Photo by Virginia Sherwood/NBC
Over the years Law & Order: Special Victims Unit has attracted some pretty amazing guest stars from Robin Williams to Sharon Stone to Kathy Griffin to Jerry Lewis. But tonight a true thespian joins the illustrious list. In a recent conference call interview, we spoke with Jeremy Irons about his appearance on SVU and his distinguished career and with Executive Producer Neal Baer about guest stars on the series.
Baer explained how they choose and approach these special guest stars, “We go and ask actors, literally, whom I’ve loved watching on television or in the movies.”
Such was the case with tonight’s guest, “I’ve seen Jeremy’s films from French Lieutenant’s Woman to Reversal of Fortune and Dead Ringers… Who wouldn’t want to work with him?... I saw a film that Jeremy had done with Leslie Caron called Damages that was a phenomenal film and I thought, ‘Well, I’m just going to ask them to do the show and… all they can say is no. And if they say yes… we will work as hard as we can to give them a part that they will enjoy.’”
The idea was a huge success. Not only did Baer get to bring another Academy Award–winning actor to his show, but the cast really enjoyed working with Irons. Baer explained, “Chris [Meloni] kept texting me throughout, I don’t know if he would like me to say this, but he kept texting me throughout the shoot saying, ‘I love Jeremy Irons.’”
Irons jokingly interjected, “We are talking about getting married.”
Besides the obvious draw for the audience, bringing in big name celebs serves another purpose according to Baer. “That’s what keeps the [show] fresh — that you get these unexpected actors who can just deliver these soulful performances… That’s what we’ve always said that the show is really kept fresh not by changing our regular cast, but having these great performers come on and bring slices of life that we can all identify with every week. And that’s been the secret to us that we just go after people we’ve always loved watching on screen and knock on wood, it’s worked.”
As for Irons, he was invigorated by the shooting style on the TV series. He explained, “I loved the fast-pace of shooting. I’ve always enjoyed that. I’ve done some shoots, which have been very slow and… they were huge setups to organize and I find that quite tedious. It’s inevitable, but it’s tedious. And I always like working fast and hard. I find it gets my juices going. And if I don’t have time to finish a crossword in a day, I’m really happy. So, I enjoyed the pace we worked at and found it invigorating. And because your juices keep flowing because there’s not so much downtime I think your work is probably better as an actor.”
Irons has certainly been on his fair share of sets. With almost 40 movies and 30 TV projects on his resume, the classically trained British actor has done it all. “I’ve played a few villains… I like playing characters who are not necessarily what they seem. I like playing enigmas. I like playing people who live outside our normal life experience. I say ‘our’ as audience members… People in life, people who own a watch, because I think one of the functions of the storytelling of television or film or whatever is to show people in a controlled environment they’re watching on a screen what happens if something happens, and how do people react and makes them think, ‘Well, how would I react?’”
And to do that, he looks beyond the black and white manner in which many people are defined. He divulged, “To play characters who live experiences or have had experiences or live in such a way that is on the edge, possibly good, possibly not, I find very, very, very interesting. They’re sometimes called bad people. I’m not sure there is such a thing as a bad person one or two about, but in the main I think everybody does their best with coping with what life throws at them and what their nature is. In my experience, most people feel sort of neither good nor bad. They know they have both within them, and I enjoy playing characters who are true to life in that respect.”
When asked if he’d be interested in turning to lighter fare, the star of The Pink Panther II jokingly replied, “I’ve done the odd comedy. They’re not hugely successful because [you] wouldn’t have asked me that question if they had been. But…before I was 30 I was mainly a stage actor and I was known for comedy, but comedy on stage. Comedy on films is quite difficult because film… has to collect as many viewers as it can, the comedy tends to be quite broad, quite all-embracing. And what makes me laugh is perhaps a little bit more individual. So it’s very hard to find the sort of humor in a film which tickles my fancy, which of course it has to do if you’re going to do it.”
But Irons hasn’t ruled out the genre. He went on to say, “I have got one lurking around that we might make and, not this year but next year, and I’m always looking out for them. But people don’t come to me first for comedy… They go to other people. They don’t think of me as a comedian actor. That’s one of the things about typecasting you’re always asked to do what you’ve done before.”
He may not be known for comedy, but Irons has a whole new generation of fans who know him from his voice alone. Baer recalled, “Chris and Mariska [Hargitay]’s children came on the set, why do you think they were so giddy? Because of The Lion King… You don’t see his face, but you certainly get his whole character in that film, and… as I heard from Mariska and Chris, that they’re kids just went crazy because it was like they identify him as Scar. So, Jeremy has a wide ranging audience.
Irons is destined to keep garnering new followers as he continues to work in film, on television and on the stage. He remarked, “The medium isn’t the important thing really, it’s the story and the character. That’s what grabs you as an actor or if you’re going to work in certain media, you’ll be paid differently to others. But what you’re paid has nothing to do with how happy the work makes you when you’re doing it. So it’s really the quality of the writing, the way the work is protected by those who are, because as an actor one is part of a family, if you like, you have a lot of people creating your performance with you. And if that’s a good group and the character is interesting and absorbing to you and the story is compelling, then that’s all I look for, and it could be in theater, on television, in movies. The medium is not important.”
And of all the work that’s come before, Irons does have a favorite. When asked what project he is proudest of he replied, “You’ll probably be surprised. I think it’s a movie called Lolita… which I thought did everything that a movie should do, which was to stir up people and make them question things, to dealing with a tricky subject. A very well made film by Adrian Lyne. A film, which sadly got very small distribution because the studios got very frightened about it by the subject matter, and a picture which actually Showtime put out eventually.”
He revealed why the part means so much to him. “I think my work in that sort of spans. I suppose also because my nature is a little bit anarchy and because it was such a [politically] incorrect movie. And because I think that one of the things that movies and stories should do is to stir the sediment at the bottom of our apathetic pond, and to open people’s eyes to situations, which they tend to shy away from. I think that movie pressed all those buttons; and therefore, I’m proud of that. Although, I’m proud in other ways of some of the other work that I’ve been lucky enough to be involved in.”
As well he should be. To see Irons on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit tune in tonight at 10 p.m. EST/9 p.m. Central on NBC.
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