Mike Davies finds Pierce Brosnan in bullish mood with The Matador...
When Daniel Craig was announced as the new James Bond, few could have breathed a louder sigh of relief than Pierce Brosnan.
No more questions about whether he would be returning to the role, no more probing to see if he knew who was taking his place, no more asking what he'd do to improve the franchise.
Finally, after seven years and four films, Bond was behind him. And, as if to firmly consign 007 to history, along comes The Matador with Brosnan playing Julian Noble, an amoral hitman enduring a nervous breakdown while on a mission in Mexico City.
Seedy, paunchy and very badly dressed, he's about as far from the debonair Bond as you can get.
"I never saw it as closing the door or anything like that," he laughs, "but I'd been very aware of painting myself into a corner and for some time I'd had the desire to break out of a mould which I'd seen closing in around me. In doing that scene where I walk across the lobby in my underwear it was like 'the train's left the station'."
Even so, he admits that the finished version of his character is considerably tamer than in the original script.
"It was a bit more flamboyant than you see now," he offers, flashing a knowing smile.
"I mean this man was shagging everything, men, women, animals, the whole thing, and I thought, hang on a second I might want to break out of the mould, but do I want to do it and alienate people in such a fashion?
"So when we knew we were actually going to do the movie we went back and addressed a few issues."
But even during his licensed to kill stint, the obscenely good-looking Brosnan was making efforts to keep from being typecast, making films like The Tailor Of Panama, Grey Owl and, through his Irish Dream Time production company, The Nephew and Evelyn, to show he could do more than suave superspy.
"I was aware going into Bond that if I got it right I was going to be labelled as Bond, so I had to look ahead and try and carve a niche for myself outside of that role," he candidly admits.
"The success of Bond has been bountiful to us as a company and to me as an actor. It gave me the prominence on a world stage and an education in producing movies, and relationships with distributors around the world.
"But there was very much an awareness that I was not getting the meaty acting roles. Because I was either too handsome, too pretty, too whatever. I was being judged in ways that left you nowhere to go.
"So The Matador was just the right time to say 'let's see what the actor is made of, let's see what talent you have to transform.'
"To be honest, you kind of find yourself painted into a corner by your own personality, the choice you've made in playing Bond and underpinning that with Thomas Crown.
"If someone else had been making the movie I don't think I would have been given the role. But if an actor isn't getting the work then it's up to them to create it for themselves."
Yet he confesses that the lifestyle of the leading man can be seductively counter productive to putting an effort into stretching those acting muscles.
"I was educated as an actor in London at the Drama Centre which was very heavily Method orientated and I did diverse roles and was taught to play character. But I went off to America and ended up playing myself for quite a while there in that kind of world persona acting.
"Deep down I always felt I was a character actor, but the money and the lifestyle's pretty good as a leading man so I thought I'd hang with that.
"But then I used to always look at the other guys out there doing this really kind of flashy, daring roles and I thought, 'when is it going to come my way?'
"I've always had the good fortune to work, not necessarily the greatest work at times, but it's all been to the advancement of my acting abilities. I feel like everything that I have done, good, bad or indifferent, has taken me further down the road to where I am right now with Julian Noble."
There are those, the film's director Richard Shepard included, who reckon it's the best and boldest performance Brosnan's ever given.
Modestly, he demurs. "I'd say it is my most relaxed, most confident and sure footed performance. I don't want to say it's my best because then everything else that has gone before is like... you know... I thought Tailor Of Panama was great, that Evelyn and Thomas Crown were good. But I suppose I am so known as James Bond or Thomas Crown and so identifiable with suave sophisticated men in a suit, elegance that it's like you've given the same performance for 20 years.
"Then you grow a moustache and walk across the lobby in your knickers and people say 'Oh my God what an amazing performance.' But I've been an actor since I was 18 and I've done crazy stuff before."
He cracks a big grin. "You should have seen me in Puckaree, an Irish rock musical at the Edinburgh Festival in my wonderful rubber phallus running around the stage. That was a good one."
At the end of the day, Brosnan is, by his own admission, a 'journeyman actor'. And, it seems, very happy to be so, apparently quite content to leave the flash to others and get on with doing the work.
"I'd like to find quieter roles, not so big leading man roles, more kind of simple characters," he confesses.
"Some people have careers that are just brilliant with everything they touch, but I look back and I have been blessed.
"I came to this country 23 years ago on a wing and a prayer; Freddie Laker, sandwiches at the back of the bus. I was looking to work with Martin Scorsese and I got a TV show, but beggars can't be choosers. Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, whatever you want to say, it's work. Relish it, enjoy it, get on with it."
* The Matador opens on Friday