It’s hard to believe, but the man we know as the dashing James Bond once cleaned kitchens for a living.

Pierce Brosnan, who insinuated himself on a grateful public as 007 in four Bond movies, also toiled in a plastic bottles factory. “I worked as a labourer digging roads with my fellow Irishmen,” he adds over breakfast in a sunny patio cafe in Los Angeles.

“We’d get up at 4.30 in the morning, get into an old bus – a bunch of paddies who were completely inebriated still from the night before – and go dig ditches, with Chekhov in my back pocket,” he says. He still has Chekhov in his back pocket as well as some sort of special grit. In spite of enormous tragedy in his life, Brosnan prevails with what he calls “the luck of the Irish”.

Following the death of his first wife, Cassie, and his adopted daughter, Charlotte, from ovarian cancer, last year Brosnan lost his longtime producing partner, Beau St Claire, another victim of cancer.

He and his current wife, Keely Shaye, suffered a fire at their Malibu home in the US in which the book Brosnan was reading went up in flame. But that book has survived in another form as Brosnan’s next role on television.

He recently starred in a 10-part saga, The Son, based on Philipp Meyer’s engrossing novel about six generations of the McCulluoch family in Texas. Brosnan plays the patriarch of the clan, who is torn as he watches the landscape he’s known erode.

Though change has been a constant in his life, Brosnan has learned to thrive on it. He was separated from his mother for five years as a kid when she moved to England to become a nurse.

While he attended Catholic school in Ireland he was abused by his Christian Brothers teachers, he recalls.

“They would make you bend over and cane you. I had slaps on the hand, thumps on the head, kicks in the backside, while or during or after prayers by some Christian Brother who didn’t get out much and had no sensibility of humanity.

“Thank God for acting because when I discovered acting, I discovered this wonderful world,” he says.

He reconnected with his mother at 11 when he joined her in England. He was bullied there at school because he was an outsider. “Trying to fit in then in 1964 in the English comprehensive school system was not easy. So, being the token Irish lad was not easy. There was a certain discrimination, and I was the butt of quite a few jokes. They could never find the way to say my name or couldn’t say my name, or didn’t want to say the name, ‘Pierce’, so I was known as ‘Irish’ throughout my years. And I wore that as a badge and an emblem of great dignity. I liked the mystique of it. You learn at an early age to roll with the punches and find your way through the day (with) a sense of humour,” he says.

Fisticuffs were part of it, he says. “You had to defend yourself, so you had to land the first punch and you had to be pretty fast and swift. But I was not a fighter, I was really not. But I had to defend myself. I got in trouble early on at school over a girl because I liked this particular girl. … She was a lovely girl, but this other fellow made fun of her, so I clocked him.

“And then they took me away to give me six of the best. But I was already used to being hit by the Christian Brothers and getting the snot kicked out of you by these holy men. But it didn’t bother me so I backed into this persona of being a hard man.”

Being a “hard man” and maintaining his deep faith have fortified him, he says.

“I was brought up a Catholic. I still have that faith. It’s a strong sense of prayer and higher self, higher order, higher ground, and to try and prevail. I think that’s it, really.

“The loss of Cassie, the loss of Charlotte, have been profound. The loss of Beau St Claire, my partner last year was deeply felt, the sorrow of those three women. The Irish upbringing of Catholic faith, that for me has been a source of comfort and renewal and strength and support and taking care of those around you who are falling maybe asunder.”

Through the ups and downs of his career, Brosnan says he never wanted to quit.

“There have been many moments of self doubt, that gasp of breath at four in the morning where you go, ‘Where am I going? What am I doing? What have I done?’ Sure, it’s not all easy greasy. I used to read things (about myself). I don’t read anything anymore about myself. They like me, they don’t like me, they turn me on, they turn me off.

“I just do the best job I can, show up on time, know your lines, be gracious to everyone, and have a fine old time of it. It’s such a gift to be able to do this and be at the table.” – Tribune News Service/Luaine Lee