Meeting actors and directors can be an interesting experience. There are some who are so far removed from what they do on screen or behind the camera and so comfortable and casual, you might think you were meeting them down at the local bar over a pint. Then there are folks like Jeremy Irons. Sitting across from the Oscar-winning actor at the Savannah Film Festival recently, he effortlessly projected the gravitas of a veteran at his trade; his presence filled the entire room even as he was seated on a couch. This wasn’t due to pretentiousness or a put on; within minutes, it became immediately clear why Irons’ career has spanned four decades, across no shortage of memorable films and performances. It also become clear why Savannah was honoring him with a Lifetime Achievement Award. He’s found a way to combine his natural charisma with a mastery of the tools of acting, and speaking with Irons about his work, he still remains humble about how his life on screen has turned out, while always looking ahead.
“I’ve been very lucky,” he said. “I’ve made some amazing films with some amazing directors, like ‘The Mission,’ ‘Brideshead Revisted, ‘House Of The Spirits’ with Bille August, ‘Dead Ringers’ with David Cronenberg, ‘M. Butterfly’ with David Cronenberg, ‘Betrayal’ with David Jones. Every movie has great, great memories if I care to dwell on them, which I don’t spend much time doing.”
But even as Irons doesn’t actively ponder the work he has already done, receiving an award for all he’s done through the years does demand at least some reflection, and Irons does have one movie he believes is worthy of reassessment. “I think ‘House Of The Spirits’ deserves more appreciation than it’s perhaps had. It didn’t come out that well. There had been a wonderful story of a similar sort of world [ed. released a year earlier] called ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ that was very much with an indigenous cast and here we were playing South American Spanish, and we were all Hollywood folk,” Irons said. “And I think that really worked against us. But I ran across the film about four months ago, and found myself completely sucked into it. And I think Bille has done wonderful work with this film, and if it was released now, I think it would be a smash. It has great legs, and is a beautifully made film with huge scope.”
However, in the twenty years that have passed since that 1993 film, it’s arguable that something like “House Of The Spirits”—even with its star-studded cast that includes Meryl Streep, Glenn Close, Vanessa Redgrave, Winona Ryder and Antonio Banderas—would have trouble getting made. For someone like Irons, who once viewed TV work as a step down, it has changed his outlook on where quality material lies. “I think people are making less films, and better writing is going onto television. That certainly affected my decision to do ‘The Borgias.’ It’s going to be produced and written by Neil Jordan who is fair filmmaker, [so I thought] that might be interesting,” he said. “And not only that, but a lot of television writing is seen by a much larger audience, and sells around the world, and repeats. And so I used to say, ‘I don’t want to do television, I want to do film’ because most people would probably be watching football and miss it. But of course now with all the technology available you can store and watch whatever you want to watch, when you want to watch it. And so television is a much stronger place to be seen than it used to be. But the sort of movies I used to make are very hard to get financed now.”
Like others in recent months who have been critical of the studio approach to filmmaking, Irons too believes that there is too much focus on the bottom line. “I think that movie moguls in Hollywood are always interested above all in making money,” he shared. “But I think if they were a little bit cannier about how they did it, about building up the business, building up audiences, giving them stars who have a longevity… Now I think it’s got so much faster it’s more, ‘Take the money and run.’ They’re chasing this kid audience, and I think it’s stairway to nowhere.”
But as Irons learned with TV, one must always keep the door open, and if the right tentpole came along, he wouldn’t turn his nose at it. “If it was a good part, with a good director, and good actors, I would do it like a shot,” Irons stated. “On the business side of my life, not only do I have to earn my living, but I want to get as wide an audience as possible. So hopefully, they will come and see pictures that I’m in which they might not have done. I get correspondence quite often, ‘I came across the film and started looking at all your other work.’ And that’s great.”
And something tells us there is much more to come that will allow us to continue appreciating Irons in whatever he does next and all that he’s already accomplished.
Jeremy Irons’ next film is “Night To Train To Lisbon” and it opens in limited release starting on December 6th.