Original interview in German
Published in issue 11-MM
11th March 2013
Author – Ralf Kaminski
British actor Jeremy Irons (64) is among the very biggest stars of international cinema. Since his breakthrough in 1981 with the TV, “Brideshead Revisited” and the movies with “The French Lieutenant’s Woman,” he is constantly present in movies and television. His specialty are shady characters, whether it be the 40-year-old literature professor who falls in “Lolita” (1997) for precocious 12-year-olds, or the ruthless bank boss in “Margin Call” (2011), the financial crisis in the largest provides a way to rake in more money.
Irons has been married since 1978, with the Irish actress Sinéad Cusack, they have two grown sons, one of whom, Max, is also an actor. The couple lives partly in Oxfordshire (UK), and partly in a self-renovated Irish castle in West Cork. In the coming weeks, Jeremy Irons is seen in three ways: first as a teacher Raimund Gregorius in Bille August’s “Night Train to Lisbon ‘, based on the novel by the Swiss author Pascal Mercier (in cinemas from March 7). Once head of the family of a witch clan in fantasy film “Beautiful Creatures” (in cinemas from April 3). And finally, also known as Rodrigo Borgia, Pope Alexander VI. in the TV series “The Borgias” (the third season running in the U.S. on April 14 on).
“It’s great fun to play people who reinvent themselves for their own rules”
The British film star Jeremy Irons plays the main role in the film adaptation of Pascal Mercier’s “Night Train to Lisbon”. Before the premiere in Bern, he spoke to the Migros magazine about shooting, his other projects and his penchant for shady characters.
A world star you meet not every day. And British actor Jeremy Irons (64) has a reputation during filming is not always easy to be because of a certain tendency towards perfectionism. The slight nervousness turns out to be unfounded. Irons is not only extremely friendly, he is also very relaxed. Middle of a conversation, he gets up, fishes a tobacco package from his overcoat pocket, rolls a cigarette and walked with it to the balcony door of the hotel room as he continues to answer questions. He then puffing contentedly out into the icy Bern air, behind him on the wall of the room large a Non smoking signs …
Jeremy Irons, in the next few weeks you will be featured in three completely different roles. As a somewhat conservative Latin teacher in “Night Train to Lisbon”, as scheming Pope in the third season of “The Borgias” and as head of the family of a witch clan in “Beautiful Creatures.” How do you choose your roles?
Always for very different reasons. “Night Train” has attracted me in many ways. I like director Bille August, we have worked together before and then also shot in Lisbon, a great city. And I liked the book extraordinary, as I read it then. It seemed, however, that it would be difficult to film because it is so much revolves around ideas and philosophical questions. But if someone hinkriegt then Bille August. So I thought that might be a very nice five weeks, and so it was.
“The Borgias” is a rare excursions into your television, you can delay the first left?
Not really. Nowadays fewer and fewer films are being shot out of the way I like to do: movies, which are directed more to a smaller audience, but still cost quite a bit. More and more writers wander therefore from the television, where he produced many great quality series currently. Neil Jordan, whom I admire very much, did that too, after he had tried once before about ten years ago to make a movie out of the material. And he asked me if I would take on the lead role. It was one of these projects, as I like them, and it’s a really great role. So I said yes and am now engaged in five months.
That’s quite a time commitment, it was therefore already in collisions with other projects?
Until now. Or if so, then my agent told me nothing about it (laughs). So far it has been successful, so to work around.
“Beautiful Creatures” seems to be a relatively unusual choice of roles …
It’s not a movie I would see myself in the movies. But I had not worked for some time for a major Hollywood studio, and I know that this strip as part of “Twilight” are very popular. The figure has wit and a couple of nice scenes. So I thought, why not?
You sometimes take roles because they pay well?
I did that about three times in my life, and it’s been a while. “Dungeons & Dragons” is an example, and then there was a film in which I played someone with a white face … I do not come just for the title …
“The Time Machine”?
Exactly. I’ve done both while I renovated our little castle in Ireland. Since it was very useful to get a good fee.
When was the last time you have to audition for a role?
Phew, that was long ago. After drama school for roles in the theater, or about the age of 22. Nowadays, I get offers and decide what I want or do not want.
There are times that you absolutely want to have a role, but do not get it?
It happens, but the last time is also a long time ago. I would have loved to have had Robert Redford’s role in “Out of Africa”, the director Sydney Pollack unconvinced. He and Redford were good friends.
The presentation of “Night Train to Lisbon” discussed many philosophical questions, and religion is a recurring theme. Are you a believer?
These questions were the reason that I was attracted by the project. I’m quite a spiritual person, I believe in a whole lot. But I’m not one to like to hear about a group or club. My wife and my children are Catholic, and I myself was baptized Protestant. But religion is not such a big issue in the family. Whenever we go to church at Christmas and Easter, then a Catholic with us in the area. It is a kind of center for a very widely dispersed community, and follow whatever is completely there. It is always very nice. This church is like the glue that holds together the people.
About 20 years ago, have you ever filmed with Bille August in Lisbon. How he has changed since then, as the city?
He has not changed one bit. More children he has, but that’s it already. I also believe that I have not changed that much. Nevertheless, everything was new, because it was about a whole different story. And we turned in another corner of the city, especially in the old city – beautiful, especially because it crumbles a bit to himself.
Did Bille August? Much freedom left in the interpretation of the figure, or he knew exactly what he wanted?
He knows very well what he wants. But he also looks for the people that he knows that they bring him. If you do something that does not fit him, he says that too. Which is good. A director is a kind of sounding board that you need as an actor. The hope is that you hit the right note, but can never be sure, because you do not even see or hear. Since it needs someone who helps in fine-tuning. This of course requires that you trust the taste of the director what I do at Bille.
But that was it different?
Oh yes, I will not mention names here but.
And then you rebel?
It is often only realized when you see the finished film. During filming, I thought: Well, but that can not be justified. Then I saw the movie and thought, oh no, all wrong, we should do it the way I wanted it.
You have enjoyed your short visit in Bern during filming last year, I have read. How well do you know Switzerland?
Not very good, unfortunately. I go once in a while skiing in St. Moritz, and now by the way again after that visit here in Bern. But that’s it for now.
“The Borgias” You’re yes then for television, is somehow different?
Not at all. It’s like being on a movie set, even a bit more luxurious, we have more time and better equipment. But that’s just because it’s a quality series. I have friends in the U.S. turn the soaps, which sounds much less pleasant.
Rodrigo Borgia is a very complex character, a ruthless schemer. And yet you play it so that you like him, and hopes that its work plans.
A very interesting character. I read a lot about him, a lot of research, and has opened up a very wide spectrum character, I can work with. The popes after him have hated him, and their interpretation of it has come to dominate. This has ruined the reputation of the Borgia family rather, with all the stories of incest, for example. I am convinced that this is a caricature, and how I interpret it too. I’m looking for the nuances, the contradictions that we all have within us. We behave sometimes good and sometimes bad.
They like to play these kinds of characters, right? About in “Lolita” …
This role interpretation have taken me some really bad.
You played the seducer of a 12-year-olds to “nice”?
I was asked: How could you do that? My answer: people who do bad things are not necessarily bad.
However, you seem to play the bad guys like to correct: “The Time Machine,” “Die Hard with a Vengeance” …
Oh yes. Why are bad guys bad? Because they do not follow the rules, they find their own way, outside the conventions of society. It’s great fun to play people who invent their own rules. And it gives the audience the opportunity to watch people who behave like they normally can not, but secretly would probably also like.
You once said that you are particularly proud of “Dead Ringers,” “Lolita” and “The Mission”. Does that still?
In “Lolita” I could not really show all that I can, it is certainly my most complete film. On the other two I’m still proud, though I’m never as good as I would have liked.
“Lolita” was a risky role, you smoke, you ride a motorcycle – you obviously like to flirt with danger.
In fact. Risks brings enrichment to life. I’ve also never regretted. If something does not work out as hoped, then I say to myself, okay, but it seemed to make sense, as I have decided to make it so. So, what the heck. Do not regret, but just keep going. I try not to look back, not forward, but to live in the moment.
They always say that it had to do with smoking, that you have such a great voice. But I know some smokers, and none has such a voice! How do you do that?
(Laughs) I have no idea. She just is. Good genes! And of course it’s great to have something that stands out.
Is it true that on a film set can sometimes be difficult because you are a perfectionist like that?
That was probably one way, but I’ve put it behind me. Today I am much more relaxed and try to have a good time especially. If all fun and relaxed, it increases the chance that they will do a good job.
Your wife and your sons are indeed also worked as an actor. Look at each of your films to give advice and criticize?
That’s what we do. However, the movie business has changed dramatically since the time when we started. This makes it difficult for us, a young actor to give career advice. But it is important to know what we think of his work. The same goes for me and my wife when it comes to our films.
Has your wife ever really criticized heavily for one of your works?
Oh yes, and how. I once played some time ago in London theater. She looked at the dress rehearsal and then said: “Thou art really bad in the play” (laughs)
Very often, you do not look likely. All are constantly traveling somewhere and making films. Is not it hard sometimes?
Oh, because we have become accustomed, it was ever thus. We meet when we can. Our sons both live in London. And if we are spending time together, we enjoy it even more.