T.S. Eliot devotee Jeremy Irons doesn’t hate ‘Cats’

T.S. Eliot devotee Jeremy Irons doesn’t hate ‘Cats’

Those smoldering eyes, haunting voice and chameleonlike ability to change from hero to villain and back again have kept Jeremy Irons working steadily since 1969. Now, an Academy Award, a Tony and three Emmys later, the 69-year-old Englishman has become one of the world’s foremost interpreters of T.S. Eliot’s poetry. He’ll read Eliot’s “Four Quartets” at the 92nd Street Y on Thursday, April 12, 75 years after the work was published — and nearly 70 years since Eliot himself read it at the Y’s Poetry Center.

“Quartets,” four linked meditations on nature and time, is considered the last great work by Eliot (1888-1965) and resonates with the poet’s Anglo-Catholic worldview. Irons should be up for it: He’s spent the last decade reading and recording Eliot’s poetry. From London, where he’s playing James Tyrone, the penny-pinching patriarch of Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey Into Night” — it’s coming to BAM May 8-27 — Irons told The Post about the pull the poet has on him, his own voice and his “embarrassing” habit.

Why does T.S. Eliot captivate you so?

Who knows? Maybe his range, his searching, his zaniness, his imperfection — cracks which let the light in.

Please give us a few of your favorite lines.

“Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still …
I can only say, THERE we have been
But I cannot say where.
And I cannot say, how long, for that is to place it in time.”

What, if anything, surprised you about his personal life?

That his widow, Valerie, told me I was his voice for today.

Can you ever forgive Andrew Lloyd Webber for turning Eliot’s poetry into “Cats”?

[It] didn’t do Eliot any harm. Introduced him to many and made them happy and produced some great songs.

Is it true that your distinctive voice is partly due to cigarette smoking?

Almost entirely.

Will you ever stop?

Stop what, exactly?

Any particular reason you won’t return as Scar in the new “Lion King”?

No one’s had the wit to ask me.

What souvenirs, if any, have you kept from your films?

Too numerous and embarrassing to admit to. Most of my wardrobe.

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