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Just Like You Imagined

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Irons as Pope Alexander VI in The Borgias.  

Irons’s wife of 33 years, the actress ­Sinéad Cusack, is apparently fine with this; no doubt she’s used to her husband’s decrees—including his disdain for organized religion (she is a practicing Catholic): “I don’t really approve of religion … I’m not quite sure the relevance Christianity has.” Their son Max, 25 (brother to Sam, 32), is currently starring in Red Riding Hood. Irons hasn’t seen the film, but he did catch the Jimmy Kimmel appearance in which Max talked about his eternal embarrassment over his dad’s driving around in a horse and buggy in the town where he grew up. Irons smiles indulgently. The father is resigned to letting the son find his own way. “I hope he never gets out of touch with theater, and I hope he doesn’t get too seduced by the money and all that,” says Irons. “I wish him well. But it’s always, for any parent, a slightly heart-in-the-mouth situation when you see your child climbing a rock face.”

Should The Borgias come back after the first season, the actor is committed to the series for five months out of the year, perhaps for three or four years. He is aware of and on guard against the lusty tendencies of cable TV’s costume dramas: “I know there are some series where there is a bit of history and a bit of fucking and a bit of history and a bit of fucking,” he says. “I think [Showtime] would have liked to have made it even more about that, but I wouldn’t want to be involved in something that’s just as obviously … You know, if you want fucking, there’s a lot of other channels.” (For the record, there is still quite a lot of fucking in The Borgias.)

As he’s telling me about his desire to play King Lear (“The next fifteen years, I’ll be right for it. And the next ten, I’ll be able to remember my lines”), a man approaches to ask if Irons would mind posing with his giggling female companion. The actor lets out an exasperated sigh. It is the first indication that being Jeremy Irons might be a bit of work. Then it’s gone, the Irons of your imagination returns, and it’s impossible to tell if his annoyance was real or feigned. He looks up at the woman, leaning awkwardly over him, and wraps his arm around her waist: “You’re falling over. Come and sit down. Just don’t show it to my wife. Ha. Ha. Pleasure. My ­pleasure.”


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