British Oscar winner Jeremy Irons regaled a rapt audience with tales of acting, family life and philanthropy at JW3 cultural centre in London on 26 March 2018.
Being interviewed by the veteran TV presenter Tania Bryer live on stage, Irons said his current theatre role at the Old Vic Bristol in ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night’ has been a personal journey. “It’s been great to get fit mentally and physically. I thought I’d better do the role of James Tyrone now while I’ve got the energy.”
“The hardest thing is to keep the mental freshness and agility on stage night after night. It’s hard to keep the scenes electric for yourself. Sometimes it helps to have an interesting day – eat well, exercise and do something new – and this energy carries over into the role.”
Irons added: “It’s a strangely difficult role, it took me three months to learn the script as remembering is harder as you get older.”
“It’s a strangely difficult role, it took me three months to learn the script as remembering is harder as you get older.”
How does Irons feel about being 70-years-old this year? “It’s terrifying. I’m going to start a long mourning period for the rest of my life,” he said, only half in jest.
The actor’s presence on the JW3 stage was just as charismatic as the TV, film, and theatre roles he is so well regarded for. Highly at ease with the audience, Irons told a series of punchline-perfect tales about his unconventional ascent into the higher echelons of Hollywood.
Irons, who was born on the Isle of Wight and went to Sherborne private school, told the audience, “I’d always wanted to be a vet but then I realised I was terrible at science. By the time I left school I really had no idea what I wanted to do.”
“I’d always wanted to be a vet but then I realised I was terrible at science. By the time I left school I really had no idea what I wanted to do.”
For a while after leaving school he aspired to improve the world as a social worker in south London, but changed his mind after colleagues advised him ‘not to get involved’ with his clients when, in fact, ‘involved was what I wanted to be’.
However, it was while being a poorly paid social worker that he was pushed to top up his earnings with busking in cinema queues. “I earned a fortune and I decided I liked the performing life, the travelling life of an artist. I wanted to perform, even join a circus…”
Later, a drama teacher told Irons he would look ‘alright on the side of the stage if he learned to stand up straight’. From there, Iron’s acting bug and love of the ‘gluey smells of the theatre’ took him on a journey that saw the actor take on parts from Shakespeare to the Simpsons and appear in acclaimed films with Hollywood glitterati of the likes of Meryl Streep and Robert De Niro.
Of Streep he said, “She taught me it’s all about the work, it’s not about you. Give everything to your work.” Irons said Streep’s words remain with him today. “I’m not one for advice, but one thing I tell my kids is, ‘What ever you do, do it the best you can, that will give you pleasure and you will gain the respect of others’.”
“What ever you do, do it the best you can, that will give you pleasure and you will gain the respect of others’.”
It was in 1981 that Iron’s career really launched into the stratosphere with the airing of the film ‘The French Lieutenant’s Woman’ and the 11-part TV series ‘Brideshead Revisited’. “It was strange. I suddenly saw myself on the front of four supplements, and I hated it…” Irons told the audience.
Ten years later the actor clinched an Oscar for his lead role in ‘Reversal of Fortune’. “I kissed everyone near me. I even kissed Madonna – who I don’t know. I thought about kissing Michael Jackson too, but something stopped me,” Iron jested.
“I kissed everyone near me. I even kissed Madonna – who I don’t know. I thought about kissing Michael Jackson too, but something stopped me”
Of his feelings on fame, Irons said: “I went undercover for a bit. Eventually I realised that being famous just means you live in a global village, the world becomes your village where people know you. It’s a wonderful way to live because most people know you and trust you and that’s what we all want.”
He added: “Cities are so faceless. We need people around us to know who we are and when we don’t have that it causes loneliness. I choose to polish that side of the coin.”
“Cities are so faceless. We need people around us to know who we are and when we don’t have that it causes loneliness. I choose to polish that side of the coin.”
Amid all his acting and family endeavours, Irons still finds the time for philanthropic works. “We, as actors. have profile so we can give profile to charities. It gives me pleasure to give something back, as cheesy as that sounds, it’s true.”
Currently Irons supports The Prison Phoenix Trust, The Hope Foundation, Amnesty International, HRH’s Children & the Arts and many more.
How does the veteran actor fit find the time to fit it all in? “You’ve got to know what you want and work at it until you get there. Life is like a darts board, you need to have a sharp point about what you want, and then you need to aim.”