The Poetic Side of Jeremy Irons – WSJ.com

The Poetic Side of Jeremy Irons

The actor’s latest project: reading the poems of T.S. Eliot.

Nearly a decade ago, actor Jeremy Irons was reading “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot at an event at London’s British Library, and to his surprise, the poet’s widow, Valerie, who was then in her 80s, showed up. After the performance, he spoke to her, and she told him, in words he happily recalls today, “I think you are today’s voice for Eliot.”

Mr. Irons thinks that she may have been reacting to his straightforward approach to the reading. “I read what came to me off the page, without much intellectual study,” he says. Later, when getting ready to perform other poems by Eliot, he experimented with reading the lines with a lot of personality and acting, and then tried reading them with “nothing,” just straight off the page. He stuck with the latter. “I just try to become a voice,” he says.

Across his long film and television career, the 69-year-old actor is especially known for portraying historical or literary figures, such as Claus von Bülow in the 1990 film “Reversal of Fortune,” for which he won an Academy Award, Humbert Humbert in “Lolita” (1997), and Pope Alexander VI in the Showtime series “The Borgias” (2011-2013).

Before the reading in London years ago, Mr. Irons hadn’t read much of Eliot’s poetry. Now he has read all of Eliot’s major works, from “The Hollow Men” to “The Waste Land.” Next month, his audiobook recording “The Poems of T.S. Eliot” will be released, 75 years after the publication of Eliot’s “Four Quartets.”

That set of four poems, about the nature of time and the cycle of life, “is for me the apogee of his work,” Mr. Irons says. They reflect the struggle to get to “the still point of the turning world,” free from living in the past or the future. As Eliot writes, “The inner freedom from the practical desire, / The release from action and suffering, release from the inner / And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded / By a grace of sense…”

Mr. Irons says that he’s tried to get to his own still point by meditating occasionally, but he jokes that he more effectively gets there by smoking a cigarette on his own. “This isn’t getting as deep as I think Eliot is trying to get, but what I do is I smoke and I get out of noisy places and noisy dinners and I stand on the sidewalk or on the terrace,” he says. “I can’t bear the constant prattle of life.”

‘I’ve always thought acting was more about listening than talking,’ says Mr. Irons. Photo: Perou for The Wall Street Journal; Grooming by Tahira

Mr. Irons, who grew up on the Isle of Wight in England, trained as an actor at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. One of his first major parts was in the 1981 television series “Brideshead Revisited,” based on the book by Evelyn Waugh. Since then he has acted in many other films and television shows inspired by books, such as the 2015 dystopian drama “High-Rise,” based on a J.G. Ballard novel. “I think it’s very rare that you get a film that’s better than a book, but you can find some that are almost as good,” Mr. Irons says.

When it comes to doing historical re-enactments, he thinks the characters and plot must reflect “the attitudes and understanding of life that they had at the time,” he says. He thought it was important that “The Borgias” reflected the nature of his character, Pope Alexander VI, who is notorious for his schemes to use the papacy to expand the power of his Borgia line, as well as for his many mistresses.

His new audiobook compiles readings of Eliot’s poetry that he originally did for BBC Radio. He thinks of poems and modern art the same way: Both are best understood emotionally rather than intellectually. “I know a lot of modern art goes over my head because I look at it and go, ‘It doesn’t mean anything to me.’ But sometimes you look at it and you’re just sort of gobsmacked.”

He applies a similar philosophy to acting as to reading poetry. He tries to be careful not to overact. He also aims to listen and react to the other actors in a scene. “I’ve always thought acting was more about listening than talking,” he says. He’s now starring in the London production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” which will travel to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in May and then the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles in June.

In his down time, he and his wife, Sinéad Cusack, spend time at their castle in Ireland. Built in the 15th century and recently restored, it looks like it could be the setting for one of his period pieces. “I like walking, and I think Ireland suits my nature best of all and Los Angeles least of all,” he says. He spends as little time in L.A. as possible. “My instinct is not to live over the shop,” he says.

If he could pick a different era to live in, which would it be? “I think 1900 to 1912 was an extraordinary time,” he says, “and I think between the wars was a mad time and also quite fun to be around.” But he says that he’s satisfied enough with the present. “I’m happy to be healthy and alive when I am.”

Photos by Perou – www.perou.co.uk

Grooming by Tahira – www.beautybytahira.com

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Photo by Perou. Grooming by Tahira.

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Photo by Perou. Grooming by Tahira.

Jeremy Irons Reads ‘Minstrel’s Song’

Jeremy Irons was in attendance at Carols by Candlelight, at St. Luke’s Church in London, in support of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, on Thursday 14 December 2017.

Jeremy read the poem Minstrel’s Song, by Ted Hughes.

Click on the audio player below to listen to Jeremy’s reading:

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Minstrel’s Song by Ted Hughes

(Ted Hughes writes about a minstrel who fell asleep in the stable where Joseph and Mary come to rest.)

I’ve just had an astounding dream as I lay in the straw.
I dreamed a star fell on to the straw beside me
And lay blazing. Then when I looked up
I saw a bull come flying through a sky of fire
And on its shoulders a huge silver woman
Holding the moon. And afterwards there came
A donkey flying through that same burning heaven
And on its shoulders a colossal man
Holding the sun. Suddenly I awoke
And saw a bull and a donkey kneeling in the straw,
And the great moving shadows of a man and a woman—
I say they were a man and a woman but
I dare not say what I think they were. I did not dare to look.
I ran out here into the freezing world
Because I dared not look. Inside that shed.

A star is coming this way along the road.
If I were not standing upright, this would be a dream.
A star the shape of a sword of fire, point-downward,
Is floating along the road. And now it rises.
It is shaking fire on to the roofs and the gardens.
And now it rises above the animal shed
Where I slept ’til the dream woke me. And now
The star is standing over the animal shed.

Complete TS Eliot Read by Jeremy Irons Due for Spring Release

Complete TS Eliot read by Jeremy Irons due for Spring release

Pre-order the CD at Amazon.com

[Text via The T.S. Eliot Society of the United Kingdom]

Faber have now confirmed a release date of April 5th, 2018 for the audio recording of Jeremy Irons reading the Complete Poems of TS Eliot.

TSEliotpoems

These are the readings, as heard on BBC Radio 4 over Christmas 2016/17.

Six programmes gather together the verse: Prufrock and Other Observations; Poems (1920); The Waste Land; The Hollow Men, Ash Wednesday and Ariel Poems; Four Quartets; and Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

The release will coincide with the 75th anniversary of Four Quartets being published in the US as a single volume.

Jeremy Irons will be reading all Four Quartets at a special event at the 92Y in New York, which will also see the presentation of the first Four Quartets Prize, presented by the TS Eliot Foundation in partnership with the Poetry Society of America for a unified sequence of poems or verse narrative.

Keep up to date at http://www.tseliotsociety.uk/

Jeremy Irons Reads TS Eliot

All audio, photos and all text ©BBC

Jeremy Irons reads the complete collection of T.S.Eliot’s English poems, almost in their entirety, across New Year’s Day, 2017, on BBC Radio 4.


Part One – Prufrock and Other Observations

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Martha Kearney talks to award-winning novelist Jeanette Winterson about her first experience of reading T.S.Eliot and the transformative impact of his language on her as a teenager. She explains why the turn of the year is a good time to read Eliot’s work.

Jeremy Irons reads:
The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock
Portrait of a Lady
Preludes
Rhapsody on a Windy Night
Morning at the Window
The ‘Boston Evening Transcript’
Aunt Helen
Cousin Nancy
Mr. Apollinax
Hysteria
Conversation Galante
La Figlia Che Piange

With contribution from Jeanette Winterson


Part Two – Poems (1920)

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Martha Kearney talks to Anthony Julius ( the new Chair of Law and the Arts and University College London) and writer Jeanette Winterson about the enduring power and beauty of the opening lines of Eliot’s poem ‘Gerontion’ – ‘Here I am, an old man in a dry month, Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain.’ and explore references in the poems that have been judged anti-semitic. They consider how we should read these poems now, and what we can learn from Eliot’s ‘ugly’ references’.

Jeremy Irons reads:
Gerontion
Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar
Sweeney Erect
A Cooking Egg
The Hippopotamus
Whispers of Immortality
Mr Eliot’s Sunday Morning Service
Sweeney Among the Nightingales

With contributions from writer Jeanette Winterson and lawyer and academic Anthony Julius


Part Three – The Waste Land

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Martha Kearney explores the resonance and the contemporary appeal of ‘The Waste Land’ with award-winning novelist Jeanette Winterson. Jeanette explains why this poetry of fragments can still speak to us so powerfully, whilst the former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams and the Scots Makar Jackie Kay, both make contributions to explore the emotional and creative impact of the poem.


Part Four – The Hollow Men, Ash Wednesday and Ariel Poems

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Martha Kearney is joined by the acclaimed actress Fiona Shaw, who has performed ‘The Waste Land’, to explore the impact of Eliot’s language on her own life and to consider the imagery and the seductive music of his poems of spiritual struggle.

Jeremy Irons reads:
The Hollow Men
Ash Wednesday
Journey of the Magi
A Song for Simeon
Animula
The Cultivation of Christmas Trees


Part Five – Four Quartets

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Martha Kearney and Rory Stewart MP, ( and author of ‘The Places in Between’ – an account of a six thousand mile trek from Herat to Kabul ) discuss Rory’s unusual encounter with what Eliot regarded as the culmination of his achievement: the sequence he called the ‘Four Quartets’. Rory learned the entire poem whilst walking through Nepal. He explains why he also used language from the poem when he was campaigning in his constituency, and the importance to him of Eliot’s sense that ‘soil’ and roots matter, even in an poem about time and timelessness.

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Jeremy Irons Reads Robert Browning Poetry

The Poetry Hour has added recordings of Jeremy Irons reading Robert Browning’s poems Porphyria’s Lover, My Last Duchess, Memorabilia, A Toccata of Galuppi’s and A Light Woman to their audio archive.

Visit their website for the full text of the poems.

Click on the audio players below to listen:

Porphyria’s Lover

Memorabilia

A Toccata of Galuppi’s

A Light Woman

My Last Duchess

Visit The Poetry Hour’s website to also hear poems recorded by Max Irons and Sinead Cusack.

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Jeremy Irons Recording Entire T.S. Eliot Canon for BBC Radio

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Jeremy Irons recording entire TS Eliot canon, July 2016

Following his acclaimed recordings of The Waste Land, Four Quartets, Prufrock and the Practical Cats,  Jeremy Irons is in the process of recording the remaining TS Eliot poems for BBC Radio 4, in order to complete his readings of the poet’s entire canon.

This was revealed at the TS Eliot Festival 2016 by Jeremy Howe, Commissioning Editor for Drama and Fiction for BBC Radio 4. Howe has been responsible for commissioning Irons’s readings to date, and was discussing the recordings and their qualities before the Festival audience.

Howe also revealed that he is considering a way in which all of the recordings might then be broadcast in chronological sequence, in a major single broadcast event which would reflect Eliot’s development throughout his poetic career.

Jeremy Irons on Empire Film Podcast #203

Jeremy Irons was a guest on the Empire Film Podcast #203.

Jeremy was interviewed in London on Friday 18 March 2016.  He discussed High-Rise, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and The Man Who Knew Infinity.

Jeremy’s portion of the podcast begins at 39:06

Click on the player below to listen:

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