- By Charles Ealy Special to the American-Statesman
Much to his dismay, Pierce Brosnan says, he was sitting on his butt in Malibu, Calif., last summer after a project unexpectedly fell through. But another door opened quickly: He got the script for a new AMC series called “The Son,” based on Austin author Philipp Meyer’s epic novel about three generations of the McCullough family of Texas.
“I remember when the book came out (in 2013), it was heralded, and I read it at the time,” Brosnan says during a chat at the Four Seasons Hotel downtown last month during South by Southwest, shortly before the first two episodes had an Austin premiere.
“There was lots of nuance by Philipp, and his research was meticulous,” Brosnan says. “So I was over the moon. I read five episodes over the weekend, and I loved it.” Shortly thereafter, “when all the ducks were in a row, I was on a horse in Texas in this incredible heat.”
The results of that hot summer work in Central Texas last year will be seen on TV at 8 p.m. Saturday when “The Son” kicks off its first season. And the first two episodes, which go back and forth in time during the childhood and adulthood of oil and ranching magnate Eli McCullough, offer the promise that this could be the next great Texas-based TV event, nearing the Lone Star majesty of Larry McMurtry’s “Lonesome Dove.”
Events in those episodes take place in 1849 and 1915, including a brutal Comanche attack on the McCullough homestead in Texas — with the young Eli, played by Jacob Lofland (Neckbone in Jeff Nichols’ “Mud”) being taken captive — and ethnically charged events involving the elder Eli, played by Brosnan, who has created an empire, much to the resentment of some of the longtime Hispanic residents of the area.
The tagline for the McCullough family series gives you the idea: “Their Fortune Is Forged in Blood.” And the first two episodes have plenty of killings, both by Anglo settlers and Native Americans.
Eli McCullough is portrayed as ruthless, and it’s understandable that he would be so as an adult after you see what happened to him as a child. But Brosnan thinks Eli is also heroic.
“Eli McCullough is connected to my bones and my heart,” Brosnan says. “He’s a father who has been down the road. He’s a self-made man. I’m very much of the same cloth. … There’s a dynamism to the character, with many sides. He’s Machiavellian, but he has been brought up as a Comanche. He has this, other life, this other persona.”
Eli’s complexity “is what appeals to me,” Brosnan adds. “I knew a little of Texas history, and I caught up as I went along. I always referred to the book, which was my Bible. … And everything was on the page.”
Brosnan says Eli is “a man of violence because he has lost two families in his life. He’s a good man, and he enjoys humankind. But he knows that there is violence and that he must be the one to control the violence if he’s to be the last man standing.”
“There’s something archetypal and so American about the man,” Brosnan says. “He’s a mythic hero, and that appeals to me enormously. I was brought up on the banks of the River Boyne in Ireland, on a staple of cowboys and Indians, and when I left to go to London with my mother, our Sundays were always filled with Westerns after we had lunch. So I love looking back at Westerns. When we played cowboys and Indians, I was always the Indian, and I had great bows and arrows.”
Brosnan also says he personally identifies with Eli because Brosnan was an immigrant, too, when he came to America, “trying to find a new life back in 1981.”
That was the year before Brosnan first made his first big splash in the United States, playing “Remington Steele” on the ABC series. And that, in turn, helped him land the role of James Bond, starting with 1995’s “GoldenEye.”
He has been working steadily in movies ever since but relishes his return to TV. Some might say he’s actually creating a 10-hour movie with 10 episodes of “The Son.” But Brosnan doesn’t see it that way, at least not from the mechanical standpoint of making movies.
“To me, movies have a leisurely jaunt to them,” he says. “When doing a movie, the pacing can be a problem, and you can lose the performance while you’re waiting around for hours. But when you work in TV, there’s a rhythm to it. You don’t sit around for hours. It’s a good system.”
Brosnan says he hasn’t heard whether there will be another season for “The Son.” “AMC will see how it connects to the world at large,” he says. “And I think it will connect. There’s an elegance to the story.”
Meyer and “Son” showrunner Kevin Murphy expect five seasons, and they’re ready to go beyond that, if AMC wishes.
“If it works, we could do a lot more than five seasons,” Meyer says. “That won’t be a problem. Internally, they love it, so I think we’re in pretty good shape.”
Meyer, who’s the creator of the series, worked on scripts for five seasons of “The Son” with partners Lee Shipman and Brian McGreevy, whom Meyer met as a Michener fellow at the University of Texas. They’ve formed a production team called El Jefe, and they hope they’ll be able to exert more control over adapting their novels for TV and other venues.
After coming up with the five-season plan, Meyer says they went to AMC and said, “’We think we’re ready.’ And then AMC hired a showrunner (Murphy), and that was the go-ahead.”
Meyer acknowledges that he and his pals were somewhat green at the TV game. “So AMC wanted someone to watch over us guys,” he says.
The relationship seems to be working for both Meyer and for Murphy, who has worked on such series as “Desperate Housewives,” “Reaper” and “Defiance.”
“I met Philipp through reading the book,” Murphy says. “I had read the script … and then I picked up the book and thought I’d read enough to say I’d read it. And then I read it all, and I found myself stopping and wanting to write things down. I had an enormous love reaction to the book, and I got to the point where I really wanted to be a part of the series and what it had to say about cultural divides. It’s a good thing for art to be talking about in 2017. It’s reminding us that the division, the cultural animus, that we’re experiencing now, is not a new thing.”
Murphy is referring to the McCullough family’s rivalry with the Garcia family, led by Pedro Garcia (Carlos Bardem).
“It goes back to the family gaining land and wealth on someone else’s back,” Murphy says. “As Americans, that’s part of who we are. … And once you’ve acknowledged the elephant in the room as a country, then you can start looking at working together.”
Murphy and Meyer say they don’t know yet when they’ll get the go-ahead for the next season. But they laugh when they’re told that Brosnan doesn’t want to do it again in the summer.
“That’s already been established,” Meyer laughs. “Nobody wants to do it in the summer again.”