Jeremy Irons in Greece for Queen Elizabeth II Birthday Celebration

Jeremy Irons was in Athens, Greece, on 15 June 2016, at the residence of the British Ambassador, for a reception celebrating the 90th birthday of HM Queen Elizabeth II.

Jeremy was also there to promote #shakespearelives and he read Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18, as well as recited from the Prologue to Henry V.

Instagram Video by @kikamod of Jeremy reading Sonnet 18

Instagram Video by @dflintisis of Jeremy reciting from the Prologue to Henry V

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Conversation: Uncovering the Bard with Jeremy Irons

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“Shakespeare Uncovered: Henry IV & Henry V with Jeremy Irons” airs Friday at 10 p.m. ET. Check your local listings.

JEFFREY BROWN: Welcome again to Art Beat. I’m Jeffrey Brown. Now on PBS, a series titled “Shakespeare Uncovered,” six films telling the stories behind some of the Bard’s greatest plays. The series is hosted by some pretty hefty talent, including Ethan Hawke, Derek Jacobi, Trevor Nunn and Jeremy Irons, certainly one of our great actors of time, from when many us first met him on “Brideshead Revisited” — also on PBS, by the way — up to currently “The Borgias,” with many film and stage performances in between and many no doubt more on the way. Jeremy Irons joins us now by phone from Los Angeles, and welcome to you.

JEREMY IRONS: Hello, nice to talk to you.

JEFFREY BROWN: Your involvement in this series came about in part because you were playing Henry.

JEREMY IRONS: Yes, the director got in touch with me, Richard Denton, saying, ‘I want to make a documentary about the Henrys — Henry IV, I and II and Henry V.’ I was rather intrigued, a little confused because I had been involved the films of Henry IV, parts one and two, which go out, I think, in September. For me Henry IV was very personal at that time. I was living the character, and the documentary would involve me watching and commenting on other performances that have been recorded in the past.

JEFFREY BROWN: So you were right into this question, because these films on PBS are really about the story behind the story, the characters. What drew you to wanting to play Henry?

JEREMY IRONS: It’s very interesting, because on stage it’s not a part I would have been attracted to, but in order to put them into two hours of film you have do some judicious cutting, and if an experienced director does that — Richard Eyre used to run the National Theatre in London and he’s a very experienced man in Shakespeare. He had done a wonderful cut, which I think advantaged the character of Henry IV, who normally on the stage you aren’t able as an audience to get inside his predicament in quite the same way that you can on film, having the camera coming close to you so that you can communicate in a much more complicated way than you can often on the stage, where you’re often stuck in the back on a throne having to speak a lot more dialog than is in the film, often describing what we can show in the film because we can go onto location as we did.

JEFFREY BROWN: And that character, the father, is a little more distant than the son, right? The son is up front and sort of in our face all the time.

JEREMY IRONS: That’s right. Although it’s about kings and princes, it’s actually quite a domestic play. It’s a play about a young man growing up — Prince Hal — about his friends who are quite a little bit degenerate, Falstaff, a sort of heavy drinking, heavy whoring aristocrat who spends most of his time in the pub with some pretty dissolute friends, and the young man being attracted to that sort of wildness even though he’s going to have to become king when his father dies, and his father watching this with growing depression, with growing upset. The play really is about a young man developing and the relationship with his father and with his friends. In the play you tend to concentrate on Hal and Falstaff, who are the brightest characters. The father, the king, is this sort of boring old chap who mutters on and wants him to be a better son, but you don’t get inside the intricacies of the father’s mind in quite the same way. I think on film it was a much more attractive character for me to play than it would have been on stage.

JEFFREY BROWN: What’s the key to getting right, or where do people often go wrong in trying to capture Shakespeare?

JEREMY IRONS: I think you’ve got to have a facility with the language. You’ve got to know the language and be used to speaking it in such way that it can almost sound colloquial to an audience. You’ve got to get inside that to find out where the character is, what he’s feeling, because that’s what you want to transmit to the audience through the words. I think often the words in a way get in the way, whereas they should enlarge the understanding for the audience, but sometimes they just put them off. I suppose as an actor what you do is you look at the text rather like you might look at crossword clues to find out what those clues tell you about the truth of how the person is feeling. So it probably needs more research, more work before you perform than some writers.

JEFFREY BROWN: One of the things that comes through in that film is that the idea of the theater as a place where people got their history and their news of the day, even though these plays weren’t necessarily all that accurate.

JEREMY IRONS: Yeah, it was the way certainly to transmit ideas, and Shakespeare is often more interested in transmitting emotions and ideas and often domestic situations, relationships, emotional relationships. A classic example is “Antony and Cleopatra,” which is set in Egypt with the great Antony, the great Roman general, the queen of the Nile Cleopatra, but it’s not really about that. It’s about a failing and fading relationship between two older people. That’s really what it’s about, but set against this rather romantic and glorious and historical background. What, of course, the documentaries do is to open up and I hope demystify for the audience these plays, to show them what Shakespeare was drawing on, the situation that existed when the plays were first played, and what people cared about, why he was writing them, where his source material was coming from. I think so many people met Shakespeare at school where maybe it was taught rather badly —

JEFFREY BROWN: Forced on them, right?

JEREMY IRONS: Forced on them, that’s right. And they have a bit of a block about it. And what we hoped that “Shakespeare Uncovered” would do is to remove that block, to open it, to open the windows, let the air into these plays, so that when they came to see them later in the year — when I hope maybe the documentaries will be repeated just to remind people — they would make it far easier for them to become really emotionally involved in the stories.

JEFFREY BROWN: Let me just ask you finally about yourself as an actor. I’m now one of the people following “The Borgias,” which looks like great fun for you.

JEREMY IRONS: People keep telling me that: It looks like great fun for you. I hope that’s not a criticism.

JEFFREY BROWN: Oh, not at all. But I’m wondering how you pick roles nowadays, whether it’s Shakespeare or the pope, the Borgia pope or whatever you are doing now. At this point in your life what sort of grabs you and makes you want to take on a role?

JEREMY IRONS: It’s always a gut feeling of appetite. Shakespeare is somebody I like to return to so often because he’s one of our greatest writers, if not our greatest. The Borgias I was very attracted to because it’s being written and produced by Neil Jordan, who is a filmmaker of note. I find that a lot of the best writing is happening on cable television in America, and many of the films that I would have been making are now very difficult to finance, and a lot of the talent that went into those films is now writing for television. In the old days if you were a film actor, you wouldn’t work on television. Now that’s not so, because actors have a great instinct for good writing and good stories. That’s where we go to work and that was one of the reasons I wanted to work on “The Borgias.” I thought it’s an extraordinary family, this Spanish family who comes to Rome two generations before, a very ambitious man. He becomes pope. Of course pope in those days was much more like a king than a pope, what we now think of as a pope. There were power struggles, there was a very different sort of morality. The more I read about the family and about the man, I thought this is extraordinary, because a lot doesn’t add up. Let’s try and find out how he got the reputation he did, how this family got the reputation it did in history.

JEFFREY BROWN: All right, well the PBS series is titled “Shakespeare Uncovered.” Jeremy Irons, thanks so much for talking to us, nice to talk to you.

Jeremy Irons – The A.V. Club Interview

Read the original interview HERE.

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Jeremy Irons on Shakespeare, The Simpsons, and enjoyable inconsistencies

by Will Harris January 31, 2013

Jeremy Irons’ filmography encompasses everything from Disney to David Cronenberg, plus a 1990 Best Actor Oscar win for Reversal Of Fortune, but his first efforts as an actor were on the stage, and one of his initial entryways into the dramatic arts came via Shakespeare’s work. Which explains why he was tapped to host an episode of PBS’ new documentary series Shakespeare Uncovered; Irons’ instalment, airing February 1, will cover Henry IV and Henry V. In conjunction with the show, Irons spoke to The A.V. Club during the Television Critics Association winter press tour about how he came to participate in the program, which of the villains he’s played is the most Shakespearean, and how his training prepared him to play a bar rag on The Simpsons.

The A.V. Club: What was the initial pitch when you were approached about Shakespeare Uncovered?

Jeremy Irons: Well, it was that we were going to make a documentary about the plays, about the locations, where they were written, the historical occurrences around the period, and where Shakespeare diverges and where he follows history, and why. They said to me, “We’ll do it all in four days for you. Do you want to do it?” And I had the time, and I thought it was a very interesting idea. Because anything that opens up Shakespeare to an audience is good. You know, he has a lot of disadvantages. But he’s often taught badly, and people haven’t seen great productions, so they sort of think, “Mmm, I don’t think so. I think that’s a bit heavy.” So anything that can make people realize that he’s a fantastic playwright, a fantastic story-writer, and open it up for them in their minds… well, it must be a good thing.

AVC: Did you have carte blanche to select which plays you wanted to tackle for your episode, or did they say, “Hamlet’s off the tableDavid Tennant gets first pick because he used to host Masterpiecebut anything else is up for grabs”?

JI: [Laughs.] No, I was doing Henry IV at the time [for BBC2’s The Hollow Crown], so they thought it would be interesting if I did the one that included the two plays that I was doing.

AVC: What was your first introduction to Shakespeare?

JI: I think it was The Winter’s Tale… Well, no, no, no, it wasn’t. I’ll tell you what it was: It was reading ’round the class in my English lessons at school. And I think perhaps once a week in English, we would choose a bit of a Shakespeare play, and we’ll all take characters, and we’d sit at our desks and read them. But it wasn’t until I began to see productions at Stratford and… I can’t actually remember the first Shakespeare I saw, though I think it might have been the Hollow Crown series, with Alan Howard. Peter Brook’s Midsummer Night’s Dream, I remember seeing. That was pretty early on. And suddenly I realized how theatrical Shakespeare is, how alive, how wonderful it is when it’s opened up by a great director and a great company.

AVC: Was it Shakespeare that made you want to become an actor?

JI: He was one of many. No, I wanted to become an actor because I wanted to become a gypsy. [Laughs.] I wanted to live the gypsy life!

AVC: You mentioned The Winter’s Tale a moment ago. That was the first Shakespeare play you actually performed, correct? At the Old Vic?

JI: The Bristol Old Vic, yeah.

AVC: The Winter’s Tale is one of the lesser-adapted Shakespeare plays when it comes to film and television. Do you have any theories as to why that is?

JI: Hmm. No, I don’t. But I’d actually love to film it. It’d be very interesting to film, because it’s all about two sorts of people. It’s about the really buttoned-up and the very loose people, the people who are always touching, which is like I am. The so-called Bohemian people. [Laughs.] Especially now, in this world where we’re so politically correct, and you’re not allowed to hold the hand of a little girl under the age of 14, and you’re not allowed to do this, you’re not allowed to do that, you’re not allowed to smack your children… You have to be so correct. And you compare that with the ’60s and ’70s and that time, with hippies and free love. And to have those two societies rubbing up against each other, which you have in The Winter’s Tale, it’s interesting.

AVC: Watching your episode of Shakespeare Uncovered offers a reminder of just how many of Shakespeare’s lines have filtered into pop culture, such as Christopher Plummer delivering the “dogs of war” speech in Star Trek VI

JI: [Laughs.] Yep, yep, yep.

AVC: Do you have a favorite example of Shakespeare being adapted for current tastes in popular culture?

JI: Well, I mean, I saw Ralph Fiennes’ Coriolanus, which was a very interesting way to show the play. Ian McKellen’s Richard III. Again, an interesting film. I suppose you could argue The Lion King, in a way. [Laughs.] We always say that he has entered our language with so many of these colorful phrases that we use in life. I suspect that they were phrases that were being used at that time, which he used in his plays. I’m not sure he necessarily invented them all.

AVC: You mentioned The Lion King, but looking beyond Scar, who would you say is the most Shakespearean villain in your back catalog?

JI: I think Simon in Die Hard With A Vengeance, a man who enjoys creating mayhem and living his own rules. Quite Shakespearean.

AVC: Earlier today, you suggested that you might have a performance of King Lear lurking within you somewhere. Is that something you anticipate letting out anytime soon?

JI: Oh, I don’t know. How soon is soon? [Laughs.] In the next 10 years, let’s say. I’d like to do Iago [in Othello], who is a wonderful character. A smiling villain. I’ve also never done a Don John, in Much Ado [About Nothing], who is a really unhappy man. I’ve always tended to play people who relish playing against the rules.

AVC: Rodrigo Borgia on The Borgias seems to qualify for that category. 

JI: Oh yes. He is wonderfully bad, isn’t he? [Laughs.] He’s a man who… well, one of the great things about Shakespeare is that his characters are inconsistent, and that’s something I think makes him a writer above most writers, because inconsistency is what we as people are full of. We maybe don’t see it in ourselves too often, but we are inconsistent. We think one thing one day and something else another day. We act a certain way one day and another way a second day. And Shakespeare knew that. Now, that’s very hard to play on film. It’s very hard to get a writer who will write characters who are inconsistent. They see it as somehow a failure. But when playing the Pontiff, the great thing is, I’ve had time to develop those inconsistencies. The fact that he was no doubt a man of God—maybe his faith wavered sometimes, but he was a man of God, as most people were then—and yet he is able to authorize assassinations and live in a way which we would think, “Well, that’s not very godly.” But then you look at George W. Bush, and you think, “Well, he was also calling himself a man of God,” but he also sanctioned actions around the world—basically in Iran—where thousands of innocent civilians were killed because of his decisions. So we all contain a bit of that.

AVC: Many actors admit to taking certain TV and film projects solely to subsidize their theater work. Has that ever been the case for you?

JI: It’s sort of incidental, really. I mean, you manage a career, you have to pay bills, and… sometimes I have done work to subsidize my life. [Laughs.] And to subsidize other works, yes. Less so now. Now I’m lucky enough to be comfortable enough that I can just choose what I want to do. It sort of doesn’t matter too much what I’m paid for it, and I do what I enjoy doing now. But when I was starting, yes, very much, television would subsidize my theater work.

AVC: In what way did your Shakespearean training prepare you to play a bar rag on The Simpsons?

JI: It taught me the importance of the smallest character, the most insignificant character, who not only has a great history, but who is as involved and as caring and as emotional as the largest character, the most active character. So it taught me not to take the bar rag for granted and to realize that he was, in his soul, Hamlet. How’s that? [Laughs.]

Jeremy Irons at the Winter TCA Press Tour for PBS

Actor/host Jeremy Irons of the television show “Shakespeare Uncovered” speaks during the PBS portion of the 2013 Winter Television Critics Association Press Tour at the Langham Huntington Hotel & Spa on January 15, 2013 in Pasadena, California.

Jeremy Irons prefers Shakespeare to ‘Abbey’ – USA Today

Album of HUGE, high-resolution, original photos on the PBS Flickr Page – Shakespeare Uncovered All photos in that set should be credited to Rahoul Ghose/PBS.

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The Hollow Crown – As good as TV Shakespeare can get?

From the

The Hollow Crown: as good as TV Shakespeare can get?

The BBC’s new Shakespeare films, starting this weekend with Richard II, show that the Bard can play as well on TV as in the theatre

During TV conferences and festivals, at least one delegate always argues that Shakespeare, if he were around today, would be writing EastEnders or Holby City. This claim is based on the fact that theatre, at the time Shakespeare’s plays were written, was a mass audience form rather than the relatively elitist entertainment it has become; and also, more subtly, on the contention that the playwright’s fondness for parallel plots and cross-cutting to some extent anticipates screen narrative.

And yet, despite these affinities, Will has always tested the will of TV producers. The BBC TV Shakespeare – a late 1970s attempt to film all 37 plays as an educational tool – became a headline calamity, helping to establish Clive James’s reputation as a critic through his pitiless Observer reviews of shaking scenery and stagey acting. The original production of Much Ado About Nothing (starring Penelope Keith and Michael York) was never transmitted because, according to the minutes of BBC management meetings I have seen, it was considered such a failure.

The original producer, the late Cedric Messina, left the project and Jonathan Miller came in as an emergency replacement. Miller steadied the shipwreck – with productions including John Cleese as a brilliant Petruchio in The Taming of the Shrew – and it’s good to have a permanent record of, for example, Derek Jacobi’s Hamlet. But, in general, the experience cemented the view that Shakespeare is a weapon to be deployed on television only when particular performances called to be immortalised – Laurence Olivier’s King Lear and Ian McKellen’s and Judi Dench’s Macbeths on ITV, Patrick Stewart’s Macbeth by the BBC – or when there is a special occasion, such as BBC licence fee renegotiation or, this summer, as part of the Cultural Olympiad alongside the London Games.

Bringing together four of the Shakesperean English history plays under a group of high-class stage directors, The Hollow Crown begins this weekend on BBC2 and marks a significant advance in the medium’s fight with this writer.

The troubled BBC Complete Shakespeare taught several lessons – that not all of the works merit the attention of the audience; that studio recordings create an uneasy limbo between theatre and TV; that the pace and fluidity of made-for-TV dramas can make stage plays seem slow and staid; and that it is vital to have an overall producer who understands both Shakespeare and film.

The Hollow Crown brings a full set of ticks to this checklist. Present from the start, rather than parachuted in as Jonathan Miller was, Sam Mendes has executive produced the series, while also presiding over another English cultural icon: the new James Bond movies.

And this BBC TV Shakespeare is sensibly restricted to a discrete and particular 9% or so of the collected works. The linked sequence of Richard II (directed by Rupert Goold), Henry IV Parts 1 and 2 (filmed by Sir Richard Eyre) and Henry V (under Thea Sharrock’s direction) tell a sequential story, with recurring characters and so have a structural similarity with the four-part family drama, a staple of TV fiction. In this sense, The Hollow Crown can be seen as a relative of The Tudors, though with significantly better dialogue.

Mendes and his directors have also assimilated the wisdom of TV property shows: what matters in filming Shakspeare is location, location, location. Instead of a studio mediaeval England formed from hardboard, we get actual castles, taverns and forests.

The two productions that I have so far seen – Richard II and the first part of Henry IV – also convincingly show that, rather than being a triumph over limitations, filmed Shakespeare has some advantages over theatrical versions. In the often-bewildering opening scene of Richard II, which begins with a list of characters and their achievements, Goold’s camera can simply close in on the noble being mentioned, easily establishing characters in a way that, in the theatre, would require much fumbling with a programme in the dark.

And, in Henry IV, Eyre employs every trick of cinematic fluidity to match the quick flow of modern screen drama: cross-cutting and dissolving between the three main locations (the court, the rebels, Falstaff’s dens) and turning soliloquies into their natural screen equivalent of voice-overs.

Another benefit of television is the available cast: because it isn’t asking for a three-month run or global tour to make the budget back, The Hollow Crown simultaneously retains a group of actors that even the most famous theatres could only accumulate over several seasons. Theatre-goers have long anticipated Simon Russell Beale’s eventual Falstaff but he gives it here first: cloud-bearded and earthy, a portrait of ambition and intelligence chiselled away by appetite. And, if SRB does play Falstaff in the theatre, it is highly unlikely, for budgetary and logistical reasons, to be in a company that also includes Julie Walters, Lindsay Duncan, David Suchet and David Morrissey.

There remains a basic flaw in the theory that because Shakepeare was a populist writer in his time, he should naturally suit TV now: the mainstream television audience, often made suspicious of classic theatre by education and school theatre outings, would take much persuasion to tune in to these dramas. But, despite that caveat, The Hollow Crown feels as good as TV Shakespeare is going to get.

Radio Times – Kings of Cool

Thank you to scarletthammer on Tumblr for the scans.

Radio Times 30 June -6 July 2012

Kings of Cool – Classic Shakespeare with Britain’s biggest stars

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Telegraph Review – At home with the histories

From artyprettykipple on Tumblr

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