Jeremy Irons – 7 Questions – TIME Magazine

From the June 4, 2018 issue of TIME Magazine (with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle on the cover)…

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The Love Song of Jeremy Irons – New York Times

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Audiobook Review:

Jeremy Irons Breathes New Life Into ‘The Poems of T.S. Eliot’

by Lyndall Gordon

THE POEMS OF T.S. ELIOT
By T.S. Eliot
Read by Jeremy Irons
3 Hours, 41 Minutes. Faber & Faber.

There is no definitive voice for reading T. S. Eliot. His own manner, with its proper enunciations, can’t be placed. He was always from somewhere else. In his native St. Louis, his family looked to ancestral New England; at Harvard, he came from a “border state.” As a newcomer to London, teaching schoolboys in Highgate, he was “the American master.” He discarded his American accent without ever coming to sound unquestionably English. I wish it were possible to consult Professor Higgins: Can there be a neutral delivery, devoid of geographical cadence? The recordings of Eliot’s poems try for transparency; lasting content takes precedence over any one reader at a single point in time.

Eliot is the master of the unsaid. Irons’s sensitivity to Prufrock’s hesitation on the brink of utterance allows the poetry to bring out a prophetic impulse without sounding entirely absurd: “Do I dare / Disturb the universe?”

Like other great readers of Eliot (among them John Gielgud and Alec Guinness), Irons combines the velvet with emotionally alert variations in pace. With the line “It is impossible to say just what I mean!,” he speeds up the frustration seething beneath Prufrock’s genteel front, complete with formal necktie. Irons makes a bold decision to let loose the speaker’s longing, to the point of a sigh, and he is wonderfully suggestive in the variations on “Shantih shantih shantih” echoing on at the end of “The Waste Land.” I used to wonder if “the peace which passeth understanding,” Eliot’s note to this word, was building or fading. The poet’s own deadpan reading did not provide an answer, but Irons comes down on uncertainty with three different intonations. His final, stretched-out “Shantih” injects a strange intimacy following a thunderous “DA,” announcing rain — water as a sign of the spiritual fertility that Eliot longed for all his life.

Irons voices an Eliot who craves, desires and suffers more openly than in the sober accents of Gielgud and Guinness. Their recordings, completed during the poet’s lifetime, perhaps felt the impress of Eliot’s neutrality. Yet for them, and for Irons too, the poet appears one of us, which is to say that in all these recordings Eliot becomes more English than I think he really was. Irons glides smoothly over a barrage of judgments in “Marina,” “Death” being embodied in “Those who sit in the sty of contentment” and in “Those who suffer the ecstasy of the animals.” Here is an annihilation of the flesh worthy of his Puritan forebear Andrew Eliott of Salem, a juror in the witchcraft trials.

Instead, Irons lends himself to what coexists with the voice of judgment: what is hesitant, what feels unattainable and the struggles of a flawed being in “Four Quartets.” A high point is when Eileen Atkins joins Irons in the best “Waste Land” reading ever in terms of interpretation and play of voices. Listen especially to the repartee of a man and a woman caged together in a hellish union. Their emotional duo and the naturalness that Irons brings to Eliot make this set of CDs a special gift.

 

Lyndall Gordon is the author of “The Imperfect Life of T.S. Eliot,” and, most recently, “Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World.”

Jeremy Irons Plays Himself – The Village Voice

Jeremy Irons Plays Himself

‘You bring to it what you have as a person,’ the actor says of his approach to Eugene O’Neill’s James Tyrone in “Long Day’s Journey Into Night”

by Harry Haun

The voice is the sound of what one critic called “chocolate on gravel,” and it’s served Jeremy Irons superbly for close to four decades. It won him a 1984 Tony for The Real Thing, a 1991 Oscar for Reversal of Fortune, and a 2006 Emmy for Elizabeth I — plus a couple of auxiliary Emmys for Outstanding Voice-Over Performance (1996’s The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century) and Outstanding Narrator (2012’s Big Cat Week). Yet still he falls one award short of a full EGOT sweep. That could change soon. Last year, Irons cleared his throat and went gunning for that elusive Grammy, applying all his mellifluent might to recording the complete works of T.S. Eliot for the BBC. (A four-CD set of this is currently in release, from Faber & Faber.)

Giving voice to two of the last century’s greatest writers is something Irons brings off with effortless aplomb and assurance. Prior to taking on O’Neill’s demons at BAM, he had a night at the 92nd Street Y, doing an hour-long recitation of his favorite Eliot. He didn’t just read the poetry — he acted it, in a natural and uninsistent manner that made it movingly accessible to the rapt, sold-out house.

“The Cats poems are lovely, and The Waste Land is fantastic, and some of the others are great — but, for me, Four Quartets is his arpège, where it all comes together,” Irons says somberly. “It’s where I think people try to get when they meditate. It’s what some Indian gurus have. I think Four Quartets is an attempt, over four poems, to describe what that is and how one gets to it. It’s imperfect, but it contains wonderful ideas which only poetry really can get near. You couldn’t do it in prose, and you really couldn’t do it verbally describing it. It’s like Leonard Cohen’s line, ‘Look for the cracks — that’s where the light gets in.’ I’m a great believer in that. I think that there are many cracks in Four Quartets, but it has a great luminosity as a poem.”

Irons owes his introduction to Eliot to the late Josephine Hart, whose novel Damage was the basis of his 1992 Louis Malle film of the same name with Juliette Binoche. “Josephine did poetry readings and got me to read quite a bit of Eliot. His widow, Valerie Eliot, attended a lot of them, and she told me once afterwards, ‘I think you’re today’s voice of Eliot. Every period has its own Eliot voice, and I think you are today’s. I’d love for you to record as much as you can of him.’ So I recorded it all for the BBC. We put it out all in one day on Radio 4 on the first of January [2017] — eight hours of poetry, and all Eliot.”

He approached these poems much the way he approaches a character. “I’m not very intellectual as a person,” says the man who tosses off “arpège” and “luminosity” like bonbons. “I never studied Eliot till I had to record it, and then I really studied it — but not as an intellectual, just as an instinctive actor. ‘What do those lines mean?’ ‘What feeling was he trying to get across?’ I approached it that way, saying, ‘This has to be between me and him, between Jeremy and Eliot. What does it mean to you, Jeremy? And can I pass that on to the listener?’ I think — with Four Quartets — we did that.”

Irons’s entry level into O’Neill’s autobiographical “play of old sorrow” was a much straighter shot: The career path not taken by James Tyrone, the play’s penny-pinching patriarch, notably parallels his own — a comparison Irons himself invites. Both were seduced by Dame Success, opting for the easy, commercial route instead of one that tightened their grasp on their craft. Rather than challenge himself as an actor with Shakespeare and such, Tyrone took the popular path and endlessly toured in his signature hit, The Count of Monte Cristo. Similarly, when Brideshead Revisited brought Irons forth in 1981, stage took an emphatic back seat to screen. He had started in movies the year before, and now has amassed some ninety credits.

The closest Irons has come to a comparable Count of Monte Cristo cash-cow concession has been butlering for Batman as Alfred Pennyworth. “That role only needs me for a month or two every year, but I do see that compromise, and I can easily understand it — even though the business is not now like it was when Tyrone was an actor. Back then, there were potboilers, and there was Shakespeare. Now, there’s film and TV — not so much Shakespeare — but I do look at actors like Sir Ian McKellen and think, ‘Well, if I’d really worked my socks off, I could have gone for that sort of career and done movies later.’ But I distinctly remember when I was making movies and he wasn’t, he deeply wanted to be.”

Save for a filmed Merchant of Venice in 2004, when he played Antonio to Al Pacino’s Shylock, Irons has all but abandoned the Bard for movies. But, before cinema called, he got off a good lick playing Petruchio (to Zoë Wanamaker’s Kate), and another later, in 1986, playing Richard II. The Melancholy Dane got away, “but I don’t regret it. I would have liked to have done it. There was a time in my career when I was trying to get Harold Pinter to direct it. I think everyone’s got a Hamlet in them, but it’d be lovely to have a really interesting, transcendental viewpoint on the play. And I would have liked to have done Benedict, also. There are a lot of Shakespearean roles that would have been fun, but I would have liked to have done more. You can’t do everything, you know.

“It’s different now. I don’t think — had I not made movies — I could have had the sort of career Olivier had, for instance, because we don’t do that many plays. I remember reading his autobiography — and I think at the end of chapter two there was a list that took a whole page of the plays he’d done. They listed them all, and they said at the end, ‘And he had done this by the time he was 27.’ You couldn’t do that now.”

Laurence Olivier was the first James Tyrone that Irons ever saw, and it’s with him still. “I saw him do it with Constance Cummings when I was in my twenties. He was such a brilliant actor. It was the last production they did at his National Theater, and it was sorta iconic. It remains iconic, certainly, in memory. At the time, it was great.” He continues, “I saw the film with Katie Hepburn and Ralph Richardson — with moderate rapture.” Spencer Tracy turned down Tyrone because he couldn’t see himself as an aging matinee idol. “Maybe he’s right, but I think he would have been absolutely perfect,” Irons counters.

Irons also recalls a speedy, sharply edited edition that Jonathan Miller directed with Jack Lemmon and Bethel Leslie in the mid Eighties, as well as the most recent Broadway revival with Gabriel Byrne and a Tony-winning Jessica Lange. “I think it’s always Mary’s play. Hers is the journey, and the three men are coping with that journey. I think if it’s not her journey, if it’s not her play, then there is something missing.”

These are the performances that filed through Irons’s mind as he was preparing his own James Tyrone. “When I watched the play before I knew I would do it, I always gave into the play. But, once I knew I was going to do it, I thought, ‘I want to see what other people have come up with and see whether I can learn anything from them.’

Now “next door to seventy,” Irons could himself step into the septuagenarian roles played in his Brideshead breakout by a pair of legends — John Gielgud and Olivier. The latter, in particular, was acutely instructive on that project. “It was a great eye-opener for me because I saw [Olivier as a] tiger,” he remembers, “this tiger who was watching while other people rehearse — what they were doing, how he could shine. I thought, ‘Ah, so it never leaves you. You never become secure as an actor. You’re always watching, watching, watching…’ ”

Jeremy Irons Attends Four Quartets Prize Ceremony

Text via Poetry Society of America on Facebook:

On Friday, April 13, 2018, the Poetry Society of America hosted a private reception at the National Arts Club in celebration of the inaugural Four Quartets Prize. The prize is presented by the T.S. Eliot Foundation in partnership with the Poetry Society of America and is launching in the 75th anniversary year of the original publication of Four Quartets in a single volume, in America, in 1943. The award recognizes a unified and complete sequence of poems published in America in a print or online journal, chapbook, or book in 2016 and/or 2017. The judges, Linda Gregerson, Ishion Hutchinson, and Jana Prikryl, selected finalists Geoffrey G. O’Brien for “Experience in Groups” from Experience in Groups (Wave Books); Kathleen Pierce for Vault: a poem (New Michigan Press); and Danez Smith for “summer, somewhere” from Don’t Call Us Dead (Graywolf Press).

At the ceremony, Jeremy Irons announced Danez Smith as the winner.

Learn more at poetrysociety.org

All photos by Beowulf Sheehan

Watch the livestream of Jeremy announcing the Four Quartets Prize winner:

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Jeremy Irons Reads ‘Four Quartets’ at 92Y

Jeremy Irons was at the 92nd Street Y, in New York City, on Thursday 12 April 2018, to read T.S. Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’.

[Scroll down for photos]

Text via 92Y.org – “Seventy-five years after the publication of “Four Quartets” — and nearly seventy years since T. S. Eliot himself read from the poem in his Poetry Center debut — Academy Award-winning actor Jeremy Irons returns to 92Y’s stage to present the masterwork in its entirety. This special event coincides with the awarding of the inaugural Four Quartets Prize, presented by the T. S. Eliot Foundation in association with the Poetry Society of America, as well as the CD release of Irons reading all of Eliot’s poems.

Guests in attendance included Sinead Cusack, Glenn Close, Laurence Fishburne, Melissa Errico, Griffin Dunne, Tyne Daly, producer Ed Pressman and his wife Annie, actor Josh Hamilton and his wife playwright Lily Thorne, and Alice Quinn – Executive Director of the Poetry Society of America.

Before he read the ‘Four Quartets’, Jeremy offered some background information on T.S. Eliot and on the themes and locations mentioned in the poems. He also offered some words of wisdom when it comes to listening to poetry and also reading poetry.

Jeremy said he often tells audiences before he reads the poems: “Don’t get worried about the specifics…about the little moments…about the classical allegories or analogies or whatever that he [the poet] pops in. That meant something to him, but if it doesn’t mean anything to you, it isn’t important. Just listen, let it wash over you. Don’t be too specific or pedantic in the way you listen. And maybe something will be transmitted over and above the poem.”

Jeremy mentioned that T.S. Eliot wrote: “A recording of a poem read by its author is no more definitive an interpretation than a recording of a symphony conducted by the composer. A poem, if it’s of any depth and complexity, will have meanings in it concealed from the author. And should be capable of being read in many ways and with a variety of emotional emphases. A good poem, indeed, is one which even the most inexpert reading cannot wholly ruin and which even the most accomplished reading cannot exhaust. Another reader reciting the poem needn’t feel bound to reproduce these rhythms. If he studied the author’s version, he can assure himself he’s departing from it deliberately and not from ignorance.”

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On Friday 13 April 2018, at The National Arts Club at Gramercy Park in New York City, Jeremy was on hand to present the inaugural Four Quartets Prize to poet Danez Smith. Read more about that event from LitHub.

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Jeremy Irons on ‘Loose Ends’ BBC Radio 4

Jeremy Irons was a guest, on Saturday 7 April 2018, of the BBC Radio 4 programme Loose Ends.  Hosts Clive Anderson and Arthur Smith were joined by Jeremy Irons, Catherine Tate, Tracy Ann Oberman and James Graham. Music was performed by Honeyfeet.

Visit the BBC Radio 4 website HERE.

Click on the player below to listen to the episode:

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The Poetic Side of Jeremy Irons – WSJ.com

The Poetic Side of Jeremy Irons

The actor’s latest project: reading the poems of T.S. Eliot.

Nearly a decade ago, actor Jeremy Irons was reading “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” by T.S. Eliot at an event at London’s British Library, and to his surprise, the poet’s widow, Valerie, who was then in her 80s, showed up. After the performance, he spoke to her, and she told him, in words he happily recalls today, “I think you are today’s voice for Eliot.”

Mr. Irons thinks that she may have been reacting to his straightforward approach to the reading. “I read what came to me off the page, without much intellectual study,” he says. Later, when getting ready to perform other poems by Eliot, he experimented with reading the lines with a lot of personality and acting, and then tried reading them with “nothing,” just straight off the page. He stuck with the latter. “I just try to become a voice,” he says.

Across his long film and television career, the 69-year-old actor is especially known for portraying historical or literary figures, such as Claus von Bülow in the 1990 film “Reversal of Fortune,” for which he won an Academy Award, Humbert Humbert in “Lolita” (1997), and Pope Alexander VI in the Showtime series “The Borgias” (2011-2013).

Before the reading in London years ago, Mr. Irons hadn’t read much of Eliot’s poetry. Now he has read all of Eliot’s major works, from “The Hollow Men” to “The Waste Land.” Next month, his audiobook recording “The Poems of T.S. Eliot” will be released, 75 years after the publication of Eliot’s “Four Quartets.”

That set of four poems, about the nature of time and the cycle of life, “is for me the apogee of his work,” Mr. Irons says. They reflect the struggle to get to “the still point of the turning world,” free from living in the past or the future. As Eliot writes, “The inner freedom from the practical desire, / The release from action and suffering, release from the inner / And the outer compulsion, yet surrounded / By a grace of sense…”

Mr. Irons says that he’s tried to get to his own still point by meditating occasionally, but he jokes that he more effectively gets there by smoking a cigarette on his own. “This isn’t getting as deep as I think Eliot is trying to get, but what I do is I smoke and I get out of noisy places and noisy dinners and I stand on the sidewalk or on the terrace,” he says. “I can’t bear the constant prattle of life.”

‘I’ve always thought acting was more about listening than talking,’ says Mr. Irons. Photo: Perou for The Wall Street Journal; Grooming by Tahira

Mr. Irons, who grew up on the Isle of Wight in England, trained as an actor at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School. One of his first major parts was in the 1981 television series “Brideshead Revisited,” based on the book by Evelyn Waugh. Since then he has acted in many other films and television shows inspired by books, such as the 2015 dystopian drama “High-Rise,” based on a J.G. Ballard novel. “I think it’s very rare that you get a film that’s better than a book, but you can find some that are almost as good,” Mr. Irons says.

When it comes to doing historical re-enactments, he thinks the characters and plot must reflect “the attitudes and understanding of life that they had at the time,” he says. He thought it was important that “The Borgias” reflected the nature of his character, Pope Alexander VI, who is notorious for his schemes to use the papacy to expand the power of his Borgia line, as well as for his many mistresses.

His new audiobook compiles readings of Eliot’s poetry that he originally did for BBC Radio. He thinks of poems and modern art the same way: Both are best understood emotionally rather than intellectually. “I know a lot of modern art goes over my head because I look at it and go, ‘It doesn’t mean anything to me.’ But sometimes you look at it and you’re just sort of gobsmacked.”

He applies a similar philosophy to acting as to reading poetry. He tries to be careful not to overact. He also aims to listen and react to the other actors in a scene. “I’ve always thought acting was more about listening than talking,” he says. He’s now starring in the London production of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night,” which will travel to the Brooklyn Academy of Music in May and then the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Los Angeles in June.

In his down time, he and his wife, Sinéad Cusack, spend time at their castle in Ireland. Built in the 15th century and recently restored, it looks like it could be the setting for one of his period pieces. “I like walking, and I think Ireland suits my nature best of all and Los Angeles least of all,” he says. He spends as little time in L.A. as possible. “My instinct is not to live over the shop,” he says.

If he could pick a different era to live in, which would it be? “I think 1900 to 1912 was an extraordinary time,” he says, “and I think between the wars was a mad time and also quite fun to be around.” But he says that he’s satisfied enough with the present. “I’m happy to be healthy and alive when I am.”

Photos by Perou – www.perou.co.uk

Grooming by Tahira – www.beautybytahira.com

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Photo by Perou. Grooming by Tahira.

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Photo by Perou. Grooming by Tahira.