Oral History: Jeremy Irons on Finding the Truth of a Complex Character

by Jack Tewksbury November 17, 2018
Actor Jeremy irons, Golden Globe winner

Jeremy Irons at the 48th Golden Globe Awards, in 1991, with his Golden Globe for Best Actor in a Motion Picture-Drama, for Reversal of Fortune.

hfpa archives

For over 40 years the HFPA has recorded famous and celebrated actors, actresses 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, Golden Globe winner Jeremy Irons talks about his process of building up the character that would earn him a Best Actor Golden Globe in 1991.

" I decided to have a go at playing real-life Claus von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune.  He was charged in real life with murdering his rich diabetic wife,  Sunny, with her insulin injection. In a celebrated Appeals trial, his guilty conviction was overturned. Still, there was as much evidence he was guilty as there was he was  innocent.

I wasn't sure I was good casting and still think I wouldn't have cast me. I spent a long time working on two things- the look of the man and trying to get inside him without having to meet  him. I didn't want to meet him because I felt it wouldn't be useful.  And I didn't think he would tell me the truth. My instinct was  that to meet him would, in some  way, create a loyalty to him, hinder my objectivity towards  the  role. So I studied him, both on videotape and by reading a lot of the court transcripts. I wanted to capture his essence. I didn't want it to be an impersonation.

During that period I made up my mind whether he  was guilty or innocent.  Of course I had to know because  he knew, and I had to know, at each moment as I was playing him, whether he  was lying or telling  the  truth.

We have mutual  friends. I fantasize about sitting down with him some day. I sometimes dream that he would tell me what really happened but I think I know anyway. "