top of page


Remembering Cassandra

There are two events in the life of James Bond that, in the Pierce Brosnan era, unintentionally evoke the life of the actor playing him. The most notable one would be, as Greg Bechtloff pointed out in a special issue of 007 MAGAZINE, the disavowal of Bond's 00 status in DIE ANOTHER DAY where M bluntly tells him he's "no use to anyone now" after a mission that went awry in North Korea. This serves as a premonition to what would come to the actor in 2004 when asked not to return for a fifth film despite the $431 million success of the 20th instalment in the EON-produced series.

The other one comes when Elektra King asks him if "he had ever lost a loved one" in 1999's THE WORLD IS NOT ENOUGH, a question he quickly avoids. Of course, that question refers to the fact that James Bond, as written by Ian Fleming and depicted in both the book and film versions of ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE, is a widower. His wife Tracy was shot down right after he married her in the final moments of the story. Not uninterestingly, Pierce Brosnan is to date the only James Bond actor to inherit the role as a widower - and while it was not a round of ammunition what took his wife, he himself admitted on a 1995 interview to THE SUNDAY TIMES MAGAZINE that he would have liked to star in a remake of the 1969 film out of interest for that emotional, rarely-seen side of Bond: "You see this man adrift, seeking new pastures, going through women, woman after woman, looking for the woman that’s gone.”

Sandra Colleen Waites, known professionally as Cassandra Harris, was Pierce Brosnan's first wife. Born in Sydney on December 15, 1941, Cassandra enrolled at Australia's National Institute of Dramatic Arts to pursue her wishes to become an actress and model. Her first paid role came on a stage play titled BOEING BOEING, where she played a sexy stewardess, and then went on to star in Bruce Beresford's FIVE DAYS. Shortly afterwards, she moved to London, where her modelling career came to fruition after meeting Sammy Davis Jr who, fascinated by her looks, asked her for a picture. This photo was then published In a magazine under the caption: "My ideal girl", signed by the American artist. Later she appeared in Lord Lichtfield's book THE WORLD'S MOST BEAUTIFUL WOMEN. This also led her to roles in Gerry Anderson's SPACE: 1999 (1977), THE GREEK TYCOON (1978, opposite THUNDERBALL actors Luciana Paluzzi and Roland Culver) and DICK BARTON: SPECIAL AGENT (1979).

Harris met Brosnan in 1978 and the actor has always described that encounter as love at first sight: "I feel for her hook, line and sinker. She appeared like this vision before me: she was tall, she was bronzed, she was the most captivating woman I had ever met". It all began when an actor friend of Brosnan staying at Cassandra's house and invited him to spend the night, telling him to "help himself to the fridge if he was hungry". As he was trying to find some food, Cassandra came back and found a complete stranger raiding her fridge. She wasn't on the best of moods, but eventually, Pierce had won her with a bottle of wine and flowers. "Once I got to know him, I discovered we had so much in common - acting, books, music- and we never stopped talking", she reflected. On December 27, 1980, Brosnan and Harris tied the knot at King's Road registry office in Chelsea. He legally adopted Cassandra's two kids with Dermot Harris, Charlotte and Christopher, and would later have a son with her, Sean, who wasn't named after Sean Connery (as he explained to gossip journalists during the production launch event of GOLDENEYE in January 1995).

It was Cassandra who encouraged Brosnan to take TV and film roles, no matter how small they would be, over stage plays. That way, before his REMINGTON STEELE leap to fame, he had minor roles in episodes of THE PROFESSIONALS (1977-1983) and HAMMER HOUSE OF HORROR (1980), until he got his first big screen role in THE LONG GOOD FRIDAY, starring Bob Hoskins. Later, he worked under the orders of three-time Bond director Guy Hamilton in THE MIRROR CRACK'D (1980). But, most importantly, it would be Cassandra who led Pierce Brosnan straight to James Bond.

Harris had appeared opposite Roger Moore's 007 in FOR YOUR EYES ONLY (1981), playing Countess Lisl Von Schlaf. When visiting his wife on the film's set in Corfu, Greece, producer Albert R "Cubby" Broccoli first eyed Brosnan as Moore's replacement. Cassandra was extremely confident of her husband: "One day, you'll be Bond", she frequently said during Pierce's visits. When Moore actor left the role in 1985 after A VIEW TO A KILL, aged 58, Brosnan was among the actors screen tested to play Ian Fleming's secret agent in THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS and Broccoli was very pleased with the results, casting Brosnan as the fourth Bond actor. At that time, however, the Irish actor became very popular with REMINGTON STEELE, a detective TV series which in many ways parodied the Bond image. In the summer of 1986, the series came to an end, but Brosnan's contract had a clause where MTM could try to re-sell the show, which also featured Harris in some chapters playing Felicia, a former flame of the title role played by her husband.

The publicity machinery of Brosnan casting as Bond revived MTM's decaying interest on the series and, forced by his contract, the actor reluctantly bid farewell to the chance of playing 007, as EON Productions didn't feel comfortable with the new Bond being simultaneously associated to another popular character and the role went for Timothy Dalton. Pierce was struck hard by this news. Watching GOLDFINGER at the age of 11 on the big screen, impressed by Sean Connery's confidence and charisma, was one of the things that made him want to become an actor. However, Cassandra seemed even more disappointed that her chance to see her husband as 007 didn't come to fruition: "My relationship with Cassie was very strong, in that we fought all our battles together. But on this one, she took it more on the chin that I did, she was heartbroken," observed Brosnan. "It was me who was calming her. I was saying it did not matter and we had to move on."

On December 1987, Cassandra was first diagnosed with terminal ovarian cancer. She always encouraged her husband to carry on with his acting career, although he put it on hold to look after her and acquired a beautiful house in Malibu, California for the family. "This house has been such a comfort. The serenity of it gave Cassie so much joy," Brosnan told PEOPLE. In December 1991, she was admitted to the Kenneth Norris Jr. Cancer Hospital in Los Angeles and passed away on the morning of 28 December 1991, fatefully on the day after their eleventh anniversary.

Two and a half years later, Pierce Brosnan was finally announced as the fifth actor to play James Bond in GOLDENEYE, the first of four big-screen adventures released between 1995 and 2002 to great worldwide success. Although the Irish actor shared widowhood with Ian Fleming's secret agent, Brosnan was far from falling into the melancholy of losing a loved one or the non-commital womanizing that characterizes Bond: in 1994 he met journalist and environmentalist Keely Shaye-Smith, having two children with her (Paris and Dylan) and marrying her in August 2001. Amidst the frequently turbulent love stories coming from Hollywood, the relationship of Pierce and Keely turns out to be one where love is as unconditional and strong as in the first day.

The long and winding road that took Pierce Brosnan to the coveted role of James Bond is so fascinating and riddled of excitement, disappointment, betrayal and tragedy that could very well be adapted into a film. The role of Bond girls is frequently discussed in essays, books and media outlets and people often debate if they are simply sexual objects or if they apport something more than their beauty to the story. What nobody can't deny is that Cassandra Harris turned out to be the Bond girl who -involuntarily- made her husband James Bond.

380 views0 comments


bottom of page