IAR INTERVIEW: Jeremy Irons Talks 'Beautiful Creatures' and his Impressive Career

Monday, 11 February 2013 22:50 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR INTERVIEW: Jeremy Irons Talks 'Beautiful Creatures' and his Impressive Career

English actor Jeremy Irons began his career on stage in the London theater over forty years ago and since then has gone on to star in countless feature films and television series, win a Golden Globe, an Emmy, a BAFTA, and an Oscar, as well as becoming generally considered one of the best actors of his generation. 

Irons first major screen role was in the 1981 film The French Lieutenant’s Woman opposite Meryl Streep, before starring in such critically acclaimed projects as Betrayal, and David Cronenberg’s Dead Ringers. But it was playing real-life accused murderer Claus von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune that earned him his Academy Award and household name recognition in the United States. The actor would continue working throughout the last several decades in films like The Man in the Iron Mask, Being Julia, Kingdom of Heaven, Appaloosa, and last year’s indie hit Margin Call, as well as the popular Showtime series The Borgias. But Irons is probably best known for his villainous roles in two back-to-back box office hits. First, as the voice of Scar in the animated classic The Lion King, then as Simon Gruber (brother of Hans) in Die Hard with a Vengeance.

The acclaimed actor can now be seen on the big screen once again in the new film Beautiful Creatures, which is based on the popular series of young adult novels and opens in theaters on Valentine’s Day, Thursday, February 14th. The film, which was written and directed by Richard LaGravenese (Freedom Writers), centers on a boy from a small Southern town named Ethan (Alden Ehrenreich) who begins a relationship with a mysterious new girl named Lena (Alice Englert). As the two high school students fall in love, they uncover the dark secrets of their respective families, and their town, including the knowledge that Lena posses supernatural powers. Irons plays Macon Ravenwood in the movie, Lena’s uncle and the patriarch of the family, who also posses strange powers of his own. 

I recently had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Academy Award-winner Jeremy Irons, along with a few other members of the press, for an extended chat about his work on Beautiful Creatures as well his illustrious overall career. 


The actor began by discussing what he liked about the film’s script that attracted him to the project. “I thought there was a certain wit and panache about my character. A certain enigma, which was interesting,” he said. “It didn't tell me everything about him and I was encouraged not to read the books. I didn't really have time to read it because I came onto the movie quite late, as they were already shooting. So I sort of did as I was told really. I wore mostly what I was given to wear, spoke as I was asked to speak and only tried to create what was necessary. I was aware there are other books, further books where maybe more is explained, but sadly sitting down and reading those three books before I started shooting was not possible. So I had to say to Richard, tell me about him. What does he need to be for the story? How does he need to be? I was trying to create the character that way. It's not the way I normally do it, but there was just no time.”

I followed up by asking Irons what Richard LaGravenese was like to work with on set as a director. “He’s very, very sweet, and very kind,” the actor replied. “It's fairly difficult to condense such a book into two hours of clear storybook telling. He was encouraging Emma (Thompson) and I to relook at our scenes and to clarify them in an amusing way that worked for us. A director is trying to tell the story as well as possible. It’s very difficult I think when you're directing your own writing. It’s certainly a lot of work because on your weekends you're working on the script and then the following week you're shooting. It felt like a real collaboration when we were working together and he was very supportive. He's got a very easy going nature so I think I spent most of my time trying to encourage them to dress us better,” he joked.


Since the film is based on an extremely popular series of young adult novels that deal with magic and young love, there will inevitable be comparisons to both the Twilight and Harry Potter series of films. So I asked the actor what he thought of those comparisons. “I would say what the character in Much Ado About Nothing says, ‘Comparisons are odorous.’ Things are what they are,” Irons laughed. “Of course there's a certain audience out there who went to see the Harry Potter's, and the Twilight's, and you want to feed that audience. Maybe they'll like this, I don't know, but I didn't see any of the Harry Potter's or the Twilight's, so I can't talk about any similarities.”

Another reporter followed up by asking the Oscar-winner if he is excited that a younger audience might become aware of him now because of this film. “Yes, that is nice. Most of them only know me as a speaking lion,” he replied dryly. 


Next, the actor was asked what he looks for in a project at this point in his career. “It has to intrigue me a little bit. It has to be something I haven't seen before, if possible. My character has to be within a story that I think is interesting and if I were to go and see it, maybe it would interest a lot of people. It's the same as ever really and it's a sort of gut feeling. It has to do with appetite, like when you look at a menu and decide what to eat. We never think, why did we choose that? It’s just what we feel like eating tonight,” he explained. “It’s also your body telling you what you want, whether you want salad or red meat, or fish, or something like that. But, it’s difficult to be truthfully accurate about why you choose something. Sometimes you might just need the money. There have been times in the past when I’ve done movies for just that.”

I speculated that perhaps Mr. Irons was referring to his role in Die Hard with a Vengeance with that last comment, however, after the interview was over a reporter asked him to sign a copy of that film’s DVD and he seemed quite open to it. He even mentioned that he was excited to see the latest installment of the franchise, A Good Day to Die Hard, which ironically, is opening on the same day of Beautiful Creatures. Myself and a few of the other journalists had actually seen the new Die Hard movie the previous evening and he seemed very interested to hear what we thought, which made me think that he actually looks back quite fondly on his performance in that film. 


As a veteran actor of over forty years, I was surprised to hear that Irons can still feel insecure about his work from time to time. “When I’m starting off with a new character, I always feel insecure. That never goes,” he said. He was then asked how he’s learned to overcome that fear. “You just keep working the character until you feel completely at home in this other person. I just played Henry IV, which will be on PBS soon. With that, you have to be completely on top of fairly difficult language, so that was the first time in a long time that I became absolutely there and completely secure. That gothic cathedral could have fallen on my head and I would have been fine. Normally, you’re feeling around and you think you can’t do it. I always feel like a plumber,” he added.

I had a chance to ask Irons if looking back on his impressive resume of work there was one project in particular that he was personally proud of being a part of. “Lots, yes lots. I’m very happy with about eighty-percent of what I’ve been a part of. The other 20-percent I won’t mention because I’d like them to disappear,” he joked. “At the time, I must have done them for a reason.”


I pressed further and asked if there was a project that he had done that was perhaps not as well known that he wished more people had seen. “I just made a picture called Night Train to Lisbon. We’re taking it to the Berlin festival, and it was directed by Bille August, who directed House of the Spirits. Now, there’s a film which maybe didn’t get seen as widely as it should have,” admitted Irons. “I saw it again recently. I was sorting out my VHS cassettes at home and seeing which I should get converted and wanted to see the quality of the video. I started watching that and I was immediately drawn into it. It’s a wonderful little movie. It was made so long ago, that now I can see it very clearly. As an actor, it gave me a chance to play a man through the age of eighty. It is wonderful to play an arc of a life like that.”

He was then asked if it takes him a longtime after making a film to be able to look back and watch it objectively. “It takes about twenty years. I have to say that I don’t re-watch. It’s very rare. But I saw The Mission about three years ago and I hadn’t seen it since we made it. It was extraordinary and I could see it completely detached. I see this young man, who looks an awful lot like my son,” he laughed. 


Finally, since he said it takes about twenty years before he can watch his films objectively, I asked the actor if he has had a chance to re-watch Reversal of Fortune, which he won his Academy Award for and was made over twenty years ago. “I haven’t, no.” I replied by recommending that it would be worth taking another look. He then asked, “Has it held up well?” To which I replied, “Oh, yes! It sure has.”

Beautiful Creatures opens in theaters on Valentine's Day, Thursday, February 14th. 



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