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john doyle in pasadena

Globe and Mail television critic John Doyle is attending the Television Critics Association winter press tour in Pasadena, Calif., this week.

There are actors who are funny and then there are actors who are smart about life and politics. It turns out that Jeremy Irons is both. This became clear today.

A continuing theme here, as one broadcaster after another presents their wares is the context of the one per cent and the 99 per cent. Since the networks and cable channels were last talking up their shows to critics, the Occupy movement has happened and managed to make economic disparity an issue. Is it an issue in the context of the popular culture? To judge by the number of questions on the topic, the answer is yes.

Today, people from The Borgias, the U.S/Canada/Ireland co-production, arrived. A series of scenes from the show (returning in April on Bravo! in Canada) was shown. Blood, lust, sex, gorgeous costumes and sword-fights was the gist. "Take that, Downton Abbey!" the head of Showtime cracked after the clip was screened.

First Jeremy Irons – who plays the scheming Pope Alexander VI, the man who ruled the church at the end of the 15th century – was asked: "Is this a one-per-cent-versus-the-99-per-cent drama?"

Irons acknowledged that it is, in a way, and then talked about how easy it is for the powerful and the rich to lose touch with reality and the lives of the poor. "Some of your Republican presidential nominees certainly appear to be out of touch with reality," he said.

"It's all to be easy to be out of touch. In this season the The Borgias the Pope realizes that the best way to govern is with the people on your side. To get their support you cannot be out of touch."

Later Irons was asked about his distinctive voice. Had he taken special voice training?

Irons said that when he was 25 or 30 years old, he and actor John Hurt once met for coffee and moaned about the new crop of good, young actors who were stealing the spotlight and getting roles. He said Hurt then told him his trick for dealing with the upstarts.

"Do you know what I do to them?" he remembered Hurt saying. "If I meet one, I say to them, 'You know you have a wonderful voice. Have you ever listened to it?'"

After that, Hurt said in fewer syllables, they are buggered.

"Since then," Irons said, "I never listen to my own voice. Don't pay attention to it."

Just after The Borgias session, there was a presentation for the new Showtime series Inside Comedy. In it, Canadian David Steinberg interviews comedy legends about their style and craft. One is Larry David, who came along to promote the show.

The first question went to David, who was asked, "What do you think is funny?" David was, for once, speechless. Then he said, "Are you seriously asking me what's funny? Are you out of your mind?"

Actually Jeremy Irons was pretty funny a few minutes before that.