Life after James Bond -- Pierce Brosnan talks about his new film ''The Matador,'' leaving behind his alter-ego and his renewed vigor

”Under no circumstances are you to reveal to anyone where you are right now,” says the barefoot gent with salt-and-pepper stubble and a billowing Hawaiian shirt unbuttoned to his tanned, trim waist. He fixes his visitor with an icy blue stare. ”Because if you do, I will hunt you down.” Pierce Brosnan may not be James Bond anymore, but he sure wants to remain an international man of mystery.

Welcome to the clandestine tropical getaway he shares with his wife, Keely, and two young sons, Dylan and Paris, who are bopping around here somewhere. It’s exactly the kind of place where you’d expect to find 007 or Remington Steele or Thomas Crown catching a breather — a modest abode on a volcanic island, kept airy in a steady Pacific breeze, masked by the song of the rolling surf, secluded under swaying palm trees, and, most importantly, hidden worlds away from the paparazzi.

Playfully stern hello aside, Brosnan, 52, is in classic spirits this stunning Monday in July. His illustrious stint as James Bond is in the past, he says, having ended a year ago with a single surprising phone call in which producers notified him that, for reasons he can’t explain, his secret services would no longer be required. ”After that kind of titanic jolt to the system, there was a great sense of calm,” he says. ”I thought, F— it! I can do anything I want to do now. I’m not beholden to them or anyone. I’m not shackled by some contracted image. So there was a sense of liberation.”

For Brosnan, his latest project, the independent black comedy The Matador (opening Nov. 4), is a liberation indeed. Playing a raunchy, hairy, socially contemptible hitman — who, in a perfectly poetic bit of art imitating life, is ready to quit the guns-and-babes business — the actor is generating the best buzz of his career. ”He’s got a great sense of humor,” says Matador writer-director Richard Shepard, whose movie also stars Greg Kinnear and Hope Davis. ”He had a lot of fun because he wasn’t having to be his normal, debonair, perfectly coiffed self. It’s fun being a bastard. And, of course, as a human being he’s the total opposite of that.”

No kidding. Brosnan greets his guest this afternoon with a grand smile and an immediate invitation to feel at home — take off the shoes, change into some shorts, and, please, see if any of his old swim trunks fit because he really wants to take a dip in the ocean. Which would be great, except that his visitor hasn’t had a 33-inch waist since Timothy Dalton was famous. No dice. ”Oh, don’t worry about it,” Brosnan says with a warm and understanding smile, fast moving on to the next order of business: ”Beer or wine?” And then it’s out to savor a few St. Pauli Girls on the vanilla sand.

Pierce Brosnan is on vacation, sure, but it’s hard not to interpret his repeated guffaws and fun-loving demeanor as the stuff of a man with a huge weight off his shoulders. From his youth as a skinny Irish lad in a broken home to his days as a drama student in London, where he caught breaks in the late 1970s starring on stage for Tennessee Williams and Franco Zeffirelli, to his star-making role as a dapper private eye on Remington Steele in the 1980s, Brosnan always seemed to be biding his time until his moment to walk through Miss Moneypenny’s office arrived. Just consider: The first film he loved was Goldfinger; Roger Moore gave him the only autograph he’s ever received; his early movie, The Mirror Crack’d, was directed by 007 regular Guy Hamilton; his first wife, Cassandra Harris, was a Bond Girl in For Your Eyes Only; he nearly got the keys to 007’s Aston Martin in 1986 before Remington Steele was unexpectedly renewed a final time; and there’s simply no denying that he bloody well looks the part.