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HomeBollywoodJeremy Irons & Bille August On 'The Count Of Monte Cristo'

Jeremy Irons & Bille August On ‘The Count Of Monte Cristo’

Jeremy Irons and double-Palme d’Or winner Bille August are gearing up for their highly-anticipated Count of Monte Cristo series but when offered the chance to work on the project, they had certain red lines.

“I wouldn’t have taken it if it was a movie, it had to be TV,” Danish director August told Deadline at Series Mania. “The story is so rich and deserves TV. For this one it was obvious.”

Oscar-winner Irons said TV series can do “these great novels justice” in a way that some movies can’t, referencing his breakout work on 1981’s Brideshead Revisited, which was across 13 episodes. Both stars have skewed towards movies during their decorated careers and Count Of Monte Cristo has never been made for TV. A 2002 movie version saw Richard Harris play Irons’ role.

“With TV’s insatiable appetite for material it seemed for this great novel, we needed to give it time and do it over eight to 10 episodes, so I understand the attraction [of TV],” added Irons.

The era of peak TV has been very much in the spotlight at Series Mania and Irons said there has been no real dip in the quality of content, as cinema-going has fallen and audiences have turned to streaming over the past few years.

“The quality has always been very mixed,” he added. “When studios were going flat out [with tentpoles] there were terrible B-movies and terrible A-movies. The ones we remember are the greats.”

Getting into character

Sam Claflin in The Count of Monte Cristo. Image: Jean Claude Lother

Irons plays Abbé Faria in the Carlo Degli Esposti-produced The Count of Monte Cristo, the adaptation of the near-200-year-old Alexandre Dumas book that is being led by Sam Claflin. In the literary classic that inspired Les Misérables, lead Edmond Dantès goes to prison after being falsely accused of treason before escaping to find treasure and seek revenge. It is being produced by Palomar for France Télévisions and Rai, and distributed by Mediawan Rights, at the same time as a high-profile Zorro remake.

Irons’ Faria spends one episode in prison with Claflin’s Dantès and the actor revealed he had not read the book prior to the approach but was touched by the “very dense characters and a movement forward in the story, a desire to turn the page into the next chapter.”

To immerse himself in the character, Irons, who has twice worked with August in the past, utilized the real-life experience of the building and demolishing work he has done over the years.

“I was practical about it,” he added. “[Faria] spends a lot of time tunnelling and I’ve done that dirty work – demolishing not so much tunnelling. So we worked out a tunnelling costume that would keep some of the filth and the dust off him. That was all I brought to [the role], and then I’m an old man, I’ve lived a bit, so you bring a life experience to it.”

At six months long and shot in numerous countries, the shoot was the longest in 75-year-old August’s decorated career. Besides the logistics of shooting for such a long time on a boat, August said his main challenge was “to get the truth in each scene and get the relationships right.”

“It’s all about truth and all these small details,” he added.

Making the show feel contemporary while retaining authenticity was a task that August, who was inspired by 1975 historical feature Barry Lyndon, approached comfortably and he said making relationships “universal” was the key. “The bigger story itself is about a man who wants revenge and it will eat him up inside.”

Great writers can make stories contemporary from whichever era they are from, Irons explained.

“When done well, Shakespeare is completely contemporary and he was writing 500 years ago,” he added. “Making something contemporary isn’t about modernizing, it’s about making sure it speaks to a present day audience and isn’t just an antiquity.”

Danish success

When Ruben Östlund won the Palme d’Or for Triangle of Sadness two years ago, he became just the second Scandinavian director to receive the coveted gong twice – second to August.

August noted that Danish directors act like “colleagues not enemies,” a driver of their success.

“We help each other,” he added. “It’s a fruitful environment, rather than other countries where they are fighting. So that is a wonderful environment to make films in.”

Series Mania has featured talks from the likes of Narcos creator Chris Brancato, Netflix EMEA boss Larry Tanz and HBO’s Francesca Orsi.

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