A tall elegant actor, sometimes thought of as a thinking woman's sex symbol, for his lean good looks, air of faintly brooding melancholy and eloquent articulation. In spite of all this, the Sherborne-educated star is actually a considerable actor, a fact which became clear in his early '80s, BAFTA-nominated pair: as the lovelorn Charles Ryder in TV's Brideshead Revisited (ITV, 1982) and The French Lieutenant's Woman (d. Karel Reisz, 1981), in a - sort of - dual role.
Trained at the Bristol Old Vic Drama School, he made his London stage debut as John the Baptist in Godspell (1972) and has continued to do highly regarded theatre work, such as his Tony-winning role in The Real Thing (1984) and a languid, finally moving Richard II (1986) at Stratford.
His first film was Nijinsky (UK/US, d. Herbert Ross, 1980), as Fokine, and his subsequent film work suggests an actor who chooses his roles sparingly. He was a convincing Polish labourer stranded in London in Moonlighting (d. Jerzy Skolimowski, 1982), an adulterous lover in the film version of Pinter's Betrayal (d. David Jones, 1982), a courageous missionary, admittedly upstaged by the music, in The Mission (d. Roland Joffe, 1986), the hapless star of the amateur light opera company in A Chorus of Disapproval (d. Michael Winner, 1989), and the wretched husband and father in Damage (UK/France, d. Louis Malle, 1992).
In Australia, bizarrely, he played in a version of The Wild Duck (d. Henri Safran, 1983); in the US, he won an Oscar as Claus von Bülow in Reversal of Fortune (US, d. Barbet Schroeder, 1990), was a pair of insane twin gynaecologists in Dead Ringers (Canada, d. David Cronenberg, 1988), the voice of Scar in The Lion King (US, d. Roger Allers/Rob Minkoff, 1994), the obligatory well-spoken Brit villain in Die Hard: With a Vengeance (US, d. John McTiernan, 1995), and a finely touching Humbert in the remake of Lolita (US, d. Adrian Lyne, 1997).
Married (his second, in 1978) to Sinead Cusack, he acted with their son Sam Irons and his father-in-law, Cyril Cusack, in the charming telemovie, Danny, the Champion of the World (d. Gavin Millar, 1989). He is a major cinema figure of the last two decades.
Brian McFarlane, Encyclopedia of British Film