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If you like Jeremy Irons's story, you might also like:
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Jeremy Irons
 
Jeremy Irons
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Jeremy Irons Interview (page: 5 / 5)

Award-winning Stage and Screen Actor

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  Jeremy Irons

We were speaking earlier of taking risks in your career. I suppose at 30 you decided to continue being an actor. Where were you in your career when you made that decision?

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Jeremy Irons: When I was 30 I was shooting Brideshead Revisited. None of us knew it would be as successful as it turned out to be. Through complicated reasons there had been a strike of the technicians and our schedule had been shifted. I had also been asked by a director called Karel Reisz to make a film called The French Lieutenant's Woman in the March of that year when Brideshead should have been finished.

When we came back together to make Brideshead after the strike, we had been delayed by two or three months, and we could see that the schedule was going to have to be even longer anyway, because of getting to Oxford for the locations and various other things. When my producer rang me up and said, "Would you restart on Brideshead?" And I said, "Well certainly. Of course I would, but I've told Karel that I'll do this movie in March." He said, "Well, that's fine. We'll work that out."

Well, when the time came to work it out I got a rather heavy message from the television company saying, "I'm sorry. We can't release you. We need to work through that period." And a lot of people were involved in that.

And I thought, "Wait a minute. I have a contract." I actually hadn't signed the contract but I had a verbal contract with my producer; he understood what I had said. We were filming up north, so I came down to London and went to see a lawyer. He was good as silk and he said, "You'd win if what you tell me is true, but it would take a year and a half to come to court." I said, "Well, that's hopeless, isn't it? We'll be finished by then, the film will have gone." So I went back north to work, leaving an agent in tears in London. And after one day's work, went back to my hotel room, and thought,


"You're being very British about this, Jeremy. You're 30. If you're going to make it in this life you're going to make it in your 30s. And you think you're right, and you're stepping down because you've been told you can't win in court -- If that's the way you're going to manage your life then fine, but don't expect too much." So I sat down. I had a couple of martinis and dinner and then returned to my home and wrote a long letter to the chairman of the television company telling him that I was off unless by six o'clock the following day he would agree to release me to make this film. And I laid out -- I knew everything he would do to me. I said, "I know you can bar me from the union. I know you can sue me." They by then had spent eight million, I think. I said, "My house is worth 85,000. That's about all I have but you can sue me for that. I'm not a hysterical actor. I'm just an actor against the wall." You know. I called my lawyer the first thing in the morning and read it over the phone to him and said, "That's what I want to send." He said, "If you're absolutely sure. You seem to know the down side." I said, "Yes." He says, "All right. Fax it to me and I'll have it delivered around," which he did.

[ Key to Success ] Courage


By six o'clock that day there had been no response. I checked with my producer whether there had been any response and he said, "No, there hadn't." I got in my car and drove down to London to a film premiere. The following day I was fairly shaky. I was walking off a set. In this country it's a big thing -- I think in America, too. A lot of people were depending on me. It was a big cast, a big crew and all this, I was in every scene for two weeks, and I was gone.


I went to lunch with my agent in a restaurant. There was a phone call during lunch from the chairman of the television company who said, "Will you come for tea?" I said, "Yes." I asked my agent for a valium, went to walk the dog on Hampstead Heath, and then went down to have tea with the chairman of Grenada, who was very cross, said he felt let down. I said, "I feel let down. We're both in the same boat." He said, "If I can work something out, will you go back to work?" I said, "Certainly. I'll be back there tomorrow morning." He left the room for about 15 minutes, came back in and said, "I'll work this out in three weeks. Give me three weeks." So I went back to work. Three weeks later they tied the two things together, the film and the television, so that the film paid for the down time in the television, and the television invested in the film, and I was able to do both. But on the journey down, the night before when I had driven down in my Volkswagen Beetle, a long drive on the M6, about a four-hour drive, I remember thinking "That's it. That is it. Now if I'm not going to act, what am I going to do? I could be an agent. Should I write? Well, can I write? I don't know." But I knew that was it. And I knew that I had taken my destiny in my hand in a way that I had never felt before and I think that's when I grew up. I knew I was my own man. I could do anything.

[ Key to Success ] Courage


Mr. Irons, that's a good point to end on. Thank you very much.

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