Irons man rides again
December 16, 2006 11:00pm
THERE’S no fire in Jeremy Irons. Sprawled in a seat occupied minutes earlier by his energetic young Eragon co-star Ed Speleers, the veteran actor seems tired.
Dragging at dark, grey bags under his eyes, he sighs that someone just stopped him in the corridor of London’s Dorchester hotel and told him he looked awful.
(It’s entirely possible they were referring to his eccentric wardrobe choice of medieval lace-up pants paired with Asian-style jacket, though I don’t point this out.)
Charming good-looker Irons is chaperoned by a personal female publicist who chips in occasionally to our conversation, and takes detailed notes.
They both quiver ever-so-slightly at my opening mention of the last dragon-themed movie Irons was in – the forgettable stinker Dungeons and Dragons.
Hopes are higher for fantasy flick Eragon.
In it, Irons plays broken old dragon-rider Brom, who has lost his powers and is resigned to living under the rule of evil King Galbatorix, played by John Malkovich.
Brom becomes a mentor to young hero Eragon after the farm boy discovers a dragon egg which hatches and grows into a glorious flying beast, Saphira.
Lighting up a small hand-rolled cigar, Irons, 58, finally manages a smile under his neat, clipped beard at the mention of his young co-star Speleers.
In a mirror image of the on-screen action, Irons mentored the debut actor as the schoolboy found his feet on the set of his first feature film.
The charming Oscar winner was impressed by the naked spontaneity of the teenager. His raw talent sparked a flicker of excitement in a world-weary Irons.
“Whenever you see unknowingness or naivety, it gives you something back. It’s a very attractive quality,” he says.
“Technique and experience bring you certain things (as an actor) but you also lose some things.”
Irons made a concerted effort to put Speleers at ease on set.
“There is nothing worse than working with an actor with whom you feel at a disadvantage,” says Irons, whose movie credits include Reversal of Fortune, The Man in the Iron Mask and Stealing Beauty.
He tried to be a mate as well as mentor to Speleers, larking about off camera in between proffering advice to Speleers on how to manage his career.
The burden on Irons to play mentor was somewhat increased because Eragon director Stefen Fangmeier, making his debut after a stellar career in visual effects, confessed early on to knowing little about the craft of acting.
Four-time Oscar winner Fangmeier’s strength is the special effects expertise picked up on films such as Twister and The Perfect Storm. His wide experience shows in the state-of-the-art fantasy world he successfully creates in Eragon.
Speleers is effusive in praising Irons for guiding him through the movie-making process.
“Jeremy always provided words of advice and always nurtured me,” Speleers says. “He was doing so out of the kindness of his heart, but at the same time so much of Brom was in Jeremy.”
Irons hopes the movie will reach an audience he hasn’t reached for a while.
“Brom appealed to me. He has a wryness and fierceness, but at the same time he’s a good man,” Irons says.
An experienced horseman, he didn’t find the many riding scenes too challenging.
Irons spent hours learning a specific style of swordplay to prepare for fight scenes, and enjoyed the physical challenge.
It’s impossible to avoid the sense, though, that he found the overall experience dissatisfying.
The fantasy is based on a novel by teenager Christopher Paolini, and is the first of an expected trilogy.
Irons is no fan of the book. “It’s not well written,” he says.
However, the book spent 87 weeks on the New York Times best-seller list and has sold millions of copies.
Irons says the resulting film is probably not something he’d ever go and see, unless it was to accompany young relatives.
The restless actor’s comments suggest he considers the role of Brom was a bit of a comedown from some of his previous career successes. He reflects that he was spoilt in his 30s and 40s when he was offered lead roles, and hints that he struggled to cope with playing a smaller part.
Irons longs for a meatier character to play. But they don’t come that often, he says wistfully. And there are a lot of actors chasing them. He fears he will be consigned only to Brom-style roles in future – those of an older man passing on wisdom. He hopes he’s wrong.
Directing, he suspects, might provide a longed-for career challenge.
Irons is more effusive as he discusses his recently-discovered Irish heritage, and the 15th century castle he has restored in Ireland.
Previously his only link to Ireland was his Irish actor wife Sinead Cusack.