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

Jeremy Irons on The View 3 March 2011

Screen caps from Jeremy Irons’s appearance on ABC’s The View from Thursday, March 3, 2011.  Jeremy was interviewed for about seven and a half minutes and discussed The Borgias.

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The Borgias – Cast Photos

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All of The Borgias Trailers

All of The Borgias trailers – all in one place – all with perfect audio and picture quality!

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New Borgias Video with Previously Unseen Clips

The Showtime website has added two new videos which feature previously unreleased clips from “The Borgias”.
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The Borgias – Behind the Scenes and Promotional Photos!

 

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The Borgias – Casting Announcements

Additional casting information for The Borgias:

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Also see The Borgias Cast page at The Borgias Wiki for more photos and details.

SHOWTIME has cast English actress Joanne Whalley as the female lead in its Renaissance crime drama The Borgias.

Whalley will play Vanossa, mother of the Borgia children who were fathered by Rodrigo Borgia (Jeremy Irons) before he became one of history’s most infamous popes. Vanossa once was a courtesan with a disreputable past.

Whalley has played several roles on the small screen, including the title character in the 1994 TV miniseries “Scarlett” and the 2000 TV movie “Jackie Bouvier Kennedy Onassis.”

British actress Holliday Grainger has leapfrogged over star names to take the part of Lucrezia Borgia.

The 21-year-old Mancunian will play opposite Jeremy Irons and Derek Jacobi in the ten-part series The Borgias, which starts shooting in Budapest in July.

Some episodes will be directed by Neil Jordan, who also wrote the screenplay. Years ago, he wanted to make a big-screen version.

Executives for the U.S. cable channel Showtime met with other actresses in Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris and Rome and screen-tested scores of young women – some of them big-name stars – before they decided Holliday was their ‘chosen one’.

Lucrezia is a star-making part. She was supposedly the most vilified woman in history. One Italian historian called her ‘the greatest whore there ever was’ and a femme fatale of the highest order. Others assert she was unfairly pilloried, perhaps for the sins of her father and brothers.

Jeremy Irons will play Lucrezia’s father Rodrigo Borgia (who later became Pope Alexander VI).

Francois Arnaud has been cast as Lucrezia’s brother Cesare Borgia, while Colm Feore will be Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, who later became Pope Julius II.

Actor Sir Derek Jacobi will play Cardinal Orsini in the first two episodes. Jacobi’s previous film credits include Henry V, Gladiator, Gosford Park and The Golden Compass.

Francis Ford Coppola modeled the storyline of Godfather III on the Borgias, and found their ruthlessness and Machiavellian scheming translated perfectly to his 20th-century tale about the Mafia.

Ruta Gedmintas (“The Tudors”) has been cast as Ursula in the Showtime series “The Borgias,” opposite Jeremy Irons. The APA- and United Agents-repped actress will play a young abused wife who falls in love with the Irons character’s son.

Luke Pasqualino, best known as Freddie from Series 3 & 4 of Skins, has also joined The Borgias cast.

Dutch star Lotte Verbeek has been cast in The Borgias.Verbeek will play Giulia Farnese, the young mistress of Rodrigo Borgia (Irons). Farnese was famed for her beauty and several 15th century masters are thought to have used her for inspiration, including Raphael in his portrait “Young Woman With Unicorn.”  Verbeek is currently on set of The Borgias in Budapest. The 28-year-old actress won the best actress prize at Locarno last year for starring turn opposite Stephen Rea in Urszula Antoniak’s “Nothing Personal” and was one of the talents picked as a European Shooting Star at the Berlin Film Festival in February. But Verbeek’s London agent Jeremy Conway told THR he pitched Verbeek on the basis of her striking resemblance to portraits of the real-life Farnese.

EMMANUELLE CHRIQUI TO GUEST STAR IN NEW EPIC DRAMA SERIES, PREMIERING IN SPRING 2011 ON SHOWTIME® LOS ANGELES, CA – (September 22, 2010) – Emmanuelle Chriqui (Entourage) will guest star on the new SHOWTIME drama series THE BORGIAS in three episodes as “Sancia,” the beautiful and seductive Neapolitan princess who marries the Pope’s youngest son Joffre (Aidan Alexander), even though she has her eye on another Borgia brother.  The series is headlined by Academy Award® winner Jeremy Irons and is currently shooting in Budapest for a Spring 2011 premiere.

AIDAN ALEXANDER is from Bournemouth, England and has previously appeared in a Nestle Wholegrain Cereal commercial; the short film The Time Traveller, directed by Tom Cliffe; the short film The Run, directed by Tristan Casey and has appeared in the musical Footprints of Africa at the Lighthouse Theatre in Poole, England. He is represented by Abacus Agency and the Elliott Brown Agency.

THE BORGIAS is a complex, unvarnished portrait of one of history’s most intriguing and infamous dynastic families.  The series begins as the family’s patriarch Rodrigo (Irons), becomes Pope Alexander, propelling him, his three Machiavellian sons Cesare (Francois Arnaud), Juan (David Oakes), Joffre (Aidan Alexander) and his scandalously beautiful daughter, Lucrezia (Holliday Grainger) to become the most powerful and influential family of the Italian Renaissance. Joanne Whalley also stars as Vanossa, the mother of Rodrigo’s children.

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