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Last Updated: Thursday, 25 November, 2004, 15:51 GMT
Jeremy Irons
Jeremy Irons
Irons won an Academy Award for his role in Reversal of Fortune
In a HardTalk Extra interview screened on 25 November, Jeremy Irons talked to Noel Thompson about his latest film and his "yearning for madness".

For copyright reasons this interview is no longer available for viewing.

Jeremy Irons was once told that had he been born 30 years earlier, he could have been a matinee idol.

He rose to international fame in the television series "Brideshead Revisited" and could have chosen to spend the rest of his career playing the quintessential Englishman of good breeding.

Instead, he has chosen roles that help him to explore humanity's "darker side".

In his new film, Being Julia, Irons plays Michael Gosselyn, the theatre-producer husband of the fabulous actress Julia Lambert, played by Annette Bening.

Julia is a woman facing both the long slide into old age and ravenous hordes of young actresses yearning to take her place.

She orchestrates a cruel and very public revenge on a young pretender - and one of the last scenes of the film sees Irons' character embracing his wife, thrilled by her courage and audacity.

Why does Irons' character glory in his wife's terrible behaviour? Irons explains: "She's fighting for her life .. this young actress is going to try to take over from her and I think it's a bit of a catfight. She wins quite well."

"Exploring the edges"

Irons believes that all human beings are capable of almost anything - and that's why he is attracted to roles that explore extremes.

I'm a very instinctive person. I like to surprise myself, and really my work is my therapy
Jeremy Irons
Of his own films, his favourites are Dead Ringers - where he played gynaeocologist twins who descend into madness - and Lolita, where he played Humbert Humbert, a man who falls in love with a pre-pubescent girl.

Irons told Noel Thompson that these roles "explore the edges of acceptable human behaviour .. they allow an audience to live through a situation which may be immoral, may be illegal, may be unsavoury, it allows them to live through it in the safety of their theatre seats."

Working in New York some years ago, Irons went to a therapist but she told him that he was not ready for therapy - because he wasn't inquisitive about himself. Irons believes this is true.

"I'm a very instinctive person. I like to surprise myself, and really my work is my therapy. I explore areas of myself through the characters I play in a controlled situation."

Revenge of a shy man?

Irons' wife, the actress Sinead Cusack, described acting as "the shy man's revenge".

Irons agreed that this might be true: "I do think I am on stage certainly that I am the most liberated in that I can show more of myself than in any other situation."

Irons also spoke passionately about his defence of hunting. Irons hunts in Ireland and said he believes that people should be allowed to do what they want as long as they don't harm other people.

"I'm appalled that really for political reasons Tony Blair is allowing his back benchers, who are bored, who have no power and want to stir it up.

"They want to get back at the way the Tories dealt with the miners, so they think they'll ban the nobs hunting."

So has Irons regretted not becoming a matinee idol? He said the secret of life is a good balance, and he thinks he has achieved it.

But as with all matters of balance, he said, "you always have to shift your weight".

HARDtalk Extra can be seen on Fridays on BBC World at 04:30 GMT, 11:30 GMT, 15:30 GMT, 19:30 GMT and 00:30 GMT.

It can also be seen on BBC News 24 at 04:30 and 23:30

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