Just Like You Imagined – NY Magazine

Just Like You Imagined

Jeremy Irons plays himself very well.

Photo by Matt Carr/Getty Images

By Jada Yuan
Published Mar 27, 2011

Read the original article HERE

Jeremy Irons is laughing heartily outside Le Bilboquet on East 63rd Street, surrounded by attentive females. It’s a cold day, but he seems oblivious to the chill as he sips an afternoon Kir Royale and languidly smokes a hand-rolled cigarette. You approach and introduce yourself. He springs up, grabbing both your arms, and stands back to appraise you. At 62, he still possesses a liquid-eyed hotness. He cheek-kisses good-bye his coterie of women (publicists, managers, friends—it’s unclear), lays his hand on your shoulder, and gently guides you through the bistro door, all the while staring deeply into your eyes, so absorbed that he is halfway through the room before he realizes he forgot to put out his cigarette. With apologies, he takes his leave amid a chorus of dismay. “Are you kidding? He can smoke wherever he wants! He’s so cool!” says one entranced male diner, upon whom Irons bestows a two-palmed handshake before stepping outside to carefully deposit his cigarette butt in a trash bin.

Jeremy Irons is just so Jeremy Irons—that is to say, the man of flesh is very much the man of your fantasies. He doesn’t so much occupy space as consume it. Eyes follow him, then stare, rapt. And Irons, something of an attention hog, plays to his audience. He chooses the corner that allows him to face out and survey the room as it surveys him right back.

Irons calls out for a round of “Château Bloomberg” (a.k.a. tap water), “straight from the East River!” He has, he declares, “turned vigorously against the mayor because of the new law [banning] smoking in parks or on the beach, which I think is ludicrous and a terrible bullying of a minority that cannot speak back.” Irons, his teeth a testament to a life of indulgences, believes smokers ought to be protected like “handicapped people and children.” Though he clearly relishes declamation, he is getting notably heated over a law that is very briefly touching his life. The actor spends most of his time in an Oxfordshire village or at Kilcoe, an actual ­fifteenth-century castle (“You’d call it a keep,” he clarifies) on a bay in Ireland. Kilcoe’s ­hundred-foot, lovingly restored towers help to explain a spate of early-aughts parts in “sub–Lord of the Rings stuff” like Dungeons & Dragons. “It’s the shit you do,” he says, to “pay for another six months.”

Irons is in New York to reprise a guest role as a sex addict turned sex therapist on Law & Order: SVU (airing March 30) and to publicize his new Showtime show The Borgias (debuting April 3), a part he took at the behest of his friend Neil Jordan (The Crying Game), who wrote the series and directed the first two episodes. Irons plays Pope Alexander VI, despite having zero resemblance to the real man—an enormous, hook-nosed Spaniard with an insatiable appetite for corruption, food, women, and murdering his enemies. “I Googled Rodrigo Borgia, and he’s a voluptuary,” says the actor. “And I said, ‘I think I’m a bit of an ascetic, really, for that.’ And Neil said, ‘No, no, no. Because it’s all about power and what power does to you and how you deal with it. And you can play all that.’ ”

Yes, powerful and dark, Irons can do. He broke out as a heartthrob in the BBC series Brideshead Revisited, then romanced Meryl Streep in The French Lieutenant’s Woman. But by his forties, he was playing against his good looks, choosing dangerous, even creepy characters—like the twin gynecologists in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers and Claus von Bülow in Reversal of Fortune, for which he won his Oscar.

In his Borgias role, an outsider beset by a Roman aristocracy bent on destroying him, Irons sees parallels with Barack Obama. “Just look at the gossip about your current president being from Africa or being a Muslim,” he says. “Alexander was getting all of that.” On the other hand, Irons thinks Alexander had it easier than another of our presidents. “The medievalists would see the reaction to Clinton, for instance, and the cigars, as being deeply prohibitive. He’s a man! We ought to forgive and say, ‘Yeah, he’s got a lot of testosterone, and he’s great at what he does, and he loves a bit of lady, and there you go.’ We see all these marriages breaking because they’re under intolerable strains, because we expect to get all our happiness from our husband or our wife. Impossible! How can you get that from one other person? I don’t want a saint to be my leader. And maybe his wife after fifteen years won’t be able to provide everything he needs. That’s fine. That’s life.”

Irons’s wife of 33 years, the actress ­Sinéad Cusack, is apparently fine with this; no doubt she’s used to her husband’s decrees—including his disdain for organized religion (she is a practicing Catholic): “I don’t really approve of religion … I’m not quite sure the relevance Christianity has.” Their son Max, 25 (brother to Sam, 32), is currently starring in Red Riding Hood. Irons hasn’t seen the film, but he did catch the Jimmy Kimmel appearance in which Max talked about his eternal embarrassment over his dad’s driving around in a horse and buggy in the town where he grew up. Irons smiles indulgently. The father is resigned to letting the son find his own way. “I hope he never gets out of touch with theater, and I hope he doesn’t get too seduced by the money and all that,” says Irons. “I wish him well. But it’s always, for any parent, a slightly heart-in-the-mouth situation when you see your child climbing a rock face.”

Should The Borgias come back after the first season, the actor is committed to the series for five months out of the year, perhaps for three or four years. He is aware of and on guard against the lusty tendencies of cable TV’s costume dramas: “I know there are some series where there is a bit of history and a bit of fucking and a bit of history and a bit of fucking,” he says. “I think [Showtime] would have liked to have made it even more about that, but I wouldn’t want to be involved in something that’s just as obviously … You know, if you want fucking, there’s a lot of other channels.” (For the record, there is still quite a lot of fucking in The Borgias.)

As he’s telling me about his desire to play King Lear (“The next fifteen years, I’ll be right for it. And the next ten, I’ll be able to remember my lines”), a man approaches to ask if Irons would mind posing with his giggling female companion. The actor lets out an exasperated sigh. It is the first indication that being Jeremy Irons might be a bit of work. Then it’s gone, the Irons of your imagination returns, and it’s impossible to tell if his annoyance was real or feigned. He looks up at the woman, leaning awkwardly over him, and wraps his arm around her waist: “You’re falling over. Come and sit down. Just don’t show it to my wife. Ha. Ha. Pleasure. My ­pleasure.”

Jeremy Irons Wall Street Journal Interview

The Wall Street Journal

ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT
MARCH 25, 2011

Feeling Wrong for the Role, at First
By AMY CHOZICK

Read the original article here – Wall Street Journal Online

Thirty years after he played Charles Ryder in the British miniseries “Brideshead Revisited,” actor Jeremy Irons takes on another TV role that involves Catholicism, opulence and distrust: Rodrigo Borgia, the scheming patriarch and corrupt Pope Alexander VI in Showtime’s “The Borgias,” premiering April 3.

Watch a scene from Showtime’s new drama ‘The Borgias.’ The series stars Jeremy Irons as Pope Alexander VI. Courtesy Showtime.

Mr. Irons, 62, is perhaps best known for film roles including Claus von Bülow in “Reversal of Fortune,” for which he won an Oscar, and Humbert Humbert in “Lolita.” He also starred in TV miniseries like the 2009 Lifetime biopic “Georgia O’Keeffe” with Joan Allen and “Elizabeth I,” with Helen Mirren.

His deep, languid voice is currently in theaters as the narrator of wildlife documentary “The Last Lions.” (He voiced the villain Scar in “The Lion King.”) In “Margin Call,” an upcoming film about the financial crisis, Mr. Irons plays an embattled Wall Street CEO based on Lehman Brothers’ Richard Fuld.

Mr. Irons was reluctant to commit to an ongoing TV series, but the nine-episode cable run and the fact that Irish director Neil Jordan (“The Crying Game”) would write and direct “The Borgias,” convinced him.

The Wall Street Journal: Why is “The Borgias” being touted as a kind of medieval version of “The Godfather”?

Mr. Irons: There’s an element in common in that Don Corleone was an Italian in America. Rodrigo is a Spaniard in Rome. Yes, that element of the manipulator and the immigrant trying to find power and how to hold onto it and influence people as the head of the family. But those parallels don’t run very deep. I think it’s sort of a marketing idea Showtime had. [Mario] Puzo wrote a novel [“The Family”] about the Borgias, of course.

You’ve said you don’t think you’re right for the role of Rodrigo. Why not?

Neil [Jordan] said “Do you want to play Rodrigo Borgia?” I got home and Googled him and I told him “Christ, you don’t want me. You need James Gandolfini.” I could think of four or five actors who would physically be right for the role. I said “I can’t play that guy.” I have an aesthetic quality that is expected from a pope, whereas this guy was a big, sweaty Spaniard with a big appetite—a lot of food, a lot of women.

So why did you change your mind?

Neil said “No, it’s all about power and how power corrupts you and how you manipulate it. No one knows what he really looked like.” So he convinced me.

Even though Rodrigo is an evil megalomaniac, there’s some humor in him. Did you bring that to it?

I think it’s all in Neil’s writing. There’s sort of a natural amusingness about the situation which one doesn’t have to play. You just do what you do and it brushes off on somebody and there’s a smile there.

Speaking of humor, why wasn’t the 1997 film version of “Lolita” you starred in funnier? The book is very funny.

That book is full of irony. I think we were so nervous about the subject when we were making it that we were walking on egg shells. We could have used a lot more irony. The Kubrick version had more irony but it missed a lot of other things.

In addition to “The Borgias,” you’ve recently done a couple of episodes of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.” How did that come about?

Well, “SVU” is a different kettle of fish. I was in Budapest finishing “The Borgias” and they asked and I said I don’t know the show. They sent me an episode with Robin Williams and one with Isabelle Huppert. I said “This is good, it’s fine. It is what it is.” For an actor it feels a little like you’ve just finished reading Proust and you think “I’m going to read a Dick Francis novel and it will take me a day and be great.”

“The Tudors” did very well for Showtime but it got criticism for being soft porn in costumes. Will “The Borgias” have as much sex and nudity?

No. There are a lot of channels doing that. I think we can do better than that. This adaptation, for example, and there have been loads, doesn’t fall into the trap of writing all these stories about incest. In those days whole families used to sleep in the same bed. It’s better to get inside characters, who they are and why they do what they do than to make it sensationalist.

You seem to regularly go from film to TV to theater. Which do you prefer?

It’s just the material. They all have good things about them and they all have bad things about them. Theater is great because you can really stay in one place and work on the character in depth over a long period. It doesn’t pay as much as movies, but is often better written. The problem with TV is people are watching soccer at the same time. I’m really lucky to hop around. I’m a jobbing actor.

How is developing a character for TV different from one for film?

The huge luxury is time. A two-hour movie—and, if you’re lucky, it’s two hours—you can tell a story but it’s hard to develop the inconsistencies of a character and have time to bring all those inconsistencies together.

Are you Catholic?

My wife is. My children are. I don’t belong to clubs.

It may shock a lot of Catholics to see a Pope who behaves like Rodrigo Borgia.

Well, the medieval mind would’ve had no problem with a pope who has a mistress. Why do you expect him to be a God? He’s not a God. He’s a man, with all the weaknesses and failures. [Today] we expect our leaders to be squeaky clean and when they turn out to be normal people with normal desires, we say this person shouldn’t be our leader. Man is just doing his best.

Have you discussed a second season with Showtime?

We have a little. Neil has talked to me about some ideas. It’s hard to get the Pope out of the Vatican. I’m very grateful Showtime was hands-off when we were shooting. They left us alone. I hope that will continue because I don’t think you can make movies or TV series by committee.

Printed in The Wall Street Journal, page D5

Copyright 2011 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Max Irons in Vanity Fair Magazine

Max Irons is featured in the March 2011 issue (No. 607) of Vanity Fair magazine, in the U.S.

Scroll down for a short film by Jason Bell of Max Irons for Vanity Fair.

Click to enlarge the photo:

Max Irons for Vanity Fair by Jason Bell from Jason Bell on Vimeo.

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