Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Short Film Seen at the 2007 Galway Film Fleadh

Walk, a brief film by Matthew Snead, follows a soulful-looking transvestite’s leisurely progress through some London locations, accompanied by mood appropriate music. It is a portrait that is fleeting and a bit mysterious. (Seen 10 July 2007)

Public Interview with Jeremy Irons

The main thing you notice, when Jeremy Irons talks, is his voice. We’ve all heard his voice before, and it is familiar enough. But still, when he is there in the flesh, you can’t help but be struck by how deep and resonant and rich it is. It is a classic English actor’s stage voice. It is delightful to listen to, and you can’t possibly imagine that voice uttering anything that is of less than national significance or of biblical proportions. Does he sound like that at home? Does he really use that voice to ask the wife where his clean socks are? It’s difficult to imagine.

The public interview with a notable film figure is by now a well-established tradition at the Galway Film Fleadh, but it was a bit different this time. In recent years the interviewing chores have been handled by RTÉ radio presenter Myles Dungan, but Dungan’s afternoon arts program was lost in a schedule reshuffle last year, and so the honor this time fell to hoarse-voiced John Kelly, presenter of über-cool eclectic radio music programs and a TV panel arts review program that begs to be considered elitist. Where Dungan usually went down the subject’s film c.v. and elicited stories about fellow actors and directors, Kelly concentrated mainly on the acting craft and technique. This is fine for people who are really into acting and filmmaking, but some of us like to get a little dirt as well. There was no dirt in this interview. But I think the audience was happy enough since, if the questions from the audience were any indication, most of the audience were actors and filmmakers. The first question was from a 13-year-old TV actor from Los Angeles, wondering how he could be taken more seriously.

Seeing a classically trained English actor like Irons interviewed is different from seeing, say, American actors like Matt Dillon or Kathy Bates. The Yanks tend to address the interviewer, while occasionally acknowledging the audience. Irons addressed the audience, while occasionally acknowledging the interviewer. It felt not so much like a conversation as a performance. All in all, he gave the impression of being a figure who knows just how charming he is.

Irons’s account of his own career turns out to be fairly businesslike. He became interested in acting while at English public school (i.e. private school) and saw many years of boredom ahead if he followed a conventional path. So he did a stint as an acting stage manager, found it suited him and decided to take acting classes. But he wasn’t overly sentimental about it. He gave himself until around 30 to see if he would have a career on which he could support himself and a family comfortably. He recounted that he had worked with many actors in their 30s and 40s who were still living in bedsits, and he knew that wasn’t for him. As it worked out, the year in which he turned 33, the miniseries Brideshead Revisited appeared on television and The French Lieutenant’s Woman was released to cinemas. Both starred Irons, and his acting career was clearly secure. He had also been married for three years to fellow actor Sinéad of the Cusack acting dynasty. Another Dungan interview trademark was the inevitable highlighting of the subject’s Irish connections. Kelly didn’t do that specifically, but along the way, we learned that, in addition to his Irish wife, Irons lives in Cork. (In a castle, I’ve read.)

Kelly noted that, following his movie success, Irons could have had any leading man role he wanted but that he deliberately avoided the twin traps of English actors in Hollywood: “the sneering villain and the twit.” “I didn’t want to be Hollywood’s next David Niven,” confirmed Irons. Instead, he followed up with Jerzy Skolimowski’s Moonlighting, in which he played a Polish worker in London. Recounted Irons with satisfaction, some time after he met Werner Herzog in Australia, and the director exclaimed, “But Jeremy Irons is Polish!” More to the point, Irons set about to specialize in playing men who were morally flawed or just downright creepy. Some of these included the unfaithful husband in David Jones’s film version of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, twin gynecologists in David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers, another unfaithful husband in Damage and the role for which he won an Oscar, real-life murder defendant Claus von Bülow in Reversal of Fortune. When asked what role represented his best acting work, he gave the obligatory demurral (“I really think that is for others to judge”) before stating his ready answer: Humbert Humbert in Adrian Lyne’s remake of Lolita. Lyne, he said, had been trying to get him to do the movie for years, and when it finally came out in 1997 the timing, in terms of social and moral climate, was bad. The U.S. distributor was weak in its support because of its story about an older man and an under-age girl and, consequently, not many people in America saw it. (I’m taking his word for that. I saw it in Ireland.) Consequently Irons, whose contract had specified that he would not be obliged to do publicity for the movie, got out and actively promoted it. If it put a damper on his career, he was ready. He had insisted on a paycheck that would see him through three years without work.

Asked what his worst film experience was, Irons again had a ready answer: 2000’s Dungeons and Dragons, which he described as a nightmare of a production. “But at least I got paid,” he added. Asked about what actor had inspired him to go into the field, he answered again without hesitation: “Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia. I saw him on the screen and said, I want to do that.”

And, as for that acting method. In another rare reference to a fellow actor, he contrasted himself to Robert De Niro (“He’s really come on,” noted Iron with a sly look) and American actors in general. American method acting involves the actor actually producing the emotion, sometimes getting their fellow cast members to help provoke them into the right state. The English actor simply calls up the emotion from inside himself. Irons likened himself to piano, with many keys but only a few of which are actually played in real life. Acting, he said, allowed him to play other keys that he would never use in normal life—like, for example, the part of him that could be, in theory at least, a murderer. Whereas some American actors talk about how they have trouble getting out of a role they have immersed themselves in and can’t leave it at the studio, Irons insisted that never happened to him. Other than preparing for a role and actually playing it, his characters never trouble him. Sometimes, however, tapping into his inner feelings for a part results in things he is not even conscious of. After he had played an unfaithful husband in a Pinter play, he got a letter from a woman asking how he had known to make “that gesture.” She wrote, “My husband made the same exact gesture when he left me.” Irons insisted that, to this day, he does not know what that gesture was. Irons also took us through the process he used to get to the point where not only were the twins in Dead Ringers distinct characters but that he could convincingly play one twin masquerading as the other.

Personally, I was very much affected by Irons’s performance as Charles Ryder in Brideshead and have followed his career ever since. But, as I watched him on the stage, I realized that I had really forgotten just how varied and wide-ranging his work has been over the years. In addition to his many quality roles, he has also played, if not exactly sneering, then coldly evil characters—like the bad guy in the third Die Hard movie (brother to the baddie played by Alan Rickman in the first film) and the Über-Morlock in The Time Machine. One villain I had completely forgotten, however, was raised by a question from the audience. Irons played Scar, the evil uncle of the title character in Disney’s The Lion King. Irons told how he was surprised that, in an animated feature, the dialog was recorded first (at separate locations and at separate times by the various actors) and then the characters animated afterwards—and not the other way around, as he had thought. He said he had imagined Scar to be a rather magnificent beast and insisted that, when the film finally came out, he was utterly disappointed to see how mangy he was.

While Irons’s performance in the interview was polished to a fault (during a break in the questioning, he read three poems by William Butler Yeats, impeccably), he seemed to enjoy the interaction with the audience. When the questioning was opened up, he insisted that the questions “must have wit,” something he provided amply on his end. When an actor from Ballinasloe began his question by noting that he, like Irons, had performed on stage in Godspell, Irons immediately asked him which role he had played. To which the young man replied, Jesus. Without missing a beat and using that incredible sonorous voice, Irons replied in tones that touched the darkest corners of a person’s soul, “I of course played Judas.” (Attended 15 July 2007)