Oral History: Jeremy Irons and the Complications of Desire

by Jack Tewksbury March 21, 2019
Actor Jeremy Irons, Golden Globe winner

hfpa archives

For over 40 years the HFPA has recorded famous and celebrated actresses, actors and filmmakers. The world's largest collection of its kind - over 10,000  items- is now in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences Margaret Herrick Library.

In this excerpt from our archives,  twice Golden Globe winner Jeremy Irons meditates on the complexities of love, passion, and attraction - all because of his work on director David Cronenberg's adaptation of David Henry Hwang's acclaimed play M. Butterfly, about a French diplomat (Irons) who falls madly in love with a Chinese opera singer (John Lone).


“I was very interested to do M  Butterfly because I was fascinated with the idea that we turn the object of our desire into whatever we want it to be. Many women do that constantly, and it’s a consistent mistake they make. Now, carry that to an extreme, and you will wish to see a woman when, in fact, it’s a man. Maybe one loves a woman for the man in her, or a woman loves a man because he has an area of femininity.

We have to say we’re either gay or straight - rather than that we’re attracted to that person who happens to be a man or happens to be a woman. I like his or her body; I find him or her attractive; I like his or her mind. 

For me, personally, because of the way I’ve been brought up if that happens to be a man -and I suppose about three times in my life I have met a man I think is wonderful - if I were gay, I’d fall in love. But even that says if I were gay. The Greeks didn’t have that problem 2,000 years ago. They just loved a person, and if it happened to be a man, it was a man.  If it happened to be a woman, it was a woman. That’s an area I’m interested in, and I think the film explores it to a large extent.”