Credit An Rong Xu for The New York Times
Jeremy Irons owns a pied-à-terre in London, a house in Oxfordshire and a 15th-century castle in Cork, Ireland, painted a color that complaining neighbors have called pink.
“They got their knickers in a twist about it, but it’s not pink,” Mr. Irons said during a recent stay in New York. “It’s the color of fresh seaweed, and it blends with the sea that surrounds it.”
To judge by his woebegone look, Mr. Irons hasn’t spent much time on that property in the last year. A hectic schedule of movie work and promotion has taken him all over the world, and he was to decamp the next morning for Washington, to preside over a screening at the White House of his latest film, “The Man Who Knew Infinity.”
Considering all the travel on behalf of the movie, in which he plays the Cambridge math professor G. H. Hardy, Mr. Irons ought to have felt uprooted. Not a chance, he said. The actor, 68, makes it his business, his passion, really, to trick out the hotel suite or rented house assigned to him with all the comforts of a caravan. Home, he will tell you, is wherever he happens to be.
“I used to travel with a lot of scarves, which I bought in Hong Kong, Chinese scarves,” he said. “They were wonderfully embroidered. And I’d just drape them over everything.”
His cyclone publicity tour, undertaken in part with Oscar gold in mind, has forced him to pack lightly. At the Lowell Hotel on the Upper East Side, where he talked over bourbon (Eagle Rare) and licorice-flavored cigarettes, he easily made do with the imitation heritage furnishings: damask-covered chairs, cushy divans and a cherry wood desk. Mr. Irons, who seemed to be roughing it in a weathered coat and Spanish boots, looked stately enough, if a little out of place.
So did the guitar propped at the foot of a chair. And Smudge, Mr. Irons’s affable Jack Russell/bichon frisé, who goes wherever Mr. Irons goes. No coy mistress, Smudge sprang from her bed when called into the room to pose for a photograph.
“Sorry, Smudge, sorry for this indignity,” Mr. Irons said. “Chin up; that’s good. Try and look at the gallery. Keep your head up — like that!”
A director manqué, and something of an aesthete, he traded antiques as a youth to put himself through drama school. He still has a mystical attachment to inanimate objects, among them an aged barrel chair he once picked up in Bristol — a commode, in fact, that he covered with a fancy cushion. There is also a prize BMW motorcycle he rides at home, even to rehearsals.
“I talk to it,” he said. “I have to apologize to it when I’ve been away or riding someone else’s bike.”
His spiritual proclivities date from his boyhood on the Isle of Wight, where his father was an accountant. Mr. Irons, a Catholic, believed — still does, in fact — in the power of good works. He once helped run a parish in South London, visiting sick and elderly parishioners, playing the church organ and running the youth club.
There were heady distractions. On evenings off, Mr. Irons cycled to the West End, guitar strapped to his back. “Every now and again, some little bird perched near the street would start talking to you,” he said. His troubadour look was, he discovered, “a wonderful way to attract girls.” Up until then, he recalled, “Girls lived in a dream world in my head.”
At his all-male public school, Mr. Irons played in a rock group called the Four Pillars of Wisdom. The bass player had some success with the female fans, Mr. Irons recalled, gazing fixedly at the carpet. “I, on the other hand, hadn’t even talked to a girl,” he said. “I had no skills at all in that area.”
It’s hard to fathom, given that Mr. Irons has seemingly never let his near-40-year marriage to the Irish actress Sinead Cusack undercut his reputation as a rake, one who has been linked in the tabloids with more than a few leading ladies. But it was an apparently chastened Mr. Irons who told a reporter this year that straying is not good for one’s mental health.
Sure, he enjoys a few vices: “I don’t like rules, and break as many as I can,” he said. “To me, it’s an exciting way to run one’s life.”
As a boy, he once thought of joining the circus. “I wandered round one night to the back of the tents and discovered that most of the circus workers appeared to sleep in booths, sort of four berths to a booth,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m too middle class for this.’”
The theater seemed a luxury by contrast. “I loved the fact that we could get up at 10 o’clock and we went to bed at 2, so we were out of sync with everybody else,” he said. “I loved the smells, I loved the attitude, I loved the fact that some of my colleagues were quite insecure as people, which made them quite open.”
The bohemian life suits him. He clearly relates to the long-ago time when actors “didn’t have the vote and we could be imprisoned easily. We were disreputable,” he went on, seeming to relish the notion. “We were vagabonds and rogues.”
The rogue in him waxed skeptical about the state of American politics. “I watched all of the debates, and I was enormously depressed,” he said. After criticizing the president-elect, he intercepted a look from his longtime publicist, Sally Fisher, who sat vigilant on a sofa nearby. “She doesn’t want me to talk politics,” he said.
He may like talking issues, but not his inner workings. “I remember going for some therapy a long time ago,” he said. “The therapist, she’d keep asking these questions. I thought: ‘That’s none of your business. I don’t want you tell you that.’ And after about two seconds, she said, ‘I don’t think you’re ready for this.’”