Actor Jeremy Irons talks career, diplomacy & Clangers, and reveals his favourite bus route to Amy Shoes…
Jeremy Irons is late, so I take a corner table in one of Piccadilly’s newest restaurants, The Liza Minnelli Experience, and go through my questions carefully. He detests being asked about his alleged resemblance to Richard II (he once punched Michael Aspel through a Burger King window), so I quickly discard that one. I also decide to lose the one about co-hosting Springwatch with Bill Oddie; I don’t want any flashbacks to the eagle owl incident, not in a crowded restaurant. And of course people are eating…
Irons, when he arrives, is effusive in his apologies. I ask if the bus was late, and he laughs. “No, I knocked over a display in the Disney Store. I had a burger at the time, and got some mayonnaise on a Buzz Lightyear, so obviously I had to offer to clean him up. It came off pretty easily actually, just a few wipes and it was gone. But then I fell on a child”. Is he normally clumsy? “No, not usually. Though having said that, I did recently drop a Nintendo Wii on Juliette Binoche”.
Jeremy Irons has been one of Britain’s most bankable stars since his big break back in 1955. At the time he was working on and off for the United Nations, where his duties included ordering stationary, watering the Aspidistras, and filling in for Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld whenever he’d been on one of his legendary Schnapps benders. “Yes, it taught me a lot about acting, and a lot about making policy on behalf of the Western world. In fact, I almost made a ‘Korea’ out of it”. He laughs and I enjoy the joke, but after a moment or two he becomes suddenly serious. “You know Vietnam was my fault?” he says, his distinctive rasping tone wracked with what sounds like guilt. “I was reading for a part in the Clangers and I took my eye off the ball”. There’s a pause, and then he brightens. “Still, f**k it”.
Back to the topic. We’re here to talk public transport, and I venture to ask about his favourite way of getting around London. “The 159”, he answers smoothly, without a trace of a hesitation. “The 159 is one of the best bus routes in London, if not the world. Do you know you can get from Brixton all the way to Edgeware Road on that b*tch? It’s a mind-f**k”. There’s the 3, I say. That takes you pretty much the same way. Irons rolls his eyes contemptuously. “Sure, if you want to look like a bell-end, take the 3. It’s for old women and chimps”. He shakes his head at my suggestion. “You might as well get in a wheelie bin and ask Aled Jones to give you a push”. So it’s not ‘cool’ then? He doesn’t even answer this time, preferring to spit a chunk of asparagus at a passing guide dog. It’s not cool then.
Over coffee we talk about the films he’s made since leaving the UN. I particularly want to ask him about his remake of The Man in the Iron Mask, recently voted by the Academy Best Film of All Time. “We had no idea we were making such a hit”, he recalls. “It was just another job; it was only afterwards I realised just how my portrayal of Aramis changed everybody’s lives. Before that, you could go down the Old Kent Road and get a chicken burger from any shop you passed; now you try it, people are all dressed in seventeenth-century wigs and shouting about Popery”. He shakes his head in amazement. “You can’t get anything now; not even a bag of chicken dippers. It’s all mead and porridge. And everything’s in groats! We did that. But was it right?”
Its time to go, and Irons insists on paying the bill. “No, I wouldn’t hear of it”, he maintains, as I ask him about the decline of the crab population in the Orkney Islands. I suppose that’s fair enough, not many people would have heard of it. But with Irons’ huge intellect and ravenous capacity for learning, you’d think if anyone would, it would be him. I ask about the rumours he bought the British Library just so he had something to read on a flight to Jersey. “No, no that was such tabloid nonsense”. But are the tabloids always wrong? I hold my breath and go for it: did he eat that puffin? “The puffin…yes, that was true. I’m totally ashamed of that, but I was with Terry Nutkins and he dared me…look, I was stupid. Its something I regret”. And what about Bill Oddie and the eagle owl? Irons is blank a moment, then grins wickedly. “That was f**king delicious”.
Tickets for the 159 can be purchased from the box office; quote the Clockwork Times to get your free copy of ‘Memorable Bus Routes Compiled by the Cast of Die Hard’