Jeremy Irons has two films out in the States that arrive around the same time. New to theaters is the biopic “The Man Who Knew Infinity,” about the inexplicably obscure Indian mathematician Srinivasan Ramanujan (played by Dev Patel). Mid-May brings “High-Rise,” based on J.G. Ballard’s classic novel. The first is about prejudice; the other is about societal collapse. Irons loves talking about both.
In “Infinity” the Oscar-winner plays a math legend who’s one of the only people not prejudiced against Ramanujan, whose findings contributed mightily to science.
“There are people who are instinctively frightened of people who are different from them. That comes out of prejudice — and, I think, from insecurity and fear,” Irons tells us in his soothing yet coarse English timbre. “The great thing about being an actor is I’m so used to being inside other people. I hope I’m not prejudiced. I mean, I get cross with some people for their narrow-mindedness or their lack of care or their apathy. But that has nothing to do with their race, religion or color.”
“Infinity”’s real-life story is set over a century ago, but it has obvious resonations with today when the political theater has been reactivating deep-seated prejudices, both here and in Irons’ native England. Part of the reason, he thinks, is the failure of our leaders.
“All over the world people are losing faith in their politicians,” Irons surmises. “They’re running our countries on purely economic rather than idealistic terms. I think that’s a mistake. Politicians should have the strength to say, ‘What kind of country, what kind of world do we want? Let’s make our economy create that for us, rather than just following the dollar or the pound.’”
Irons rattles off a laundry list of societal ills that aren’t being addressed. He floats the idea, currently being considered in Finland, of paying everyone a wage whether they’re employed or not.
“We’ve always said that computers or robots or whatever will do the work. And that’s beginning to happen. But that means there’s no work and no money. And it’s the big corporations who earn that huge amount of money. That has to come down,” he says. “We have got to start thinking in those terms.”