Jeremy Irons, who I am about to meet, is an Oscar winning actor, married to Sinead Cusack, daughter of Cyril. But a certain pink castle, in West Cork is what people in Ireland think of, when I mention his name. Being a member of the Georgian Society and having a keen interest in architecture, I wrote to Jeremy, asking to be allowed to see his castle, but was politely refused on the grounds that it wasn’t ready yet. Perhaps, it occurs to me, this will be my chance to be invited in for tea.
Being a major star, Jeremy has a comprehensive website, full of fascinating facts. I know, for instance, that his name is not pronounced Eye-rons, but instead is pronounced aaahrrnns, like the metal. And that if you look closely at his signet ring, you will see the letters JJI, which stand for Jeremy John Irons. He drives an Audi A6 Quatro estate, because even though it’s ‘a nice bit of kit’, you can park it in the seedier parts of London. He dreams of a Bentley, rides a BMW bike, and his very first car was a Morris Minor, which he bought for a fiver.
Having become utterly absorbed in Jeremy’s hobbies and interests, I suddenly realise that I am late, and run the last stretch to the Dorchester where, panting, I am directed upstairs, to where there is a poster for ‘Being Julia’, Jeremy’s latest film. Annette Bening plays a stage actress who is married to an impresario, played by Jeremy. Julia is beginning to lose her looks, but is drawn into an affair with a man half her age. Irons is sumptuous as her husband, discreetly ignoring her affair and politely allowing it to play it’s course, even going to far as to invite his young rival to stay with them in the country, prompting a crisis for his wife.
I am shown into the ‘waiting room’, and given tea. The room is full of journalists. I tell myself I am Hugh Grant, in ‘Notting Hill’, waiting to meet Julia Roberts, and pretend to be nonchalant, as I eavesdrop on the conversation. They bitch loudly about the various celebrities that they have had to wait for, over the years. One woman waited six hours for Keanu Reeves, another four hours for Gareth Gates. ‘Gareth Gates!’ she spits the name. I will be allowed precisely twenty minutes with Jeremy. Twenty minutes is the time it usually takes me to warm up. I panic, and start writing questions, furiously. I am reminded of the driving test and how I failed it three times.
I am escorted by a PR person, to a chair, in a corridor just outside the actual interview room. Down the hall, I can see other PR people, all in black with clip-boards. I am on Death Row. From inside, I can hear the famous voice. And then finally I am in a room and Jeremy Irons is sitting opposite me, long, lean, butterscotch corduroy legs elegantly crossed, the famous dark eyes fixed on me, rolling a cheroot. We shake hands. And open my mouth. Words come out, of their own accord.
I tell him that I wrote to him about the castle.
‘Did I write back?’ he asks, lighting up the cheroot, langorously. ‘We haven’t had anybody in, because even though we have been living in it for two years, it will never be quite ready. And because it’s my home. Because I love my privacy so much.’
‘Hang on a minute,’ I say. ‘I’m interviewing you for a Sunday newspaper!’ He laughs.
‘I know! But that doesn’t mean I have to let you into my home!’
The Knight of Glin once visited the castle, it transpires, when Jeremy was out.
‘He wrote me a wonderful letter, said it is the best restoration he has ever seen in Ireland. I was thrilled with that!’
‘I remember the fuss about the paint,’ I say. It turned out not to be pink, but a sort of rusty colour.
‘That was such bullshit! The Times sent people to interview all my outraged neighbours and they couldn’t find any! It was a story that stuck to me, all over the world, though.’
‘A good way to draw attention to yourself,’ I point out.
‘Yeah. But we did a jazz riff on the medieval. And the building demands what it demands.’
Another controversial story involved a campaign to prevent holiday homes being built in Castletownsend.
‘We managed to cut the number of houses by two thirds, which isn’t bad. But I just hope it will be filled with at least some local people.’
There was also a scheme to bring underprivileged city children to stay at the castle. This was thwarted by red tape.
‘I realised that I was in deep shit, if I was going to get city kids to come down. Because suddenly things like fire escapes would have been needed and that would have completely spoilt the integrity of the place. But I have a little island as well, so there may be a way of using that for the kids.’
Jeremy once said that he became an actor to escape from the society that he was raised in. He was born on the Isle of Wight, raised middle class English. Class ridden and hierarchical.
‘Surely,’ I say ‘The society of actors must be more horrific?’
‘I don’t live in the society of actors,’ he says. ‘I have a few friends, but very few who are actors.’
‘But your wife is an actor and so is your son,’ I point out.
‘It is true that he will go to drama school, yes. ‘But I think actors are some of the nicest people,’ he says, charmingly. ‘If you compare them with groups of doctors or groups of horse trainers or bank managers!’
‘But aren’t they quite vain and self obsessed?’
‘That is a danger, because we look at our own image all the time. It is a danger, but the actors I work with are not vain. Annette Bening, for instance. Even though Warren (Beatty) is generally thought to be the inspiration behind the song ‘You’re So Vain’!’
I tell him that I think the celebrity system is the modern equivalent of ‘Upstairs Downstairs’.
‘Do you think so? In West Cork, it’s not like that. My nature is fairly anarchic and I don’t like hierarchies. That’s one of the reasons why I love West Cork, because I am just a person, even if I am a film actor.’
He has, he says, been known to sing in the local pubs.
‘I play my fiddle, as well. Very badly. Irish fiddle, I can’t get my head around. It’s very fast. And the rythms are very difficult for an Anglo to get!’
But he’s not a full blooded Anglo, he assures me.
‘There is a lot of me that is Celtic. My great grandmother was born just behind Sandymount Strand. And when I first went to West Cork, I though ‘I am home!”
He’s very careful, he says, not to throw his weight about in Cork. He doesn’t mind being told to butt out.
WE discuss the impact on the Irish psyche of having been booted about by the English. I remind him that we did our share of booting about. We talk about Grace O Malley, the Pirate Queen.
‘I think the famine left an imprint on the Irish psyche,’ he says. ‘My wife is a much more intellectual person than I am. But just listening to the way I talk sometimes makes her feel upset.’
‘Because you have a plummy accent?’
‘Yeah. Which, of course, means nothing.’
Jeremy and Sinead married in 1978. They had both worked in London, in theatres that backed onto each other.
‘We met at a birthday party and we have been together for nearly thirty years.’
In all of that time, only a rumour of trouble, when Jeremy was photographed kissing someone outside a London club. But the couple are still very happy together.
‘ What makes the marriage work?’ I ask.
‘I don’t know. I think through respect for each other and deep affection. What makes a marriage work? Not giving up!’
They are both competitive.
‘ But we cope with it pretty well. And we know the true nature of celebrity, which is meaningless!’
In ‘Damage’ and in ‘Lolita’ and now this new film, a middle aged person becomes attracted to a much younger one. A co-incidence, he assures me.
‘I think it is a trap that many men fall into. And women. You just have to look around you,’ he says.
‘ But one of the great things about making movies is that you are able to explore situations without the messiness of actually doing them! It enables you to lead a normal life, without all that drama and without messing up the things you really value.’
‘What would you do if your wife did fall in love with a twenty year old?’ I ask.
‘One never knows. But you have to decide what you want in life and if something comes along that could disrupt that, you try to ride it out.’
‘Would you forgive?’
‘I don’t think there is any point in going on with anything unless you do forgive.’
The PR arrives to boot me out. I leave, but not without an invitation for the Georgian Society to make a field trip to the pink castle. And, lets face it, somewhat charmed by an older gent.