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.

Assassin’s Creed – NY Press Tour

Jeremy Irons and the cast and director of Assassin’s Creed are in New York City to promote the film which hits U.S. cinemas on 21 December 2016.

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Assassin’s Creed: Jeremy Irons on Playing the Villain Alan Rikkin in the Ubisoft Video Game Movie Adaptation – IGN

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Click here for a facebook gallery of photos of Jeremy on Good Morning America – 14 December 2016

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Assassin’s Creed – Official Trailer #3

The third official trailer for Assassin’s Creed has been released.  It features a lot more of Jeremy as Alan Rikkin.

See the film in U.S. cinemas on 21 December 2016 and in UK cinemas on 1 January 2017.

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Jeremy Irons – AOL BUILD for Assassin’s Creed

Jeremy Irons and the director and cast of Assassin’s Creed will participate in an AOL Build Series discussion on December 12, 2016 at 2:45pm EST.

Book tickets HERE.

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Home Is Anywhere Jeremy Irons Drapes His Scarf – New York Times

Home Is Anywhere Jeremy Irons Drapes His Scarf

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Jeremy Irons at his suite in the Lowell Hotel in New York. The actor is on tour to promote his latest movie, “The Man Who Knew Infinity.” Credit An Rong Xu for The New York Times

Jeremy Irons owns a pied-à-terre in London, a house in Oxfordshire and a 15th-century castle in Cork, Ireland, painted a color that complaining neighbors have called pink.

“They got their knickers in a twist about it, but it’s not pink,” Mr. Irons said during a recent stay in New York. “It’s the color of fresh seaweed, and it blends with the sea that surrounds it.”

To judge by his woebegone look, Mr. Irons hasn’t spent much time on that property in the last year. A hectic schedule of movie work and promotion has taken him all over the world, and he was to decamp the next morning for Washington, to preside over a screening at the White House of his latest film, “The Man Who Knew Infinity.”

Considering all the travel on behalf of the movie, in which he plays the Cambridge math professor G. H. Hardy, Mr. Irons ought to have felt uprooted. Not a chance, he said. The actor, 68, makes it his business, his passion, really, to trick out the hotel suite or rented house assigned to him with all the comforts of a caravan. Home, he will tell you, is wherever he happens to be.

“I used to travel with a lot of scarves, which I bought in Hong Kong, Chinese scarves,” he said. “They were wonderfully embroidered. And I’d just drape them over everything.”

His cyclone publicity tour, undertaken in part with Oscar gold in mind, has forced him to pack lightly. At the Lowell Hotel on the Upper East Side, where he talked over bourbon (Eagle Rare) and licorice-flavored cigarettes, he easily made do with the imitation heritage furnishings: damask-covered chairs, cushy divans and a cherry wood desk. Mr. Irons, who seemed to be roughing it in a weathered coat and Spanish boots, looked stately enough, if a little out of place.

So did the guitar propped at the foot of a chair. And Smudge, Mr. Irons’s affable Jack Russell/bichon frisé, who goes wherever Mr. Irons goes. No coy mistress, Smudge sprang from her bed when called into the room to pose for a photograph.

“Sorry, Smudge, sorry for this indignity,” Mr. Irons said. “Chin up; that’s good. Try and look at the gallery. Keep your head up — like that!”

A director manqué, and something of an aesthete, he traded antiques as a youth to put himself through drama school. He still has a mystical attachment to inanimate objects, among them an aged barrel chair he once picked up in Bristol — a commode, in fact, that he covered with a fancy cushion. There is also a prize BMW motorcycle he rides at home, even to rehearsals.

“I talk to it,” he said. “I have to apologize to it when I’ve been away or riding someone else’s bike.”

His spiritual proclivities date from his boyhood on the Isle of Wight, where his father was an accountant. Mr. Irons, a Catholic, believed — still does, in fact — in the power of good works. He once helped run a parish in South London, visiting sick and elderly parishioners, playing the church organ and running the youth club.

There were heady distractions. On evenings off, Mr. Irons cycled to the West End, guitar strapped to his back. “Every now and again, some little bird perched near the street would start talking to you,” he said. His troubadour look was, he discovered, “a wonderful way to attract girls.” Up until then, he recalled, “Girls lived in a dream world in my head.”

At his all-male public school, Mr. Irons played in a rock group called the Four Pillars of Wisdom. The bass player had some success with the female fans, Mr. Irons recalled, gazing fixedly at the carpet. “I, on the other hand, hadn’t even talked to a girl,” he said. “I had no skills at all in that area.”

It’s hard to fathom, given that Mr. Irons has seemingly never let his near-40-year marriage to the Irish actress Sinead Cusack undercut his reputation as a rake, one who has been linked in the tabloids with more than a few leading ladies. But it was an apparently chastened Mr. Irons who told a reporter this year that straying is not good for one’s mental health.

Sure, he enjoys a few vices: “I don’t like rules, and break as many as I can,” he said. “To me, it’s an exciting way to run one’s life.”

As a boy, he once thought of joining the circus. “I wandered round one night to the back of the tents and discovered that most of the circus workers appeared to sleep in booths, sort of four berths to a booth,” he said. “I thought, ‘I’m too middle class for this.’”

The theater seemed a luxury by contrast. “I loved the fact that we could get up at 10 o’clock and we went to bed at 2, so we were out of sync with everybody else,” he said. “I loved the smells, I loved the attitude, I loved the fact that some of my colleagues were quite insecure as people, which made them quite open.”

The bohemian life suits him. He clearly relates to the long-ago time when actors “didn’t have the vote and we could be imprisoned easily. We were disreputable,” he went on, seeming to relish the notion. “We were vagabonds and rogues.”

The rogue in him waxed skeptical about the state of American politics. “I watched all of the debates, and I was enormously depressed,” he said. After criticizing the president-elect, he intercepted a look from his longtime publicist, Sally Fisher, who sat vigilant on a sofa nearby. “She doesn’t want me to talk politics,” he said.

He may like talking issues, but not his inner workings. “I remember going for some therapy a long time ago,” he said. “The therapist, she’d keep asking these questions. I thought: ‘That’s none of your business. I don’t want you tell you that.’ And after about two seconds, she said, ‘I don’t think you’re ready for this.’”

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Jeremy Irons in the Christmas 2016 Issue of SpaLife Magazine

Jeremy Irons is featured in the Christmas 2016 issue of SpaLife Magazine from Bath Spa University.

View the entire magazine at Issuu

[One item in the article is incorrect. Jeremy was not leaving the day after his Investiture as Chancellor to fly to Los Angeles to begin filming Batman. He was flying to Atlanta, Georgia to begin filming An Actor Prepares.]

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Click on the images below for full-sized views:

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Jeremy Irons at the Breakthrough Prize Awards Ceremony

Jeremy Irons was a presenter at the 2017 Breakthrough Prize Awards Ceremony at the NASA Ames Research Center on December 4, 2016 in Mountain View, California.

Jeremy presented the Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics to Jean Bourgain.

Learn more at breakthroughprize.org

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2017 Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Awarded to Stephen J. Elledge, Harry F. Noller, Roeland Nusse, Yoshinori Ohsumi, and Huda Yahya Zoghbi

2017 Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics Awarded to Joseph Polchinski, Andrew Strominger, and Cumrun Vafa

2017 Breakthrough Prize in Mathematics Awarded to Jean Bourgain

New Horizons in Physics Prize awarded to Asimina Arvanitaki, Peter W. Graham, and Surjeet Rajendran; Simone Giombi and Xi Yin; and Frans Pretorius

New Horizons in Mathematics Prize awarded to Mohammad Abouzaid, Hugo Duminil-Copin, and Benjamin Elias and Geordie Williamson

Second Annual, International Breakthrough Junior Challenge Won by Female Students Antonella Masini, 18 (Peru) and Deanna See, 17 (Singapore)

2016 Special Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics, awarded in May to founders and team members of LIGO, awarded to Kip Thorne, Rainer Weiss and family of Ronald Drever

Laureates to be honored at glittering awards gala hosted by Morgan Freeman, with live performance by Alicia Keys and presentations from Daniel Ek (CEO of Spotify), Jeremy Irons, Mark and Scott Kelly, Hiroshi Mikitani (CEO of Rakuten), Sienna Miller, Bryce Dallas Howard, Vin Diesel, Kevin Durant, Dev Patel, Sundar Pichai (CEO of Google), Alex Rodriguez, Will.i.am, Susan Wojcicki (CEO of YouTube) and the founders of the Breakthrough Prize