Gentlemen Don't Prefer Bonds

At the same time, Brosnan was a trained actor striving always to play rich characters. But movies like Nomads and The Deceivers and Mister Johnson never caught on. And following Remington Steele, the actor paid the mortgage mostly by starring in schlock thrillers like Live Wire and taking bit parts as ''the other guy'' in Mrs. Doubtfire and Love Affair.

Meanwhile, Harris (the mother of his three grown children), who was instrumental in pushing him to do smart and strong movies, was diagnosed with cancer in 1987 after returning from India, where Brosnan had been shooting The Deceivers for producer Ismail Merchant. ''We got home for Christmas and Cassie didn't feel well. She went to the doctor — 'I'll see you for lunch.''' Brosnan pauses. ''Life turns.'' She died in 1991. ''Amazing friend,'' he says, ''amazing, amazing woman.''

So his 1995 introduction as Bond, in GoldenEye, was truly pivotal. ''There was a press conference in London announcing me as James Bond,'' recalls Brosnan, now out of the seaside sun, sitting on the lawn, enjoying a lunch of fresh crab cakes, spicy mango salsa, and a bottle of white. ''The next morning I got up early and went down to a little fish-and-chip shop in Chelsea that I used to go to. They had every newspaper, and I saw what my life was about to become: They had dug up my life, family, girlfriends. [I thought,] My God, what have I done by entering into this world?! Thank God I'm running off to Papua New Guinea [to shoot Robinson Crusoe, which went straight to video]. And two days later, I'm jogging through the bush in this tiny dirt village, and these kids see me and say, 'James Bond! James Bond!' That was my first taste.''

Ten years along, Brosnan is still recognized in the most remote places. But celebrity and all its residual drawbacks were never a major concern. In many ways Brosnan loved the spy game: He repeatedly talks about how grateful he is to have had the role, he refers to himself lightly as ''James Bond'' on occasion, and 007's silver BMW 750i from Tomorrow Never Dies is parked right over there in his driveway. Besides, the paychecks were big — ''that was amazing money'' — and he finally had the clout to form his own production company, Irish DreamTime, and to make more personal films like The Thomas Crown Affair and Evelyn. And yet, while the years passed and the grosses for his four Bond movies entered the billions, certain misgivings grew.

''It never felt real to me. I never felt I had complete ownership over Bond. Because you'd have these stupid one-liners — which I loathed — and I always felt phony doing them,'' he says. ''I'd look at myself in the suit and tie and think, What the heck am I doing here?'' Such sentiments were nothing new. ''That was always the frustrating thing about the role: [Producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson] play it so safe. The pomposity and rigamarole that they put directors through is astounding.'' So his last mission on Her Majesty's Secret Service, 2002's Die Another Day, left him hopeful. ''It was great to have Lee Tamahori directing, and I was amazed by how much the producers let him get in there and rock the cage,'' he says. ''I thought we made inroads there.''