BBC – Movies – Interview – Jeremy Irons

Jeremy Irons
Interviewed by Rob Carnevale

Jeremy Irons got his big break playing Charles Ryder in TV mini-series Brideshead Revisited, and has since emerged as one of Britain’s finest character actors. Roles followed in The French Lieutenant’s Woman, The Mission and Dead Ringers, before putting in an Oscar-winning turn as Claus von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune. Since then, he’s provided the voice of Scar in The Lion King, become John McClane’s nemesis in Die Hard With A Vengeance and battled dragons in blockbuster flop Dungeons & Dragons. Far from being put off by the fiery beasts, however, he’s returned to the genre for Eragon, and here explains why it didn’t prove a case of once bitten, twice shy…

You’ve been quoted as saying that you felt it was time for you to do a film like this. Can you elaborate?

I think it’s important for an actor to keep reintroducing himself to a young audience. The kids that this is aimed towards only really know me as the voice of a lion. So, I thought we should put a face to the voice.

I also thought the strength of this story is that it’s written by a 16-year-old about a 16-year-old. It’s how he sees growing up and adolescence. It’s not an aged academic writing for a nephew about what he remembers about life when he was younger. Who can explain why Eragon is such a successful book? I can only assume it’s because kids who read it really feel empathy with what they’re reading. They understand that world. Yes, it’s set it in a fantasy world but actually, an awful lot of it is about this boy growing up and dealing with fathers, mothers, girlfriends, and things he wants to be able to do and can’t, and gently growing into a stage where he has a responsibility in life.

Were you worried about doing a dragon movie again, given that your first one [Dungeons & Dragons] flopped?

No. I always worry about first-time directors but you have to risk things, and I thought this had been better managed than the first movie.

The film looks stunning. I guess one of the upsides of being an actor is being able to make films in locations as spectacular as these. What are the downsides?

Getting to those locations [laughs].

How much did you enjoy the physical challenge of making the film?

I loved the riding. I could spend all day on a horse and be very happy. I was less interested in the fighting and the practising and all that. You know, a big movie is very cumbersome. It takes a long time, so it went on a little bit longer than I’d expected.

What was it that made you want to become an actor in the first place?

The desire to be a gypsy, to not have to tow the line and play by the rules. I seriously thought about the circus, or the fairground, or the theatre. I remember wandering around the circuit of the fairground at Epsom Downs before Derby Day – because I was busking in a pub on the corner of the Downs – and I saw the accommodation, which was a sort of store with four bunks in it, and I thought I couldn’t cope with that for long. I wanted a bit more than that! I then answered an advertisement on the back of The Stage and worked in Canterbury. I liked the life, especially the nocturnal aspect of it – I loved the smells, loved the people. So I thought I wanted to go to drama school and learn how to do it.

Can you tell us a little bit about your next film, Inland Empire?

It’s by David Lynch and it’s a three hour movie. It’s rather like a Jackson Pollock that you stand before and are amazed by but it’s quite difficult to see exactly what it’s about, or what the story is. I play the role of a film director making a film within this film. And David has the habit of throwing you scenes the night before and not telling you what the story is.

Laura Dern, who stars in it, had been working on it for a year and she didn’t even know what it’s about. It’s a completely different way of working – a very light crew, about ten in all including the designer – and very fast shooting. But it was a lot of fun. David is a wonderful man.