Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack attended the Cause Celebre press night at The Old Vic Theatre – Arrivals London, England – 29 March 2011
Just Like You Imagined
Jeremy Irons plays himself very well.
By Jada Yuan
Published Mar 27, 2011
Read the original article HERE
Jeremy Irons is laughing heartily outside Le Bilboquet on East 63rd Street, surrounded by attentive females. It’s a cold day, but he seems oblivious to the chill as he sips an afternoon Kir Royale and languidly smokes a hand-rolled cigarette. You approach and introduce yourself. He springs up, grabbing both your arms, and stands back to appraise you. At 62, he still possesses a liquid-eyed hotness. He cheek-kisses good-bye his coterie of women (publicists, managers, friends—it’s unclear), lays his hand on your shoulder, and gently guides you through the bistro door, all the while staring deeply into your eyes, so absorbed that he is halfway through the room before he realizes he forgot to put out his cigarette. With apologies, he takes his leave amid a chorus of dismay. “Are you kidding? He can smoke wherever he wants! He’s so cool!” says one entranced male diner, upon whom Irons bestows a two-palmed handshake before stepping outside to carefully deposit his cigarette butt in a trash bin.
Jeremy Irons is just so Jeremy Irons—that is to say, the man of flesh is very much the man of your fantasies. He doesn’t so much occupy space as consume it. Eyes follow him, then stare, rapt. And Irons, something of an attention hog, plays to his audience. He chooses the corner that allows him to face out and survey the room as it surveys him right back.
Irons calls out for a round of “Château Bloomberg” (a.k.a. tap water), “straight from the East River!” He has, he declares, “turned vigorously against the mayor because of the new law [banning] smoking in parks or on the beach, which I think is ludicrous and a terrible bullying of a minority that cannot speak back.” Irons, his teeth a testament to a life of indulgences, believes smokers ought to be protected like “handicapped people and children.” Though he clearly relishes declamation, he is getting notably heated over a law that is very briefly touching his life. The actor spends most of his time in an Oxfordshire village or at Kilcoe, an actual fifteenth-century castle (“You’d call it a keep,” he clarifies) on a bay in Ireland. Kilcoe’s hundred-foot, lovingly restored towers help to explain a spate of early-aughts parts in “sub–Lord of the Rings stuff” like Dungeons & Dragons. “It’s the shit you do,” he says, to “pay for another six months.”
Irons is in New York to reprise a guest role as a sex addict turned sex therapist on Law & Order: SVU (airing March 30) and to publicize his new Showtime show The Borgias (debuting April 3), a part he took at the behest of his friend Neil Jordan (The Crying Game), who wrote the series and directed the first two episodes. Irons plays Pope Alexander VI, despite having zero resemblance to the real man—an enormous, hook-nosed Spaniard with an insatiable appetite for corruption, food, women, and murdering his enemies. “I Googled Rodrigo Borgia, and he’s a voluptuary,” says the actor. “And I said, ‘I think I’m a bit of an ascetic, really, for that.’ And Neil said, ‘No, no, no. Because it’s all about power and what power does to you and how you deal with it. And you can play all that.’ ”
Yes, powerful and dark, Irons can do. He broke out as a heartthrob in the BBC series Brideshead Revisited, then romanced Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman. But by his forties, he was playing against his good looks, choosing dangerous, even creepy characters—like the twin gynecologists in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers and Claus von Bülow in Reversal of Fortune, for which he won his Oscar.
In his Borgias role, an outsider beset by a Roman aristocracy bent on destroying him, Irons sees parallels with Barack Obama. “Just look at the gossip about your current president being from Africa or being a Muslim,” he says. “Alexander was getting all of that.” On the other hand, Irons thinks Alexander had it easier than another of our presidents. “The medievalists would see the reaction to Clinton, for instance, and the cigars, as being deeply prohibitive. He’s a man! We ought to forgive and say, ‘Yeah, he’s got a lot of testosterone, and he’s great at what he does, and he loves a bit of lady, and there you go.’ We see all these marriages breaking because they’re under intolerable strains, because we expect to get all our happiness from our husband or our wife. Impossible! How can you get that from one other person? I don’t want a saint to be my leader. And maybe his wife after fifteen years won’t be able to provide everything he needs. That’s fine. That’s life.”
Irons’s wife of 33 years, the actress Sinéad Cusack, is apparently fine with this; no doubt she’s used to her husband’s decrees—including his disdain for organized religion (she is a practicing Catholic): “I don’t really approve of religion … I’m not quite sure the relevance Christianity has.” Their son Max, 25 (brother to Sam, 32), is currently starring in Red Riding Hood. Irons hasn’t seen the film, but he did catch the Jimmy Kimmel appearance in which Max talked about his eternal embarrassment over his dad’s driving around in a horse and buggy in the town where he grew up. Irons smiles indulgently. The father is resigned to letting the son find his own way. “I hope he never gets out of touch with theater, and I hope he doesn’t get too seduced by the money and all that,” says Irons. “I wish him well. But it’s always, for any parent, a slightly heart-in-the-mouth situation when you see your child climbing a rock face.”
Should The Borgias come back after the first season, the actor is committed to the series for five months out of the year, perhaps for three or four years. He is aware of and on guard against the lusty tendencies of cable TV’s costume dramas: “I know there are some series where there is a bit of history and a bit of fucking and a bit of history and a bit of fucking,” he says. “I think [Showtime] would have liked to have made it even more about that, but I wouldn’t want to be involved in something that’s just as obviously … You know, if you want fucking, there’s a lot of other channels.” (For the record, there is still quite a lot of fucking in The Borgias.)
As he’s telling me about his desire to play King Lear (“The next fifteen years, I’ll be right for it. And the next ten, I’ll be able to remember my lines”), a man approaches to ask if Irons would mind posing with his giggling female companion. The actor lets out an exasperated sigh. It is the first indication that being Jeremy Irons might be a bit of work. Then it’s gone, the Irons of your imagination returns, and it’s impossible to tell if his annoyance was real or feigned. He looks up at the woman, leaning awkwardly over him, and wraps his arm around her waist: “You’re falling over. Come and sit down. Just don’t show it to my wife. Ha. Ha. Pleasure. My pleasure.”
Read the full original article at: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/27/arts/television/the-borgias-a-showtime-mini-series-starring-jeremy-irons.html
March 25, 2011
Plum Role: History’s Ultimate Godfather
By CHARLES McGRATH
ALTHOUGH they lived in the 15th and 16th centuries, the Borgias, the subject of a new nine-part Showtime mini-series that begins next Sunday, were a family made for TV. The Borgias were rich, ruthless, scheming and corrupt, and so sexually voracious that, if you believe the rumors, they slept with everyone, including one another. Mario Puzo, who worked on a novel about them, called the Borgias the Corleones of the Renaissance. They also resemble “The Sopranos” a little. Imagine if Tony, instead of running a garbage hauling business, had bought himself the papacy.
“The Borgias,” which cost $45 million to make, was created, written and produced by the film director Neil Jordan, who also directed several episodes. It is Showtime’s latest entry in what is becoming a high-stakes game on cable TV now that it’s no longer enough merely to show Hollywood movies or the odd sporting event. If you want to sell cable subscriptions these days, you need not just original programming but a long-running, franchise-defining series like “The Tudors,” Showtime’s recent hit.
A bankable star doesn’t hurt either, and in the new series the Borgia paterfamilias, Rodrigo, who became Pope Alexander VI, is played by Jeremy Irons, not exactly typecast. To judge from his famous portrait by Cristofano dell’Altissimo, the historical Rodrigo, corpulent and hatchet nosed, looked as if he had been inflated with a tire pump. At the time of his death, or so the legend goes, he was so bloated and debauched that when his body was inserted into the coffin, someone had to jump on the lid to get it shut.
“When we first talked about the part, Jeremy was worried that he didn’t have that bulbous weight,” Mr. Jordan said recently, speaking by phone from his house in Ireland. “I told him that if we can get this guy properly situated, torn between God and politics, the weight wouldn’t matter.” He added: “I wanted someone who would understand the kind of history here. ‘The Borgias’ isn’t just a saga of poisoning and nubile women, like a Ken Russell movie. Well, we do have all that, but we also put this figure in historical context.”
Mr. Irons, still elegantly handsome at 62, doesn’t look much like Pope Alexander. He nevertheless has, both on screen and in person, a slightly detached, regal quality, a darting, glinting intelligence, and occasionally an air of weary melancholy, all very useful papal attributes. He also has a long history of playing characters who are morally ambiguous if not outright villainous: Humbert Humbert in “Lolita”; the deranged twin gynecologists in David Cronenberg’s “Dead Ringers”; the accused wife poisoner Claus von Bülow in “Reversal of Fortune” (for which he won an Academy Award); even Scar in “The Lion King.” And with that deep, rumbling voice, like an organ echoing in a cathedral, he sounds the way a Renaissance pope should sound: the sibilant S’s, the luxurious drawn-out vowels suggesting knowledge acquired outside the seminary.
Mr. Irons speaks this way in real life too, and in New York recently, draped over a chair in his suite at the Lowell hotel, he employed that same voice to say, “We don’t talk about my voice.” He doesn’t like to be made conscious of it, he explained, recalling a conversation he had years ago with the actor John Hurt. “You know all these young actors coming up, 18, 19, 20 — rather good, aren’t they?” Mr. Hurt said. “You know what I do? I go up and say, ‘You’re a great actor, with such a fantastic voice. Have you ever listened to it?’ ”
And then they’re finished, Mr. Hurt said gleefully.
Mr. Irons was a late bloomer. He grew up well to do, on the Isle of Wight in England and went to Sherborne, a midlevel boys’ boarding school, where he was a good athlete but such an indifferent student that the headmaster predicted he would wind up as a paratrooper. He tried being a social worker before becoming an actor and then had such trouble finding parts that for a while he supported himself as a home remodeler. His breakthrough didn’t come along until 1981, when he was cast as the earnest, proper Charles Ryder in the 11-part television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh’s “Brideshead Revisited.”
“We had just come through the ‘Look Back in Anger’ phase, and actors like Tom Courtenay and Albert Finney were sort of fashionable — what I call the kitchen-sink actors, actors with local accents,” he said. “It was ‘Brideshead’ that made it acceptable to have someone who was tall and English and spoke properly as a hero.”
Nevertheless he mostly sees his archetypal Englishness as a liability rather than a strength. “The American version of the Englishman is rather like the English version of the American — sort of one-dimensional and not very attractive,” he said. “I’ve tried not to capitalize on my Englishness. If I had the charm of David Niven or Hugh Grant, then maybe I would, but I don’t. I’m dirtier and more odd.”
The roles of characters who are strange or morally enigmatic have come to him, he went on, partly by accident, or because he has a reputation for playing them, and partly because he has sought them out. “Certainly they attract me,” he said. “I’m always interested in good and evil, who’s a good person, who’s a bad person, believing, really, that we’re all rather gray.”
No one is grayer than Rodrigo Borgia, who bought the papacy in a rigged election, had numerous mistresses and fathered four children yet was also a skilled diplomat and renowned patron of the arts. Mr. Jordan said he thought the whole family has suffered from bad press: “A lot of the history was written by Rodrigo’s successors, especially by Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, who became Pope Julius II. There was no Gibbon or Niall Ferguson to write about the Borgias, and so they become a little demonized.”
He added that what he found interesting in writing the script was that once Rodrigo was put in the context of his family, he remained attractive no matter how evil he became. Oddly, the villain of “The Borgias” is Rodrigo’s rival, della Rovere (played by Colm Feore), a model of probity and holiness.
Mr. Irons said that in researching the part he made a list of all the qualities attributed to Rodrigo Borgia. “It was like a rainbow,” he said. “The list goes all the way from ‘generous man,’ ‘wonderful company,’ ‘a great organizer’ to ‘poisoner,’ ‘cruel’ and ‘despotic,’ all the worst adjectives you can think of. I thought: ‘That’s very interesting. Maybe it’s all true. Maybe from different vantage points all those adjectives could be seen to be the truth.’ Film is always a kind of patchwork anyway, and my hope is that Rodrigo will emerge as a man of many different colors and many different behaviors. He’s completely different when he’s being persuaded by his daughter or bullied by the mother of his children or negotiating with the Spanish ambassador. I never judge. That’s not my job. I just try to link all those attributes.”
Mr. Jordan said: “Jeremy does manage to humanize the monster, doesn’t he? I loved him as Claus von Bülow. You had absolutely no idea what that character was thinking.”
About playing the pope, a character who is always being deferred to while being lugged around on a throne or gliding through his palace in robes, Mr. Irons said, “It’s daft, really, but someone’s got to do it.” Then he became serious and went on, “I hope the Vatican doesn’t go down the obvious path of creating a great controversy over this, though I’m sure Showtime would love that.”
He added: “I think the great strength of Neil’s script is that because he’s a very bright man and a historian who reads very widely, he’s found something possibly nearer the truth about the Borgias, though God knows what the truth really is. I’m hoping that the audience will be totally confused about whether to root for this man. It’s a bit like von Bülow, you know. Did he do it or not?”
The Wall Street Journal
ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
MARCH 25, 2011
Feeling Wrong for the Role, at First
By AMY CHOZICK
Read the original article here – Wall Street Journal Online
Thirty years after he played Charles Ryder in the British miniseries “Brideshead Revisited,” actor Jeremy Irons takes on another TV role that involves Catholicism, opulence and distrust: Rodrigo Borgia, the scheming patriarch and corrupt Pope Alexander VI in Showtime’s “The Borgias,” premiering April 3.
Watch a scene from Showtime’s new drama ‘The Borgias.’ The series stars Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI. Courtesy Showtime.
Mr. Irons, 62, is perhaps best known for film roles including Claus von Bülow in “Reversal of Fortune,” for which he won an Oscar, and Humbert Humbert in “Lolita.” He also starred in TV miniseries like the 2009 Lifetime biopic “Georgia O’Keeffe” with Joan Allen and “Elizabeth I,” with Helen Mirren.
His deep, languid voice is currently in theaters as the narrator of wildlife documentary “The Last Lions.” (He voiced the villain Scar in “The Lion King.”) In “Margin Call,” an upcoming film about the financial crisis, Mr. Irons plays an embattled Wall Street CEO based on Lehman Brothers’ Richard Fuld.
Mr. Irons was reluctant to commit to an ongoing TV series, but the nine-episode cable run and the fact that Irish director Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game”) would write and direct “The Borgias,” convinced him.
The Wall Street Journal: Why is “The Borgias” being touted as a kind of medieval version of “The Godfather”?
Mr. Irons: There’s an element in common in that Don Corleone was an Italian in America. Rodrigo is a Spaniard in Rome. Yes, that element of the manipulator and the immigrant trying to find power and how to hold onto it and influence people as the head of the family. But those parallels don’t run very deep. I think it’s sort of a marketing idea Showtime had. [Mario] Puzo wrote a novel ["The Family"] about the Borgias, of course.
You’ve said you don’t think you’re right for the role of Rodrigo. Why not?
Neil [Jordan] said “Do you want to play Rodrigo Borgia?” I got home and Googled him and I told him “Christ, you don’t want me. You need James Gandolfini.” I could think of four or five actors who would physically be right for the role. I said “I can’t play that guy.” I have an aesthetic quality that is expected from a pope, whereas this guy was a big, sweaty Spaniard with a big appetite—a lot of food, a lot of women.
So why did you change your mind?
Neil said “No, it’s all about power and how power corrupts you and how you manipulate it. No one knows what he really looked like.” So he convinced me.
Even though Rodrigo is an evil megalomaniac, there’s some humor in him. Did you bring that to it?
I think it’s all in Neil’s writing. There’s sort of a natural amusingness about the situation which one doesn’t have to play. You just do what you do and it brushes off on somebody and there’s a smile there.
Speaking of humor, why wasn’t the 1997 film version of “Lolita” you starred in funnier? The book is very funny.
That book is full of irony. I think we were so nervous about the subject when we were making it that we were walking on egg shells. We could have used a lot more irony. The Kubrick version had more irony but it missed a lot of other things.
In addition to “The Borgias,” you’ve recently done a couple of episodes of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” How did that come about?
Well, “SVU” is a different kettle of fish. I was in Budapest finishing “The Borgias” and they asked and I said I don’t know the show. They sent me an episode with Robin Williams and one with Isabelle Huppert. I said “This is good, it’s fine. It is what it is.” For an actor it feels a little like you’ve just finished reading Proust and you think “I’m going to read a Dick Francis novel and it will take me a day and be great.”
“The Tudors” did very well for Showtime but it got criticism for being soft porn in costumes. Will “The Borgias” have as much sex and nudity?
No. There are a lot of channels doing that. I think we can do better than that. This adaptation, for example, and there have been loads, doesn’t fall into the trap of writing all these stories about incest. In those days whole families used to sleep in the same bed. It’s better to get inside characters, who they are and why they do what they do than to make it sensationalist.
You seem to regularly go from film to TV to theater. Which do you prefer?
It’s just the material. They all have good things about them and they all have bad things about them. Theater is great because you can really stay in one place and work on the character in depth over a long period. It doesn’t pay as much as movies, but is often better written. The problem with TV is people are watching soccer at the same time. I’m really lucky to hop around. I’m a jobbing actor.
How is developing a character for TV different from one for film?
The huge luxury is time. A two-hour movie—and, if you’re lucky, it’s two hours—you can tell a story but it’s hard to develop the inconsistencies of a character and have time to bring all those inconsistencies together.
Are you Catholic?
My wife is. My children are. I don’t belong to clubs.
It may shock a lot of Catholics to see a Pope who behaves like Rodrigo Borgia.
Well, the medieval mind would’ve had no problem with a pope who has a mistress. Why do you expect him to be a God? He’s not a God. He’s a man, with all the weaknesses and failures. [Today] we expect our leaders to be squeaky clean and when they turn out to be normal people with normal desires, we say this person shouldn’t be our leader. Man is just doing his best.
Have you discussed a second season with Showtime?
We have a little. Neil has talked to me about some ideas. It’s hard to get the Pope out of the Vatican. I’m very grateful Showtime was hands-off when we were shooting. They left us alone. I hope that will continue because I don’t think you can make movies or TV series by committee.
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Irons and Stone to play Chopin and Sand
Renowned British actor Jeremy Irons will play Frederic Chopin and Hollywood star Sharon Stone his long-time lover George Sand in a play staged at the Tuscan Sun Festival in Cortona, Italy on 5 August 2011.
In Nocturne: seduction, smoke and music – a love story of Chopin and George Sand, the remarkable acting duet will present a story of the Polish composer and French novelist’s turbulent love which lasted over ten years.
Stone and Irons will read letters out that the lovers sent to each other and acclaimed musicians, including Russian cellist Nina Kotova and British pianist Lucy Parham will play Chopin’s compositions.
Among the guests of this year’s festival, which starts on 30 July and ends on 7th August in the heart of Tuscany, include world-renowned pianist Martha Argerich, who will dedicate her performance to the homeland Argentina and tango, and pop musician Sting, who, together with his wife Trudie Styler will stage Masters of Wine, a live theatrical performance about wine, dance and yoga.