April 08, 2009
Jeremy Irons Revisits Brideshead
The original 1981 BBC miniseries Brideshead Revisited returns to television on here! TV, and Jeremy Irons — taking a break from starring on Broadway in Impressionism — takes a moment to revisit Brideshead. When Brideshead Revisited first aired on the BBC in 1981, it was truly a pioneering moment in film. Gay cinema had yet to be fully realized as a genre, the AIDS epidemic hadn’t yet ravaged the gay community, and Jeremy Irons wasn’t yet a household name. Brideshead instantly became a classic, and though the relationship between Charles Ryder and Sebastian Flyte didn’t dissolve into an explicit, sexual tryst, audiences read between the lines — and got a good deal more than cinema had offered up in the past. Brideshead returns to television this month on here! TV, and Irons — now not only a household name but an Academy Award– and Tony Award–winning actor — took some time out of his busy schedule starring opposite Joan Allen on Broadway in Impressionism to revisit Brideshead with Advocate.com.
Advocate.com: When Brideshead Revisited first aired, did you have any idea the impact the film would have on its gay audience?
Jeremy Irons: It was not something I especially considered. I hoped it would be enjoyed by everyone. I was most concerned to capture the relationship with Sebastian accurately, believing that [Evelyn] Waugh wrote it to be a close platonic relationship of the type not easily understood by audiences increasingly exposed to relationships that are either gay or straight. It was a pioneering bit of filmmaking at the time. Was there any backlash? No, there was no backlash at all. We were fortunate that it was, it seems, almost universally admired as a series that captured a particular time in English life.
Have you revisited Brideshead since making the film? Brideshead was filmed at Castle Howard in Yorkshire. The house belongs to friends of mine, so from time to time I’m invited back. For some of the time we filmed there I stayed at the house. I do remember one night when I returned late from a night out, and I had been told the alarms had been left off and was asked to turn them on before I went to bed. However, someone must have turned them on before my return, for as I opened the front door all hell broke loose with sirens, bells, and flashing lights. In my slightly inebriated state I could not work out what to do, so as the household began to appear down the stairs I slunk off to my bed. As I dropped off into sleep I heard the police cars and fire engines approaching down the drive, answering the false alarm. There were some long faces at breakfast the next morning!
You’ve never been one to shy away from controversial subject matter — Damage and M. Butterfly come to mind. Why do you think audiences so often equate controversy with sexuality? Controversy is often caused by sexuality, since sex remains still somewhat of a forbidden fruit for many audiences. It is, after all, something most of us keep quite private, and probably rightly so. However, I see no reason to shy away from any subject that film storytelling should discuss. Lolita probably caused the most controversy, but since it is a classic work, and beautifully made, I have no regrets.
You’re back on Broadway, working with Joan Allen in a play about art — and you just wrapped a film with her about the life of Georgia O’Keeffe. Have you two bonded over art, or is it just coincidence? It is pure coincidence that both the O’Keefe film and Impressionism are set around the art world, as it is that in both I play opposite Joan Allen. A happy coincidence since she happens to be one of America’s most interesting actors, and a wonderful person to boot.
What’s next for you? When the run of Impressionism ends I hope to go back to film for the rest of the year. I have a few projects lining up, though with the current economy, which affects film financing as much as anything, I shall be interested to see what makes it through.