BY DONNA FREYDKIN
Jeremy Irons doesn't shy away from playing controversial figures with dubious moral codes. He won an Oscar for his suave, oily performance in 1990's "Reversal of Fortune" as Claus von Bulow, who was accused of murdering his wife, Sunny. Now, in "Race," he's industrialist Avery Brundage, who pushed against the boycott of the 1936 Olympics, overseen by Adolf Hitler in Berlin, and served as the fifth president of the International Olympic Committee. He was a vocal proponent of amateur athletics, and, says Irons, "he felt sport should rise above politics."
Embodying a real human, one who has left a paper trail, requires a different approach to playing a fictional character. "I find out all I can about them. How accurate it all is, one isn't sure, so you have to be careful how you interpret it. When it's a real person, you've got more to draw on," says Irons.
He's drawn to figures who aren't glossy or heroic. "It's always interesting playing someone who has a particular reputation to try and find out why it happened and how he was. I wanted to look it into it and find out," he says.
What would Brundage make of what the Olympics have become, rife with controversy, endorsements and celebrity showmanship? "He'd be appalled. I was hoping that when we did our London Olympics we'd get back to the real amateur Olympic spirit as it should be," says Irons.
And then there's Jesse Owens, the conflicted track superstar who emerged from grueling poverty to win gold medals, but was never invited to the White House to meet President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Nor did Adolf Hitler shake his hand.
"A lot of young kids don't know who Jesse Owens is. He was representing this country, coming back with four gold medals, and having to go in through the side door," says Irons. "There are overtones for that today, whether you boycott things, or whether you join in with them. Engagement is usual better than boycott."