Jeremy Irons: Perfecting the Bad Guy

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Jeremy Irons as Rodrigo Borgia from <em>The Borgias</em>
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“You can’t play a bad guy thinking, ‘I’m a bad guy,’” Jeremy Irons tells Kurt Andersen. “You’ve got to say, ‘Why does he make that choice to behave in that way?’” It’s all about playing the gray areas.

Irons knows from despicable; for 40 years, he’s been our best bad guy — the possibly murderous Claus von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune; the deranged twins in Dead Ringers; the fratricidal Scar in The Lion King. Irons’ latest complicated character is Rodrigo Borgia, a pope with mistresses and illegitimate children, in Showtime’s The Borgias.

It’s a good thing Irons was bad at science. “I wanted to be a veterinarian,” he tells Kurt, “but I didn’t show any signs of a scientific mind.” The headmaster thought he would join the army; his mates thought he’d become an antiques dealer. Instead, at 64, Irons is as busy in film as ever. Kurt wonders whether Irons ever agonizes over the roles he takes. “No, I’m pretty sanguine about that. I sort of know what I want to do and it comes just through appetite. I mean you see a bacon sandwich on a full stomach you think, ‘I don’t want it.’ And then, you know a day later you look at it and think, ‘I’ll eat that.’”

 

Bonus Track: Jeremy Irons' 3 for 360