Interview: Pierce Brosnan on the Past and Future of ‘Black Adam’s Doctor Fate
“You go right ahead, Matt. Give me your best shot.”
The unmistakable voice on the other end of the phone beckoning me for questions belongs to Pierce Brosnan. I know it well. I grew up watching Brosnan in a series of movies all through the 1990s; Mrs. Doubtfire, Dante’s Peak, his wildly underrated remake of The Thomas Crown Affair, and of course, four James Bond adventures, starting with 1995’s GoldenEye. At 69, Brosnan may be a bit older than in his 007 days, but he still has that same crisp, clear voice. When he asks where I’m calling from and I tell him Brooklyn, he responds “Ah ... lovely Brooklyn,” in a way that makes it sound like the most idyllic spot on Earth.
We’re speaking to discuss Brosnan’s return to big-budget blockbusters in Black Adam, which stars Dwayne Johnson as a nigh-omnipotent warrior from the world of DC Comics. When Johnson’s Teth-Adam awakens in the present day after centuries in suspended animation, he comes face-to-face with the Justice Society, a group of heroes that includes Brosnan’s character, the mysterious sorcerer Doctor Fate.
While Black Adam is Fate’s first live-action onscreen appearance, the film suggests he’s been around the DC Extended Universe for a long time, and during our conversation, Brosnan and I talked about how much of that informed his portrayal of the character. We also discussed his input into his costumes in the movie, how difficult it is to keep that shiny Doctor Fate helmet free of fingerprints, and whether he’s interested in continuing on as Fate in future DC movies. (Spoiler alert: He is.) Most importantly, we waded into the most heated debate on the internet: Which fandom has the most intense supporters: DC or Mamma Mia!
How familiar were you with Doctor Fate before you were offered the role?
I wasn’t really, to tell you the truth. I mean, the comic book world has always intrigued me, but I didn’t know too much about Fate. Of course, now I know. And now I am. So I had the most wonderful three months in Atlanta making this film with my fellow actors. They all shone brightly and we became good friends: Aldis [Hodge], Quintessa [Swindell], Noah [Centineo], Sarah [Shahi]. We would have lovely lunches and dinners and we became a family.
One of the more intriguing aspects of the character is that he has this enigmatic backstory; the film alludes to the idea that Doctor Fate has been around a very long time and gone on many previous adventures. Are you the sort of actor who wants to know all the details of the character’s backstory? Are you having conversations with the filmmakers about exactly what has transpired in his past or does it not matter as much to you?
You know, if it’s on the page and it works, then you don’t need to ask a million questions. You play the scene, you play what’s on the page. But you also have a backstory: He was married, he had a life, he had a wife. He has the blessing and the curse of Helmet of Nabu. You have to believe in that and personalize those artifacts with tiny little things. I wear my own watch in the movie; it’s a beautiful Blancpain watch, a gift from my wife, inscribed with “Time flies on love’s wings.” That’s also my wedding ring I wear ... so you begin to create your own mythology in little ways like that.
You read, obviously, and you hear about the people who have love for this character. So you want to acknowledge that. I’m an actor of certain years and time. I’ve traveled the world and had grief experiences as an actor, as a man. And you bring that into question. And you also have the love and friendship of Carter [Hall, played by Aldis Hodge]. He’s a man who I love, who’s a brother, who we have shared time and history. And of course, in my case, I know more of what’s to unfold than he does. So that gives you, as an actor, an emotional core to what’s happening each moment.
I was going to ask how much input you had into the look of the character; given that you are wearing some of your own items like your watch and your ring, it sounds like you had a fair amount.
Yes, they just became talismans that made sense. Fate is an archaeologist, he likes the finer things of life. His costume is kind of of a period from the past. The helmet Jaume and I worked on together with the creative team. I said I wanted something elegant and sleek and beautiful. An artifact that would sit on a pedestal in a palace somewhere in the world. So we did, we talked creatively about the helmet.
Speaking of the helmet, the words you used are exactly right; it’s sleek and beautiful. It’s also very shiny. After the movie, I wondered, because you are constantly carrying it around onscreen, was it difficult to keep it looking so beautiful and immaculate? Was there a person whose job it was to just constantly wipe fingerprints off it?
[laughs] Correct. No, it was held in great reverence. I cherished it and I would look after it, and I would protect it. It was never dropped. It was beautifully made. There’s only one of them. Hopefully it’ll show up on my doorstep one day. I did ask for it. I don’t know how much it cost, but it cost quite a bit of money to make the helmet.
But that’s the joy of moviemaking and reading a script and thinking ‘My God, how are they gonna do this?’ And then of course, you show up and it is revealed to you each day how the scene will unfold.
If they do give you the helmet, what would you do with it? Do you have a spot in mind you would want to display it?
Oh, I would put it on a beautiful pedestal, yes. I would. And make sure the light shines on it. It’s just a fabulous piece of art.
Was the rest of the costume ever actually fabricated, or was it entirely a CGI creation?
Oh no, I had to don on the mocap. And the mocap suit is another form of art, another form of theater, another performance. Because it involves wearing a costume that is not the most flattering, but it is theatrically quite engaging.
Things like motion capture suits and CGI, the process of making these large-scale action movies has evolved so much over the time you have been starring in them. I’m curious how that affects your work as an actor in the middle of it all. Is it easier to make these sorts of big blockbusters these days? Or is it more difficult now?
No, I find it very easy. I had classic training in ballet, in voice, in movement, in mime. Then in my theater days I was used to working in black boxes where there were no props. There was nothing on stage. It was just the physicality of your motion, your body. So it it was exhilarating. You have to have full command of your own body, and confidence to be able to stand there in a motion capture suit. And you pray that the digital guys get it right and make you look good. I would see them and I’d say ‘I know where you live. Make me look good. No pressure. Just make me look good.’
Fate is very important to the story of Black Adam because he can use his powers to see into the future. Did you ever consider what you would do with such a power? Would you want to be able to see into the future if you could?
I don’t think I would, because you would be powerless to do anything about what is to come, really, on a grand scale of things. I like being in the present. For me, that has worked for the last 69 years, so why change anything?
As we already mentioned, the movie hints that this character has been heavily involved in the history of the DC Universe. If Black Adam is a hit and Warner Bros. wants to explore the Justice Society’s past in future movies, is that something you would be interested in doing?
Yes, of course. They’ve already had discussions with me about Dr. Fate. But I think we should ... let’s not count our chickens before they’re hatched.
I’ve been to this well before, and I think the movie is spectacular. I think you get big bang for your bucks. For the people who love these movies, I think they will be absolutely enthralled and delighted. It’s good entertainment.
I know you’re just getting started doing projects with the DC universe, but so far who do you think has the more passionate fans: DC or Mamma Mia!?
[pause] Oh, that’s a good question. That’s a very good question.
Well, I know what the Mamma Mia! fans are like. I’ve experienced the love and the good fortune from that movie. I wouldn’t want to put them in competition with each other. I think there’s enough fans out there to celebrate both movies.
Black Adam opens in theaters on October 21.