Jeremy Irons Plays Himself – The Village Voice

Jeremy Irons Plays Himself

‘You bring to it what you have as a person,’ the actor says of his approach to Eugene O’Neill’s James Tyrone in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”

by Harry Haun

The voice is the sound of what one critic called “chocolate on gravel,” and it’s served Jeremy Irons superbly for close to four decades. It won him a 1984 Tony for The Real Thing, a 1991 Oscar for Reversal of Fortune, and a 2006 Emmy for Elizabeth I — plus a couple of auxiliary Emmys for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance (1996’s The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century) and Outstanding Narrator (2012’s Big Cat Week). Yet still he falls one award short of a full EGOT sweep. That could change soon. Last year, Irons cleared his throat and went gunning for that elusive Grammy, applying all his mellifluent might to recording the complete works of T.S. Eliot for the BBC. (A four-CD set of this is currently in release, from Faber & Faber.)

Giving voice to two of the last century’s greatest writers is something Irons brings off with effortless aplomb and assurance. Prior to taking on O’Neill’s demons at BAM, he had a night at the 92nd Street Y, doing an hour-long recitation of his favorite Eliot. He didn’t just read the poetry — he acted it, in a natural and uninsistent manner that made it movingly accessible to the rapt, sold-out house.

“The Cats poems are lovely, and The Waste Land is fantastic, and some of the others are great — but, for me, Four Quartets is his arpège, where it all comes together,” Irons says somberly. “It’s where I think people try to get when they meditate. It’s what some Indian gurus have. I think Four Quartets is an attempt, over four poems, to describe what that is and how one gets to it. It’s imperfect, but it contains wonderful ideas which only poetry really can get near. You couldn’t do it in prose, and you really couldn’t do it verbally describing it. It’s like Leonard Cohen’s line, ‘Look for the cracks — that’s where the light gets in.’ I’m a great believer in that. I think that there are many cracks in Four Quartets, but it has a great luminosity as a poem.”

Irons owes his introduction to Eliot to the late Josephine Hart, whose novel Damage was the basis of his 1992 Louis Malle film of the same name with Juliette Binoche. “Josephine did poetry readings and got me to read quite a bit of Eliot. His widow, Valerie Eliot, attended a lot of them, and she told me once afterwards, ‘I think you’re today’s voice of Eliot. Every period has its own Eliot voice, and I think you are today’s. I’d love for you to record as much as you can of him.’ So I recorded it all for the BBC. We put it out all in one day on Radio 4 on the first of January [2017] — eight hours of poetry, and all Eliot.”

He approached these poems much the way he approaches a character. “I’m not very intellectual as a person,” says the man who tosses off “arpège” and “luminosity” like bonbons. “I never studied Eliot till I had to record it, and then I really studied it — but not as an intellectual, just as an instinctive actor. ‘What do those lines mean?’ ‘What feeling was he trying to get across?’ I approached it that way, saying, ‘This has to be between me and him, between Jeremy and Eliot. What does it mean to you, Jeremy? And can I pass that on to the listener?’ I think — with Four Quartets — we did that.”

Irons’s entry level into O’Neill’s autobiographical “play of old sorrow” was a much straighter shot: The career path not taken by James Tyrone, the play’s penny-pinching patriarch, notably parallels his own — a comparison Irons himself invites. Both were seduced by Dame Success, opting for the easy, commercial route instead of one that tightened their grasp on their craft. Rather than challenge himself as an actor with Shakespeare and such, Tyrone took the popular path and endlessly toured in his signature hit, The Count of Monte Cristo. Similarly, when Brideshead Revisited brought Irons forth in 1981, stage took an emphatic back seat to screen. He had started in movies the year before, and now has amassed some ninety credits.

The closest Irons has come to a comparable Count of Monte Cristo cash-cow concession has been butlering for Batman as Alfred Pennyworth. “That role only needs me for a month or two every year, but I do see that compromise, and I can easily understand it — even though the business is not now like it was when Tyrone was an actor. Back then, there were potboilers, and there was Shakespeare. Now, there’s film and TV — not so much Shakespeare — but I do look at actors like Sir Ian McKellen and think, ‘Well, if I’d really worked my socks off, I could have gone for that sort of career and done movies later.’ But I distinctly remember when I was making movies and he wasn’t, he deeply wanted to be.”

Save for a filmed Merchant of Venice in 2004, when he played Antonio to Al Pacino’s Shylock, Irons has all but abandoned the Bard for movies. But, before cinema called, he got off a good lick playing Petruchio (to Zoë Wanamaker’s Kate), and another later, in 1986, playing Richard II. The Melancholy Dane got away, “but I don’t regret it. I would have liked to have done it. There was a time in my career when I was trying to get Harold Pinter to direct it. I think everyone’s got a Hamlet in them, but it’d be lovely to have a really interesting, transcendental viewpoint on the play. And I would have liked to have done Benedict, also. There are a lot of Shakespearean roles that would have been fun, but I would have liked to have done more. You can’t do everything, you know.

“It’s different now. I don’t think — had I not made movies — I could have had the sort of career Olivier had, for instance, because we don’t do that many plays. I remember reading his autobiography — and I think at the end of chapter two there was a list that took a whole page of the plays he’d done. They listed them all, and they said at the end, ‘And he had done this by the time he was 27.’ You couldn’t do that now.”

Laurence Olivier was the first James Tyrone that Irons ever saw, and it’s with him still. “I saw him do it with Constance Cummings when I was in my twenties. He was such a brilliant actor. It was the last production they did at his National Theater, and it was sorta iconic. It remains iconic, certainly, in memory. At the time, it was great.” He continues, “I saw the film with Katie Hepburn and Ralph Richardson — with moderate rapture.” Spencer Tracy turned down Tyrone because he couldn’t see himself as an aging matinee idol. “Maybe he’s right, but I think he would have been absolutely perfect,” Irons counters.

Irons also recalls a speedy, sharply edited edition that Jonathan Miller directed with Jack Lemmon and Bethel Leslie in the mid Eighties, as well as the most recent Broadway revival with Gabriel Byrne and a Tony-winning Jessica Lange. “I think it’s always Mary’s play. Hers is the journey, and the three men are coping with that journey. I think if it’s not her journey, if it’s not her play, then there is something missing.”

These are the performances that filed through Irons’s mind as he was preparing his own James Tyrone. “When I watched the play before I knew I would do it, I always gave into the play. But, once I knew I was going to do it, I thought, ‘I want to see what other people have come up with and see whether I can learn anything from them.’

Now “next door to seventy,” Irons could himself step into the septuagenarian roles played in his Brideshead breakout by a pair of legends — John Gielgud and Olivier. The latter, in particular, was acutely instructive on that project. “It was a great eye-opener for me because I saw [Olivier as a] tiger,” he remembers, “this tiger who was watching while other people rehearse — what they were doing, how he could shine. I thought, ‘Ah, so it never leaves you. You never become secure as an actor. You’re always watching, watching, watching…’ ”

Jeremy Irons Attends Four Quartets Prize Ceremony

Text via Poetry Society of America on Facebook:

On Friday, April 13, 2018, the Poetry Society of America hosted a private reception at the National Arts Club in celebration of the inaugural Four Quartets Prize. The prize is presented by the T.S. Eliot Foundation in partnership with the Poetry Society of America and is launching in the 75th anniversary year of the original publication of Four Quartets in a single volume, in America, in 1943. The award recognizes a unified and complete sequence of poems published in America in a print or online journal, chapbook, or book in 2016 and/or 2017. The judges, Linda Gregerson, Ishion Hutchinson, and Jana Prikryl, selected finalists Geoffrey G. O’Brien for “Experience in Groups” from Experience in Groups (Wave Books); Kathleen Pierce for Vault: a poem (New Michigan Press); and Danez Smith for “summer, somewhere” from Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press).

At the ceremony, Jeremy Irons announced Danez Smith as the winner.

Learn more at poetrysociety.org

All photos by Beowulf Sheehan

Watch the livestream of Jeremy announcing the Four Quartets Prize winner:

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Jeremy Irons Reads ‘Four Quartets’ at 92Y

Jeremy Irons was at the 92nd Street Y, in New York City, on Thursday 12 April 2018, to read T.S. Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’.

[Scroll down for photos]

Text via 92Y.org – “Seventy-five years after the publication of “Four Quartets” — and nearly seventy years since T. S. Eliot himself read from the poem in his Poetry Center debut — Academy Award-winning actor Jeremy Irons returns to 92Y’s stage to present the masterwork in its entirety. This special event coincides with the awarding of the inaugural Four Quartets Prize, presented by the T. S. Eliot Foundation in association with the Poetry Society of America, as well as the CD release of Irons reading all of Eliot’s poems.

Guests in attendance included Sinead Cusack, Glenn Close, Laurence Fishburne, Melissa Errico, Griffin Dunne, Tyne Daly, producer Ed Pressman and his wife Annie, actor Josh Hamilton and his wife playwright Lily Thorne, and Alice Quinn – Executive Director of the Poetry Society of America.

Before he read the ‘Four Quartets’, Jeremy offered some background information on T.S. Eliot and on the themes and locations mentioned in the poems. He also offered some words of wisdom when it comes to listening to poetry and also reading poetry.

Jeremy said he often tells audiences before he reads the poems: “Don’t get worried about the specifics…about the little moments…about the classical allegories or analogies or whatever that he [the poet] pops in. That meant something to him, but if it doesn’t mean anything to you, it isn’t important. Just listen, let it wash over you. Don’t be too specific or pedantic in the way you listen. And maybe something will be transmitted over and above the poem.”

Jeremy mentioned that T.S. Eliot wrote: “A recording of a poem read by its author is no more definitive an interpretation than a recording of a symphony conducted by the composer. A poem, if it’s of any depth and complexity, will have meanings in it concealed from the author. And should be capable of being read in many ways and with a variety of emotional emphases. A good poem, indeed, is one which even the most inexpert reading cannot wholly ruin and which even the most accomplished reading cannot exhaust. Another reader reciting the poem needn’t feel bound to reproduce these rhythms. If he studied the author’s version, he can assure himself he’s departing from it deliberately and not from ignorance.”

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On Friday 13 April 2018, at The National Arts Club at Gramercy Park in New York City, Jeremy was on hand to present the inaugural Four Quartets Prize to poet Danez Smith. Read more about that event from LitHub.

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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 Attends T.S. Eliot Festival at Little Gidding

Jeremy Irons was at Little Gidding Church in Huntingdon, England, on Sunday 9 July 2017.  He read the poem Little Gidding.  

Thank you to Simon Kershaw, Carry Akroyd and the TS Eliot Society for the photos.

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

Source

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 to Pay Homage to T.S. Eliot at Wilton’s Music Hall

From The London Library

The London Library announced today that Jeremy Irons, Simon Russell Beale, Fiona Shaw, and Ben Whishaw will be taking centre stage in the Library’s special celebration of T.S. Eliot on 21st October 2015.

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Taking place at Wilton’s Music Hall – one of the country’s most atmospheric theatres – the single performance promises to be a unique tribute to one of the world’s best known writers.

Philip Spedding, Development Director at The London Library said, “Jeremy Irons, Simon Russell Beale, Fiona Shaw, and Ben Whishaw are intimately associated with some of the most powerful recent performances of Eliot’s work. We are delighted that they are coming together for what promises to be a memorable tribute to a genuinely great writer”.

The evening of readings is looking to include extracts from a range of T.S. Eliot’s work including The Love Song of J. Alfred PrufrockFour QuartetsThe Waste LandThe Hollow Men and Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.

With tickets on sale to the public, alongside an invited audience of special guests, all proceeds from the evening at Wilton’s Music Hall will go to support The London Library, a charity which is one of the world’s largest independent lending libraries and will be celebrating its 175th year in 2016.

Tickets for this special fundraising evening are £55 (£45 for London Library members). The performance will take place at 7.30pm on 21st October at Wilton’s Music Hall, 1 Graces Alley, London E1 8JB. To book, telephone Wilton’s (020 7702 2789) or visit www.wiltons.org.uk.

For further information contact: Julian Lloyd, Head of Communications, The London Library; Julian.lloyd@londonlibrary.co.uk