Speaking to Variety at this year’s Marrakech film festival, British actor Jeremy Irons talked about his roles in movies set for 2015 or beyond: Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman,” in which he plays butler Alfred; romantic drama “The Correspondence,” from Giuseppe Tornatore (“Cinema Paradiso”), in which he co-stars with Blake Lively; and Ben Wheatley’s “High Rise,” based on J. G. Ballard’s novel.
He was amused by the idea that he’s being once again typecast as a professor in Tornatore’s first English-language pic, clarifying that he will actually play an astrophysicist.
In relation to Wheatley’s political thriller, “High Rise,” in which he co-stars with Sienna Miller, he confided that U.K. producer Jeremy Thomas asked him why he never stars in British independent films. He said that he accepted the role because he was won over by the young director, who believes strongly in the project.
With regard to Zack Snyder’s “Batman v Superman,” he admitted that he accepted the role for the opposite reason: “I have to appear in big Hollywood pictures, in order to be able to bring audiences to smaller independent films,” he suggested. “Audiences have very short memories.” He added that Snyder is a “very interesting director” and that the film will “do me no harm.”
In relation to Stephen Hopkins’ “Race,” about Jesse Owens’ triumph in the 1936 Berlin Olympics, he described the period drama as following in the footsteps of other recent historical pics such as Morten Tyldum’s “The Imitation Game,” which played out of competition at Marrakech. “’Race’ has a good story and script, a nice director, it’s beautifully shot and will be released just before the 2016 Olympics, which is perfect timing,” he added.
Quizzed about Matt Brown’s period drama “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” in which he plays Cambridge professor G.H. Hardy, who nurtures math genius Srinivasa Ramanujan, played by Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire”), Irons said the story and director are extremely strong. Co-star Patel’s popularity, especially in India, is an additional plus.
Irons was inspired to get into acting by watching Peter O’Toole in “Lawrence of Arabia.” Even though he didn’t share O’Toole’s deep blue eyes, he decided to try his hand as an actor.
“I went to a very conservative British school, and I wanted to find a way of life where I could be freer than in most jobs. I thought about working in the circus or the funfair, but was put off by the sleazy accommodation. I then fell in love with the theater and the chance of starting work at 10 a.m. and finishing at midnight, with a romantic vision of sharing stories around a campfire and living like a gypsy.”
Despite this initial love affair with the theater, he admitted that his close circle of friends includes very few actors.
His main formative experiences have been theater school, horse riding, sailing and music, he said. “Music is a very big part of my makeup. Music transports us out of ourselves, like all art. When we return we have a slightly different perspective of the world.”
His long list of films have included many different directors. Only two – David Cronenberg and Bille August – have cast him twice. “The others probably didn’t want me back,” he jested. “Working with a new director can be more exciting,” he admitted. “It’s all about building trust. A bit like meeting a new lover.”
In relation to his dual role in Cronenberg’s “Dead Ringers,” he said that if it hadn’t been for the picture, he wouldn’t have won the best actor Academy Award in 1991 for his performance as Claus von Bulow in Barbet Schroeder’s “Reversal of Fortune.”
He also talked about his role in Louis Malle’s “Damage,” which he viewed as “a ride between euphoria and deepest depression.” “I said to Louis that he should stay close while filming the love scenes, like Karel Reisz did in ‘French Lieutenant’s Woman.’ But I think he pulled back too much. That way the viewer ends up feeling like a voyeur.”
His recent contacts with Morocco — via three visits to the Marrakech Festival and the shoot of Claude Lelouch’s “And Now… Ladies and Gentlemen” and Ridley Scott’s “Kingdom of Heaven” – have enamored him with the country.
He even admitted that Moroccan colors and fabrics had influenced his fashion choices, as when he bought a faded-blue djellaba, smelling of orange oil, literally off the back of a Tuareg man in the Fez medina. He says that he wore it for many years without ever washing it because he didn’t want to lose the scent and finally offered it as a gift to the musician Vangelis. “I hope he’s still wearing it,” he concluded.