Jeremy Irons
Irons at the 2015 San Diego Comic-Con
Jeremy John Irons

(1948-09-19) 19 September 1948 (age 75)
Alma materBristol Old Vic Theatre School
Occupation(s)Actor, activist
Years active1969–present
Julie Hallam
(m. 1969; div. 1969)
(m. 1978)
Children2, including Max Irons
RelativesSorcha Cusack (sister-in-law)
Niamh Cusack (sister-in-law)
Pádraig Cusack (brother-in-law)
Catherine Cusack (sister-in-law)
Cyril Cusack (father-in-law)
Maureen Cusack (mother-in-law)

Jeremy John Irons (born 19 September 1948)[1] is an English actor and activist. After receiving classical training at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School, Irons began his acting career on stage in 1969 and has appeared in many West End theatre productions, including the Shakespeare plays The Winter's Tale, Macbeth, Much Ado About Nothing, The Taming of the Shrew and Richard II. In 1984, he made his Broadway debut in Tom Stoppard's The Real Thing and received a Tony Award for Best Actor.

Irons's first major film role came in the romantic drama The French Lieutenant's Woman (1981), for which he received a BAFTA nomination for Best Actor. After starring in dramas, such as Moonlighting (1982), Betrayal (1983), and The Mission (1986), he was praised for portraying twin gynaecologists in David Cronenberg's psychological thriller Dead Ringers (1988). Irons has won multiple awards, including the Academy Award for Best Actor, for his portrayal of the accused attempted murderer Claus von Bülow in Reversal of Fortune (1990).

Irons has also had roles in Steven Soderbergh's mystery thriller Kafka (1991), the period drama The House of the Spirits (1993), the romantic drama M. Butterfly (1993), the voice of Scar in Disney's The Lion King (1994), Simon Gruber in the action film Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), Humbert Humbert in the drama Lolita (1997), Aramis in The Man in the Iron Mask (1998), the action adventure Dungeons & Dragons (2000), Antonio in the Shakespeare adaptation The Merchant of Venice (2004), the drama Being Julia (2004), the epic historical drama Kingdom of Heaven (2005), the fantasy-adventure Eragon (2006), the Western Appaloosa (2008), and the indie drama Margin Call (2011). In 2016, he appeared in Assassin's Creed and portrayed Alfred Pennyworth in Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Justice League (2017).

Irons has also made many appearances in television dramas. His break-out role in the ITV (Granada Television) series Brideshead Revisited (1981) earned him a Golden Globe Award nomination. In 2005, Irons appeared in the historical miniseries Elizabeth I, for which he received a Golden Globe and an Emmy Award for Best Supporting Actor. From 2011 to 2013, he starred as Pope Alexander VI in the Showtime historical series The Borgias. In 2019, he appeared as Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias in HBO's Watchmen. He is one of the few actors who have achieved the "Triple Crown of Acting" in the US, winning an Academy Award for film, an Emmy Award for television and a Tony Award for theatre. In October 2011, he was nominated the Goodwill Ambassador for the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.

Early life

Irons was born in Cowes on the Isle of Wight, the son of Paul Dugan Irons (1913–1983), an accountant, and Barbara Anne Brereton Brymer (née Sharpe; 1914–1999).[1] Along with English, he has some Scottish and Irish ancestry, tracing the latter back to County Cork. Irons has a brother, Christopher (born 1943), and a sister, Felicity Anne (born 1944). He was educated at the independent Sherborne School in Dorset from 1962 to 1966. He was the drummer and harmonica player in a four-man school band called the Four Pillars of Wisdom.[2]

Acting career

Early work

Irons trained as an actor at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and later became president of its fundraising appeal. He performed a number of plays, and busked on the streets of Bristol, before appearing on the London stage as John the Baptist and Judas opposite David Essex in Godspell, which opened at the Roundhouse on 17 November 1971 before transferring to Wyndham's Theatre playing a total of 1,128 performances.[3]


Irons in July 2006

Irons's TV career began on British television in the early 1970s, including appearances on the children's series Play Away and as Franz Liszt in the BBC series Notorious Woman (1974). More significantly, he starred in the 13-part adaptation of H.E. Bates' novel Love for Lydia (1977) for London Weekend Television, and attracted attention for his key role as the pipe-smoking German student, a romantic pairing with Judi Dench, in Harold Pinter's screenplay adaptation of Aidan Higgins' novel Langrishe, Go Down (1978) for BBC Television.

The role which significantly raised his profile was Charles Ryder in the television adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited (1981). First broadcast on ITV, the show ranks among the most successful British television dramas, with Irons receiving a Golden Globe nomination for his performance.[4] Brideshead reunited him with Anthony Andrews, with whom he had appeared in The Pallisers seven years earlier. Around the same time he starred in the film The French Lieutenant's Woman (also 1981) opposite Meryl Streep.

After these major successes, he played the leading role of an exiled Polish building contractor, working in the Twickenham area of southwest London, in Jerzy Skolimowski's independent film Moonlighting (1982). On 23 March 1991, he hosted Saturday Night Live on NBC in the US, and appeared as Sherlock Holmes in the Sherlock Holmes' Surprise Party sketch.[5] In 2004 Irons played Severus Snape in the BBC’s Comic Relief's Harry Potter parody, "Harry Potter and the Secret Chamberpot of Azerbaijan".[6][7]

In 2005, Irons won both an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe Award for his supporting role in the TV mini-series, Elizabeth I, in which he starred opposite Helen Mirren (Queen Elizabeth I). A year later, he was one of the participants in the third series of the BBC documentary series Who Do You Think You Are?.[8][9] In 2008, he played Lord Vetinari in Terry Pratchett's The Colour of Magic, an adaptation for Sky One.

On 6 November 2008, TV Guide reported Irons would star as photographer Alfred Stieglitz with Joan Allen as painter Georgia O'Keeffe, in a Lifetime Television biopic, Georgia O'Keeffe (2009).[10] Irons also appeared in the documentary for Irish television channel TG4, Faoi Lan Cheoil, in which he learned to play the fiddle.

On 12 January 2011, Irons was a guest-star in an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit called "Mask". He played Dr. Cap Jackson, a sex therapist.[11] He reprised the role on an episode titled "Totem" that ran on 30 March 2011. Irons stars in the 2011 US premium cable network Showtime's series The Borgias, a highly fictionalised account of the Renaissance dynasty of that name.[12] On 8 November 2018, it was announced that Irons had been cast as Adrian Veidt / Ozymandias in HBO's upcoming Watchmen series.[13]


Irons in 2014. Directing him in The Merchant of Venice, Michael Radford states Irons "has such a magnetic quality on screen, and he has a kind of melancholy about him."[14]

Irons made his film debut in Nijinsky in 1980. He appeared sporadically in films during the 1980s, including the Cannes Palme d'Or winner The Mission in 1986, and in the dual role of twin gynaecologists in David Cronenberg's Dead Ringers in 1988. Other films include Danny the Champion of the World (1989), Reversal of Fortune (1990), for which he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, Kafka (1991), Damage (1993), M. Butterfly (1993), The House of the Spirits (1993) appearing again with Glenn Close and Meryl Streep, the voice of Scar in The Lion King (1994), portraying Simon Gruber in Die Hard with a Vengeance (1995), co-starring Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson, Bernardo Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty (1996), the 1997 remake of Lolita, and as the musketeer Aramis opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in the 1998 film version of The Man in the Iron Mask.

Other roles include the evil wizard Profion in the film Dungeons and Dragons (2000) and Rupert Gould in Longitude (2000). He played the Über-Morlock in the film The Time Machine (2002). In 2004, Irons played the title character in The Merchant of Venice. In 2005, he appeared in the films Casanova opposite Heath Ledger, and Ridley Scott's Kingdom of Heaven. He has co-starred with John Malkovich in two films, The Man in the Iron Mask (1998) and Eragon (2006), though they did not have any scenes together in the latter.

In 2008, Irons co-starred with Ed Harris and Viggo Mortensen in Appaloosa, directed by Harris. In 2011, Irons appeared alongside Kevin Spacey in the thriller Margin Call.[15] In 2012, he starred and worked as executive producer of the environmental documentary film Trashed.[16] He portrayed the mathematician G. H. Hardy in the 2015 film The Man Who Knew Infinity. Irons played Alfred Pennyworth in Warner Bros.' Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016)[17] and Justice League (2017). In 2018, he played General Vladimir Korchnoi in Francis Lawrence's spy thriller film Red Sparrow, based on Jason Matthews' book of the same name.[18]


Irons has worked with the Royal Shakespeare Company three times in 1976, 1986–87 and 2010.[19][20] After years of success in the West End in London, Irons made his New York debut in 1984 and won a Tony Award for his Broadway performance opposite Glenn Close in The Real Thing.

After an absence from the London stage for 18 years, in 2006 he co-starred with Patrick Malahide in Christopher Hampton's stage adaptation of Sándor Márai's novel Embers at the Duke of York's Theatre.[21]

He made his National Theatre debut playing former British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan (1957–1963) in Never So Good, a new play by Howard Brenton which opened at the Lyttelton on 19 March 2008.[22][23] In 2009, Irons appeared on Broadway opposite Joan Allen in the play Impressionism.[24] The play ran through 10 May 2009 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater.[24]

Other ventures


Irons has had extensive voice work in a range of different fields throughout his career. He read the audiobook recording of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita (he had also appeared in the 1997 film version of the novel), and James and the Giant Peach by the children's author Roald Dahl.[25]

In particular, he was praised for recording the poetry of T. S. Eliot for BBC Radio 4. Beginning in 2012 with The Waste Land, he went on to record Four Quartets in 2014, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock on the centenary of its publication in 2015, and Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats in 2016. He finally completed recording the entire canon of T. S. Eliot which was broadcast over New Year's Day 2017.[26] In 2020, Irons was one of 40 British voices to read three to four verses (broadcast daily) of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 150-verse 18th century poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.[27]

One of his best known film roles has turned out to be lending his distinctive voice to Scar in The Lion King (1994) serving as the main antagonist of the film. Irons has since provided voiceovers for three Disney World attractions. He narrated the Spaceship Earth ride, housed in the large geodesic globe at Epcot in Florida from October 1994 to July 2007.[28] He was also the English narrator for the Studio Tram Tour: Behind the Magic at the Walt Disney Studios Park at Disneyland Paris.[29] He voiced H. G. Wells in the English-language version of the former Disney attraction The Timekeeper. He also reprised his role as Scar in Fantasmic. He is also one of the readers in the 4x CD boxed set of The Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, produced by Marc Sinden and sold in aid of the Royal Theatrical Fund.[30]

He serves as the English-language version of the audio guide for Westminster Abbey in London.[31] Irons has served as voice-over in two big cat documentary films by National Geographic: Eye of the Leopard, which was released in 2006,[32] and The Last Lions, which was released on 18 February 2011.[33] Between 2009 and 2012 he narrated the French-produced documentary series about volcanoes, Life on Fire. The series premiered on PBS in the United States on 2 January 2013.

In 2008, two researchers, a linguist and a sound engineer, found "the perfect [male] voice" to be a combination of Irons's and Alan Rickman's voices based on a sample of 50 voices.[34] Coincidentally, the two actors played brothers in the Die Hard series of films. Speaking at 200 words per minute and pausing for 1.2 seconds between sentences, Irons came very close to the ideal voice model, with the linguist Andrew Linn explaining why his "deep gravelly tones" inspired trust in listeners.[34] He recited the spoken sections, most notably "Late Lament", for The Moody Blues' 50th Anniversary Tour of "Days Of Future Passed", and also appears on the video presentation.[35]


In 1985, Irons directed a music video for Carly Simon and her heavily promoted single, "Tired of Being Blonde", and in 1994, he had a cameo role in the video for Elastica's hit single "Connection".[36]

Irons has contributed to other musical performances, recording William Walton's Façade with Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Stravinsky's The Soldier's Tale conducted by the composer, and in 1987 the songs from Lerner and Loewe's My Fair Lady with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, released on the Decca label. Irons sang segments of "Be Prepared" in the film The Lion King.

To mark the 100th anniversary of Noël Coward's birth, Irons sang a selection of his songs at the 1999 Last Night of the Proms held at the Royal Albert Hall in London, ending with "London Pride", a patriotic song written in the spring of 1941 during the Blitz.[37] In 2003, Irons played Fredrik Egerman in a New York revival of Stephen Sondheim's A Little Night Music, and two years later appeared as King Arthur in Lerner and Loewe's Camelot at the Hollywood Bowl. He performed the Bob Dylan song "Make You Feel My Love" on the 2006 charity album Unexpected Dreams – Songs From the Stars.[38]

In 2009, Irons appeared on the Touchstone album Wintercoast, recording a narrative introduction to the album.[39] Recording took place in New York City, New York in February 2009 during rehearsals for his Broadway play Impressionism.

Political views and activism

At the 1991 Tony Awards, Irons was one of the few celebrities to wear the red ribbon to support the fight against AIDS. He was the first celebrity to wear it onscreen.[40][41]

In 1998, Irons and his wife were named in the list of the biggest private financial donors to the Labour Party, a year after its return to government with Tony Blair's victory in the 1997 United Kingdom general election, after 18 years in opposition.[42] He was also one of several celebrities who endorsed the parliamentary candidacy of the Green Party's Caroline Lucas at the 2015 UK general election.[43]

In 2004, he publicly declared his support for the Countryside Alliance, referring to the 2004 Hunting Act as an "outrageous assault on civil liberties" and "one of the two most devastating parliamentary votes in the last century".[44]

Irons is an outspoken critic of the death penalty and has supported the campaign by the human rights organisation Amnesty International UK to abolish capital punishment worldwide.[45] Among his arguments, Irons states the death penalty infringes on two fundamental human rights, the right to life, and no-one shall be subject to torture, adding that while the person accused of a crime may have abused those rights, to advocate the same be done to them is to join them.[45]

During a 2007 Q&A with The Guardian, Irons named Tony Blair as the living person he most admired; reasoning "For living so publicly with the knowledge that he's not perfect." He then named George W. Bush as the living person he most despised, stating “to hold his position he should have surrounded himself with more reliable people.”[46]

In 2009, Irons signed a petition in support of Polish film director Roman Polanski, calling for his release after he was arrested in Switzerland in relation to his 1977 charge for drugging and raping a 13-year-old girl.[47]

He has been criticised in the British Medical Journal for his fundraising activities in support of The College of Medicine, an alternative medicine lobby group in the UK linked to Prince Charles.[48]

In 2013, he caused controversy for an interview with the HuffPost, in which he said he "doesn't have a strong feeling either way" on gay marriage but expressed fears that it could "debase" marital law, suggesting it could be manipulated to allow fathers to avoid paying tax when passing on their estates to their sons, because he supposed incest laws would not apply to men.[49][50] He later clarified his comments, saying he was providing an example of a situation that could cause a "legal quagmire" under the laws that allow same-sex marriage, and that he had been misinterpreted. He added that some gay relationships are "healthier" than their straight counterparts.[51] He said in a BBC interview that he wished he had "buttoned" his lip before asking if its legalization would see fathers marry sons.[52][53]

He supports the legal availability of abortion, having said that he believes that "women should be allowed to make the decision". Nevertheless, he agreed with a pro-life advocate and was quoted as saying that "the church is right to say it's a sin".[54]

Charity work

He is the Patron of the "Emergency Response Team Search and Rescue" or "ERTSAR" which is a life saving United Nations recognised disaster response search and rescue team and registered Charity. It is based in his home County of Oxfordshire, England. He supports a number of other charities, including the Prison Phoenix Trust in England, and the London-based Evidence for Development which seeks to improve the lives of the world's most needy people by preventing famines and delivering food aid, for both of which he is an active patron.[55][56][57] In 2000, Irons received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement presented by Awards Council member Olivia de Havilland during the International Achievement Summit in London.[58][59]

In 2010, Irons starred in a promotional video,[60] for "The 1billionhungry project" – a worldwide drive to attract at least one million signatures to a petition calling on international leaders to move hunger to the top of the political agenda.[61]

Irons was named Goodwill Ambassador of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2011.[62] He provided the narration of the 2013 documentary (by Andrew Lauer[63]) Sahaya Going Beyond about the work of the charity Sahaya International.[64]

In November 2015, Irons supported the No Cold Homes campaign by the UK charity Turn2us.[65] Irons was one of nearly thirty celebrities, who included Helen Mirren, Hugh Laurie and Ed Sheeran, to donate items of winter clothing to the campaign, with the proceeds used to help people in the UK struggling to keep their homes warm in winter.[65]

Irons is a patron of the Chiltern Shakespeare Company, which produces Shakespearean plays annually in Beaconsfield, Buckinghamshire,[66] and a London-based drama school, The Associated Studios.[67] Irons was bestowed an Honorary Life Membership by the University College Dublin Law Society in September 2008, in honour of his contribution to television, film, audio, music, and theatre.[68][69] Also in 2008, Irons was awarded an Honorary Doctorate by Southampton Solent University.[70] On 20 July 2016, Irons was announced as the first Chancellor of Bath Spa University.[71]

Personal life

Kilcoe Castle, built c. 1450 by the Clan Dermod MacCarthy

Irons married Julie Hallam in 1969, but they divorced later that year.[1] He married Irish actress Sinéad Cusack on 28 March 1978.[1] They have two sons, Samuel "Sam" Irons (born 1978), who works as a photographer, and who co-starred with his father in Danny, the Champion of the World (film), and Maximilian "Max" Irons (born 1985), also an actor. Both of Irons's sons have appeared in films with their father. Irons's wife and children are Catholic; Irons has also been described as a practising Catholic[72] and has stated:

I don't go to church much because I don't like belonging to a club, and I don't go to confession or anything like that, I don't believe in it. But I try to be aware of where I fail and I occasionally go to services. I would hate to be a person who didn't have a spiritual side because there's nothing to nourish you in life apart from retail therapy.[73]

He owns Kilcoe Castle near Ballydehob, County Cork, Ireland, and had the castle painted a traditional ochre colour which was misreported as being 'pink'.[74] He also has another Irish residence in The Liberties of Dublin, as well as a home in his birth town of Cowes, a family house in Oxfordshire and a mews house in Notting Hill, London.[75] Irons is fluent in French.[76]

In March 2016 Irons told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme that he would refuse an invitation to the palace to accept a New Year Honour should it ever arrive: "I became an actor to be a rogue and a vagabond so I don't think it would be apt for the establishment to pull me in as one of their own, for I ain't."[77]


Main article: Jeremy Irons on stage and screen

Awards and Nominations

Year Awards Category Nominated work Result
1990 Academy Awards Best Actor Reversal of Fortune Won [78]
1982 Primetime Emmy Award Outstanding Lead Actor in a Miniseries or Movie Brideshead Revisited Nominated
1997 Outstanding Voice-Over Performance The Great War and the Shaping of the 20th Century Won
2006 Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Miniseries or Movie Elizabeth I Won
2014 Outstanding Narrator Game of Lions Won
2020 Outstanding Lead Actor in a Limited Series or Movie Watchmen Nominated [79]
1984 Tony Award Best Actor in a Play The Real Thing Won [80]
1985 Grammy Award Best Spoken Word Album Nominated [81]
1981 British Academy Film Award Best Actor The French Lieutenant's Woman Nominated
1982 British Academy Television Award Best Actor Brideshead Revisited Nominated
1982 Golden Globe Award Best Actor – Miniseries or Movie Nominated [82]
1986 Best Actor in a Motion Picture – Drama The Mission Nominated [82]
1990 Reversal of Fortune Won [82]
2006 Best Supporting Actor – Television Elizabeth I Won [82]
2009 Best Actor – Miniseries or Movie Georgia O'Keeffe Nominated [82]
2011 Best Actor – Television Drama The Borgias Nominated [82]
2006 Screen Actors Guild Awards Outstanding Actor in a Miniseries or Movie Elizabeth I Won [83]
2009 Georgia O'Keeffe Nominated [84]
2013 The Hollow Crown Nominated [85]


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