Jeremy Irons, nominated for Best Actor in a TV Miniseries or Movie, for his performance as King Henry IV in The Hollow Crown, was in attendance at the 2014 Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Jeremy Irons, nominated for Best Actor in a TV Miniseries or Movie, for his performance as King Henry IV in The Hollow Crown, was in attendance at the 2014 Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Prison Phoenix Trust patron Jeremy Irons was at HMP Grendon on 11 July 2013, as part of the Trust’s 25th Anniversary Celebration. Jeremy read excerpts from letters by prisoners who have written to the Trust. He also read from Shakespeare’s Richard II.
Audio clips have been made available by the Prison Phoenix Trust.
In this clip, Jeremy Irons tells us the history of the Prison Phoenix Trust:
Scroll down for videos.
ROME — Italy’s Taormina Film Festival featured a mix of international blockbusters, smaller dramas and comedies in its famous Teatro Antico venue, with a list of Hollywood A-Listers on tap, as the 59-year-old festival continues its return to good health after a “near-death” experience last year.
The festival ran from June 15-22 in Taormina, Italy.
Trashed was screened on Wednesday, June 19 at 10:00 in the Convention Center – Hall A. Jeremy Irons was part of a Tao Class held on Wednesday, June 19 at 11.45 at the Hall A of the Convention Center.
Jeremy Irons was a recipient of the Taormina Arte Award. Here’s what the festival’s website has to say about Jeremy and the award (translated from Italian):
“Taormina Arte Award – Jeremy Irons
It ‘an interpreter of natural elegance, often also enjoys coloring and embellishing the prestigious cinematic tradition of British actors who wear the clothes of the “bad” with a pronounced English accent (even in a western like Appaloosa) or return to the origins of its training at the Old Vic appearing in reductions to Shakespeare as The Merchant of Venice. And ‘the most respected performers in English, starring theatrical films (like Callas Forever, Australia, The House of the Spirits), but also original and insightful studies of the author (Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty, The French Lieutenant’s Woman of Reisz), but it will be in Taormina not only to speak of himself, of his excellent filmography, his acting style that blends technical and introspective fragility, authority and underground emotional outbursts, but mostly as a writer, producer and observer Trashed of Candida Brady, a film that takes in hand the risks to the food chain and the environment caused by pollution of air, land and sea. Looking at most of the planet, from Iceland to Indonesia, we discover surprising truth about imminent threats that surround us and our health, like the microplastic: plastic remnants infinitely small that fill the seas and, consequently, the fish, including those that end up on our tables. In Trashed, the actor takes us on a fascinating and disturbing to discover the devastating impact of human waste, more and more toxic than in the past. Also for his commitment, as well as the extraordinary career, the Festival pays homage to him with the Taormina Arte Award. “
Jeremy Irons is featured in the 7 June 2013 issue of Corriere della Sera Magazine from Italy.
Here is a translation of the article:
(Thank you to Barbara Danisi for the translation!)
Jeremy Irons arrives in Italy to read Machiavelli’s The Prince together with Laura Morante.
He says that the only real Prince left is the Pope. He’s the only one who has the power to change the world and make it better. He has already begun changing the Vatican: Jeremy was very impressed seeing the Pope washing people’s feet, that’s what the Church needs. Then he compares Pope Bergoglio with the character he played in the movie Mission, Father Gabriel, they’re both of the Jesuit order.
The game of power has remained the same for years. ‘’ Whether it is better to be loved than feared, or the reverse’’ Machiavelli wrote.
Human nature hasn’t changed, and so haven’t the means to control people. Industries only care about their business, politicians in Bruxelles decide for our lives. It’s the game of power. Those who cheat will always find those who let themselves be cheated.
Jeremy has never thought of becoming a politician. To be a politician you must have great ideals, know society, without accepting compromises, which is the most difficult thing to do.
‘’I’ve always tried to organize my life, and I’ve always said to my sons that the most important thing is to find happiness in life. Even when I choose my roles I choose characters who are far away from politics.’’
In theatre he played Richard II, a man who didn’t want to rule, but found himself on the throne, as opposite to Macbeth and his lust for power and dangers. Jeremy says that in politics there have been some good men, such as Nelson Mandela or Churchill. But every politician is disappointing in the end, leading a nation is a hard task.
Bruxelles has power over almost every European nation. Last year in Italy the prime minister was not voted by people, but imposed and charged to put order in the Italian economics, but having an economist as the head of the government is not a good thing.
Ironically there was a politician in the Irons family: one of his ancestors broke into Westminster parliament riding a donkey to make a petition for democracy.
There is one man that Jeremy admires, and he is Pope Francis. Jeremy likes going to church with his Catholic wife Sinead. ‘’When I was in Colombia shooting The Mission I chose to be barefoot all the time because the Indians didn’t wear any shoes and I wanted to feel like them, feel what they felt, a strong bond with nature and the ground under their feet. You can follow the word of Christ without being influenced by the Church of Rome. Actually the Church has always been far away from people , but I think Pope Francis can change this. It will be hard but he can make it’’.
Very different from Pope Francis is Rodrigo Borgia, a dissolute libertine. ‘’I read a lot about him to play this character. He was more of a king than a pope, he wanted to be rich and powerful but in the end he stained the name of his family forever. Rodrigo is often seen as a negative man, but playing a negative character is very charming! Playing the role of someone who goes against the rule of society is very interesting! There’s this constant fight between the good and the evil inside of us’’.
Then Jeremy goes on talking about Trashed. Films, movies (Jeremy’s favourite movie is L’amour by Michael Haneke) cannot change people but can make us aware of the problems we need to solve.
Jeremy Irons says he wants to stay away from politics, but Trashed is a political film.
‘’We are sinking into trash. We are producing too much trash and it pollutes everything, the water we drink, the air we breathe, the sea. But many industries make a lot of money out of trash, so there’s little interest in facing the issue. It would be easy, starting with recycling and reducing packaging. Incinerators are very dangerous, because all goes into the air and can cause damages to people’s brain. Governments should do something about it but they don’t, they’re not interested. ‘’
In the end Jeremy talks about internet and facebook. They should be places for dialogue, instead every word you say is turned around and given the wrong meaning, as it happened recently when Irons stated his views on gay marriage.
‘’Everyone sees what they want to see, few really listen to what you say and understand what you really are’’ Machiavelli wrote 500 years ago. And so we wait for Jeremy in Florence to explain all of this.
Follow Backstage on Twitter: @Baeckstage_ch
Google translated from German:
Jeremy Irons:. “I sing only for friends or at the pub”
On the day of the gala premiere of “Night Train to Lisbon” Oscar winner Jeremy Irons met at the Bellevue Hotel in Bern for an interview. His immense presence was already being felt from a distance. Irons sat on a chair in front of the open balcony doors and smoking a cigarette when I entered the room. Without being asked then, Irons grabbed a chair and placed it next to his and put the receiving device on his right. This rootedness and openness, he also presented in the conversation about the Bernese nightlife. Miscast in his “Night Train to Lisbon” and his role in the TV series “Borgia”
Backstage: What memories do you have of the filming here in Bern last year?
Jeremy Irons: Oh, very happy memories. But short. We were only here for two days. Still, it was wonderful to come to Bern. I knew the city was not before. I also love cities that are located along rivers. I love these big, high bridges here and the architecture of the shops. The arcades are perfect because you despite snow and rain can enjoy the shopping. Yes, I have happy memories of Bern, very happy. And to the people. These certain slowness in Bern and the pleasant pace fascinated me. It stands in stark contrast to London and New York, where everything has to happen very quickly. People there do not have much time for each other. In Bern, this is totally different. Here you have time to chat and that’s very nice.
Backstage: Do you have the novel “Night Train to Lisbon”known before the film?
Jeremy: No, I had only heard of the novel, when I was asked to do the film. Then I read the book and loved it. When I was with the book, suddenly people came up to me and said, “This is my favorite book.” That was very strange, because I’ve never heard of it before. It is a very interesting book. It provides the readers questions like “What are you doing with your life? Is that what you want to do? ‘. These are very important and good questions, I think. I thought that it will be a difficult book to be implemented, since a lot of philosophy is contained therein. But Bille (Director August, editor’s note) has created a very concentrated version, I think, captures the spirit of the book. What is your feeling? How did you find it?
Backstage: Yes, it is a shortened and condensed version, some characters such as Florence or Fatima are not treated, but that does not make a big difference. The essence of the book is there.
Jeremy: Yes, the essence of the book is there, I think so.
Backstage: Some critics have but perhaps struggling with the fact that Gregorius – the hero of the story, which you embody – decides after only 15 minutes of play, to put up in the night train to Lisbon …
Jeremy: Yes, there are some things for which there is not enough time in the film. That’s the problem, you understand me?
Backstage: Absolutely. The film is a different medium than the book.
Jeremy: Exactly, it is a different object. I think it is not in a manner fair to compare the two. But it is legitimate to ask whether the one reflects the essence of the other. It is as if you have a diamond and a picture of the diamond in front of him. There are two completely different subjects, but the painting can give you a feel for the diamond? If it is a good painting, they do so perhaps. Ok, maybe that’s not a good analogy, but you know what I mean, it’s a different medium.
Backstage: Are you an amateur philosopher?
Jeremy: I think so, but I do not spend much time talking about philosophy, but when I stumble across it, I love it. In this way, I’m a little like Gregorius. What fascinates him about Amadeu’s book is, indeed, that he found written down ideas that were lying somewhere in his head. If we come across a book that in a figurative sense speaks our language, share our unformed thoughts, we feel connected to the book. Someone else has solidified our meandering thoughts. And that makes us naturally clear that we share a common humanity. The same fears and concerns. I love historical biographies and read many biographies, I like it noted that other people have encountered in their lives to the same thoughts and problems as I did in mine.
Backstage: What similarities do you have with Gregorius?
Jeremy: We have very few similarities. Every time I drive to work, I get on a night train to Lisbon. I find new people. I love to learn more about other people, explore new places and live in different worlds. So I make my living. But what Gregorius and I have in common is that we are the same (laughs). But we think differently. Although I often think of very boring, like Gregorius.
Backstage: Do you think that they were the right choice for Gregorius?
Jeremy: No, I do not think so. I think we do not see very similar. Gregorius I have a little older, balder and presented uncharismatic. And as an actor I think I have a certain charisma. This I had to suppress it for the role in some ways.
Backstage: Was that difficult?
Jeremy: Hmm, I think the one he needs a little bit of charisma, because it is also a love story and the audience has to be worth watching Gregorius. I hope that one of the reasons why I got the role, the one was that I feel very comfortable here, to play characters who do very little. So that viewers still see the change in him, even if I do not do great things. Through this production, I was reminded of how much can be achieved with small gestures. As an actor, you have to act sometimes less. Instead of playing a lot more you have to think about and somehow it adds also to the outside, as one is perceived. Years ago, I played in a series called “Brideshead Revisited” with. That figure was similar to Gregorius. Charles was a simple man who meets this wonderful aristocratic family and is absorbed by it. He was all the time the observer bringing the audience into the story, she let him feel the same. And so even Gregory does in this movie.
Backstage: You played so Gregorius, although it does not feel right for the character?
Jeremy: If I had a choice to make, I would not have chosen.
Backstage: Who you would cast in Gregorius?
Jeremy: Who I would choose? I do not know … maybe Rush… Anthony Hopkins, Geoffrey and William Hurt …
Backstage: How was it working with Bille August?
Jeremy: Wonderful. I’ve been using for Bille “House of Spirits” worked many years ago, so I knew him. And I liked it, liked the way he works. He is very accurate, fast and he is very polite. On his sets it’s going to always be very cheerful and so forth. He knows what he wants, unlike many directors who filmed everything going on it until the actors are tired and bored with the scenes. Bille has a good flavour, it matches the illustrations in small ways, so that it all fits together and works. You can trust him, so I enjoy working with him. For me there is a better director.
Backstage: And how was it working with the other actors?
Jeremy: Also wonderful because all the actors are very good. Unfortunately, I have not shot with the youngsters, but my God, we were very lucky, just think of Bruno Ganz. Or Martina Gedeck, an actress I’ve seen in “The Lives of Others” and that impressed me greatly. I met her in Budapest when I was there she made a film with Istvan Szabo (The Door, editor’s note). We spent a little time and I really liked her. As they would then suggested for the part of Mariana, I found this fantastic. Charlotte Rampling, is also a good actress, with whom I had previously been worked. And Portuguese actor, whose name I can not remember just not the one who plays the hotel owner. I love him, we had a lot of fun on set. Lena Olin, another leading actress, with whom I played in “Casanova.” When you work with so many good actors, it is so easy to. It really adds to the enjoyment. They were very happy filming, which is rare, but this shoot was really nice.
Backstage: You could also visit very beautiful places …
Jeremy: Absolutely. I love Portugal, but I was the last time for the filming of “House of Spirits” there. But this time around. To a completely different part, in the historic centre of Lisbon, which is very crumbly, romantic and simply wonderful We can shoot for this very lucky, it is not always so nice.
Backstage: Gregory is a teacher at the Bern Kirchenfeld High School. If you were a teacher, what subject would you teach?
Jeremy: Well, I would probably teach drama as this is my job. Strangely, I wish in a way that we would teach all one afternoon a week something. They spend an afternoon, for example, about journalism, or tell about writing. So we could pass our enthusiasm for our work to the children. I think that teachers do a great job with everything they do and how they do it year after year. I think everyone has something in his life that he can pass on to students that to help children gain a better understanding of life. I think this should be something that we offer to the children on a regular basis.
Backstage: Your latest TV production is a series called “Borgias”. Do you think the episode is interesting shape for a performer, because the characters have more and longer time for deployment?
Jeremy: This is the joy, exactly. I have now shot 30 hours of “The Borgias”, which are about 15 films with the same character. The challenges to the rise in screenplays. It is important to ensure that the books are not simply be a repetition of the events in different ways, but the characters are expanded and share an inconsistency that makes it really interesting too. Because we are all just inconsistent and we behave in our being. Shakespeare, for example, was a poet who brought this issue to their best advantage. Characters in movies are usually more stable, less in books where there are more opportunities for inconsistencies. Inconsistency allows it to display an actor depths and the true reality. There is therefore a great privilege for me to play in this series. Alexander is also a very interesting one, an exceptionally broad man, a great administrator, a man of God, but also a man with enormous sensual appetites. Mix all of these facets together to be able to make me a lot of fun.
Backstage: Soon again you come out with a movie, “Beautiful Creatures.” What can we expect?
Jeremy: I was told that the movie to “Twilight” genre is one, but I have “Twilight” is not seen, so I can not say exactly. My son Max has (written by “Twilight” author Stephenie Meyer, editor’s note) is also a movie called “The Host”, which also belongs to this genre. In “Beautiful Creatures” I play the father figure Macon Ravenwood. He is described as incubus, but I’m honestly not quite sure what is meant by an incubus (An incubus is a kind of strange dream-eating demon, editor’s note). He is someone who has been, as it was required of him, as it’s just so many people. The story takes place in South Carolina in the United States. Macon is a man who lives alone and is happy here. A gentleman of great style, wit and knowledge. But the story is basically a love story between two young people.
Backstage: Christopher Lee confessed in an interview today that he’s releasing a heavy metal album.
Jeremy: Did he really?
Backstage: Yes. He is represented with his vocals on it. What about you? Can you imagine for a music album or sing for a musical such as “Les Miserables”?
Jeremy: I think my voice is not good enough for that (laughs). The actors in “Les Misérables” all have an excellent voice. But I used to sing a little when I was younger. In musical theater productions. But when I last sang? (Thinks). I made a recording of “My Fair Lady” with Kiri Te Kanawa, but now it was years ago. Today I sing only for friends or pub.
Backstage: Will we hear you sing today in Bern at a pub?
Jeremy: I’m afraid, but I have not enough time (laughs). Is there really a lot of good music in Bern Local?
Backstage: No, unfortunately there are not that many for himself singing, actually practically not a single good place to eat.
Jeremy: Are you serious?
Backstage: Bern is unfortunately no “Nightlife City” …
Jeremy: So not much of nightlife in Bern? I thought so. I remember when I came here for the first time and then someone asked if Bern is a party town. Having been told the following: “However, we all have a good time here. If it’s nice outside, we sit in front of the cafes and drink “and I was like,” Ok, understood “(laughs).
Jeremy Irons is featured in the March/April 2013 issue of Cigar Aficionado magazine.
This magazine is a must own for any Jeremy Irons fan. Be sure to buy a copy at your local news stand, book seller or cigar store.
Here are scans and photographs of the magazine. Click on the thumbnails to enlarge the images and read the text.
All images © Cigar Aficionado Magazine [Text by Marshall Fine - Portraits by Jim Wright] No copyright infringement intended.
View the original blog posting HERE.
Follow Jeffrey Brown on Twitter @JeffreyBrown
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“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.
Read the original interview HERE.
Jeremy Irons’ filmography encompasses everything from Disney to David Cronenberg, plus a 1990 Best Actor Oscar win for Reversal Of Fortune, but his first efforts as an actor were on the stage, and one of his initial entryways into the dramatic arts came via Shakespeare’s work. Which explains why he was tapped to host an episode of PBS’ new documentary series Shakespeare Uncovered; Irons’ instalment, airing February 1, will cover Henry IV and Henry V. In conjunction with the show, Irons spoke to The A.V. Club during the Television Critics Association winter press tour about how he came to participate in the program, which of the villains he’s played is the most Shakespearean, and how his training prepared him to play a bar rag on The Simpsons.
The A.V. Club: What was the initial pitch when you were approached about Shakespeare Uncovered?
Jeremy Irons: Well, it was that we were going to make a documentary about the plays, about the locations, where they were written, the historical occurrences around the period, and where Shakespeare diverges and where he follows history, and why. They said to me, “We’ll do it all in four days for you. Do you want to do it?” And I had the time, and I thought it was a very interesting idea. Because anything that opens up Shakespeare to an audience is good. You know, he has a lot of disadvantages. But he’s often taught badly, and people haven’t seen great productions, so they sort of think, “Mmm, I don’t think so. I think that’s a bit heavy.” So anything that can make people realize that he’s a fantastic playwright, a fantastic story-writer, and open it up for them in their minds… well, it must be a good thing.
AVC: Did you have carte blanche to select which plays you wanted to tackle for your episode, or did they say, “Hamlet’s off the table—David Tennant gets first pick because he used to host Masterpiece—but anything else is up for grabs”?
JI: [Laughs.] No, I was doing Henry IV at the time [for BBC2’s The Hollow Crown], so they thought it would be interesting if I did the one that included the two plays that I was doing.
AVC: What was your first introduction to Shakespeare?
JI: I think it was The Winter’s Tale… Well, no, no, no, it wasn’t. I’ll tell you what it was: It was reading ’round the class in my English lessons at school. And I think perhaps once a week in English, we would choose a bit of a Shakespeare play, and we’ll all take characters, and we’d sit at our desks and read them. But it wasn’t until I began to see productions at Stratford and… I can’t actually remember the first Shakespeare I saw, though I think it might have been the Hollow Crown series, with Alan Howard. Peter Brook’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, I remember seeing. That was pretty early on. And suddenly I realized how theatrical Shakespeare is, how alive, how wonderful it is when it’s opened up by a great director and a great company.
AVC: Was it Shakespeare that made you want to become an actor?
JI: He was one of many. No, I wanted to become an actor because I wanted to become a gypsy. [Laughs.] I wanted to live the gypsy life!
AVC: You mentioned The Winter’s Tale a moment ago. That was the first Shakespeare play you actually performed, correct? At the Old Vic?
JI: The Bristol Old Vic, yeah.
AVC: The Winter’s Tale is one of the lesser-adapted Shakespeare plays when it comes to film and television. Do you have any theories as to why that is?
JI: Hmm. No, I don’t. But I’d actually love to film it. It’d be very interesting to film, because it’s all about two sorts of people. It’s about the really buttoned-up and the very loose people, the people who are always touching, which is like I am. The so-called Bohemian people. [Laughs.] Especially now, in this world where we’re so politically correct, and you’re not allowed to hold the hand of a little girl under the age of 14, and you’re not allowed to do this, you’re not allowed to do that, you’re not allowed to smack your children… You have to be so correct. And you compare that with the ’60s and ’70s and that time, with hippies and free love. And to have those two societies rubbing up against each other, which you have in The Winter’s Tale, it’s interesting.
AVC: Watching your episode of Shakespeare Uncovered offers a reminder of just how many of Shakespeare’s lines have filtered into pop culture, such as Christopher Plummer delivering the “dogs of war” speech in Star Trek VI.
JI: [Laughs.] Yep, yep, yep.
AVC: Do you have a favorite example of Shakespeare being adapted for current tastes in popular culture?
JI: Well, I mean, I saw Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, which was a very interesting way to show the play. Ian McKellen’s Richard III. Again, an interesting film. I suppose you could argue The Lion King, in a way. [Laughs.] We always say that he has entered our language with so many of these colorful phrases that we use in life. I suspect that they were phrases that were being used at that time, which he used in his plays. I’m not sure he necessarily invented them all.
AVC: You mentioned The Lion King, but looking beyond Scar, who would you say is the most Shakespearean villain in your back catalog?
JI: I think Simon in Die Hard With A Vengeance, a man who enjoys creating mayhem and living his own rules. Quite Shakespearean.
AVC: Earlier today, you suggested that you might have a performance of King Lear lurking within you somewhere. Is that something you anticipate letting out anytime soon?
JI: Oh, I don’t know. How soon is soon? [Laughs.] In the next 10 years, let’s say. I’d like to do Iago [in Othello], who is a wonderful character. A smiling villain. I’ve also never done a Don John, in Much Ado [About Nothing], who is a really unhappy man. I’ve always tended to play people who relish playing against the rules.
AVC: Rodrigo Borgia on The Borgias seems to qualify for that category.
JI: Oh yes. He is wonderfully bad, isn’t he? [Laughs.] He’s a man who… well, one of the great things about Shakespeare is that his characters are inconsistent, and that’s something I think makes him a writer above most writers, because inconsistency is what we as people are full of. We maybe don’t see it in ourselves too often, but we are inconsistent. We think one thing one day and something else another day. We act a certain way one day and another way a second day. And Shakespeare knew that. Now, that’s very hard to play on film. It’s very hard to get a writer who will write characters who are inconsistent. They see it as somehow a failure. But when playing the Pontiff, the great thing is, I’ve had time to develop those inconsistencies. The fact that he was no doubt a man of God—maybe his faith wavered sometimes, but he was a man of God, as most people were then—and yet he is able to authorize assassinations and live in a way which we would think, “Well, that’s not very godly.” But then you look at George W. Bush, and you think, “Well, he was also calling himself a man of God,” but he also sanctioned actions around the world—basically in Iran—where thousands of innocent civilians were killed because of his decisions. So we all contain a bit of that.
AVC: Many actors admit to taking certain TV and film projects solely to subsidize their theater work. Has that ever been the case for you?
JI: It’s sort of incidental, really. I mean, you manage a career, you have to pay bills, and… sometimes I have done work to subsidize my life. [Laughs.] And to subsidize other works, yes. Less so now. Now I’m lucky enough to be comfortable enough that I can just choose what I want to do. It sort of doesn’t matter too much what I’m paid for it, and I do what I enjoy doing now. But when I was starting, yes, very much, television would subsidize my theater work.
AVC: In what way did your Shakespearean training prepare you to play a bar rag on The Simpsons?
JI: It taught me the importance of the smallest character, the most insignificant character, who not only has a great history, but who is as involved and as caring and as emotional as the largest character, the most active character. So it taught me not to take the bar rag for granted and to realize that he was, in his soul, Hamlet. How’s that? [Laughs.]
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 Hollow Crown: Henry IV: Part 2, BBC Two, review – from The Telegraph
Review: The Hollow Crown – Henry IV Part 2 – from The Yorker
The Hollow Crown, Henry IV Part Two. B.B.C. Television Review – from LS Media – The Independent Liverpool Student Newspaper