Some celebrities are immediately recognisable due to their unique or distinguished features, but not many can boast of being equally famous for their voice. To many, Jeremy Irons’ mellifluous tones will be just as familiar as his refined looks, and the combination has brought him both commercial and critical success.
Despite playing his fair share of good guys over the years—including the latest incarnation of Batman’s loyal butler, Alfred, in box office hit Justice League—he may be better known for his portrayal of two of the big screen’s most memorable villains. While older audiences may remember him as the menacing revenge seeker, Simon Gruber, in Die Hard with a Vengeance, generations of children will associate his voice with the evil Scar in Disney’s classic, The Lion King.
But, while he possesses an uncanny ability to make you believe he is the baddest of the bad, it’s the deep faith of characters like Father Gabriel in The Mission, or musketeer-turned-Jesuit Aramis in The Man in the Iron Mask, that is echoed in the way his Catholicism informs his own life.
Speaking to The Guardian in 2016, Irons spoke about the importance of Christian belief, saying, “Our society is based on a Christian structure. If you take those religious tenets away, then anything goes and it will become terrible—and you usually get into trouble.”
I would hate to be a person who didn’t have a spiritual side.
It’s perhaps also the foundation of his desire to give back, and to use his fame to bring about positive change. As well as continuing to act, Irons is also involved in politics and supports a number of charities. He has helped raise funds for causes that range from promoting the arts to helping the homeless—his support of the No Cold Homes campaign saw him joining other celebrities to help people in the UK struggling to keep their homes warm in winter.
He hasn’t always managed to avoid controversy and Irons would be the first to admit that even at the age of 70 he remains a work in progress. But he clearly believes it is better to have tried to make a difference and got it wrong than to have never tried at all, saying that the way in which some celebrities seem reluctant to use their platform and risk a backlash is “a waste”.
Speaking to The New Zealand Herald, he reflected on his need for something more than secular success, saying, “I try to be aware of where I fail… 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.”
It’s a philosophy that can be seen in many of his roles and, judging by his continuing success, has clearly resonated with his many fans.