Jeremy Irons: Tribeca Shortlist

Jeremy Irons: Tribeca Shortlist

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Watch the films Jeremy has chosen for his Tribeca Shortlist at TribecaShortlist.com

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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.]

Q + LA Jeremy Irons – LA Times Magazine

Q + LA – Jeremy Irons – LA Times Magazine – Read original article here.

Q+LA Jeremy Irons

The actor brings his consummate skills to bear on stage and screens large and small—and still, it’s the velvety voice that resonates  by Robin Sayers

photo by ANDREW MACPHERSON

Of course Jeremy Irons makes his own cigarettes. He keeps in his pocket a two-sided leather pouch. One half holds the tobacco, the other those dark brown rolling papers favored by the Brits. He is unrepentant about what most everyone labels a vice. In March of 1987, despite her admonishments, he famously puffed away while sitting next to Princess Diana at a charity gala on the U.K.’s National No Smoking Day.

He’s chimney-esque. It’s why we’re sitting outside, mid February in New York City, when the forecast calls for rain. But Irons has the most exquisite vocal cords, and perhaps tar and nicotine are the elements of his phonetical magic. To beat a dead horse here: Up close and in person, his pipes are almost unnerving, having an effect not unlike the enveloping THX surround-sound promo that’s played before movies start.

Irons downplays his golden larynx with a proper Englishman’s manners, but everyone else has taken notice. He’s frequently called upon to narrate spoken-word recordings and documentaries, most recently The Last Lions from National Geographic, about the big cats in Botswana. (Familiar sonantal territory—who can forget his terrifying turn as Scar in The Lion King?) This month, that voice—and the body that houses it—stars in The Borgias, Showtime’s new drama series about a Spanish cardinal who ascended to the Papacy by decidedly Machiavellian means. Let’s hear it for the silver-tongued cads.

What drew you to The Borgias?
Neil Jordan, because he’s a director and writer I admire, and I was aware that a lot of the best writing and filming was happening on American television. [Also] the Borgias [1492–1503] is a very interesting period.

How far from history does the show veer?
Not that far. It’s difficult to get accurate historical information from that time, but there was a huge amount of wild stories about [Pope Alexander VI].

Are you anticipating flack from the Catholic Church?
Obviously they’re nervous, but I hope it’ll be rather like if Queen Elizabeth went to see a production of Richard III. She wouldn’t say, “This is absolutely disgraceful.” She’d think it was historical, and I hope the Pope and the Vatican hierarchy take that attitude. It’s partly about how all power corrupts. That hasn’t changed.

What age were you when you thought, I want to make acting my life’s work?
Very late. Something stirred in me when I saw Lawrence of Arabia and saw what Peter O’Toole did in that. I thought, I’d love to be involved in that sort of thing, but I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be.

So, you were born on an island off an island off an island?
The village where I was born wasn’t actually an island, but it was always known as the Isle of Geese, within a harbor on the Isle of Wight [off the southern coast of England]. I learned to sail when I was 10. I have a little boat of my own, and I did part of the round-the-world race—from New Zealand to Australia.

In Reversal of Fortune, we see your Claus von Bülow character on a boat. Do you ever run into him in London?
Sometimes, but I didn’t meet him until about four years after the movie. I knew he wouldn’t tell me anything I didn’t already instinctively know. I couldn’t ask whether he tried to kill his wife. I think I know the answer, and that’s how I played it in the film. He’s funny. We met at a cricket match at Paul Getty’s, who was a mutual friend.

Did you know ahead of time that he’d be there?
No, I arrived, and Paul said, “Claus is in the house looking around the library. I know you’ve never wanted to meet him, and so I won’t mind if you skedaddle off.” And I said, “Well, I’d quite like to meet him now.” I was sitting watching the cricket, and I heard this voice behind me saying, “You see—I’m not fat!” I turned round and said, “I never said you were fat. I used to do interviews, and I said you were bigger than me. Well, you’re a bigger man than me.” He said, “Do you hear from Alan Dershowitz?” and I said, “No, actually. Since the movie I haven’t heard from him.” And so [von Bülow said], “I understand he’s representing Michael Tyson and Leona Helmsley.” I said, “Yeah, I read about it.” [He replied,] “You haven’t been asked to play either of them, have you?” And I said, “I thought Mike Tyson might be beyond my range, but I’d have a crack at Leona.”.

I would think it’d be weird to be face-to-face with someone you’ve portrayed onscreen.
Quite. Originally I didn’t want to do Reversal of Fortune. I thought it was a bit tasteless. [Sunny von Bülow] was in a coma, the kids were still about, and I thought, Why rake over these coals? It won’t be much fun for them. But Glenn [Close] persuaded me. She said, “If you don’t, someone else will.”

What makes you nervous?
I get slightly nervous when I don’t find work that really tests me or when I’m riding horses or I have to change my routine. It gets harder as you get older to learn lines, and sometimes I get nervous I’ll forget them. Not seriously so. A little adrenaline is good, but nerves tend to defeat what you’re trying to do.

When did you first set foot in Los Angeles, and what were your initial impressions?
I had just made The French Lieutenant’s Woman. I stayed at the Chateau [Marmont] and had a meeting with Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner about some project. It was all very nice. Of course, nothing came of anything. A lot of fat is chewed in L.A. I wasn’t seduced. I was a bit excited about meeting famous people for a while, and there are some nice people there, but I knew I never wanted to live over the shop.

Has anyone ever rendered you starstruck?
Yeah. I was doing The Real Thing at the Plymouth [on Broadway]. There was a knock, and a voice said, “Mr. Irons.” I looked, and it was Paul Newman. He blew me away.

When you won the Best Actor Oscar for Reversal of Fortune, you thanked your Dead Ringers director David Cronenberg and said, “Some of you may understand why.” Tell me what you meant by that.
I’d made that film the year before, which got a lot of feedback in Hollywood [with people] saying, “It’s outrageous that you’re not nominated.” I was playing twin gynecologists, and it was quite eye-catching but not Oscar subject matter. But without that movie…This is why I thanked David Cronenberg.

Did the twins of the movie really die together, both from barbiturate withdrawal?
I don’t know whether it was cold turkey or…The problem is if you’re doing cold turkey and you take more drugs, you’re in trouble. They were found naked in their flat, just wearing socks.

When you were walking up to accept your Oscar, you stopped and kissed Madonna, who was sitting front row with Michael Jackson during their famous 1991 Oscar date.
I would have stopped to kiss to anybody!

Are you two chummy?
No! But at that moment, I nearly kissed Michael Jackson.

Can you enjoy a Jeremy Irons film the way the rest of us can?
It takes me about 20 years. I saw The Mission about 20 years after I made it, and I was able to see it quite dispassionately and see the guy on the screen. I thought, He looks a bit like my son. Who’s that?

You’ve had the same people in your inner circle for decades.
I like longevity. You get to know people, their ups and their downs, their goods and their bads. I’ve always thought the devil you know is better than the devil you don’t.

You’re known for having one of the greatest voices in the world. What is your favorite word to say?
Crepuscular. The crepuscular hour is when the sun dips. In movie terms, you call it the magic hour. I also like excellent. Excellent is a word I use because it’s very encouraging, and I learned long ago that when anybody came up with an idea I would say, “Excellent.”

But what if the person’s idea is actually horrible?
Well, you just don’t do it.

Stylist: Brandon Palas
Groomer: Helen Jeffers
Shirt: Ann Demeulemeester