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BROSNAN PIERCE: Thomas Crown Affair

The Thomas Crown Affair is revisited 1990s style, with Pierce Brosnan as the millionaire art thief and Rene Russo as the detective playing their own version of the film’s highly charged mating game.  HAL HAYES talks to Brosnan.

"I suppose it all just happened over coffee one morning," Pierce Brosnan says with casual simplicity. "My producing partner, Beau St Clair, and I were talking about remakes and The Thomas Crown Affair came up. It’s a film that I loved and she loved. We had a look at it and thought, ‘Hmm, good idea! Let’s see if the studio buys it.’"

"the privileged, glamorous world"

They did, of course. And, a couple of years later, on October 5, 1998, the cameras rolled in New York on The Thomas Crown Affair (Mark 2), with director John McTiernan and his crew drafting in a bewildering variety of locations to capture the privileged, glamorous world in which Crown moved.

This was the movie that gave a whole new meaning to the chess term ‘mate’: Norman Jewison’s The Thomas Crown Affair (1968), in which Steve McQueen played the millionaire art thief of the film’s title and Faye Dunaway, fresh from her career-launching triumph with Bonnie & Clyde, played the investigator who is determined to outwit him but ends up falling in love with him.

Using split-screen and all kinds of other sixties visual trickery, the film climaxed (for once, exactly the right word) with the most famous chess game in Hollywood history, in which McQueen and Dunaway faced up across a chessboard in a game whose subtext - and, for most of the time, whose only text - could be summed up in three letters: S-E-X.

Thirty years on, Dunaway is back in a remake of The Thomas Crown Affair. But this time she plays a psychiatrist - that is exactly how she is billed: not with a name but simply as ‘The Psychiatrist’ - who is treating 1999’s Thomas Crown, played by James Bond star Pierce Brosnan. Moreover, it was Brosnan who developed the project, then took it to United Artists, the studio behind the Bond movies, under his own Irish DreamTime banner.

"by a group of perfectly legal art forgers called Troubetzkoy Ltd"

Actually, finding locations turned out to be a little harder than the film-makers first thought, since the story’s key plot element - Crown, who already has everything, decides to set himself a new challenge: to steal one of Monet’s masterpieces from the Metropolitan Museum in New York - ran up against the natural reluctance of the Museum to reveal to cinema audiences how its security systems worked. Or, in the case of the movie, didn’t work, for the simple reason that no one even vaguely suspected the famous millionaire Thomas Crown - who could easily buy himself a Monet (probably several Monets) if he wanted to - would steal the painting.

What you see in the movie, as Brosnan goes in to carry out his coup, is the outside of the Metropolitan Museum, followed by the entrance hall of the New York Public Library, followed by a huge museum set lovingly created by production designer Bruno Rubeo in a studio in Yonkers. The actual Monet which Crown steals, meanwhile, was recreated - along with 200 other works exhibited in the Museum - by a group of perfectly legal art forgers called Troubetzkoy Ltd who are based in Paris and count movie companies among their major clients.

But stealing paintings is basically a pretext in the 1999 Thomas Crown Affair. Brosnan, St Clair, McTiernan and writers Leslie Dixon and Kurt Wimmer have shifted the balance from crime-thriller to romance. Or, if you prefer to think of it that way, they have brought the sub-text from the chess game right out onto the surface. (Ed: hence the very different ending…)

"One of the truly clever and complex characters in the literature of cinema" Brosnan

When Brosnan sent the first draft to McTiernan, with whom he had last worked in 1986 on Nomads, Brosnan’s third movie and McTiernan’s first, McTiernan committed to it overnight.

"I had long thought that Thomas Crown was one of the truly clever and complex characters in the literature of cinema," says Brosnan. "He is a powerful man for whom winning is not enough: he craves the stimulation of a good gambit - the more dangerous the better. Moreover, this is a man with no apparent vulnerabilities, who is guarded even in the presumed sanctuary of his psychiatrist’s office.

"What Crown sees in Catherine is a way out of his life. When he falls in love with her, he sees his mirror image. He sees a woman who is formidable, who has brought herself up in life. When Rene Russo’s name came up, I thought ‘Yeah. This is a woman who has had relationships in movies with every big leading man on the map! No trouble believing Crown’s attraction to her: she’s beautiful, capable, witty... she’s perfect.’"

But Russo, whose recent movie career has indeed seen her paired with most of Hollywood’s top male stars - with Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon 3 & 4 as well as in Ransom; with John Travolta in Get Shorty; with Clint Eastwood in In the Line of Fire; and with Kevin Costner in Tin Cup - points out that this is really the first time in her decade-long movie career that she has had the chance to play the kind of glamorous part for which her original career as a fashion model had seemed to destine her.

"I’m used to playing down the glamour" Rene Russo

"I really haven’t played this kind of role before," she explains. "I’m used to playing down the glamour: I’ll play a cop with a headband or a doctor with my hair tied back and very little make-up on. I think this is the first film that’s had a little glam where I get to put my hair up, put on eyelashes and wear gorgeous dresses. It’s also the first film role where I can put a little sexual energy in it."

And, for those with fond memories of Windmills of Your Mind, the Oscar-winning song featured in the 1968 film, it accompanies one of the most sexually energetic scenes of the film: rescored for Chico O’Farrill’s Afro-Cuban Orchestra as the tune to which Thomas seduces Catherine on the dance floor. Or is it the other way round?

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For those who're interested, the Claude Monet painting at the heart of the caper is San Giorgio Maggiore Soleil Couchant.


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