Jeremy Irons is mindful when it comes to wasteful packaging. "I try to leave the package in the shop where I bought it and tell them to deal with it. I don't buy anything that's made of plastic unless I have to. I compost and separate," he says, noting that if we all take small steps like this "we'll make a difference."
On Feb. 1, Irons hosts the "Henry IV & Henry V" installment of the PBS documentary series "Shakespeare Uncovered," which delves into the stories behind the Bard's greatest plays. He filmed it while shooting his role as the titular king in the two "Henry IV" plays and in "Henry V," which will air on PBS "Great Performances" next fall under the title "The Hollow Crown," along with "Richard II," and he's excited about both presentations.
"You see some of the best British actors play Shakespeare; it can open this gold dust to the American audience and show them that television doesn't end with 'Downton Abbey,'" he says. "If you think that's good, watch these Shakespeare productions and you'll see what real writing, real stories and real characters are all about."
Irons' long-time relationship with Shakespeare's plays dates back to time he played Florizel in "The Winter's Tale," and "I don't think I succeeded very well. He's a true romantic and a bit stupid and when I was that age I couldn't play that," he admits. "When I came to play Richard II, I think I had begun to get my head around life a bit more. You live, and I think you get better with Shakespeare. You go deeper, you look at clues in the language to see where it takes you emotionally, and then trust in those emotions."
He felt that the opportunity to play Henry IV on screen, especially in Richard Eyre's "wonderfully intelligent, driving, dramatic adaptations," would give new insight into the king and the father-son relationship at the heart of the story. "Having had sons myself, I understood the whole business of the boy breaking the umbilical cord from his very successful father, beginning to make his own way, finding peers he admired, and then coming back as a grown-up and making a relationship with his father. I think why Shakespeare shines as the greatest dramatist of all time is that he was writing about the human condition, whether it be the comedies or the tragedies or the historical plays," he believes. "When we see these plays now, they still speak to us with a resonance that many hundreds of plays written between Shakespeare's time and today don't."
While Irons wishes he had had the chance to play Richard II on film as well as Hamlet ("now I'm too old"), he has plenty to keep him busy in the Shakespeare realm and outside of it. His Showtime series "The Borgias" returns for its third season April 14, and he's in the supernatural love story "Beautiful Creatures," opening Feb. 14. "It's about pressures on a young couple who are in love from society, their parents, their friends and siblings. I play the father figure."
Irons says he'd like to do more comedies, "But they don't think of me. They go to other people." Whatever the role, "I hope I play everything as truthfully as I can," he says of his approach. "I hope I get inside the characters and what I say appears to come from inside the characters."
Nevertheless, there's one role that, for better or worse, he can't seem to shake. I am, sadly, known to many people as "Scar," the villain in "The Lion King." "It's very difficult if one has had a career full of fairly interesting things, to be remembered for that, but there we are. I'm used to it," he sighs wryly, "I have no pride."