If the character of Macon Ravenwood – the spooky, mysterious yet perfectly cultured uncle of the teenage witch Lena Duchannes in the popular young adult novel “Beautiful Creatures” – seems like a a perfectly tailored fit for Jeremy Irons to play in the film adaption – well, it was.
Young adult novelists Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl admit that when they were conjuring up a model for the gentlemanly but dangerous guardian of the heroine of their bestselling Caster Chronicles series, Irons was the erudite man on their minds – never dreaming their tale would be ultimately brought to the big screen with Irons himself in the role. The 64-year-old Academy Award-winning actor reveals that having a part written with him in mind hasn’t always been a big selling point, explains his ambivalence about total preparation versus no preparation, and offers sage advice for all those pursuing the life of an actor, Oscar or no Oscar.
When did you discover that you were an inspiration for the character on the page?
I remember somebody telling me at some point, but honestly, I can't remember, whether it was before I signed or after I signed. Hopefully the writers are happy with what I finally produced, whether it was something sort of similar to what they had in mind. I rather hope not, because I'd hate to be thought as being completely expected and conventional. But I have in the past received scripts from people who said, ‘I wrote this with you in mind,’ and I’ve absolutely hated it, so it's not something I find particularly attractive to be told.
What struck you about this character that made you want to walk around in his shoes?
I talked a bit to Richard LaGravenese and having read the script, I thought he had a certain sort of wit and charm and enigmatic quality which I liked. I liked some of the scenes he had. I wasn't very clear, and I'm still not very clear about who he is and why he is. I think that's one of the problems with Macon – I think you even find that in the book from what I understand, although I never read the book. I was warned off that by Richard who said, ‘You won't find that helpful. We actually have to distill the book into the movie.’ And I came on to the movie very late straight off another film, and I just didn't have time actually to read the books. So since he is a man who has power to change a lot about himself and about his environment, it's fairly difficult to pin him down which I think is perhaps how he should be.
Do you enjoy jumping in a bit unprepared?
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I used to feel that way, but I'm not sure I now feel like that. I've just done 'Henry IV' for PBS – mind you, that's Shakespeare – and I was completely prepared for that and I found it a great help. But I think there's some dialogue and some situations...I suppose I'd think of it like a tennis play. You hope you’re fit. You hope you don't miss the shot. You come up to the court, and you don't know what's going to happen. On ‘Margin Call,’ I had no preparation for. Even if I wanted to be prepared for that, I couldn't because there wasn't time. I would have liked to have been more prepared for that. So I think now probably the way that I would aim to be is to be completely ready for anything, which demands a certain preparation – and then just throw it all out.
The younger actors on this film often get asked if they've received advice from the more experienced actors. They say no one ever sits down and goes, ‘Let me tell you....’ But if you had to impart something to the people who are going to make a living as actors, what would you say?
Don't give up.
Is it easy to want to give up?
Yeah. You're always being slapped down. You're always being rejected. You're always being made to feel you can’t do it, and the ones who succeed are the ones who don't give up. I was told that by the principal in my theater school. I remember calling him: I was working down at The Old Vic in Bristol, and it was twelve o'clock at night. We were changing one play out from another set was coming in. In those days, I used to get asthma from the dust in the theater. It was an old theater, so I was always wheezing and I wasn't getting any roles on stage. I was doing all the stuff off stage and working very long hours. And I remember calling him and moaning, ‘Not sure I can deal with this.’ On the other end of the line, he said, ‘Soldier on, Jeremy. Soldier on.’
Does that still apply, even after one has won an Oscar?
Yeah, I think so. Oscars are great, but people forget. And really, my career wasn't any different either side of the Oscars. I just kept trying to do what amused me and what interested me and working with people I admired. And that's telling stories that interested me, and that never changed. And you go through periods where everybody wants you, and you go through periods where nobody wants you. It's the nature of it. I suppose by the time you get to my stage of life, it just becomes your way of life. I mean, I've been able to get a pretty broad base. I have theater in New York, and I also have theater in London. I have films in Europe or films in England or films here, television. I can move around a bit if a particular market becomes less interested in me, and it had been for a bit. But it will come back.
Nothing’s decided. I'm probably going to do another series of ‘The Borgias.’ I've done sort of two years straight. I've made four films, two series of ‘The Borgias’ and two documentaries, and I'm sort of feeling now I'd quite like to stop for a little bit.