The Good, The Bad & The Badass: Jeremy Irons
Jeremy Irons has always been a striking screen presence. As a child of the eighties and nineties, I knew him mostly from voicing Scar in THE LION KING although even by the time I saw DIE HARD WITH A VENGEANCE in ’95 (when I was thirteen) I knew of his reputation as an art-house staple, with only occasional forays (at the time) into the Hollywood mainstream.
As I got older I started to go back and watch some of his movies and around the time I was utterly grossed-out and fascinated by a late-night screening of DEAD RINGERS on the CBC, I knew he was one of the great talents of his generation. Despite this, he’s had his professional ups and downs. The nineties were probably his best era, but a horrible, scenery-chewing performance in DUNGEONS & DRAGONS, followed by turn in the thoroughly mediocre THE TIME MACHINE led to a quiet few years, before he came back with a juicy part in Ridley Scott’s compromised KINGDOM OF HEAVEN (please see the amazing director’s cut).
Since then, Irons has settled-in as one of the great, mature English character actors, dividing his time evenly between parts in big-budget Hollywood movies like BEAUTIFUL CREATURES and – notably – a new on-going part as Alfred in BATMAN V SUPERMAN: DAWN OF JUSTICE, and more art-house centric turns, such as in David Lynch’s INLAND EMPIRE and HIGH-RISE. Always in-demand, Irons is an unmistakable presence and always on everyone’s shortlist of the most iconic actors in the biz – and well-worthy of being called a badass.
To me, Irons has never been better than he was in David Cronenberg’s ultra-twisted DEAD RINGERS. Playing twin gynecologists, one of the brothers, Beverly, is quiet and shy while the other, Elliot, is a smooth-talking lady-killer. As the movie goes-on, it becomes darker and darker, with one of the brothers commissioning bizarre gynecological tools to “operate on mutant women”, as both slip into drug abuse and insanity. It’s a weird, often gross movie but it remains one of Cronenberg’s most iconic works, and Irons is incredible.
As much as I like Irons, he does have a tendency to get a little theatrical at times and that occasionally mars his performances. Once such case was THE HOUSE OF THE SPIRITS, a movie he did where he plays a Chilean land-baron, not a part that would seem to be too ideal a fit. He actually fares better than any of the other Europeans and American actors trying to come-off as Latin, but it’s a weird movie to watch with everyone using these phony, broad accents – although this was definitely the norm back in the nineties when this was produced.
Remember the time Jeremy Irons played the lead in an action film? Of course you don’t, as the movie, THE FOURTH ANGEL, barely got a release. Having wrapped hot-on-the-heels of 9/11, it was one of several terrorism-related movies that got buried although I remember seeing it on cable and thinking it was pretty decent. Irons plays a reporter for The Economist, whose wife and two children are murdered right-in-front of his eyes during a brutal terrorist hijacking. When the killers are turned loose, Irons teams up with an FBI agent (Forest Whitaker) for payback. Watching the posh, reserved Irons ride around on a motorcycle and fire an Uzi is awfully weird at first, but what made the film unique is exactly that Irons feels like such a sophisticated, non-violent type of guy, making his DEATH WISH transformation more striking. It’s not a great movie, but it’s intriguing and well-directed by B-movie genre specialist John Irvin (HAMBURGER HILL, RAW DEAL).
If’ you’re between the ages of 25-35, you probably grew-up watching THE LION KING over-and-over, and I’m sure Irons’s vocal performance as the villainous Scar haunted many of your dreams. The scene where he kills Mufasa (voiced by James Earl Jones) is pretty heavy for a G-rated Disney flick, and an iconic moment in the studio’s history.
With him kicking-off his Alfred-run with BATMAN V SUPERMAN, Irons has likely found himself a comfortable little place in a major franchise, but even still he’s got another potential franchise in the making with a part opposite Michael Fassbender (who resembles him as a young man) in ASSASSIN’S CREED.
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