Jeremy Irons – The Arts Desk Interview

Source www.theartsdesk.com

Jeremy Irons: ‘I was never very beautiful’ – interview

In his 70th year the actor looks back on Olivier and Gielgud, on the Oscars and his start at Bristol Old Vic

‘You can get a bit lazy, film acting’: Jeremy Irons as James Tyrone in ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night – Photo by Hugo Glendinning
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In 2016 the Bristol Old Vic turned 250. To blow out the candles, England’s oldest continually running theatre summoned home one of its most splendid alumni. Jeremy Irons – Charles Ryder in Brideshead Revisited, an Oscar winner as Claus von Bülow in Reversal of Fortune, not forgetting the lordly larynx of Scar in The Lion King – arrived at the theatre’s drama school in 1969 and in due course joined the company. The role that called him back was just about the biggest one going: James Tyrone in A Long Day’s Journey into Night.

Eugene O’Neill’s monster play tells of a titanic family implosion in which an actor-manager who has saddled himself with the same part for years cracks up as his wife (played by Bristol by Lesley Manville) succumbs to alcohol addiction. Two years on, Richard Eyre’s production resurfaces at Wyndham’s Theatre in the West End.

This year Irons, who once had a long-lost stint as a children’s TV presenter, turns 70. Does he still feel gratitude for that big break in Brideshead? How was it to act opposite Olivier and Gielgud? Does he mind that a generation of children know him as the voice of an evil Disney lion? Could he have been Bond? Read on for the answers to these and many other questions.

JASPER REES: You returned for the 250th anniversary of the theatre to be in Long Day’s Journey into Night. It’s a mammoth role. What was the draw?

JEREMY IRONS: It’s great to celebrate this iconic play which I saw Olivier do. When I was asked to do it I thought if I do it’ll be a real workout but I need a workout. Richard Eyre asked. I’d quite recently done The Hollow Crown on television. I did Henry IV with Tom Hiddleston playing Hal, Richard was the director, it had been a very happy shoot and I liked him and admired him. And I’d seen his production of Ghosts at Trafalgar with Lesley which I thought was tremendous.

This is a Bristol Old Vic production. What are your memories of training there in 1969?

‘69, was it? Phwoof. Well, very fond. I was a student at the school and there for two years and we watched every production and on first nights a group of us would dress up in our black tie and go down and host the audience in, and for that we were able to watch for free the production. And then after the two years at the school I was one of the five offered a job there and although I can’t remember the first show I did, I spent three years. I started off as an acting ASM which is where you muck about backstage, moving the scenery and making the props. It was really good because what it taught you was the way a theatre works and who’s important. And if you missed that bit of the process you can have the mistaken illusion that it’s the actors who are important. Of course it’s not. The actors are part of a team. And if it isn’t lit right and the stage isn’t designed well, then your work suffers. And I’ve always got great joy now on a film set or in the theatre of that sort of teamwork where we’re all trying to do our best around a particular story, and I learnt that at Bristol.

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(Pictured below: Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville in Long Day’s Journey into Night at Bristol Old Vic, by Hugo Glendinning)

Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville in Long Day's Journey into Night.

I began to learn a bit about acting, not a lot. I loved my time there. Of course when I was there the backstage, everything behind the proscenium arch, was the same age as the auditorium. And it had been built by shipbuilders in 1766, and you could tell. It felt like a ship. All the ropes were like ropes for the sails. And of course immensely dusty. I remember changing one of the sets which we had to do through the night – I was a bit asthmatic at that age and I would get into bed at five in the morning wheezing away. But it taught the respect and the love of the old theatre. Then I remember Harold Wilson coming down on the last night and talked to all the cast as we retired from Bristol and went to Bath for three years or something while they knocked down that backstage. I remember we started a campaign to try to stop it happening and we couldn’t. It was the days when city planners – great theatre designers they thought they were – wanted to create a big backstage area so that shows from the Old Vic could be transferred to London. And they built what is quite honestly a sort of monstrosity. Such a shame because here was an integral period theatre. I remember seeing the wrecking ball going through the wall of my dressing room. I was standing behind the theatre as it swung in and the bricks cascaded down.

Back to Olivier, you have talked about the sense of rivalry that he brought to your scenes when doing Brideshead Revisited. “He never felt that he’d got there and neither will I.” Does that still obtain?

Oh absolutely. In fact I think it was in his first biography that he said you get to the top of a mountain and you think you’re there and you look and there’s another valley and higher mountain. Long Day’s Journey is the high mountain.

How high is it?

It has an immense amount of verbiage. It’s very emotional and yet the character has long scenes where his wife is just going on and on and on in her hallucinatory state and you’re given no clue by the playwright about what you’re doing, what you’re feeling. So you have to design all of that. I find it fascinating because they all talk about each other in the play, they describe each other, and he has quite different colours from how he is perceived by the others. That’s true to form. O’Neill doesn’t judge any of the characters. And I know how people are truly different from how they are perceived. We perceive our father in a particular way but actually his lover would perceive him quite differently and he would be even different from those two perceptions. Also one of the problems with the play is that O’Neill was never produced in his lifetime and he actually never wanted it to be produced because it was so close to him. But anyway his second wife decided to produce it and because he was dead and because he was O’Neill you’re loath to play with it, whereas had it been produced in his life the director would have said, “Shall we cut that bit?” or “What do you mean by that?” We’re giving it a good zip but it’s hard for an old man. And the older you get the harder it is to retain lines.

..Jeremy Irons, The Hollow Crown.

You say you need a workout. Why?

You can get a bit lazy, film acting. You don’t have to play a long phrase of three hours, you don’t have to communicate to an audience, you’re just communicating with a camera. Yes you have to think but you’re thinking in much shorter spans. You’re able to knit little bits together. That’s done, that colour, I can do that colour tomorrow, or whatever. It’s not easy work but I think it’s less of a … I would compare film acting almost to – it’s not a very good analogy – to playing chess. You’re trying to get the game right.

The analogy suggests you’re trying to beat someone.

No. That’s why it’s not a good analogy. Maybe making a patchwork quilt. You’re sewing really nicely round that bit of fabric. Whereas doing something like Long Day’s Journey is like doing a long-distance run without falling over and making it interesting for people to watch.

Do you get nervous?

I hope not. Not if I’m prepared. If I feel unprepared then I do. And what my task is during the rehearsal period is to be so prepared that I sling it and bring with me to the performance what’s happened to me that day, so it has a freshness. But you have to be really on top of it to do that. You can’t be thinking, what’s my next cue?

There must some parts of the profession that get easier.

It’s strange. I always feel like a plumber when I’m approaching a part. I never have a feeling of knowing how to do it. When you are in the process you are “Oh yes I found that easy” so there are things there. But I always feel like a beginner with a new character.

Are you getting better?

I couldn’t say. I don’t know. I really don’t know. I couldn’t judge. I think probably not. I know more, I’ve lived longer, so I have a little bit more to draw on. But my process is the same. A muddled process.

A plumber fixes stuff, often a blockage.

Blockages I know all about. I choose plumber because it’s just completely separate from acting.

A competent technician.

You’re reading too much into my plumber analogy. What I mean is someone who is a layman, a butcher or a newsagent.

This is one of the great plays about an actor. Does something chime with you?

Of course it does. I look to somebody like Kenneth Branagh who I admire enormously or Simon Russell Beale who I admire greatly too. I remember in my 40s talking about wanting to start my own company and I never have. Simon’s played quite a lot of stuff. And he was the young shepherd when I did Leontes in The Winter’s Tale. I’d just done The Mission. I look at those careers and I think, should I have spent more time in the classics? Should I have put back more into English theatre than I have? I could have possibly been an interesting Shakespearean actor and I haven’t done him for a long time and yet in truth I never really had the desire to. I always used to feel, so and so can play that part so much better than me.

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(Pictured: Jeremy Irons and Robert de Niro in The Mission)Jeremy Irons and Robert de Niro in The Mission.

Who would that be?

Depends on the part.

You must have been offered Lear.

I have been and quite honestly at the moment I don’t have the energy. I mean Lear is massive.

If you can do this you can do that.

We’ll see. I always wanted to do a Hamlet that was directed by Harold Pinter because I thought we’d find something quite interesting.

What did he say?

I don’t think I ever asked him. I might have mentioned it and he didn’t bite. I don’t know. I have been asked by a director who shall be nameless if I can be her Lear and I just said, “We’ll see. Not today anyway.” And I don’t actually know the play very well. I saw the most wonderful production at the National with Ian Holm which I thought was almost definitive.

Directed by Richard Eyre.

Was it? Oh, I haven’t talked to him about that. I’m not a person who lives with regrets. I’ve made my bed and I’m very happy and I sleep well in it at night. Things could have gone a different way. Would I have been happier or not? I don’t know. I look back at my life not with satisfaction because I’m never satisfied with what I do, but I’ve been very lucky. I’ve done a lot of disparate things, some of which have given me great joy at the time. And of course I don’t know what I’ll do. My appetite is not to work as hard as I wanted to when I was in my 30s and 40s.

How long can you not work for?

If I knew for instance that I had a job that I really wanted to do in a year’s time, very happy not working for a year. I think the thing that disturbs me a little bit is – not that it often happens, fortunately – having nothing coming up. I like to know my time is limited and then I’ll plan well within that time.

Earlier you said that others see us differently from the way we see ourselves. How do you think my profession has seen you? Have you recognised yourself in interviews?Jeremy Irons, High-Rise

Sometimes. I’m very wary of your profession because they sometimes hang me out to dry. I’ve become fairly hard-skinned about that. I think sometimes journalists come with an agenda. They come with their story and hope that what you say will fit into that story and if it doesn’t quite… we know what writing can do. So I would say I am wary. I’m often my own worst enemy because I love flying kites and I’ve realised now you can’t do that. Wrong place.

Does High-Rise (pictured above) feel it’s saying something about the state we’re in now?

You’ll get a better feeling of that seeing it fresh than I will. He makes it very Thatcherite and 1980s. I think he could have made it present-day. Does it have reverberations for today? I suppose. I think the film is better than the book but I didn’t much like the book, although I’m a great admirer of Ballard and turned down the opportunity to play in Crash, which I’ve always rather regretted. Not seriously because I don’t regret anything seriously. So I can’t really answer that question.

Would Tom Hiddleston make a good Bond?

I think he’d be a wonderful James Bond. He’s a fairly conventional James Bond but he has the style, the wit, the looks and the physique.

Would you have fancied it, once upon a time?

I once had a meeting about it..

Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman

Who rejected whom?

Neither of us rejected either really. It was a time when Roger Moore was saying he wasn’t going to do any more and I think he was probably doing it to up his fee. I was making The French Lieutenant’s Woman. Cubby Broccoli came down. We had a meeting in Lyme Regis and I wasn’t actually very interested because perhaps wrongly I thought it’s such an iconic role I would find it hard to get away from it. Doesn’t seem to have affected Sean [Connery] at all. I think it maybe has affected Pierce [Brosnan] a little. Don’t think it’ll affect Daniel [Craig]. I don’t know. I think it hangs round your neck a bit. (Pictured: Jeremy Irons and Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman)

Have there been roles that have hung round your neck?

Not uncomfortably so. I mean Brideshead has hung round my neck like a necklace. I’ve always loved it. I’m very proud that it has legs, that it’s still played on various channels and doesn’t seem to have aged. I think it’s good work on everybody’s part and it was certainly a wonderful experience doing it.

Is it true you get pissed off when they mention your contribution to The Lion King?

[Laughs] It’s not been a millstone round my neck at all. That’s the thing. Things you’re successful in, they’re there, they’re colour. If you’re hugely successful in them that’s a big colour.

What’s it like watching yourself getting older?

I was never very beautiful. I always had a bit of an odd face and I still have an odd face. It’s just different. I don’t really mind how I look. The only thing I mind about is how much the character is communicating to me through that body, through that face. It’s faintly curious to see me young.Jeremy Irons, Brideshead Revisited

Have you ever seen Brideshead?

Since it went out? No.

You’ve tended to play quite well-to-do characters. The poshest person in Batman vs Superman, for example.

I know why. I sound like I sound. I’m tall and slim. A huge part of what we present is our physique and the way we sound and if somebody wanted me to play a five foot two Geordie who was 34 they wouldn’t come to me. That’s the nature of the business.

Do you regret you haven’t been cast as the odd oik and spiv?

I’d love to do that. Diversity is what I’ve always tried to get. But I’ve had what I’ve had. I try and muscle sideways from people’s perceptions but it’s not easy.

Olivier was rivalrous in his 70s. How do you feel you measure against him now you’re doing this role?

Oh, way down. Way down. I remember reading his biography and there’s a list at the end of chapter two or four of all the roles he plays and it takes up about a page and at the bottom it said he did this work by the time he was 27. It was six times the amount of work I’ve ever done.

But that was then.

I know but of course that develops a more rounded, a more talented actor than I could ever become. He was a different sort of actor than me. He was more of a showman I think than me. But he was for me iconic, as Gielgud and Ralph Richardson and Scofield were.

You had scenes with both of them in Brideshead. They weren’t close with each other.

No.

Could I ask you to compare acting with them?

I spent more time with John because he was around for longer. I remember going to dinners with him and I’d just read his autobiography and he would tell these wickedly funny stories at dinner and I would say, “Why isn’t that in your autobiography?” And he would say, “I couldn’t write that, dear. I couldn’t possibly. Upset too many people.” A shame of course because that’s what an autobiography should be full of. But Larry I remember was not well. We had this big death scene and he was sleeping in the next room in Castle Howard to the room we were filming in. I just had to kneel at the end of the bed and watch him make the sign of the cross before his death and knew that he’d come back to the Catholic church and this was an important part of the story. And Charles [Sturridge, the director] came to me and said, “‘Listen, I don’t want to get Larry up too early. Would you do your bit at the foot of the bed first?” And I said, “Charles, no. I have to react and feel to what he does. I can’t act and feel to something I imagine he’s going to do. You’ve got to get him.” So he did and Larry came in and got into bed and said, “Gather you can’t do it without me, dear boy.” I said, “You’re dead right, sir.” I just know that I feel like a child at the foot of a mountain compared with what I saw him do.

Was Gielgud more generous?

No, I have to say they were both very kind and considerate and well mannered and well behaved. Gielgud was struggling with continuity – he was eating fish, I remember – and the way they were shooting it he had to match from various angles and when you’re eating fish and you’ve got bones and all that, it was really hard, and speak. And I saw him struggling and I thought, God I’d be struggling too. I asked him about one line. I said, “Sir John, how would you say this?” Because I felt I wasn’t getting it right. And he [makes a noise of saying a line]. So I went outside while they were re-lighting and sat in the corridor going, doesn’t sound right at all to me. And of course you realise that what works for one actor doesn’t work for another. But he was lovely. You really have to do a theatre run with an actor to really get to know them. And then at that point they’d both had their fingers slightly burned by the Joe Orton generation when everything was new and acting was kitchen sink now. I think they felt perhaps their advice was not welcome, which I really regret, because I think acting should be passed on.

Do you make an effort to do it yourself?

When asked, but you’re not often asked. And you have to be very careful because people are very protective of their own work and what they’re doing and I’m not very politic. I normally go through the director and do it that way if there’s something I feel very strongly about. But when it’s somebody my age talking to somebody younger, they feel they’re being told. Their perception of that actor is he knows how to do it. Now, you don’t feel that way as an actor. You’re just exploring in the same way that a young person is exploring. You suggest. You say, “You could try that but you don’t have to, it might not work.” You have to really be careful, because they think you’re wise and you know how to do it, and course you’re not and you don’t. So it’s very difficult. Even as a director. I watch Richard Eyre and he’s wonderful the way he doesn’t impose. He’ll give a bit of a nudge in a certain direction but very very carefully. Howard Davies used to say about me that I’m a fundamentalist. He said, “You want it changed now, you want it different now. You’ve got to wait. Performances, plays – they ferment. Some people ferment quicker than others and you’ve got to let it happen and not get impatient.” Great lesson for me.Jeremy Irons, Reversal of Fortune

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Is there ever a sense of self-loathing at being someone who pretends to be other people for a living?

No because I do believe… I don’t think actors, entertainers, deserve the amount of attention they get. It’s the way of the world. But people love to know about them. Less so now but nevertheless. But I think storytelling, which at base is what we do, is an important component of society. So that we can live our fears, live our fantasies through story, whether it be novels or film. And I’m a bit of that process. but I’ve always been aware that I don’t warrant the coverage that I get.

And if there were none, if the tap were turned off and the world stopped noticing, would you accept that happily?

I would. I’d probably not get employed. That’s the trouble. You know what they’re doing now? If there are two young men who are up for a role – two young women, whatever – and one has 1,000 Twitter followers and one has 100,000, the one with 100,000 will get the role. Nothing to do with…

And how does that make you feel?

I just think it’s madness. Absolute madness. But it’s life. And just as when I started out you didn’t have to sell a show, they didn’t have publicity, billboards, whatever. But even when we went up for Oscars for Reversal of Fortune the Oscars were on the Monday, I flew into New York from London, did Saturday Night Live, flew on to Los Angeles on the Sunday, did one party, and the following day were the Oscars. That was the only campaign. Now they campaign for months! I didn’t do a campaign. (Pictured above: Jeremy Irons as Claus von Bülow in Reversal of Fortune)

Did it change your life, winning that Oscar?

No. I mean it’s lovely. It didn’t harm it. It didn’t change my life as much as being the lead in a film that had huge box office would have changed my life.

And yet you didn’t pursue them when you could.

I was never really offered a great movie. We were going to do Remains of the Day but I don’t think that ever made a lot of money. I was going to play the Tony Hopkins part. Meryl was going to play the part Emma Thompson played and Harold was going to write it. And it all just fell apart. Jeremy Irons in Dead Ringers

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It is sometimes said in some places that the Reversal of Fortune Oscar was an apology for not having won the Oscar before in Dead Ringers? (Pictured above: Irons in Dead Ringers)

I think that came about because I thanked David Cronenberg in my speech.

Do you think it’s an empty story?

No, I don’t because there was a – it even got to me so it must have been quite big because I was over here – a feeling in Los Angeles that it was very wrong that Dead Ringers was not nominated, and it got a lot of attention among the aficionados of the business. And so when Reversal came along the next year I think that groundswell encouraged my producers to say, “We’re going to do an Oscar campaign for you.” Which is a decision they make. You don’t just get nominated for Oscar. There is a campaign to get it. And had Dead Ringers not happened, I wonder whether they would have had that confidence.

  • Long Day’s Journey into Night at Wyndham’s Theatre from 27 January to 7 April
  • Follow Jasper Rees on Twitter @jasperrees

Jeremy Irons Has a Dark Horse for Your Oscar Pool – Vanity Fair

Jeremy Irons Has a Dark Horse for your Oscar Pool

A freewheeling conversation with a refreshingly honest industry vet, who wishes more people were talking about The Man Who Knew Infinity.

December 23, 2016

Awards season is in mid-stride, loping toward our eventual exhaustion with the same six movies. But one man with a mild, mellifluous voice says “not so fast.” Jeremy Irons (whose shelf already holds one Oscar, one Tony, two Golden Globes, three Emmys, and a nomination from the Central Ohio Film Critics Association) feels a sense of urgency about a film released earlier this year, The Man Who Knew Infinity—and if it takes tongues-wagging about a possible best-supporting nod for himself to get people to notice this lower-budget film, then that’s what it’s going to take.

The Man Who Knew Infinity stars Dev Patel as Srinivasa Ramanujan, a largely self-taught mathematical genius who emerged from India in the early 20th century. He eventually made his way to England’s Cambridge University by sending his theorems to professor G.H. Hardy (played by Irons), who originally thought they were a prank. The film is a celebration of learning, of friendship, of cultural exchange, and concludes with a title card explaining how Ramanujan’s “lost notebook” is still being used to study black holes—a concept that didn’t even exist when Ramanujan was still alive.

Vanity Fair was scheduled to speak to Mr. Irons for 20 or 30 minutes, but we ended up chatting for an hour. His voice is just so rich and lovely that you don’t want to hang up.

Vanity Fair: You are a man with many projects, but I appreciate pumping the brakes to say, “Wait, I made a film worth reflecting on.” Do you feel an obligation to do this sometimes?

Jeremy Irons: I do, and especially with this film. It has a great effect on people who see it. I find it a very interesting story, very emotionally told. I’m always saddened because of the economics of the business. I have just been publicizing Assassin’s Creed, which has a great budget to make it and a great budget to sell it. So it’s going to be seen by millions, if not billions. These smaller films, it’s very hard to make them now. I feel justified in giving up time and talking about it again.

Irons, left, on set with director Matthew Brown.

Courtesy of IFC Films.

Do you have a relationship with mathematics?

I started it with this film. I mean, we all had a relationship at school, but I was pathetic. I wanted to be a veterinarian, and if I had a scientific mind I would have been one.

I read G.H. Hardy’s Mathematician’s Apology, which is a slim volume. It’s some of his letters, but also some of his thoughts about pure mathematics. And when I read it I thought, “Aha!” What it is for him, it’s like what poetry is for me, like space exploration, like painting! He discusses how all these equations and theories are out there, waiting to be discovered!

An artist can comprehend this and get inside the head of this man that, one has to say, was probably fairly high on the Asperger’s list. His social skills were appalling. He found it very difficult to look into someone’s eyes, even his own. It is said that if he traveled, to do a lecture, he would hang towels over the mirrors of the hotel room. But he’d been a brilliant student since he was seven. Kids who are geniuses often have social inadequacies. Their minds work differently.

Perhaps that’s why he wasn’t hung up on race or class, and when he met Ramanujan, he just recognized him for his mathematical mind.

The heart of the story is how that admiration and wonder at Ramanujan’s intellect crept into his emotions. When the boy got ill, he was surprised how he felt about another human being, the grief he felt when he went back to India. Hardy writes, “It was the only romantic episode of my life.”

The film makes you think that maybe there are more geniuses out there, and we maybe aren’t developing their minds.

It’s one of the problems of tick-box education. There isn’t a lot of money in it. Geniuses come from all parts of society, some rich, some poor. I wish we had an education system that smelled out those people.

Did you ever have a great mentor?

I don’t think he would have realized it, but Harold Pinter. One time we were having a conversation at lunch, early on in my career. I’d been doing a couple of plays and a film he had written [Betrayal], and I said, “I think I’m going to choose really carefully the work I do in my career, and not chase the money. Just do interesting projects.”

And he gave me a look that said, “Join the club. Go for excellence.” And I’ve retained that look.

You’ve worked in some amazing locations. What’s been the most striking?

Landing in Cartagena [for The Mission] when I was 36 or so, knowing I was going to work with indigenous Indians and the great film star Robert De Niro, and taking my shoes off on the plane. I knew that the Indians weren’t going to be wearing shoes and since I was going to be playing their friend—a Jesuit priest—I took my shoes off and I didn’t put them back on again for five months.

I have a big bit of Boy Scout in me. There was a scene where my character climbed up the Iguazu Falls. [Director Roland Joffé wanted] to do it with stunts, insurance, and all of that. I said, “Where is our producer?,” knowing that David Puttnam had flown to London the day before. I said, “There we are, he won’t know.” So I climbed up the extraordinary waterfall, of course supported by climbers well out of sight. I was very proud of that.

Jesuits are hot in Hollywood right now! Have you seen Silence?

I have not seen Silence yet, but I’ve read a bit about it. But the Jesuits—the thorn in the side of the Pope, is how they are described. The Jesuits are extraordinary people.

My mentor on The Mission was the late Daniel Berrigan. He described his job as “inflating a leaky balloon with faith.” I was the leaky balloon. If I had a difficult scene coming up, I would fast the day before. It really clears the mind.

And I would have a direct communication with God. I would talk to him just like I’m talking with you. I remember before one scene I said to him, “You’ve got to help me, because if I fuck up it will reflect very badly on you!”

Clearly you do a lot of research, but that isn’t always available for some films.

You talk to people. When I played Claus von Bulow [in 1990’s Reversal of Fortune], I talked to experts, read round it, tried to get to the truth of it. I mean, I don’t think I’m particularly Aspergic, but I think all men are, actually, all men have a level of that over women. My wife is always complaining. She says, “When you go to work the rest of the world could disappear as far as you are concerned.” She’s referring to the fact that I don’t call home every day.

You think men are more into that level of research as actors than women are?

No I don’t think as actors, I think men as a breed, as a sex, tend to have the ability to focus in on their work. I mean, after all, traditionally, we’d leave the house at 7 in the morning and get back at 5 or 6 doing something completely different from the family. Whereas women, you know, if they go to work they are forever on the phone to their children, they’re forever on the phone to work out what they are going to eat. They are able to multitask in a way that men can’t. So I think we may be very low on the level, but we’re there.

So you are an actor who prepares, but some don’t do anything. They show up, say their lines, and leave. Does this annoy you?

Not at all. I judge people by results. If they get there, that’s great. The only actors who get up my nose are the ones who don’t realize how high the bar is, how good it would be possible to make a particular scene. And there are many who don’t, and I just want to kick them up the bum and say, “Go off and do something else.”

So how do these people end up sharing a scene with you?

Oh, maybe they look right, maybe the person that casting wanted wasn’t available. Maybe they have a notoriety which is helpful to the film. It doesn’t often happen, but sometimes it’s someone with a great name but not a lot of experience.

There was a stretch in the 1990s where if a movie featured frank depictions of unorthodox sexuality, the role would go to you. Did you ever ask yourself why?

I don’t know. I don’t know. Damage? [Playwright] Josephine [Hart] wanted me to do it. Lolita? [Director] Adrian [Lyne] said he wouldn’t make it without me. David Cronenberg? I guess he thought I could do the twins [1991’s Dead Ringers], and then we got on so well we went on to do the Chinese film [1993’s M. Butterfly] with John Lone.

I think the portrayal of the sexual life was as important as any other life. Our sexual lives are surely 70 percent of what makes us what we are. I remember [making Damage], Louis Malle saying, “How are we going to do this?,” and I said, “We have to do it as accurately as we can as Josephine wrote it.” So . . . I’ll do anything.

I just finished a comedy called An Actor Prepares, where I have to walk out of a shower stark naked and play a scene with my son (Jack Huston) waving my family jewels around. They said, “How will we do that?,” and I said, “We’re gonna do it, that’s the scene!” It’s about a man who doesn’t give a monkey about anything. “For Christ’s sake, I’ll just be naked.”

I’m going to name someone you’ve worked with, and you are going to tell me the first thing that pops in your head that I don’t know about them. First, since we mentioned him already: David Cronenberg [director of Dead Ringers and M. Butterfly].

He looks forward to the end of the day when he drives home from the studio in a very tasty sports car, a Morgan or a Ferrari, often with me, and we have a hell of a drive back home, and we love that.

Toby Jones [co-star in The Man Who Knew Infinity].

Ahhhh, Toby. Toby is like me—he’s a wonderful actor, but spends the last half hour before the shoot panicking that he doesn’t know what he’s supposed to be saying. I’m glad to work with another actor like that because I’m always in a froth. Then the camera turns on and, of course, it’s magical.

Bernardo Bertolucci [director of Stealing Beauty].

Bernardo, the master of the developing shot. We would rehearse them for half a day and then perform them with the cameraman, like a ballet. I was just talking to his wife the other night. I’m not sure he’ll make another film.

Meryl Streep [co-star in The French Lieutenant’s Woman and The House of the Spirits]

She explained to me that the people driving you to work and being kind to you and making sure you have a nice hotel . . . that’s all designed so when the camera turns, you will be A-plus. And you should not be sidelined into thinking it has anything to do with your importance as a person.

Sir Laurence Olivier [co-star in Brideshead Revisited].

He never gave me any advice. Blokes are funny like that. But I remember sitting by the bed when we’re waiting for him to die, and for him to cross himself to show that he’s still a Catholic, which was a very important scene. I remember him lying there, and looking at me to see what I was going to be doing. And I saw the look in his eyes. And I thought, “Yep! It NEVER leaves you! You may be a knight. You may have run the National Theater. You may be our greatest living actor. But inside . . .you are still a lion! And you are looking to make sure this young buck is not going to do anything that will steal the scene from you!!”

Speaking of young bucks: Alden Ehrenreich, whom you worked with in Beautiful Creatures, is on the up right now.

I know, he’s in the Howard Hughes movie!

He’s also going to be young Han Solo.

Well, well, well. I think that’s fantastic. I was really very impressed with Alden. I wasn’t very impressed with the movie, but impressed with Alden. An easy talent. He is primed to have an interesting career. God bless him.

Tom Hiddleston [co-star in High-Rise and The Hollow Crown].

I think he has a fine career ahead of him. A tremendously nice guy with a lot physically going for him. The longer he lives life, the deeper he’ll become as an actor. He’s had quite an easy life ’til now, and as life hits him with its stones and arrows, he’ll deepen as an actor.

Why do you say he’s had an easy life?

Well . . . he went to a great school, and success hit him quite young.

How do you do a scene with him? Don’t you just fall into his eyes?

The thing about working with good actors that the camera likes is that it’s very easy. Working with bad actors is difficult, to stay in the belief system of the scene, when you see someone making wrong decisions. With Tom, it’s a joy.

Lastly, Glenn Close [co-star in Reversal of Fortune, House of the Spirits and the Tony Award–winning play The Real Thing].

Ohhhhhhh. Glenn is a pioneer, a real descendant of those brave people who got into boats and wagons and traveled across the country. A real American woman of the best sort. I love her. I love her toughness, but also her softness. My son just finished two films with her, actually, here in England, so I’ve seen a lot of her lately. And she gets no worse.

When I mentioned Beautiful Creatures, you said you weren’t too impressed with that movie. Actors never say that!

To my detriment, I am too honest about the movies I make. People have a lot of money invested, and you want to be helpful. And my opinions may not be valid. What doesn’t work for me may work for others. I don’t really seek out reviews, but I read them if I come across them. But more than reviews I feel the atmosphere. Assassin’s Creed, which I saw the other day, I think is a fantastic film.

I remember going on about Damage, how it wasn’t the film that I would have made. I love honesty. I am surrounded by people who say, “That was great,” but it wasn’t always great. It was all right.

Jeremy Irons at the Ryedale Festival

Jeremy Irons was the Artist in Residence at the 2016 Ryedale Festival. Jeremy read T.S. Eliot and appeared alongside The Heath Quartet, who performed selections by Beethoven.

Review from The York Press

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A Meeting of Minds: T.S. Eliot and Beethoven’s Late Quartets I
Long Gallery, Castle Howard – 19 July 2016

Jeremy Irons (reader)
Heath Quartet

Beethoven – Quartet no. 12 in E flat (op. 127)
T.S. Eliot – Burnt Norton
Beethoven – Quartet no. 13 in B flat    (op. 130)


A Meeting of Minds: TS Eliot and Beethoven’s Late Quartets II

St Mary’s Church, Birdsall, Malton, North Yorkshire – 20 July 2016

Jeremy Irons (reader)
Heath Quartet

TS. Eliot – East Coker
Beethoven – Quartet no. 14 in C sharp minor (op. 131)


A Meeting of Minds:

T. S. Eliot and Beethovens
Late Quartets III

Church of St Michael le Belfrey, High Petergate, York – 21 July 2016

Jeremy Irons (reader)
Heath Quartet

T. S. Eliot – The Dry Salvages
Beethoven – Quartet no. 15 in A minor (op. 132)


A Meeting of Minds:

T. S. Eliot and Beethoven’s Late Quartets IV

The Saloon, Duncombe Park, Helmsley, York – 23 July 2016

Jeremy Irons (reader)
Heath Quartet

Beethoven – Quartet no. 16 in F major (op. 135)
T. S. Eliot – Little Gidding
Beethoven – Grosse Fuge (op. 133)


Jeremy Irons Photographed by Marella Oppenheim

Marella Oppenheim is a freelance photojournalist.  She worked as an actress for over 30 years, including appearing in Brideshead Revisited with Jeremy Irons. She has remained great friends with him.

Marella is now working on a long term project on ‘Actors Preparing’ and her prints are available for purchase on her website – www.marellaoppenheim.com

Please take the time to visit her website and discover all of her amazing work.

Check back with this post weekly to see an additional image of Jeremy by Marella Oppenheim.

marellaoppenheimdressingroom

Photo by Marella Oppenheim. Taken at the Bristol Old Vic – April 2016.

marellaoppenheim5

Photo by Marella Oppenheim. Taken at the Bristol Old Vic – April 2016.

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Photo by Marella Oppenheim. Taken at the Bristol Old Vic – April 2016.

marellaoppenheim1

Photo by Marella Oppenheim Taken at the Bristol Old Vic – April 2016

 

Jeremy Irons – Daily Mail Interview 28 May 2016

Jeremy Irons says he’d never accept a knighthood because he already has more money and fame than he deserves

He has won every award going, including an Oscar for Best Actor. But there’s one gong that Jeremy Irons doesn’t want – a knighthood.

In an interview with Event magazine today, the star insists he would never accept the top honour. ‘I don’t see the point of it,’ he says. ‘There are so many people who do amazing work which is unheralded and unrecognised. I do what I do because I like doing it. I’m well paid for it. I get far too much adulation compared with what it’s worth.’

The immaculately spoken Irons, 67, rose to fame playing Charles Ryder in the popular ITV period drama Brideshead Revisited, but he pulls no punches with his views on the aristocracy.

He says: ‘I just didn’t fit in. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the manners – there’s a sort of unspoken code among people in that world, which I want to kick at, I want to hit.’ He is also scathing about his last box office hit, Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, in which he played the butler Alfred. Irons calls the film ‘very muddled’.

His new film Race sees him return to a more serious subject. Race tells the story of black US athlete Jesse Owens, who triumphed at the 1936 Olympic Games in Nazi Germany.

The Oscar-winning actor shares his frank views on everything from his latest hit film Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice (‘It was very muddled’) to Brexit (‘My instinct has always been anti-European’) and knighthoods (‘I don’t see the point of it’) 

‘Really, ambition has gone. I look for things that tickle my fancy. You begin to see the end of life on the horizon. You think, “It’s not going on for ever, this. Let’s make the most of what time I have left”,’ said Jeremy Irons

‘Really, ambition has gone. I look for things that tickle my fancy. You begin to see the end of life on the horizon. You think, “It’s not going on for ever, this. Let’s make the most of what time I have left”,’ said Jeremy Irons

‘I don’t like rules,’ says Jeremy Irons with a lazy growl like Scar, the creature he voiced in The Lion King.

The Oscar-winning actor takes a long drag on a hand-rolled cigarette, stares into the middle distance and says he cares less about what people think of him with every passing year.

‘I don’t mind getting older. I’m enjoying not having that raging ambition I’ve had all my life,’ says the 67-year-old, who admits that in the past he trod ‘the very thin line between being a perfectionist and a…’

The word he uses is not suitable for print, but then Irons has a reputation for speaking his mind in spectacular fashion.

He had to apologise for using the f-word on Radio 2 earlier this year and was widely attacked a few years ago for suggesting same-sex marriage could lead to men marrying their sons.

‘I will forever be playing Devil’s Advocate,’ he says, and he’ll do that again today, being surprisingly rude about his latest hit film and sharing his frank views on everything from Brexit (‘My instinct has always been anti-European’) to knighthoods (‘I don’t see the point of it’).

Irons as Avery Brundage in the Jesse Owens biopic Race. ‘He’s a man who knows how to play dirty. He cares about sport over everything else,' he said

Irons as Avery Brundage in the Jesse Owens biopic Race. ‘He’s a man who knows how to play dirty. He cares about sport over everything else,’ he said

Irons is a Hollywood superstar and still a heart-throb with his wolfish, aristocratic looks, but he is also a great serious actor, one of the few to win the triple crown of a Tony for theatre (The Real Thing in 1984), an Oscar on film (Reversal Of Fortune in 1990) and an Emmy for television (Elizabeth I in 2006).

‘I feel sort of slightly retired,’ he says as we sit outside The Orangery café at Kensington Palace, west London.

But he’s got a funny way of showing it. Irons has produced an extraordinary amount of work this year for someone who says his career is over.

He’s about to play yet another of his brittle mavericks, the real-life construction tycoon Avery Brundage, who does a deal with the Nazi high command in Race, a film about Jesse Owens at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

‘He’s a man who knows how to play dirty. He cares about sport over everything else.’

This follows hard on the heels of his highly acclaimed performance as an Oxford professor in The Man Who Knew Infinity, a movie about a maths genius. And Irons has just finished performing Long Day’s Journey Into Night at the Bristol Old Vic, where he trained as a classical actor.

‘It did make me reflect on getting older, but I have those reflections every day. I’m just a bit stiffer.’

We’re only a ten-minute stroll from his London home but Irons has come dressed for the country in posh wellies, black jeans, a heavy, rusty-red fleece and a wax jacket, with the wide brim of a floppy farmer’s hat pulled down over his eyes.

Irons’ wife Sinead Cusack and their youngest son, Max. 'When I met Sinead I thought, there’s a Celt, there’s a wild one. A bit of that in my blood is what we need,' he said

Irons’ wife Sinead Cusack and their youngest son, Max. ‘When I met Sinead I thought, there’s a Celt, there’s a wild one. A bit of that in my blood is what we need,’ he said

It’s a kind of disguise but the elegant prowl, the exquisite manners – with a touch of the arm to ask if I want coffee – and the voice like a lord idly trying to seduce a chambermaid, these are all unmistakably his.

‘Really, ambition has gone,’ he insists. ‘I look for things that tickle my fancy. You begin to see the end of life on the horizon. You think, “It’s not going on for ever, this. Let’s make the most of what time I have left.”’

That gives him the freedom to be entertainingly frank, starting with his most recent film, Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice, in which he played the loyal British butler Alfred. It was popular at the box office but got an absolute kicking from the critics.

‘Deservedly so. I mean it took £800 million, so the kicking didn’t matter but it was sort of overstuffed…’

He lets those words hang in the air, then laughs at the thought of a film described by one critic as the most incoherent blockbuster in years.

‘It was very muddled. I think the next one will be simpler. The script is certainly a lot smaller, it’s more linear.’

There’s no getting out of it now.

‘I’m tied into The Batman at the minute [the next instalment, Justice League Part One, is due next year], which is nice because it’s a bit of income…’

He knows exactly why I’m smiling at this, given that his worth has been estimated at £10 million.

‘Not that I need a bit of income but it’s nice to keep ticking over.’

Irons with Anthony Andrews in Brideshead Revisited, 1981. ‘I just didn’t fit in. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the manners – there’s a sort of unspoken code among people in that world, which I want to kick at,' he said

Irons with Anthony Andrews in Brideshead Revisited, 1981. ‘I just didn’t fit in. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the manners – there’s a sort of unspoken code among people in that world, which I want to kick at,’ he said

His Alfred was the highlight of the movie: not the passive butler of the past but a bodyguard and ally in battle. This turns out to be based on a real-life encounter with an oil billionaire and the men who made up his domestic staff.

‘I had dinner a few times with Paul Getty, who was a neighbour of mine in Oxfordshire.

‘You’d arrive for dinner and there’d be a very nice man to open the gate, a very nice man to park your car, another very nice man to take your coat and another very nice man to give you some champagne. They were all ex-SAS. So the whole place was surrounded by this level of threat, and I thought, “Yeah, that’s Alfred.”

‘If I was Mr and Mrs Wayne and I had a young son I thought could be kidnapped, killed or whatever because of his wealth, I’d make sure his guardian – his tutor, his mate – was somebody pretty capable.’

That’s a typical Irons story, illustrating the company he keeps in high society.

‘Yeah, but I’m not part of that.’

Even when he has dinner with Paul Getty?

‘No! I have dinner with Paul Allen.’

He’s referring to the co-founder of Microsoft, the somewhat reclusive inventor, philanthropist and investor with a wealth approaching $18 billion. That’s not a very persuasive argument for ordinariness.

Avery Brundage stood up for Jesse Owens (played by Stephan James), the black athlete, but may have collaborated with the Nazis on their plans for an imposing embassy in Washington

Avery Brundage stood up for Jesse Owens (played by Stephan James), the black athlete, but may have collaborated with the Nazis on their plans for an imposing embassy in Washington

‘The wonderful thing about being a known quantity is that you get to meet the best people in the world. You may not hang out for long with them but you get to have lunch or dinner or whatever.

‘The first time I did a play on Broadway, in would walk Robert Redford, Paul Newman, Diana Ross, we’d sit and chat and have a cup of tea, and I thought, ‘I’m so ****ing lucky.’

‘The terrible thing is, I could never write a book because I can’t remember what we said.’

Irons likes to see himself as an outsider, ‘a rogue and a vagabond’ who would never accept a knighthood (and actors have won them for less).

‘I don’t see the point of it. There are so many people who do amazing work which is unheralded and unrecognised.

‘I do what I do because I like doing it. I’m well paid for it. I get far too much adulation compared with what it’s worth.

‘Society needs storytellers, but I’ve always thought artists should stir the s***.’

How does he square that with hanging out at Buckingham Palace for a reception for British Oscar winners?

‘The Queen wasn’t there, it was Charlie. I’m not part of that.’

‘That’ means the aristocracy, despite having come to fame as Charles Ryder, who becomes the intimate friend of Lord Sebastian Flyte (played by Anthony Andrews, carrying a teddy bear at all times) in the acclaimed ITV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited.

Irons is the son of an accountant from the Isle of Wight but Brideshead made it very cool to be posh in the early Eighties and he was invited to join those who really were.

Irons as Alfred in Batman v Superman, 2016 which attracted negative reviews but took £800 million. 'The kicking didn’t matter but it was sort of overstuffed… It was very muddled,' he said

Irons as Alfred in Batman v Superman, 2016 which attracted negative reviews but took £800 million. ‘The kicking didn’t matter but it was sort of overstuffed… It was very muddled,’ he said

‘I just didn’t fit in. It wasn’t that I didn’t have the manners – there’s a sort of unspoken code among people in that world, which I want to kick at, I want to hit.’

He almost snarls when he says that and searches for the word to describe their sense of privilege.

‘Unthinking. It’s a terrible generalisation but I just didn’t feel comfortable.’

By then he had already married a second wife, the Irish actress Sinead Cusack in 1978.

‘I am too much of a Scot and an Anglo-Saxon. I need some Celt there.

‘When I met Sinead I thought, there’s a Celt, there’s a wild one. A bit of that in my blood is what we need.’

They split up briefly, early in the marriage, but have been together since, despite rumours on both sides.

Irons was photographed kissing the French actress Patricia Kaas on a Soho street in 2002, after which he said: ‘I’m a very tactile person but it gets me into trouble.’

Gossip writers have also linked him at various times with glamorous younger women, including the heiress Francesca Bortolotto Possati, the Iranian author Maryam Sachs and Emina Ganic, executive director of the Sarajevo Film Festival. So how has he kept his marriage going?

‘Oh! One day at a time, you do it,’ he says, chuckling as he lights up again.

His first big movie role was in The French Lieutenant’s Woman in 1981, but his fame reached new heights when he was the voice of Scar in The Lion King and played the villain in Die Hard With A Vengeance in the mid-Nineties.

His first big movie role was in The French Lieutenant’s Woman in 1981 (opposite Meryl Streep)

His first big movie role was in The French Lieutenant’s Woman in 1981 (opposite Meryl Streep)

His character in Race is another outsider: Avery Brundage, the real-life property speculator who represented the American Olympic Committee at the 1936 Games in Germany.

Brundage stood up for Owens, the black athlete, but may have collaborated with the Nazis on their plans for an imposing embassy in Washington. He certainly cut a deal to leave two Jewish runners out of the final relay race, so as not to offend Hitler.

‘David Puttnam, a neighbour of mine in Ireland, knew Brundage later in life and said: “He was an absolute out-and-out s***.” I said: ‘“Well OK, that’s how you read him.”

‘I’ve never believed in good and bad, black and white, God and the Devil. We make constant choices and try to get it as right as we can, and sometimes we fall over the line.’

Race pulls no punches, comparing racism in America in the Thirties to the Nazi way of thinking.

‘I said to Stephen [Hopkins, the director]: “We must make this with the attitude of the time, because history sweetens everything.”

‘People were talking about racial superiority in every country of the world then, certainly in America.’

The action takes place before the gas chambers.

‘They didn’t know all that was happening in Germany, just as we only know partly what is happening now in Syria and places where people are being murdered.’

Would Jeremy Irons have stood up to the Nazis?

‘It’s impossible to tell. One is surprised by how people work under pressure.’

He was one of Labour’s biggest donors in the days of Tony Blair but is disenchanted with politicians on all sides now, with the EU referendum looming.

‘Elections are like a game show. It’s miserable, crazy.

‘I mean, I agree that the Brexiteers are a slightly suspicious lot – but then anybody who has an instinct to play against the game is very easily suspected. What are their motives?’

Irons with Glenn Close in Reversal Of Fortune, 1990 for which he won an Oscar. 'I don’t have prejudices because I spend my life playing people of completely different ways of thought,' he said

Irons with Glenn Close in Reversal Of Fortune, 1990 for which he won an Oscar.

 ‘I don’t have prejudices because I spend my life playing people of completely different ways of thought,’ he said

Does he have any sympathy with their views?

‘I do, because I don’t like rules. I think we have too many from Brussels. I think it’s very difficult for small businesses, all the red tape which we follow because we’re English. The French I don’t think do.

‘I don’t like the idea of the European Parliament eating up the sort of money it does, just to keep going.

‘And of things being decided quite outside our voting realm. So my instinct has always been non-European.’

However, there is a caveat.

‘The world is in a fairly volatile position. I don’t think it’s the time to break up unions. I think it’s the time to hold them together and try to make them better.’

He’s more European than most of us, living in both England and Ireland.

‘I think it’s the Scotsman in me – or as an actor, because I’ve never known where the next job is coming from – but I’ve always been very cautious and I like to see the money working.

‘So I’ve renovated a few houses and fallen in love with them and kept them.’

He rebuilt Kilcoe Castle in west Cork from a ruin and painted it peach. Didn’t the locals call it an eyesore?

‘That was a storm in a teacup. You only have to go down there and see all the other colours to see that actually mine’s quite natural. It’s often a grey sky there, so you paint your house a bright colour.’

He may be about to let the castle go, though.

‘I wouldn’t be too sad to sell, because as you get older you think, “I don’t need all this stuff.’’’

A far more serious controversy came in 2013 when he said he was worried about the implications of same-sex marriage becoming legal: ‘If I wanted to pass on my estate without death duties I could marry my son.’

Scar, who he voiced for The Lion King, 1994

Scar, who he voiced for The Lion King, 1994

There was outrage at that. He wasn’t misquoted, so did he really mean to say it?

‘Absolutely not. I was just wondering how things would change. You change one thing and there’s a knock-on effect.’

His son Max, who is also an actor, said: ‘I remember thinking, “You don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re thinking through a problem out loud.’’’

That is indeed what Irons says he was doing.

‘I will forever be playing Devil’s Advocate, just because I like a good discussion, and from that I begin to work out what I actually feel.

‘I don’t have prejudices because I spend my life playing people of completely different ways of thought, but I love trying to find out, ‘What do you think? What do I think?’’

For the benefit of the doubt, where does he really stand on same-sex marriage?

‘I think anything that makes people happy should be encouraged.’

He and Sinead have raised two sons: Sam is a photographer.

‘My kids are hard-working and pretty balanced, they haven’t been brought up in a very wealthy environment, it was normal.

‘Privileged, yes, but not flamboyantly wealthy. So I know their values are absolutely right, and if they need a roof over their head and or other help then yes, I’ll do that.’

He’s relaxed about that, as it seems he is about everything. Irons takes out liquorice papers and tobacco and rolls another cigarette, very expertly.

‘I had a very fine doctor for a film check-up, who said: “You’re pretty fit. You’re a smoker. Don’t try and give it up.

‘You live a very pressured life, whatever you’re doing is working. Try and keep it down to 12 a day, if you can.” For me it’s a sort of meditation, it calms me.’

Presumably there are lots of people telling him he should stop?

‘Always have been.’

But he’s not going to stop. He doesn’t like rules. Tell him not to do or say something and he’ll want to do or say it straight away.

Jeremy Irons takes another long drag, grins and says: ‘Well, quite!’

‘Race’ is released on June 3

Read more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/event/article-3611038/Batman-v-Superman-Dawn-Justice-star-Jeremy-Irons-new-life-semi-retired-actor.html#ixzz4AAYoSSfF
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Jeremy Irons – Daily Mail Article 11 March 2016

Original article HERE

‘I’m a rogue and a vagabond’: Hollywood’s brought Jeremy Irons huge riches and homes around the world, but here he tells why he’d never live there

  • Jeremy Irons says that his feet are firmly rooted in England and Ireland 
  • Says that Europeans should consider themselves lucky to live in Europe 
  • Here he explains why he has also deterred his son from Hollywood 

Sitting in the Hollywood hotel where we meet on one of his rare trips to LA, Jeremy Irons is telling me he sometimes works for nothing.

A couple of years ago he was bemoaning the fact that he never gets to make independent British movies to his producer friend Jeremy Thomas, who made the thriller Sexy Beast, and Thomas told him the reason was that he was too expensive.

‘I said, “That’s rubbish, because I’ll actually work for nothing if I want to,”’ recalls Irons. ‘So he sent me a script of a film he was producing, which I liked and which had a fairly young director, and I thought, “Right – I’ll do that one!”’

Despite having earned his fame and fortune in Hollywood Jeremy Irons (pictured in his Irish castle) says he is firmly rooted to England and Ireland and says Europeans are incredibly lucky to be in Europe

Despite having earned his fame and fortune in Hollywood Jeremy Irons (pictured in his Irish castle) says he is firmly rooted to England and Ireland and says Europeans are incredibly lucky to be in Europe

The result is his role as Anthony Royal in High-Rise, a darkly comic dystopian tale based on the 1975 novel of that name by JG Ballard. The film is set in a 50-storey block of flats that segregates the residents floor by floor according to their affluence.

Royal, the architect who designed the block, lives in the penthouse at the top with his wife, played by Keeley Hawes, while new resident Dr Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) lives on the 27th floor. Life seems idyllic until those lower down the food chain revolt and all hell breaks loose.

Jeremy Thomas has been trying to get the film made for 30 years. It was first shown at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival, where it won rave reviews for its style and originality; it’s also been criticised for the same elements, as well as its lashings of sex and violence and its pessimistic outlook on life.

‘Some people love it, some hate it,’ says Irons. ‘But it’s an interesting script and it was interesting to make. That’s good enough for me!’

Jeremy  with his wife Sinead and son Max

It’s 35 years since the young Jeremy Irons, until then best known for playing John the Baptist to David Essex’s Jesus in musical Godspell in 1971, shot to fame: in 1981 he appeared as the idealistic Charles Ryder in the acclaimed TV adaptation of Brideshead Revisited just after the release of his first big film, The French Lieutenant’s Woman, which also starred Meryl Streep.

He went on to make such memorable movies as Dead Ringers, Damage and Lolita.

Now 67, he’s still one of the hardest-working actors in the business, juggling smaller projects he does for pleasure with larger ones, such as this year’s Assassin’s Creed, an action-adventure movie based on the hit video game series, and the much-awaited Batman v Superman: Dawn Of Justice. It’s these crowd-pleasers, he admits, that make the smaller projects possible.

‘I like a mix,’ he says. ‘I’m not going to turn down Batman v Superman when I get the chance, although I’m not a great fan of that sort of film because I don’t get much of a buzz out of special effects. Assassin’s Creed is based on a game, but I think it stands up well as a movie and possibly there’ll be more.

Michael Fassbender, who stars in it, is lovely to work with. And these movies pay well so one can afford to do smaller pictures too.’

He peers through the hotel window at the reliably azure California sky. ‘That’s one reason I don’t live here in Los Angeles,’ he says, ‘because the weather is normally the same.

In England you never know what you’re going to be greeted with as you draw the curtains in the morning, and I love that.’

He certainly looks the quintessential English gentleman today, elegant in an open-necked white shirt under an impeccably cut grey suit, his hair swept theatrically back, a signet ring glinting on his left little finger; quite refreshingly in the land of blinding white gnashers, his teeth are unapologetically yellowed from the cigarettes he says he has no intention of giving up.

‘Nor, he states firmly, does he have any intention of following the current drain of British actors to the Hollywood Hills.

‘I think we Europeans are hugely privileged to be European,’ he says. ‘I mean, I love visiting this city, but my life in England and Ireland is so much more textured than anything I could have here.

‘Just the food, the countryside, the ability to go sailing or riding without any hassle. I think England and Ireland are two of the most wonderful places on the face of the earth.’

 I think England and Ireland are two of the most wonderful places on the face of the earth.

Which is all very well, but what about work opportunities? ‘Aeroplanes are quite quick these days,’ he shrugs. ‘My wife and I did think about moving here once, when we were both doing plays in New York.’

In 1984 and 1985 he was appearing on Broadway in Tom Stoppard’s play The Real Thing, for which he won a Tony award, while his wife Sinead Cusack was receiving a Tony nomination for her Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing.

‘We did think we’d probably get richer if we lived in this country, and maybe have more successful careers. But then I thought, “No, I’d be giving up my roots.” I’m a gardener and know that some plants just do well in a certain place. If you dig them up and plant them in a different corner, they may not do as well. So I thought I’d stay where I was.’

Besides, he adds a little slyly, he’d seen what happened to his Brideshead Revisited co-star Anthony Andrews.

‘When that show finished I stayed in England and didn’t work for a year, then did the film Moonlighting, which was quite successful.

‘My colleague went to Los Angeles and rented a house with his family, and for all the time he was there I think he did four episodes of The Love Boat and that was all. He came home after a year! So I thought, “You know, I think I’m best in Europe.”’

His decision seems to have served him well. He’s reputed to have seven homes dotted around the globe, most notably his Grade II-listed house in Watlington, Oxfordshire, where, according to his son Max, he used to ride around the countryside in a horse and cart, and Kilcoe Castle, in County Cork, which he painted a peach colour, thereby scandalising the locals, and where, he tells me happily, ‘sometimes I don’t hear anything but the wind’.

Jeremy Irons pictured as Charles Ryder, in the ITV adaptation of the novel by Evelyn Waugh

When he fancies a bit of culture he pops up to Dublin where he and Sinead have a home in the exclusive Liberties area. Not bad for the son of an accountant from the Isle of Wight.

‘I live very simply,’ he says. ‘We actors are rogues and vagabonds and when I’m not telling my stories, that is how I live.

‘I sail my boats with people who sail boats, I ride my horses with people who ride horses, and in the evenings I tend to have a bit of company, but I sit at the back of the gathering.

‘I sing my songs, play my fiddle, and I’m just very happy to be out of the focus of the public eye.’

He says he doesn’t really care for possessions – much. ‘Sometimes I look as if I collect things, but I don’t really, I just don’t throw things away. I’m quite loyal to my things, actually. There was a period when I’d buy paintings I loved, but not in any sort of investment way; it was just that every time I did a movie and made some money I’d buy a painting.

‘And then my walls got full and I started buying bits of sculpture, and now I have about 15 pieces, all of them quite romantic. But I’m getting to the age where I begin to think I should start getting rid of some of these things, because I feel I’ve accumulated too much.

 We actors are rogues and vagabonds and when I’m not telling my stories, that is how I live

‘And then I think, “No, I can’t get rid of that one because it reminds me of that time…” But I’m glad my children are now buying their own property because I can hand furniture and pictures on to them.’

Although his marriage to Sinead has been plagued with rumours of infidelity – a subject he’s never keen to discuss publicly, although he did say to me once, ‘I’m a great believer in marriage, it’s a structure that’s hard to get out of and I think it should be that way’ – there’s never been a doubt he’s an affectionate father to sons Sam, 37, a respected photographer, and Max, 30, an actor known for films The Riot Club and Woman In Gold and TV series The White Queen.

He reflects, ‘I suppose there’s nothing more important than your children, even though it’s a rather strange relationship in that they aren’t actually your children at all. They’re people with their own lives, their own souls, their own spirits, who happen to have been growing up in your house.

‘I’m not a particularly hands-on father in that a lot of fathers put huge pressure on their children to become the people they would have liked to have become, and I don’t do that. I remember my elder son once saying to my wife, “Would you and Dad mind if I never became rich and successful?”

‘I said, “What is success? Success is going to bed at the end of the day and sleeping with a clear heart and a clear conscience. That’s the only success we want for you.”’

He does admit, however, that he worries about Max’s choice of career. ‘I don’t think I’d go into the business now if I was Max’s age.

‘It was much easier when I started because we had a wonderful network of repertory theatres which gave actors a huge breeding ground to go and train in.

‘These days young actors don’t have that. They all look for the big TV series where they get made famous very quickly and then spat out after two or three years.

‘One hopes that a child you have brought up has a certain sense, and Max does seem to have it – and he’s also quite good. But it’s still true the business can eat you up, especially if you’re a beautiful young man as Max is. I told him not to be an actor, but he’s enjoying it at the moment, so we’ll see.’

It’s fair to say that ‘beautiful’ would not be the first word you’d attach to Jeremy. The one thing he does have going for him, he agrees ruefully, is that he’s kept his figure. ‘I just have the genes, I think – my mum was very slim, and I have a fast metabolism, as she did. And, of course, I smoke, which reduces my appetite. But mostly, I think, I’m just lucky.’

He pats his grey suit. ‘Strangely enough, I had this made for Damage.’ He smiles, remembering the 1992 erotic drama in which he and Juliette Binoche sizzled on the screen. ‘And it still fits. It’s a little tight in the waist, but it’s all right, I can cope with that.’

He thinks about it, and nods. ‘I’m just fortunate, I think.’

High-Rise is in cinemas nationwide from Friday.

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Jeremy Irons in Cotswold Life Magazine

Jeremy Irons is featured in the August 2015 issue of Cotswold Life magazine, in an article by Katie Jarvis, with photos by Antony Thompson.

A physical copy of the issue can be purchased online HERE for £3.99.  The issue is also available to purchase and download in digital format, for a lower price.

All images and text ©Cotswold Life and Antony Thompson at Thousand Word Media.

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