Times: Sunday, Jan. 02, 2005 By MICHELE ORECKLIN
Actor Jeremy Irons currently appears in the films The Merchant of Venice, Being Julia and Callas Forever.
What is it like adapting Shakespeare for the screen rather than the stage?
It frees things up. A huge bulk of text onstage is fed over to describing what’s happened, what’s going to happen, but the great thing about film is that you can show it and cut all that descriptive dialogue and verse. What [director] Michael Radford did with the script was cut about a third without sacrificing the story line. As a result, the story plays much more dramatically.
In the film, your character, Antonio, has to spit on Al Pacino’s character, Shylock. What was that like?
Actually, with the way movies are filmed now, I was spitting on an X-mark in one location and Al was being spit upon by someone else at a different location. The Merchant of Venice is often criticized for its portrayal of Jews.
Do you think Shakespeare was anti-Semitic?
No, I don’t. Shakespeare was a commentator, a true artist. He wrote about what he saw. I do think it’s a story about anti-Semitism, but I don’t think it’s anti-Semitic. He was saying this is what happens when two cultures don’t respect each other and this is what happens when you carry things to fundamentalist extremes.
In Being Julia and Forever Callas, your character has to wrangle divas. Any advice on how to deal with them?
I ride horses, and I know that if I have something I’m riding that has excess spirit, it is to be valued. I think divas are the same … If they’re difficult, it’s because they care a lot and they’re trying to do something extraordinary. I much prefer that to someone who is easy to work with but is only trying to jump 2 ft.