated: Wednesday, 1 March 2006, 08:53 GMT
The man behind Brosnan's Matador
By Neil Smith
BBC News entertainment reporter

Pierce Brosnan's latest role as a burned-out, boozy hit-man could hardly be more removed from his James Bond image.

Pierce Brosnan in The Matador
Brosnan plays a hired killer facing a midlife crisis
For this he must thank writer-director Richard Shepard, whose black comedy The Matador gives the Irish actor his first opportunity to spread his wings since passing 007's tuxedo on to Daniel Craig.

While playing Ian Fleming's debonair spy, Brosnan never got to paint his toenails, dress as a cheerleader or stride through a hotel lobby wearing nothing but cowboy boots and underpants.

But according to Shepard, the 52-year-old welcomed the chance to experiment with darker, edgier fare.

"Pierce was aggressively looking for material that would challenge him," said the New York-born film-maker.

"He'd just done a series of studio movies that didn't push him and he was up for taking a career risk.

"Had this movie not worked he could have looked like a fool," the 38-year-old continued.

"But the great thing about Pierce is he's willing to try anything."

That included donning a cheerleader's outfit for a dream sequence that reflects his character's fractured state-of-mind.

"When we suggested it he laughed and said it sounded great," Shepard told the BBC News website.

"You can't ask for more from an actor than their ability to try good or bad ideas."

'Independent'

Shepard, whose previous films include the low-budget 1991 thriller Oxygen, had originally intended to make The Matador for $250,000 (145,000).

But the involvement of Brosnan's Irish Dreamtime film company saw the budget balloon to $10m (5.8m) - a vast increase, though still small for a studio feature.

Greg Kinnear and Pierce Brosnan in The Matador
Neither Kinnear nor Brosnan saw the bullfight take place
"The average Hollywood movie costs $40m (23m), so this was significantly less," the director explained.

"And because we were making the film in Mexico it was very independent in spirit."

Indeed, although the story takes killer-for-hire Julian Noble to Vienna, Las Vegas, Moscow and Manila, the film itself was shot entirely in Mexico City.

"I wanted to go to different places because that's what hit-man movies do," Shepard continued.

"But we had great production design so I think most people can't tell."

One sequence that was set and shot in Mexico sees Noble and travelling salesman Danny Wright (played by Greg Kinnear) take in a bullfight.

The director admits the scene may upset some viewers but insists no bulls died as a result of his film.

'Humanity'

"We filmed a real bullfight several months before, then intercut that footage with actors in an empty stadium.

"No animals were harmed because we made this movie. It was an existing bullfight that would have happened whether we were there or not."

Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day
Brosnan's four-movie stint as 007 ended with 2002's Die Another Day
The fact that Brosnan was also Shepard's producer might have been a problem had director and star not seen eye to eye.

"It could have been a difficult situation," the film-maker admitted.

"But Pierce was the best type of producer. If I needed something he fought for me to get it."

Brosnan has remained vocal in his support for Shepard, describing him as "relentless in his passion for the film" on his official website.

It remains to be seen how audiences will respond to seeing the actor in such an atypical role, but as far as Shepard is concerned it was a gamble worth taking.

"There were many reasons why he was perfect for this part," he told the BBC News website. "First of all it subverted the persona we're used to seeing him as.

"But he's also a very warm man, and able to bring a humanity to the character that was maybe not there on the page."

The Matador opens in the UK on 3 March.


BBC NEWS: VIDEO AND AUDIO
Watch the BBC interview with Pierce Brosnan



SEE ALSO:
Brosnan 'gutted' over Bond exit
06 Nov 04 |  Entertainment
Daniel Craig takes on 007 mantle
14 Oct 05 |  Entertainment
Brosnan uncertain over more Bond
02 Apr 04 |  Entertainment
Bond star Brosnan honoured
19 Jul 03 |  Entertainment


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