Jeremy Irons addresses criticism over past comments at Berlin film fest

Actor Jeremy Irons said on Thursday he fully supported same-sex marriage and the women’s rights movement as he sought to dispel criticism over his role as president of the Berlinale film festival prize jury.

“I should like, not as the jury president, but on a personal level, to address various comments that I have reportedly made in the past, and which have resurfaced in certain sections of the press over the past few weeks,” he said.

“I wish I didn’t have to take up time with this, but I don’t want it to continue as a distraction to the Berlinale.”

The choice of the British actor as head of the panel had been criticized in German newspapers and the movie press, who highlighted past comments attributed to him on inappropriate touching of women, same-sex marriage and abortion. 

One critic noted it would have sufficed “to put the words Jeremy Irons and Me Too” into a search engine to establish his inappropriateness.”

In an 2011 Radio Times interview, Irons noted that “if a man puts his hand on a woman’s bottom, any woman worth her salt can deal with it. It’s communication. Can’t we be friendly?” 

Speaking to Huffington Post two years later, he said he worried that allowing same-sex marriage could “debase” the definition of “what marriage is.” He postulated that, for instance, it could pave the way for a father to marry his son to avoid paying inheritance taxes. 

In 2016, during an interview with The Guardian, Irons noted that while he believes women should be allowed to choose abortion, he added that “the church is right to say it’s a sin.”

Jeremy Irons and his wife, actress Sinead Cusack, arrive for the screening of the Berlin film fest opening movie My Salinger Year. (Michele Tantussi/Reuters)

Festival considered most political

Devised in the aftermath of the Second World War, in a divided city on the frontline of the Cold War, the Berlinale is seen as the most overtly political of the major film festivals, highlighting films that champion progressive causes.

“I support wholeheartedly the global movement to address the inequality of women’s rights,” Irons told the opening news conference of the 70th Berlinale, adding that he was also a supporter of same-sex marriage and of women’s right to abortion.

“These three human rights are, I believe, essential steps toward a civilized and humane society, for which we should all continue to strive.”

He said: “I hope that some of the films we will be watching will address these problems.”

Canadian director Philippe Falardeau, left, is seen at a Berlin International Film Festival news conference on Thursday for his latest film My Salinger Year. (Michele Tantussi/Reuters)

The festival opens on Thursday with Canadian director Philippe Falardeau’s My Salinger Year, in which Margaret Qualley stars opposite Sigourney Weaver as an ambitious young woman eager to forge a career as a writer in 1990s New York.

In all, 18 films are competing for the Golden Bear prize chosen by the Irons-led panel.