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If you like Jeremy Irons's story, you might also like:
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Ron Howard,
James Earl Jones,
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Sidney Poitier,
Harold Prince,
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Jeremy Irons
Jeremy Irons
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Jeremy Irons Interview (page: 4 / 5)

Award-winning Stage and Screen Actor

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  Jeremy Irons

As a perfectionist, do you ever find there are roles you can't make work? Do you ever have that experience where you just can't get it, or is it just a matter of hard work until you get there?

Jeremy Irons Interview Photo
Jeremy Irons: No, I don't believe in hard work. If something is hard, leave it. Let it come to you. Let it happen. Now the decision to play a role is halfway towards understanding the character, because you empathize with it and that's why you want to play it.

I think I would not be described as a character actor in that I don't take on characteristics which are very alien to me. I sometimes put on things, like when I played Claus Von Bülow, I changed the way I look and the way I sound because that man was living and I had to make some attempt to look and sound like him. But let us take him. I was not keen to play him, because he was still alive and I felt that was somehow rather tasteless. Of course I realized that if I didn't, someone else would, so I thought, "Well, he's going to have to suffer this."

But I couldn't get my head around him at all. I had two interviews he gave -- one with Barbara Walters, and one with somebody else -- on video, which I watched and watched and watched, not to be like him but to try to understand him. I read his court journals. I looked at the photographs of him, as many as I could find, and couldn't get inside him at all, until I suddenly thought, "Now wait a minute. My father was an honorable man. If he had either done or been accused of doing what Klaus was accused of doing -- which perhaps could have happened -- how would he deal with it if he was interviewed on Barbara Walters? He'd probably deal with it rather like Klaus. He'd use charm, and he'd use a sort of English reserve, and I'm very like my father so maybe..." And that was my way inside him.

As far as what one can't get around, a lot of those roles aren't offered to you. The sad thing about any business I suppose, but in mine you see it particularly, is that you're always asked to do what you've already done.

If you're successful in a sort of role, when people read another role that's rather similar they think, "Ask him, he's the man." You read it and you say, "I've done this. I did this for this guy. I don't want to do this." So nevertheless, what I'm saying is that what one is -- one's parameters are constantly narrowed by one's success, and my desire is to widen my field even if I risk failure. The risk of failure and daring failure, I think, is another great way towards success, which George Orwell says in 1984 doesn't he? I don't remember the quote but, "If you take away the freedom to risk then you take away the freedom to succeed." I'm misquoting. What I try to do as an actor is constantly find that, find ways to risk, find opportunities to fall on my face if it's going to be worth it and then maybe I'll surprise myself.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

Jeremy Irons Interview Photo
Because I'm now successful, what I'm being offered as an actor is more and more of the same. People say, "Why don't you do more comedies?" and I say, "I'm never asked to because on film I look quite serious and I have a reputation for being able to provide an interior life and all that sort of thing."

I'm sure that Steve Martin would love to be where I am, and I would like to be more where he is as far as the comedy stakes are concerned. So certain roles are not offered me. There are scripts I read and I think, "No, I'm just not interested in that. I don't believe it, or it's not an area I'm interested in. But never if it's a good story and a well thought out character would I say that, unless it was something that I've done before. That's the other thing. Both for my own interest and also for the audience, I try to put my footprint where it has not been before.

I understand very much your notion of risking failure, not being allowed to do that but wanting to do that. Have you experienced failure?

Jeremy Irons: I constantly experience failure in that my work is never as good as I want it to be. So I live with failure. What buoys you up? The people who you have deceived who think you are great and congratulate you on things. Of course, you know there is no good or bad basically. And that gives you comfort when you read terrible reviews. I did a season in Stratford and I opened with Leontes in The Winter's Tale, who has to be one of Shakespeare's hardest, I think. I always feel that he said to Burbage after he played Othello, "Right, you've done jealousy. Now I'm going to give you jealousy with no reason. Just play it. Come on, play it." And I'd been off filming maybe for too long and I came back and I didn't have the wherewithal to embrace him in time for the critics. So I got pretty mauled doing that. And I thought, "Well, great, I've got time to learn."

for ten people who dislike something that you've done, whether it be a film or a play, there will always be ten who like it. and the great -- i was going to say -- antidote for my business is that most people, being fine natured, will tell you that they've enjoyed something. if they haven't enjoyed it, they don't tell you. so you tend to be sort of cotton wooled as an actor from the actual truth. but i know, looking at my work, i think i know the true value of it, which is usually about 40 percent of what i'd hoped i would achieve, which is fine. it gives me something to go -- you know, to try to learn to improve, but i do think it's terribly important.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

Jeremy Irons Interview Photo
Jeremy Irons Interview Photo

I live in a world where one is constantly being misled, either by the length of one's limo, or the size of one's face on the screen, or the kind remarks of people that surround you, and I know that they are constantly telling you lies about the true nature of what you do. I think that's very important because when I work on the screen, or work on the stage, if I'm not in touch with truth, my true self, my true feelings, the true importance or nonimportance of what this skinny, six-foot one frame is about, then I'm lost. I'm an instrument. I'm hopefully a Stradivarius but maybe a lesser make. But if the sound I make is not pure, if it has been misled by a misunderstanding of one's importance in life, then you're in trouble, I think. I would be in trouble.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

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This page last revised on Aug 25, 2009 13:43 EST
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