Actor Jeremy Irons currently appears in the films The
Merchant of Venice, Being Julia and Callas Forever.
What is it like adapting Shakespeare for the screen rather
than the stage? It frees things up. A huge bulk of text onstage is fed over to
describing what's happened, what's going to happen, but the great thing about
film is that you can show it and cut all that descriptive dialogue and verse.
What [director] Michael Radford did with the script was cut about a third
without sacrificing the story line. As a result, the story plays much more
dramatically. In the film, your character, Antonio, has to spit on Al Pacino's
character, Shylock. What was that like? Actually, with the way movies are
filmed now, I was spitting on an X-mark in one location and Al was being spit
upon by someone else at a different location. The Merchant of Venice is often
criticized for its portrayal of Jews. Do you think Shakespeare was
anti-Semitic? No, I don't. Shakespeare was a commentator, a true artist. He
wrote about what he saw. I do think it's a story about anti-Semitism, but I
don't think it's anti-Semitic. He was saying this is what happens when two
cultures don't respect each other and this is what happens when you carry
things to fundamentalist extremes. In Being Julia and Forever Callas, your
character has to wrangle divas. Any advice on how to deal with them? I ride
horses, and I know that if I have something I'm riding that has excess spirit,
it is to be valued. I think divas are the same ... If they're difficult, it's
because they care a lot and they're trying to do something extraordinary. I
much prefer that to someone who is easy to work with but is only trying to
jump 2 ft.