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IRONS, JEREMY: LOLITA

In Lolita, Jeremy Irons stars as Humbert Humbert, the older man with whom 14 year old Lolita has an affair: some Australians are scandalised that the film is being released. ANDREW L. URBAN asked Irons to put his point of view on the subject – uninterrupted.

We meet in a Sydney hotel (very comfortable, thank you) and Irons is relaxed in slippers, despite his busy schedule. He smokes a bit, drinks tea and wears the air of a man in no particular hurry. And when invited to discuss the volatile issues surrounding Lolita, he becomes thoughtful.

"I think paedophilia is a vague word"

"I think paedophilia is a vague word; we use it to describe a relationship which involves somebody under the legal age of which ever state or country one is in. There are girls in the world who are married at 12, and in some places at 14. The legal age in some places is 16 and other places 18.

"We as a society decide at what stage we think a girl or a boy is emotionally fit for physical intercourse. And that is right. Because there is no doubt that children grow up physically before they grow up emotionally and may be able to make love physically and enjoy it but know nothing about love and what it involves.

"Also there is a desire amongst us, especially in the west, to allow children their childhood, so you don't have to work at 10. And I think this is absolutely right for society to decide what that age is.

"Like a rose on a summer's morning that suddenly breaks out with a freshness that even by midday is gone."

"Sometimes, and there is no doubt about it, children go through the most extraordinary transformation around puberty, where they become enormously attractive. Rather like a rose on a summer's morning that suddenly breaks out with a freshness that even by midday is gone. If we deny that, we are not looking at life with open eyes.

"And nature has a purpose for that.

"But we often deny nature and say that at their most attractive - we won't touch them. And that's fine, that's society's choice. And I believe society is right. You know, we decide what speed we can drive at and say 70 is safe, even though we might find someone who can drive safely at 90 and others who shouldn't be allowed to drive at all. But we have to make rules. So we make rules. And they should be supported.

"People sometimes fail in that for many reasons. I believe that most underage relationships happen in a family situation – I think figures prove this. And I suspect these people love these children and are very natural with them. But suddenly, this child becomes a sexual being, and the adult slips into an area that shouldn't be slipped into. This sometimes does enormous damage to the child. And sometimes it doesn't, partly depending on the age when it occurs, … but it should be seen as wrong, and it is wrong.

"On the other hand there are men – mainly men, I don't know how many women paedophiles there are – who abuse any child from the age of 6 months up to 6, 7, 8, 9, 10 – that is a paedophile. That, I think is certainly criminal and probably a medical condition or a psychological condition. And it's those people who do enormous damage. They're very well organised and I think it's absolutely right that the police should do all they can to break these rings and bring these rather sad people to justice – and to try to cure them. I hope they do.

"That's the tragedy"

"Lolita deals with a relationship between a man and his 14 year old stepdaughter. Nabokov writes that she seduces him, which she does for her own reason. She lives with her mother and is at an age when she wants her freedom. She wants to have power and how better to have power than over adults, and what better way to have power than if the adult is infatuated with you and you have to make love to him. And even though it doesn't give you much pleasure it's quite fun, but then you get treated like an adult and you travel with him.

"And the man, for the reasons Nabokov finds, has frozen his sexuality because of an emotional loss at the age of 14. He is emotionally undeveloped. He's uncomfortable with mature women – with the bodies of mature women. So that's his condition. These two come together and we as an audience find that he is not a monster doing monstrous things, but is actually quite a nice chap and even funny, sometimes.

"We trace through their story the boredom of it, the sadness of it, the exhilaration of it, and then we see what happens. She leaves, goes off with someone even more undesirable and then eventually finds what she considers happiness and she's pregnant by now. Humbert finds her and he says to himself he has loved - and still loves this girl, even though she's pregnant with another man's child – more than life itself. And when he asks her to come away with him, to live with him, to die with him, to everything with him, she looks at him as if to say he is mad. Because she has never felt anything for him. That's the tragedy. And that's where the audience learns there isn't a future in a relationship like this. That's why I think it is a moral film, a cautionary tale, and I hope that the censors will give it a release which allows parents to take their teenage children to see it, because it's teenage children who it affects, this situation. It allows children to become aware of the dangers and adults to become aware of the dangers."

"Comedy does appeal"

Irons rolls another nicotine hit. The baddie from Die Hard With a Vengeance, the tricked lover in M. Butterfly, the strange Claud von Bulow in Reversal of Fortune (Oscar went home with Irons for this one), and Aramis in The Man in the Iron Mask seems destined to play characters with more gravitas than levity. Thanks to Brideshead Revisited in 1982, he says.

But after all these roles of rather dramatic characters, where does comedy fit in ; does it have appeal?

"Comedy does appeal – it’s hard as hell…I love satire, surprise, sleight of hand. I hope to do it with a director who knows my work and we can create something … it’s much harder on film than on film. But quite honestly, people to go to other actors for comedy, like Robin Williams – not me.

"Ever since Brideshead, people have seen me as a certain type and my file was stamped with it. And of course the longer you do those sorts of roles the more people will send you scripts that somehow revisit that type of character – and I keep saying, ‘But I’ve done it, I’ve done it!’ I’d like to step sideways out of this trap that I’ve made for myself."

"while the iron’s hot…."

Someone should make remake My Fair Lady with Irons and Swain, while the iron’s hot….

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