• Golden Globe Awards

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

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. “