The door to the hotel suite opened and there were James Bond and Nanny McPhee, laughing and joking like the best of friends.
No, it wasn’t the kind of hallucination that can happen during the Toronto International Film Festival when too many interviews over too short a period of time can cause them to blend together in the mind.
This was the real thing: Pierce Brosnan and Emma Thompson, waiting to talk about their romantic caper comedy, The Love Punch, which is finally opening in Toronto on May 23.
On this particular morning, they’re both tanned and trim and so hospitable that it seems like they’ve been a professional couple for years.
“Would you like some tea?” offers Thompson.
“He looks like a coffee man to me,” counters Brosnan.
“All right then, coffee. And maybe a croissant?” Thompson asks.
“The almond ones are especially good,” whispers Brosnan conspiratorially.
“Oh listen to him!” laughs Thompson. “He never met a croissant he didn’t like.”
And then they both dissolve into gales of laughter, something that happens frequently over the next half hour. They truly have great chemistry together, which makes The Love Punch easy viewing, as they tell its tale of a near-retirement head of a company that’s taken over by a crook who destroys everyone’s pensions.
He reunites with his ex-wife to track down the villain, get everyone’s money back and live happily ever after.
“It’s one of those wonderful films they used to make lots of,” sighs Thompson, “but that school of moviemaking has been dormant for a long time.”
“But we do our best to revive it,” insists Brosnan.
They have delightful chemistry together, on and off screen. The only surprising thing is that they’d never worked together before and didn’t even know each other all that well before filming started.
“You can thank Joel for that,” says Thompson, referring to Joel Hopkins, the author/director of The Love Punch. “He thought we’d be good together.”
“And we were!” affirms Brosnan.
“As actors like us get older, directors are always trying to find unique pairings,” says Thompson. “Sometimes you get ones that don’t make sense at all. But this one made people say, ‘Ooh, I’d like to see them together.’”
“You want to see the sparks between us,” agreed Brosnan.
“And now we only ever want to make caper comedies together.”
“Good locations, good wardrobes, countries with lovely food and wine.”
“Only more stunts for me next time,” insists Thompson.
“You can have all the stunts you want, darling,” Brosnan concedes. “I’ve done more than my share over the years. But I did enjoy making fun of all that this time around,” he says, speaking of the outlandish scenes where his businessman character tries to go all 007. “It’s such a delightful play on what I’d done in another life, so to speak. It’s clowning. It’s getting into a silly wet suit and pretending you’re a great spy.”
The two of them constantly credit director Hopkins with keeping them on their toes and making the pace stay bright.
“Joel would always push us on, saying ‘Faster, faster!’ every time we wanted to languish and do some acting” recalls Brosnan.
“But I managed to squeeze some in,” says Thompson proudly and she recalls the scene in detail.
“It’s that moment when they’re lying on the bed and she says, ‘You know, you’re nicer now than you were. You’re less of an ass now.’ And you know, with any luck, that’s what happens to all of us as we grow up. We lose most of our silliness and wind up with a bit of wisdom. And the capacity to laugh at oneself, which seems to me the key as one gets older.”
Thompson is reluctant to let her thoughts on this particular scene go and one can’t help thinking about her first, high-profile marriage to the notoriously egocentric Kenneth Branagh and how, after it imploded in 1995, it took her nearly a decade to marry her current spouse, actor-producer Greg Wise.
“She takes a lot more persuading because she’s frightened of being hurt again. She doesn’t want to go through being overlooked again. Because, let’s be honest, you can’t love anybody else, if you don’t love yourself. If you go into a relationship wanting or needing support from someone else, you’ll never be able to love them properly.”
In the pause that follows, Brosnan looks at her fondly and then switches tones with a practiced ease.
“There, you see? Now you know what it was like to work with this one early in the morning. She’s badgering on about this and that while you’re just sitting there, waiting for the first shot of the day.
“I would just sit there with my coffee and my newspaper and a sketch pad and be quite content. But oh no, there’d be a knock on the door and it would be Emma, wanting to discuss the coffee and the breakfast and the scene we were about to shoot and world politics and everything else that came into her head.”
Thompson laughs. “I admit it. I get up bright and cheery at 5AM and start nattering away until some people want to hit me with a blunt object. “You know, I think that’s why I don’t do stage acting any more.”
“I haven’t been on the stage in so long,” sighs Brosnan. “I dream about doing it. You and me in Private Lives, Emma. Yes?”
“The question you really have to ask yourself,” she says, “is ‘Do I really want to do it.?’ Because stage consumes you in a way that film never does. The hours making a film can be a horror, but once it’s done, it’s done. On stage, you work so bloody hard to get it right and then you have to do it again every evening and twice on matinee days. It can be soul destroying.
“I was brought up by theatre actors and you’d think it would be in my blood. But acting to me is all about energy. To be a theatre actor you need evening energy. Derek Jacobi is one of the greatest theatre actors and he’s been a close friend all of my life. He gets on stage, does the show, goes out to dinner, relaxes, then goes to bed and sleeps until noon the next day. I’m not like that. I’m a morning person.”
“We know. We’ve seen it,” says Brosnan dryly.
Besides their difference of temperament in the mornings, was there anything else they disagreed on?
“Yes,” Thompson volunteers instantly. “Comedy.”
“What did we disagree about?” asks Brosnan, perplexed.
“Oh the cowboy hat!” Brosnan explains. “I got to wear this deliciously large cowboy hat to disguise myself as a Texan. It had such a wonderful silhouette and I knew I could get a lot mileage out of it.”
“You used that hat mercilessly,” Thompson complains. “I remember one scene when you were standing against the wall and let it slide down your face and I was thinking ‘Oh that’s way too much. He may know spy stuff, but I know all about comedy. I’ve been doing it since my twenties, I know Shakespeare, I know Goldsmith, I know this won’t work. Joel won’t ever use that!’
“Well, he did and it was wonderful. You sold it completely.”
They look at each other with such genuine affection that the question of a sequel to The Love Punch has to be raised.
“Only if everyone comes and sees the movie and it makes a ton of money,” says Thompson.
“So make sure that they do,” adds Brosnan.