Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

The Untold Truth Of Jeremy Irons

Over the past few decades, Jeremy Irons has become one of the most accomplished actors of his generation. And even if you wouldn't recognize his face, you would almost definitely recognize his voice! From his roles in The Mission and Dead Ringers to his voice work in movies like The Lion King, Irons has always been willing to take creative risks. Today, he's still reaching new audiences with his work in series like Watchmen.

When Irons was young, he had no idea that he would grow up to be an actor. In fact, he didn't really know what he wanted to do. Instead, all he knew for sure was that he didn't want to follow the traditional life path that was expected of him. But how did Irons end up landing his very first acting job? And why does he always seem to play characters that you love to hate? Here are a few little-known facts about Irons, his dynamic acting career, and his many achievements.

Jeremy Irons thought about joining the circus

When Jeremy Irons graduated from private school, he decided that he wanted something different out of life. He didn't feel like he fit in with his classmates, and the career options that were being presented to him — going into the Army or getting a typical office job — didn't sound too appealing. So he tried to come up with better ideas. For a time, he thought about joining the circus. He thought it could be fun to perform in front of crowds and work with animals.

But it didn't take long before Irons changed his mind about joining the world of clowns and tightrope walkers. While the idea seemed exciting, he realized that it wasn't the right choice for him. As he explained to IndieWire, "I looked at sleeping accommodations and decided I was too middle class to put up with that!" Still, the idea of performing in front of people appealed to him. It would be a while before he would specifically commit to acting, but he was already drawn to this art form.

He busked his way around Europe

Despite seriously considering it for a time, Jeremy Irons didn't end up joining the circus, but he did set off on an adventure before going to university. He began busking around Europe while trying to figure out his next steps.

"I'd hitchhike, meet different people, and earn a living from my singing, and that period of my life increased my desire to be a wanderer," Irons said in an interview with journalist Tony Clayton-Lea. During this time in his life, Irons traveled throughout the United Kingdom, Spain, and Italy, and his experiences as a street performer inspired him to look into acting. He decided to put his talents to good use and apply for an ad he'd seen for an acting job. To his surprise, he got the job and then decided that he wanted to study drama. Although his father didn't quite understand why he wanted to become a thespian, he encouraged his son to pursue his goals, and he even decided to pay Irons' university fees.

He gave himself a deadline for success

When Irons began acting, he wasn't sure that his chosen career path was going to work out for him. Like any young artist, he worried that he wouldn't be able to establish himself as financially stable, or that he would never be chosen for the projects that he really wanted to work on. He knew that he truly loved acting, but he wondered if he should have a backup plan. So he decided to give himself a deadline. He would focus on acting until he was 30, and if he wasn't successful by then, he would choose a new career.

Thankfully, Irons had a breakthrough around that time. In 1981, he starred in the popular miniseries Brideshead Revisited, which brought him critical acclaim and enduring attention. In the same year, he appeared in the romantic drama The French Lieutenant's Woman with Meryl Streep. Irons' hard work had definitely paid off, and he realized that he had a bright future as an actor.

Jeremy Irons doesn't view his characters as 'villains'

It's easy to look at Jeremy Irons' many roles and assume that he simply loves to play "the bad guy." After all, it does seem like he gravitates towards characters with ill intentions. Playing the antagonist comes naturally to Irons ... but he wouldn't describe his own roles that way. He doesn't believe that human beings, or the characters he plays, can be put into boxes so easily. He prefers to choose roles that aren't so black and white. Instead, he wants to push the audience to question their motivations and their moral codes.

"I don't think I've ever played a villain," he joked in an interview with IGN. "I've played people who make their own rules. ... I think we're all odd, and I think most film-writing writes very two dimensional rather politically correct characters. They're either very good, or they're very bad. And I love characters where you can say, 'Was he good, or was he bad?' They make you think because we all have that in us."

He's a 'Triple Crown' winner

For an actor, even being nominated for a major award like an Oscar, Emmy, or Tony is a major accomplishment. Winning one can be a career-defining moment. But it's very rare for an actor to be so talented on stage and in front of the camera that they manage to win all three. Irons is one of 22 "Triple Crown" winners, who've managed to collect an Oscar, Emmy, and Tony award.

Which roles helped Irons enter into this exclusive club? In 1982, he won a Tony for his role in the play The Real Thing. In 1990, he won Best Actor at the Academy Awards for his portrayal of Claus von Bulow in the film Reversal of Fortune. And in 1997, he officially became one of the few actors who could say they'd earned a Triple Crown when he won an Emmy for his voice-over performance in The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century. Since then, he's won two additional Emmys, and recently, he was nominated again for his role as Adrian Veidt in Watchmen. And we're not even counting his two Golden Globes. The man has a whole lot of bling.

Jeremy Irons narrates audiobooks and poetry

In addition to his acting abilities, Irons is also known for his distinctive voice. Who could forget his performance as iconic Disney villain Scar in the beloved animated film The Lion King? In fact, in an interesting experiment (via BBC), researchers concluded that Irons' voice was very close to the ideal male speaking voice. His deep, gravely tone can come across as especially trustworthy to listeners. So it may not come as a surprise that in addition to acting, Irons also narrates audiobooks. Irons has provided the narration for widely read novels like The Alchemist. Irons has even recorded audiobooks for novels like Lolita and Brideshead Revisited after acting in their film adaptations. 

Irons has also narrated the work of poet T.S. Eliot. He believes that while poetry like Eliot's can be a bit intimidating to some because of its length and complexity, everyone should enjoy more poetry in their lives, as you can always learn something from a great poem.

He's provided narration for Disney attractions

After voicing Scar in The Lion King, Irons continued to work with Disney in a different capacity. If you've ever visited Disney World, you might've heard Irons' iconic voice while you were on one of the rides! Many of the attractions at Disney World have accompanying films and voiceovers to entertain visitors, and Irons contributed to these productions. And for fans of The Lion King, there was certainly no mistaking his voice. 

From 1994 through 2007, Irons provided narration for the EPCOT attraction Spaceship Earth. The ride explores the entire history of human communication, from prehistoric times to potential futuristic technology. In addition, you could also hear Irons' voice in the short film The Timekeeper, which was a 360-degree movie experience presented at Disney parks around the world. It tells the story of a robot who accidentally brings Jules Verne to the present while experimenting with his new time machine. Verne decides to make the most of his time and explore our society, but at one point in the adventure, he runs into famed sci-fi author H.G. Wells, who's played by, you guessed it, Irons.

He prefers American TV

It might be surprising to hear that a British actor believes American TV shows are superior, but Irons is partial to the latter. When describing his preference for American television in a 2011 interview with Daily Actor, Irons explained that, "There is a professionalism, which sometimes makes some British work feel a little bit amateur." He went on to say, "I mean, you know, you've got your Mad Men, The Wire -– the list would go on and on. And I think in the last ten years, there's been a revolution in American television largely to do, I have to say, with cable, but it spreads around."

Irons has appeared in several TV shows produced in the United States. For example, he played Captain Jackson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and more recently, he took on the role of Adrian Veidt in the Emmy award-winning HBO series Watchmen. And yeah, he's totally amazing every time he steps onto the small screen, whether it's in the US or across the pond.

Jeremy Irons says that theater acting is a 'workout'

Irons fell in love with acting as a drama student, and he was known for his work in theater before he began acting in movies and TV shows. Today, Irons still has a deep appreciation for theater acting, and he does return to the stage every now and then. When he took on an emotionally intense role as James Tyrone in a 2016 production of A Long Day's Journey Into the Night, he said that he was motivated to play the part because he needed "a workout."

Irons finds that acting in plays challenges him in a way that acting in movies or TV shows simply doesn't. "You can get a bit lazy, film acting," Irons explained in an interview with The Arts Desk. "You don't have to play a long phrase of three hours, you don't have to communicate to an audience, you're just communicating with a camera. Yes, you have to think, but you're thinking in much shorter spans. You're able to knit little bits together." Of course, when you're in the middle of a scene on stage, there are no breaks, and sometimes, an artist like Jeremy Irons needs that kind of pressure.

His favorite writer is Shakespeare

Jeremy Irons has a deep love of literature and poetry, and his favorite writer is William Shakespeare. Coming from Irons, this is no surprise. Like any accomplished stage actor, he's well-versed in Shakespeare's works. Decades ago, he appeared in Richard II with the Royal Shakespeare Company, and in 2004, he played Antonio in the film version of The Merchant of Venice. He also worked on the BBC production Shakespeare Uncovered.

But it isn't just Shakespeare's incredible talent for crafting engaging and entertaining narratives that inspires Irons. The characters in Shakespeare's plays are exactly the kinds of characters that interest Irons most as an actor. "I think nobody since has written such extraordinary work as Shakespeare writes," Irons said in an interview with Esquire. "The characters he writes are full of inconsistencies, which is a great human quality — I mean we're all very inconsistent in the way we behave." As a playwright, the characters that Shakespeare created feel authentic and real, and for Irons, that's what makes these stories timeless.

He lives in a castle

While Irons does spend much of his time traveling for work, he currently resides in a restored castle situated along the Irish coastline in West Cork. His wife, Sinead Cusack, is Irish, and the first time they visited Cork with friends, he was immediately struck with the feeling that he'd finally come home. He began looking for a place to live that very afternoon, and eventually, he went on to purchase the castle. He says he enjoys the sense of solitude that comes with living in West Cork.

"One of the problems with the whole celebrity thing is that everyone feels they know you — that can be lovely," Irons said in an interview with Tony Clayton-Lea, "but there are times when you just want to be on your own. This is one of the reasons I love living in West Cork — people there leave you alone."  He also likes the slower pace of life compared to his time in cities. Irons continued, "For me, it's a wonderful contrast to my professional life, which can occasionally be quite frenetic."

Jeremy Irons supports prison reform

In interviews, Jeremy Irons will happily offer up his opinion on practically any topic under the sun, and when he learns about an issue that he could use his platform to help solve, he takes action. He believes that actors have a duty to use their celebrity for good causes when they have the opportunity to do so. One issue that Irons is particularly passionate about addressing is prison reform. 

Irons funds an organization called the Prison Phoenix Trust, which aids in rehabilitation efforts for prisoners by teaching them meditation and yoga. "There are some causes that I am happy to use my celebrity to raise awareness for," Irons said in a discussion hosted by Chivas Regal. When describing the Prison Phoenix Trust, he continued, "I think it is a remarkably successful efficient and successful way to help prisoners with their rehabilitation, and if I can help the charity by raising their profile and getting the trust a bit more money, then all the better."