Conversation: Uncovering the Bard with Jeremy Irons

View the original blog posting HERE.

Follow Jeffrey Brown on Twitter @JeffreyBrown

Follow PBS News Hour Art Beat on Twitter @NewsHourArtBeat

“Shakespeare Uncovered: Henry IV & Henry V with Jeremy Irons” airs Friday at 10 p.m. ET. Check your local listings.

JEFFREY BROWN: Welcome again to Art Beat. I’m Jeffrey Brown. Now on PBS, a series titled “Shakespeare Uncovered,” six films telling the stories behind some of the Bard’s greatest plays. The series is hosted by some pretty hefty talent, including Ethan Hawke, Derek Jacobi, Trevor Nunn and Jeremy Irons, certainly one of our great actors of time, from when many us first met him on “Brideshead Revisited” — also on PBS, by the way — up to currently “The Borgias,” with many film and stage performances in between and many no doubt more on the way. Jeremy Irons joins us now by phone from Los Angeles, and welcome to you.

JEREMY IRONS: Hello, nice to talk to you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Your involvement in this series came about in part because you were playing Henry.

JEREMY IRONS: Yes, the director got in touch with me, Richard Denton, saying, ‘I want to make a documentary about the Henrys — Henry IV, I and II and Henry V.’ I was rather intrigued, a little confused because I had been involved the films of Henry IV, parts one and two, which go out, I think, in September. For me Henry IV was very personal at that time. I was living the character, and the documentary would involve me watching and commenting on other performances that have been recorded in the past.

JEFFREY BROWN: So you were right into this question, because these films on PBS are really about the story behind the story, the characters. What drew you to wanting to play Henry?

JEREMY IRONS: It’s very interesting, because on stage it’s not a part I would have been attracted to, but in order to put them into two hours of film you have do some judicious cutting, and if an experienced director does that — Richard Eyre used to run the National Theatre in London and he’s a very experienced man in Shakespeare. He had done a wonderful cut, which I think advantaged the character of Henry IV, who normally on the stage you aren’t able as an audience to get inside his predicament in quite the same way that you can on film, having the camera coming close to you so that you can communicate in a much more complicated way than you can often on the stage, where you’re often stuck in the back on a throne having to speak a lot more dialog than is in the film, often describing what we can show in the film because we can go onto location as we did.

JEFFREY BROWN: And that character, the father, is a little more distant than the son, right? The son is up front and sort of in our face all the time.

JEREMY IRONS: That’s right. Although it’s about kings and princes, it’s actually quite a domestic play. It’s a play about a young man growing up — Prince Hal — about his friends who are quite a little bit degenerate, Falstaff, a sort of heavy drinking, heavy whoring aristocrat who spends most of his time in the pub with some pretty dissolute friends, and the young man being attracted to that sort of wildness even though he’s going to have to become king when his father dies, and his father watching this with growing depression, with growing upset. The play really is about a young man developing and the relationship with his father and with his friends. In the play you tend to concentrate on Hal and Falstaff, who are the brightest characters. The father, the king, is this sort of boring old chap who mutters on and wants him to be a better son, but you don’t get inside the intricacies of the father’s mind in quite the same way. I think on film it was a much more attractive character for me to play than it would have been on stage.

JEFFREY BROWN: What’s the key to getting right, or where do people often go wrong in trying to capture Shakespeare?

JEREMY IRONS: I think you’ve got to have a facility with the language. You’ve got to know the language and be used to speaking it in such way that it can almost sound colloquial to an audience. You’ve got to get inside that to find out where the character is, what he’s feeling, because that’s what you want to transmit to the audience through the words. I think often the words in a way get in the way, whereas they should enlarge the understanding for the audience, but sometimes they just put them off. I suppose as an actor what you do is you look at the text rather like you might look at crossword clues to find out what those clues tell you about the truth of how the person is feeling. So it probably needs more research, more work before you perform than some writers.

JEFFREY BROWN: One of the things that comes through in that film is that the idea of the theater as a place where people got their history and their news of the day, even though these plays weren’t necessarily all that accurate.

JEREMY IRONS: Yeah, it was the way certainly to transmit ideas, and Shakespeare is often more interested in transmitting emotions and ideas and often domestic situations, relationships, emotional relationships. A classic example is “Antony and Cleopatra,” which is set in Egypt with the great Antony, the great Roman general, the queen of the Nile Cleopatra, but it’s not really about that. It’s about a failing and fading relationship between two older people. That’s really what it’s about, but set against this rather romantic and glorious and historical background. What, of course, the documentaries do is to open up and I hope demystify for the audience these plays, to show them what Shakespeare was drawing on, the situation that existed when the plays were first played, and what people cared about, why he was writing them, where his source material was coming from. I think so many people met Shakespeare at school where maybe it was taught rather badly –

JEFFREY BROWN: Forced on them, right?

JEREMY IRONS: Forced on them, that’s right. And they have a bit of a block about it. And what we hoped that “Shakespeare Uncovered” would do is to remove that block, to open it, to open the windows, let the air into these plays, so that when they came to see them later in the year — when I hope maybe the documentaries will be repeated just to remind people — they would make it far easier for them to become really emotionally involved in the stories.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let me just ask you finally about yourself as an actor. I’m now one of the people following “The Borgias,” which looks like great fun for you.

JEREMY IRONS: People keep telling me that: It looks like great fun for you. I hope that’s not a criticism.

JEFFREY BROWN: Oh, not at all. But I’m wondering how you pick roles nowadays, whether it’s Shakespeare or the pope, the Borgia pope or whatever you are doing now. At this point in your life what sort of grabs you and makes you want to take on a role?

JEREMY IRONS: It’s always a gut feeling of appetite. Shakespeare is somebody I like to return to so often because he’s one of our greatest writers, if not our greatest. The Borgias I was very attracted to because it’s being written and produced by Neil Jordan, who is a filmmaker of note. I find that a lot of the best writing is happening on cable television in America, and many of the films that I would have been making are now very difficult to finance, and a lot of the talent that went into those films is now writing for television. In the old days if you were a film actor, you wouldn’t work on television. Now that’s not so, because actors have a great instinct for good writing and good stories. That’s where we go to work and that was one of the reasons I wanted to work on “The Borgias.” I thought it’s an extraordinary family, this Spanish family who comes to Rome two generations before, a very ambitious man. He becomes pope. Of course pope in those days was much more like a king than a pope, what we now think of as a pope. There were power struggles, there was a very different sort of morality. The more I read about the family and about the man, I thought this is extraordinary, because a lot doesn’t add up. Let’s try and find out how he got the reputation he did, how this family got the reputation it did in history.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, well the PBS series is titled “Shakespeare Uncovered.” Jeremy Irons, thanks so much for talking to us, nice to talk to you.

Jeremy Irons Talks about “Shakespeare Uncovered” on PBS

Shakespeare Uncovered premieres on PBS stations on January 25, 2013.

Learn more HERE.

In a unique series of six films, Shakespeare Uncovered combines history, biography, iconic performances, new analysis, and the personal passions of its celebrated hosts — Ethan Hawke, Jeremy Irons, Derek Jacobi, Trevor Nunn, Joely Richardson, and David Tennant — to tell the stories behind the stories of Shakespeare’s greatest plays.

The three Shakespeare kings hit TV: The Times Interview

From the London Times, Saturday 23 June 2012.

Ben Whishaw, Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston are bringing the history plays to the BBC. Andrew Billen talks to them.

Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown — uneasy even, one imagines, if it is worn merely for Harry, England and the BBC. Any actor playing the king in Shakespeare’s second tetralogy of English history, the Henriad, composed of Richard II, the two parts of Henry IV, and Henry V, must feel the crown’s weight. It has rounded the mortal temples of Alec Guinness, Paul Scofield, Derek Jacobi and Mark Rylance (among the Richards), of John Gielgud, Jon Finch and Tom Fleming (the last of whose Henry IVs became the voice of royal ceremonial for the BBC), and, most burdensomely, of an army of hyper-distinguished Hals led by Ralph Richardson, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton and the just-knighted Kenneth Branagh.

But for Ben Whishaw, Jeremy Irons and Tom Hiddleston, who sequentially play the kings in the BBC’s new cycle, The Hollow Crown, there is another responsibility. Shakespeare on TV has fallen out of fashion. The once familiar BBC Shakespeare production — there were more than 60 between 1945 and 2000 — has disappeared to be replaced by the occasional BBC film of a hit stage version. Even with Ian Holm as Lear, David Tennant as Hamlet, and, tomorrow on BBC Four, Jeffrey Kissoon as the RSC’s current Julius Caesar, this is not quite the same. The BBC’s last Richard IIs, for instance, were Fiona Shaw (from the gender-swapping 1995 National Theatre production) and Mark Rylance, filmed at the Globe in 2003. Incredibly, there has not been a BBC Henry V for 32 St Crispin Days. That play begins by apologising for cramming “so great an object” within the “wooden O” of the stage. Today, the question is whether Shakespeare, with his worrisome language, lengthy scenes and habit of arriving DOA in classrooms, is interesting enough to fill our great plasmatic rectangles.

Well. I have seen all four films in the BBC’s The Hollow Crown series, and my living room echoes resoundingly “yes”. When the BBC announced the project in September 2010, the histories seemed an odd place to begin a Bard revival. Now, in the summer of the Jubilee, as the kingdom again ponders a succession, they seem oddly relevant, if not as controversial as when Richard II’s abdication scene was removed from print editions so as not to offend the first Elizabeth. Politicians now, as Shakespeare’s monarchs then, strain for legitimacy amid shifting alliances. Nor is there anything remote about sending young men abroad to die for opaque causes: as the grunt Williams tells Henry V just before Agincourt, when he dares to speak of the justice of his cause: “That’s more than we know.”

Taking advantage of the nation’s widescreens, the executive producers Sam Mendes and Pippa Harris have opened the dramas out, cinematically, into Britain’s countryside, castles and cathedrals. The plays’ respective directors, Rupert Goold, Richard Eyre and Thea Sharrock, have encouraged their casts to deliver often heavily-cut speeches conversationally. Soliloquies, following the convention of Olivier’s 1948 Hamlet, are delivered as voiceovers. But what casts! Not even counting those kings, to whose number one must admit the dourly brilliant Rory Kinnear as Richard’s successful challenger Bolingbroke, there is the fat-suited Simon Russell Beale as a delicate, scheming Falstaff, Joe Armstrong as Hotspur, and, down in Falstaff’s unruly alternative court in Eastcheap, Julie Walters as Mistress Quickly. Again and again, actors we have taken for granted prove true Shakespeareans.

But it is when the kings wrangle over the crown that the films electrify. Ben Whishaw as Richard, reluctantly persuaded to abdicate in Bolingbroke’s favour (“Here cousin!”), bursts into tears, almost hands over the crown, takes it back and finally rolls it truculently towards Kinnear, who is wearing an expression that might be texted as “WTF?”.

“When someone is that deluded about themselves, it is always slightly comic,” says Whishaw, last seen in The Hour on BBC Two, and, at 31, two years younger than Richard at his deposition and death. “I felt his story was the story of someone who was forced to confront their vulnerability, who has constructed an identity of power and invulnerability and godlike authority, and whose illusions about himself are shattered.”

Whishaw dresses for his sacking in a priestly white gown trimmed in orange. In an earlier beach scene, in which he makes a stage of a rock, he wears his crown over a scarf worn a la Lawrence of Arabia. Mixed in with his divinity is a dessert helping of camp. “What Rupert [Goold] and I talked about was a Michael Jackson parallel. That was our reference in terms of his theatricality, the sense that everything is a performance and everything is about maximising the mystery around him. And like Jackson he is surrounded by people who just say yes to him.”

But there are more mundane parallels for an age of economic uncertainty. Whishaw sees Richard both as a megastar and a bloke who loses the job that defined him. Yet, once reduced to nothing, in his cell, his imagination spring opens and he identifies with others, even his old horse. “When I had finished working on this play — and maybe all Shakespeare is like this — I had the sensation that the play seemed to be about everything in life,” Whishaw says. “It is at once very specific and completely universal.”

For Jeremy Irons, who takes over from Kinnear as Henry IV in the two plays that follow Richard II, the story burrows towards the particular and the personal. Henry, so assured when he was Henry Bolingbroke, a duke unjustly exiled by the whimsically despotic Richard, is now plagued by ill health brought on by guilt at having usurped a divinely anointed king. The barons, not liking their new monarch much more than the last, again divide the kingdom. Any actor playing this Henry finds the plays’ form following their content. He is the star in title only. In performance he vies for attention with his tearaway son-and-heir Hal, his rebellious rival Hotspur, and, above all, Falstaff, who not only represents that hedonistic boozer faction in the English character but is a dissolute second father to his son. For many theatre-goers over the centuries, and for Orson Welles in his movie Chimes at Midnight, the star ofHenry IV is Sir John Falstaff.

Irons’ solution to the plays’ divided attentions is to make Henry’s throne its own centre of gravity, turning it into a virtual sick bed. Irons, 63, six years older than Henry at his death, wears the hollow crown over a hollow face, in a performance informed by his research into the real Henry, a “dazzling youth”, champion jouster, unjustly exiled and rightly outraged when Richard takes the estate of his dead father (Patrick Stewart’s John of Gaunt). “You would think he would be perfect, but in fact illness got him,” Irons says. “He used to have these fits. He would lie there apparently dead for ten, 20 minutes and then he would revive. No one quite knows what it was.” But it adds to the scene when Hal believes his father dead.

In a 1979 Henry IV, the BBC gave Jon Finch’s king leprosy, allowing for some Pilate-style hand-washing undermined by an off day in the continuity department that resulted in the king both wearing and not wearing gloves at the time. This time Richard Eyre determined leprosy would only mean Irons getting up even earlier into make-up. Instead Irons complicates his malaise with a father’s despair.

“For me it is a domestic play and a play about a father and a son — quite common themes: I am missing a boy who is not there and is up to I-know-not-what. I think quite a lot of fathers go through that time with their sons when they are demanding their independence. I certainly had it with my first boy. He pulled away and some years later he came back and realised how similar he was to me.”

Sam Irons is a photographer, but Max Irons is already, at 26, a Hollywood leading man (Red Riding Hood). He has talked openly of being expelled from Bryanston when a master caught him having sex. “Now Max is trying to steal my crown,” his father jokes. “But you also think of our current Prince of Wales. He is not up to making a fool of himself, but he has no function and he is trying to find his place. Of course, like Hal, as soon as he gets the job, I am sure he will be magnificent.”

Richard Eyre rang Tom Hiddleston to say he had won the part of Hal/Henry V on the wedding day of Prince Charles’s elder son two Aprils ago. Tom said yes. Now 31, barely two years older than Henry at Agincourt, he had been alerted to the “muscular, visceral” Shakespeare as a schoolboy when he saw Branagh’s 1989 film ofHenry V. Over a term at Rada, he paperbacked his way through Shakespeare at a Café Nero near Archway, London. “I distinctly remember the weekends I read the histories. When I got to Henry IV and Henry V, I thought to myself, very privately: ‘What a prospect that character is! What a journey he goes on!’ ”

No prep, however, could forearm him for his first day of filming, which, owing to the professional commitment of Beale, was onHenry V (15 weeks later Hiddleston’s reverse journey would end in the studio that mocked up Eastcheap in Henry IV). “It was an extraordinary thing. Day one, take one, slate one was riding along the moat of Arundel Castle and then delivering, ‘Once more unto the breach.’ ”

Branagh renders the Harfleur battle speech from a white horse, crisply and at speed, revving up the “r” in “tiger”. Olivier before him, riding an equally pristine steed, waits for perfect quiet and speaks unlisping Churchill. But Hiddleston dismounts and kneels amid a group of soldiers, fixing them in turn. Breathlessly, almost desperately, he gives his pep talk as if the English are one-nil at half time and he is going on himself. The playing owes much to the realism of HBO’s Band of Brothers (which, of course, owes much to Shakespeare).

“The play is an examination of war through the eyes of this one man,” Hiddleston says. “There are brutal speeches in there that are not pretty. I must be careful. Thea Sharrock has not made an anti-war film but it is certainly a pro-peace film. When Henry tells Williams ‘every subject’s duty is the king’s, but every subject’s soul is his own’ it is an exhortation to accountability. Take responsibility for who you are and what you stand for.”

Hiddleston, who has played in several father-son struggles (Randolph Churchill to Albert Finney’s Winston in The Gathering Storm, Loki to Anthony Hopkins’s Odin in Thor last year) clashed lightly with his scientist father about whether to go into acting. One of the funniest moments of his Henry is when he delivers a perfect Irons impression down at the Boar’s Head. But the Henriad has got to him deeper than that, either that or 4am starts, pre-dawn runs and filming till dusk did.

“I don’t want to sound too pompous or pretentious but people I have spoken to who have played Hamlet and other huge, totemic parts say they change you permanently. And having played Henry V, I tend to agree. Part, I think, of the appeal and strength of Henry V as a character is his astonishing ability to back up words with action. I truly think I understand the nature of responsibility a little more.”

The responsibility of returning Shakespeare to television was not the three kings’ alone, but Whishaw, Irons and Hiddleston have more than delivered. As Whishaw says, we are told, and sometimes think, that Shakespeare doesn’t work on television: “His poetry needs a space to live in. It is metaphorical. Blah, blah, blah.” The Hollow Crown refutes such pessimism. Shakespeare is as intimate as television and as outsized as its widest screen. Our wooden O is the box in the corner of our little rooms, confining mighty men, and liberating them too.

The Hollow Crown begins with Richard II on BBC Two, June 30 at 9pm

Jeremy Irons part of Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde

A Jeremy Irons – The Authoritative Website exclusive!  Marc Sinden, producer of The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, gives his firsthand account of working with Jeremy Irons on making the recording:

We recorded his story in an audio suite at the BBC Borehamwood Studios. I directed the reading, as I had done for all of the stories included in the 4-CD box set of The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde and Jeremy arrived on his enormous motorbike, in leathers, which worried me as I thought that he might ‘squeak’! He didn’t, however, and he was utterly professional and well-prepared, as usual, and we recorded the whole story in three takes. I was delighted that he had invented so many voices for all of the characters in the story and several of them made me laugh out loud! We then had lunch in the commissary and had a wander around the Eastenders permanent set before he roared off on his huge bike, while I waited for Joanna Lumley to arrive to record her story. He really is the most un-’star like’ actor I know – a real actor – and a wonderfully loyal and sweet friend.”

The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde: In Aid of the Royal Theatrical Fund

The recording is now available from audible.com, on CD and from iTunes. Click on the link above to listen to a preview and to order.

The hard copies of the 4x CDs of The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde read by various stars (Dame Judi Dench, Jeremy Irons, Joanna Lumley, Sir Derek Jacobi, Sinead Cusack, Robert Harris, Samantha Bond, Geoffrey Palmer, Sir Donald Sinden) and sold in aid of the Royal Theatrical Fund, are now available!

You can get them as 4x CDs from http://www.sindenproductions.com/2010/02/02/the-fairy-tales-of-oscar-wilde/ and either pay by good-old-fashioned cheque for £19.99 + £4.45 p&p per 4x CD set or via PayPal, or as a digital download at http://www.audible.co.uk/aduk/site/product.jsp?p=BK_WHTR_000005UK&BV_UseBVCookie=Yes or now even on iTunes.

http://www.sindenproductions.com/2010/02/02/the-fairy-tales-of-oscar-wilde/

Information courtesy of Marc Sinden

Marc Sinden Productions Group of Companies
inc. The One Night Booking Company

W  www.sindenproductions.com

** See the trailer for the new documentary series Great West End Theatres:
www.greatdocumentariesandfilms.com

T  +44 (0)20 8455 3278

P  1 Hogarth Hill London NW11 6AY

Share

‘The Borgias’ Press Kit

All photos and text property of Showtime. No copyright infringement intended.

Click on thumbnails for larger images:

Plum Role: History’s Ultimate Godfather – NY Times

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

20110325-043925.jpg

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 enduring charm of the Borgias

The enduring charm of the Borgias

http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/reviews/the-enduring-charm-of-the-borgias-2247598.html

One of history’s most notorious families is returning to TV – this time with a class cast. Sarah Hughes has a preview…

Monday 21, March 2011

When in Rome: Jeremy Irons stars in the costume drama 'The Borgias' When in Rome: Jeremy Irons stars in the costume drama ‘The Borgias’.

As The Tudors rollicks towards its final episodes, complete with extra wheezing from Jonathan Rhys Myers as the declining Henry VIII, fans of ludicrous yet oddly addictive historical dramas are feeling a slow-burning sense of loss. How will we spend our Saturday nights now that Rhys Meyers, his incredible cheekbones and his distinctly odd way of Declaiming. Each. Sentence. As. Though. He. Was. Learning. To. Read. For. The. First. Time. are no longer with us?

Luckily there is hope on the horizon, for Showtime, the channel that originally commissioned The Tudors, is clearly aware that some of us can never have too much frippery, flouncing and fornication on our television shows, provided that is that they come accompanied with suitably ripe dialogue and the weight of history on their side.

So it is that the US cable channel has headed to 15th-century Rome for its latest drama, a new take on one of history’s most notorious families, the ambitious, murderous Borgias. On paper this is a brilliant idea with the potential for much mayhem, blood, guts, poisoning and heaving of breasts – and Showtime’s extended trailer for the new show, which begins in the US on 3 April before coming to Sky Atlantic in July, certainly plays up to the family’s reputation with rousing music, close-ups of a sorrowful yet sinister Jeremy Irons, the suggestion of dark deeds afoot, and the snappy tagline: “The Original Crime Family”.

So far, so satisfying. However, any new version of the Borgias raises an old spectre: will it be as bad as the infamous 1981 BBC adaptation, which was reckoned to have killed costume drama at the BBC for the best part of a decade?

That 10-part series was infamous for the graphic (for its time) nudity and violence and for a particularly memorable scene where half-naked actors crawled across the floor picking up chestnuts with their mouths. By the time the Vatican issued an edict condemning the BBC’s The Borgias the only question asked by anyone with any taste was what on earth took them so long?

Thankfully, the new Borgias looks like it will actually be rather good. Jeremy Irons, who plays the power-crazed Cardinal Rodrigo Borgia later to become one of history’s most infamous Popes, has a whale of time. His Rodrigo, all hissing sibilants and subtle suggestions, wields his power quietly yet absolutely, more Godfather Part II-era Michael Corleone than Tony Soprano.

While Irons dominates, the rest of the cast, which includes Derek Jacobi and Colm Feore as Rodrigo’s rivals, Joanne Whalley as his principal mistress, Vanozza dei Cattanei, and a couple of brooding bruisers (François Arnaud and David Oakes) as his murderous sons Cesare and Juan Borgia, are no slouches and manage to sell some fairly baroque moments involving the campaign for the new Pope, which could easily teeter into Monty Python-esque parody.

That they don’t is also thanks to the involvement of the idiosyncratic Irish director Neil Jordan, who is the series’ co-creator and will direct the first two episodes. The Borgias is something of a pet project for Jordan who has been trying to make a film about the family, described as “The Godfather set in the Vatican” since 2000.

That said The Borgias is also the work of Michael Hirst, the man behind The Tudors and the scriptwriter for Elizabeth and Elizabeth: the Golden Age. Hirst, a man who never met a period of history he couldn’t joyfully sex up, is the sort of wilfully over-the-top writer whom you either love or despise.

Should historical drama be accurate? The only sane answer is yes but Hirst has so much fun proving the opposite that it’s hard not to get swept along. His involvement suggests that this Borgias might be more Rome than I, Claudius, more Tudors than Elizabeth R but it’s also the case that even if the series does turn out to be tosh, it will be lavishly shot, lovely to look at and completely addictive tosh.

The Borgias – First Official Photos

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Share

Screencaps from The Borgias Preview!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

 

Share

The Borgias – Casting Announcements

Additional casting information for The Borgias:

Click on cast photo to enlarge:

Also see The Borgias Cast page at The Borgias Wiki for more photos and details.

SHOWTIME has cast English actress Joanne Whalley as the female lead in its Renaissance crime drama The Borgias.

Whalley will play Vanossa, mother of the Borgia children who were fathered by Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons) before he became one of history’s most infamous popes. Vanossa once was a courtesan with a disreputable past.

Whalley has played several roles on the small screen, including the title character in the 1994 TV miniseries “Scarlett” and the 2000 TV movie “Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.”

British actress Holliday Grainger has leapfrogged over star names to take the part of Lucrezia Borgia.

The 21-year-old Mancunian will play opposite Jeremy Irons and Derek Jacobi in the ten-part series The Borgias, which starts shooting in Budapest in July.

Some episodes will be directed by Neil Jordan, who also wrote the screenplay. Years ago, he wanted to make a big-screen version.

Executives for the U.S. cable channel Showtime met with other actresses in Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris and Rome and screen-tested scores of young women – some of them big-name stars – before they decided Holliday was their ‘chosen one’.

Lucrezia is a star-making part. She was supposedly the most vilified woman in history. One Italian historian called her ‘the greatest whore there ever was’ and a femme fatale of the highest order. Others assert she was unfairly pilloried, perhaps for the sins of her father and brothers.

Jeremy Irons will play Lucrezia’s father Rodrigo Borgia (who later became Pope Alexander VI).

Francois Arnaud has been cast as Lucrezia’s brother Cesare Borgia, while Colm Feore will be Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, who later became Pope Julius II.

Actor Sir Derek Jacobi will play Cardinal Orsini in the first two episodes. Jacobi’s previous film credits include Henry V, Gladiator, Gosford Park and The Golden Compass.

Francis Ford Coppola modeled the storyline of Godfather III on the Borgias, and found their ruthlessness and Machiavellian scheming translated perfectly to his 20th-century tale about the Mafia.

Ruta Gedmintas (“The Tudors”) has been cast as Ursula in the Showtime series “The Borgias,” opposite Jeremy Irons. The APA- and United Agents-repped actress will play a young abused wife who falls in love with the Irons character’s son.

Luke Pasqualino, best known as Freddie from Series 3 & 4 of Skins, has also joined The Borgias cast.

Dutch star Lotte Verbeek has been cast in The Borgias.Verbeek will play Giulia Farnese, the young mistress of Rodrigo Borgia (Irons). Farnese was famed for her beauty and several 15th century masters are thought to have used her for inspiration, including Raphael in his portrait “Young Woman With Unicorn.”  Verbeek is currently on set of The Borgias in Budapest. The 28-year-old actress won the best actress prize at Locarno last year for starring turn opposite Stephen Rea in Urszula Antoniak’s “Nothing Personal” and was one of the talents picked as a European Shooting Star at the Berlin Film Festival in February. But Verbeek’s London agent Jeremy Conway told THR he pitched Verbeek on the basis of her striking resemblance to portraits of the real-life Farnese.

EMMANUELLE CHRIQUI TO GUEST STAR IN NEW EPIC DRAMA SERIES, PREMIERING IN SPRING 2011 ON SHOWTIME® LOS ANGELES, CA – (September 22, 2010) – Emmanuelle Chriqui (Entourage) will guest star on the new SHOWTIME drama series THE BORGIAS in three episodes as “Sancia,” the beautiful and seductive Neapolitan princess who marries the Pope’s youngest son Joffre (Aidan Alexander), even though she has her eye on another Borgia brother.  The series is headlined by Academy Award® winner Jeremy Irons and is currently shooting in Budapest for a Spring 2011 premiere.

AIDAN ALEXANDER is from Bournemouth, England and has previously appeared in a Nestle Wholegrain Cereal commercial; the short film The Time Traveller, directed by Tom Cliffe; the short film The Run, directed by Tristan Casey and has appeared in the musical Footprints of Africa at the Lighthouse Theatre in Poole, England. He is represented by Abacus Agency and the Elliott Brown Agency.

THE BORGIAS is a complex, unvarnished portrait of one of history’s most intriguing and infamous dynastic families.  The series begins as the family’s patriarch Rodrigo (Irons), becomes Pope Alexander, propelling him, his three Machiavellian sons Cesare (Francois Arnaud), Juan (David Oakes), Joffre (Aidan Alexander) and his scandalously beautiful daughter, Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger) to become the most powerful and influential family of the Italian Renaissance. Joanne Whalley also stars as Vanossa, the mother of Rodrigo’s children.

Share

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,892 other followers