One of Jeremy Irons' landmark roles was playing Charles Ryder in the 1981 ITV mini-series adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited, a novel about the confused, unrequited romance between straight Ryder and his gay best friend, Sebastian. It is a wonderful book and the mini-series stands the test of time -- or it did until Irons introduced the shadow of his most recent role, that of the backward, seemingly homophobic fool.
In case you're not following the story, Jeremy Irons whipped up controversy by telling the Huffington Post earlier this month that while he doesn't have "strong feelings" on same-sex marriage, he fears extending rights will "debase" the institution. "It seems to me that now they're fighting for the name. I worry that it means somehow we debase, or we change, what marriage is. I just worry about that," he said.
The actor also worried that marriage equality would allow fathers and sons to marry to avoid inheritance tax. And because it's two men, it would bypass incest laws, he said. "It's not incest between men. Incest is there to protect us from inbreeding. But men don't breed, so incest wouldn't cover that. So if I wanted to pass on my estate without death duties I could marry my son and pass on my estate to him."
Irons has attempted to explain himself a number of times since then. "All I was doing was, and it's very difficult in short sound bites, was just sort of addressing marriage and what marriage sort of meant, and I'm very ill-informed on it," he told Esquire. "I think everybody should have the chance to be happy, and to feel secure within relationships, and perhaps gay marriage is the way that if you're gay that can happen." He also told the BBC, "I should have buttoned my lip" and posted an open letter apologizing for the matter.
This contrition hasn't calmed marriage equality activists upset with the actor. One group, New York-based news group Gay USA, remains so angry that it's organizing a protest at this evening's screening of Irons', "Trashed," at the Energy for Tomorrow Conference being sponsored by The New York Times.
"[Irons] has undermined his credibility and his right to be taken seriously through bigoted and offensive statements questioning," Gay USA said in a statement. "Irons' non-apology apologies on this issue acknowledge that he is uninformed on the issue. Here he is trying to educate the world on a very real environmental crisis and he cannot take ten minutes to talk to one of his gay friends and get educated on a vital human rights issue such as marriage equality? Every time his 'apologizes' he makes another dumb comment."
Those who want to participate in the protest should gather at 55 W. 59th St at 5:45 today. Those who miss it or can't make it, you can sound off in the comments section.
But a question remains: Where does this leave Brideshead? If an actor's future self reveals an unsettling character (see: Clint Eastwood and an empty chair at the Republican National Convention), does that diminish their past self's work? Can one still watch the 11-episode Brideshead mini-series guilt-free? Or will watching Irons gaze adoringly at Anthony Andrews ring false? Or, that said, does adult Irons' comments on gay marriage make the story's ending that much more real?