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« William S Burroughs Centennial | Main | More Kudos for The Grandmaster »
Wednesday
Feb052014

Is Jeremy Irons Put 'Out to Pasture' as Pennyworth?

[Editors Note: I am pleased to welcome new contributor Diana Drumm to The Film Experience. The benefit of fresh voices? They often have subjects to opine on that we haven't run into the ground already here at TFE. Like this consideration of Jeremy Irons, late in his career. Enjoy! - Nathaniel]


Last week, the internet announced, buzzed and trounced the news of Jesse Eisenberg signing on to play Lex Luthor in the upcoming Batman vs. Superman. (Insert maniacal mastermind Mark Zuckerberg joke.) Less buzzed about, but part of the same announcement, Jeremy Irons is set to play Alfred Pennyworth. Seriously. Jeremy “Scar is an unknowing introduction to masochism” Irons. Brushing aside millenial Disney hang-ups, Jeremy Irons is a glorious figure of bygone British manhood and Alfred Pennyworth is... A different sort of bygone British manhood. 

Lithe yet powerful, languid yet vital, vulnerable yet undeniably masculine. As an actor, Irons’s performances take on a seductive quality, with an earnest veneer covering an implicit rascaliness or vice versa or a muddled mix of both. With a bewildered look as powerful as a forceful growl, he (his innate talent, his RSC work, his Oscar) is being wasted.

Not that he’s the first thesp to be called in as a ringer for a blockbuster (or that this is his first time on the merry-go-round -- EragonBeautiful Creatures, etc.)...

There’s actually a long tradition of big-name, highly respected actors phoning it in for big paychecks and low effort...(e.g. the whole Hellraiser gang -- Richard Burton, Richard Harris, Peter O’Toole, Oliver Reed), and that’s not even getting into ad work (“We will sell no wine before its time,” hawked Orson Welles). A further case in point, previous Alfred Michael Caine missed the 1987 Oscars (and accepting his first Academy Award for Best Supporting for Hannah and Her Sisters) because he was busy shooting Jaws 4: The Revenge. So in the midst of so much waste of talent and so many actors uttering lines beneath them, what makes this latest announcement upsetting enough to highlight?

Well, we’re talking about Jeremy Irons...


  This is the actor who played Claus von Bulow and Simon Gruber with equal panache. His is the voice that gave many conflicting feelings towards Scar and notions of evil. His are the eyes that similarly confuddled many minds with Humbert Humbert. His physicality swayed us into swoons with his early “Charles” roles (Smithson, Ryder and Swann). I’m not taking particular issue with the supporting (or inherently good) nature of Alfred (Irons can shine through his teeth and can play a bang-up earnest), I’m more concerned with it being another nail in the coffin of his leading man career (possibly a decade or so dead) and the idea that we’ve relegated yet another “thinking woman’s pin-up” to giver of token pearls of wisdom and judgmental glares, in the company of less worthy protagonists.

In a reverse trajectory of his characters’ own titles from missionary (The Mission) to Jesuit priest-musketeer (The Man in the Iron Mask) to bishop (Casanova) to pope (The Borgias), Irons hasn’t played a full-on lead in nearly 20 years (not counting the latest, in very limited release Night Train to Lisbon). Still seeing the twinkle in his eyes and wisps of vitality in his recent roles (with more leeway on the small screen in HBO’s Elizabeth I, Lifetime’s Georgia O’Keefeand Showtime’s The Borgias), I cling to the idea that in spite of his age and his interview nonsensicals, we could still see a few more beloved roles out of Irons before getting to his “Venus” stage and that we should put arms up against him going into that good “supporting” night, though he’s perhaps trodden too far to come back (The Pink Panther 2).

Without Irons, who do we have left to fill this slightly older (and therefore slightly more charismatic), swoon-worthy yet serious acting void?

Fellow musketeer of a certain age (playing D’Artagnon alongside Irons’ Aramis), Gabriel Byrne? Yes, he was a rather dashing German professor in 1994’s Little Women, but since then, he’s played a real rapey pseudo-father/patron/creeper in 2004’s Vanity Fair and this weekend will be seen in the latest, cringey tween “fantasy” Vampire Academy. Another sort-of swashbuckler (1983’s The Pirates of Penzance, 1992’s Chaplin), Kevin Kline? Oh, Kline. There’s another magnificent specimen going to plebeian pastures. Have you seen The Extra Man? Probably not (unless you’re a Paul Dano and/or Jonathan Ames aficionado). Have you seen The Last of Robin Hood? Almost certainly not (in spite of Kline’s Errol Flynn being one of the finest though least seen performances of the year, it’s barely been whispered outside of last year’s TIFF). You saw Last Vegas though, didn’t you? Where his go-to bits involved viagra, a scraggly beard and blunt old man-themed sex chat? Yep. This is why we can’t have nice things. A bit of a wildcard, I’d also place Timothy Dalton in this category, being the personification of a Bronte wetdream. From Bronte to Bond to parodies (both Looney and Cornetto), where have we left him? Voicing Mr. Pricklepants. Seriously, 3 out of 5 of his most recent roles (according to IMDb) have been voicing the Shakespearean-sounding, thesp wannabe stuffed hedgehog from Toy Story 3. What a waste of booming Welsh charisma.    

Meryl Streep and Jeremy Irons in 1981

So what does that mean for Irons? Does he join Michael Caine on the other side of romantic relevancy? Fie! Caine may have already done crossed into retrospective romance-land with last year’s Last Love, which looks a bit too close to Venus for comfort, but Irons is not ready to go into that self-reflective good night (again, overlooking the yet-to-be-seen, ghastly looking Night Train to Lisbon).

Jeremy Irons’ agent, I implore you to find strong, vital scripts that live up to the man’s talents and bearing, rather than letting more years go by in bit parts and on the cinematic sidelines. This is not my Jeremy Irons; I shall adore mine yet, with his contemplative roguish bearing and rapturous voice, and keep him with me as I listen to his narration of Lolita for the upteenth time.

Diana Drumm was recently selected as one of 8 young critics to take part in the 2nd annual NYFF Critics Academy. You can follow her on Twitter or visit her home page.

 

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Reader Comments (17)

I love this consideration but DEAD RINGERS is not mentioned which is suspect. Explain yourself Diana! ;)

February 5, 2014 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Jeremy Irons is a terrible, terrible actor.

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLuke

Well...seductive is in the eye of the beholder. I always found him sinister and profoundly unsettling, though I must admit that I'm only familiar with his later work, where through choices on his part and typecasting on Hollywood's, he became a reliably disturbing, ominous presence in films. I'm actually happy to see him cast as Alfred, who in the comic books is a retired intelligence agent. It would be fascinating to see the kindly, paternal Alfred with a genuine sense of menace simmering underneath.

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterFlickah

Except Dalton's work in Hot Fuzz was actually as excellent as could be with that character. As for Irons? I don't know if ANYONE could entirely recover from "Let their Blood RAIIIIIN from the Sky!!!!!"

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterVolvagia

Just give him an audio book deal so he can win his EGOT. Or another reunion with Glenn Close. The latter being more preferable.

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMustafa

Funny you should mention Gabriel Byrne, as he's having a mini-revival in French films lately. Yesterday, I managed to catch the new Costa-Gavras, "Le Capital," in which Byrne plays a Wall Street-type banker facing off against the "hero," Gad Elmaleh, a French banker who is supposed to do things in a more honourable manner, but who, of course, becomes as corrupt as Byrne in the end.

Byrne is also in another French film supposed to show up here soon (I've been seeing the trailer for a couple of months now), "Le temps de l'aventure," in which he meets Emmanuelle Devos on a train and they start a rather passionate affair.

So, just because Hollywood isn't giving him good roles doesn't mean that he's gone missing.

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBill_the_Bear

"Jeremy Irons is a terrible, terrible actor."
LOL, I support that motion.

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterMe34

He might a bit too sinister for Alfred...

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

...Actor says he regrets suggesting gay marriage would make it tax-effective for fathers to marry their sons...

Sorry, but I have a difficult time separating the artist from the art.

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPatryk

i don't think jeremy irons is, was or ever considered himself an artiste. he's an actor who likes to entertain and be seen by as many people as possible. In other words, a movie star.

he first came to the attention of american viewers in the utterly gorgeous, big budget mini-series of Brideshead Revisited. Essentially a soap opera about love gone wrong among the upper crust. It wasn't BBC art, it was made to make money.
The French Lieutenant's Woman has a literary provenance, but was still made to appeal to a wide audience.
Reversal of Fortune wasn't art for art's sake. It was a big budget movie starring movie stars. Based on titillating and scandalous doings, it is a popular entertainment that, as so many popular movies do, frames an award winning performance.
Dead Ringers is a very well crafted commercial horror movie.
Die Harder he did for the sheer fun and profit of it.
Has he ever been in a bigger movie than Lion King?
Even in the theater (or theatre) he tends to prefer popular and profitable over profound. His new york debut was a monster hot in London and an iron lock cinch to be the same on broadway. His last foray there was intended to be the star power crowning jewel of the season but turned out to be a dog, a sleeping, farting dog.
Jeremy Irons is in movies that are fun to make and the people will want to see. He's a movie star.

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered Commenterverbocityeric

A nice article, Diana. As someone who's writing about Irons and Reversal of Fortune as part of my PhD, I second your call for more leading-man roles for him. And, I always think The Lion King would be a far more interesting - and far less ideologically suspect - movie if Scar were the main character.

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterEdward L.

Good article! Let me provoke you: are you suggesting that now men of a certain age are getting the treatment that Hollywood used to save for females not long ago?

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Since they're both on the docket this week, let me be the first to suggest a Winslet-Irons re-teaming, only this time not in an animated film.

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterPaul Outlaw

No mention of Being Julia?

February 5, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterHenry

His performance in Dead Ringers is one the top 3 male performances I've seen.

February 6, 2014 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

Besides no mention of Dead Ringers, no mention of the full frontal in Damage? Methinks Diana is watching the wrong Jeremy Irons movies. :-)

February 6, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

Between Nathaniel's and others' comments, methinks I need to watch Dead Ringers as soon as humanly possible whereas I guess I watched Damages too young to fully appreciate and therefore calls for a re-watch.. As for Being Julia, Irons was a cuckholded though glamorous and philandering husband-prop. Maybe he's gone from leading man to leading ladies' prop to scenery?... Thanks Bill_the_Bear, I'll check those titles out. Could always be more versed in foreign and/or independent films, especially with Byrne involved (still need to catch up on In Treatment)... Guess I just don't like to think of Alfred with an underlying sadistic nature (however wry or attractive), though it is funny to watch the Nolan Batmans with the context of Caine's roles in Quills, Little Voice or Blame It On Rio.. Thanks everybody for reading the dizzy-eyed rambling of a madwoman, with a thing for Jeremy Irons, and for such a welcome to The Film Experience!

February 10, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterDiana

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