Batman vs. Superman: 5 Reasons Why Jeremy Irons Will Be A New Kind of Alfred

Jeremy Irons is Alfred in the Batman vs. Superman movie. All should rejoice, because this provides an opportunity for a new kind of butler.

In the least contentious superhero casting of the day, it’s been revealed that Jeremy Irons is Batman’s right hand, resident British badass in Batman vs. Superman. Yes, the man who would be king of the jungle or the papacy has been cast as Alfred Pennyworth, the ultimate ally with debonair flair and who can give the Batmobile repair.The role of Alfred has been played by many a great actor in the past, including Alan Napier, Michael Gough, and Michael Caine, yet Irons offers the chance to reinvent the part once again for a new generation of fans. An actor who has dominated audiences whether on the stage, on the screen, or even in animated musicals, Irons’ layered, vinyl voice is almost as ubiquitous to his name as his unending versatility. And if his previous work is any indication, fans, old and new, are about to get a new kind of Alfred for the DC Cinematic Universe.
Alfred, A Man of ActionTo date, all of the actors who have played Alfred have underscored either the character’s ability for impeccable service or his unspoken role as surrogate father to Master Wayne. However, despite some teasing from Michael Caine’s variation in The Dark Knight, Alfred has not been forthrightly depicted as a man who understands Batman’s quest for violent justice, because he has been on one of his own. Simply put, Jeremy Irons has proven himself in previous action roles as an actor who can physically and mentally intimidate even the most revered of action stars. After all in Die Hard With A Vengeance (1995), Irons was the only other actor in the franchise to stand up to Alan Rickman’s German villainy from the 1988 original. However, unlike Rickman, Irons brought a physical and wrathful threat that did not come from his wit, but from his quiet seething. Despite never actually engaging in fisticuffs with either Bruce Willis or Samuel L. Jackson in this Die Hard threequel, Irons portrayed his Simon Gruber (brother to Rickman’s late Hans Gruber) as a cunning strategist who will terrorize every grade school in New York City for a fistful of gold. As much an Old West black hat as a 1990s tech-monster, Irons’ Simon says what goes in this action film and provides the biggest threat in John McClane’s career. As Alfred, he could bring some of the same physicality hinting at a darker past.
Alfred, A Man of DarknessOf course, if we are going to speak of Irons’ ability to bring darkness to a role, one cannot understate his vocal capacity for malevolence. As Scar in The Lion King (1994), Irons’ modulation purred within his fratricidal lion with all the sweet comfort of a Machiavellian Prince. Based on Claudius in Hamlet, there is something even more depraved about this Disney-fable version of the Bard’s archetype, as he shows no remorse for murdering his brother or hunting his only nephew in a safari for power. Irons uses his distinct voice in both whispered words and insidious song to pour like morning coffee over the ears of his enemies, be they brother, nephew, or foolishly subservient hyenas. His ability to manipulate of course extends to other unnerving roles, whether as creepy gynecologist twins in Dead Ringers(1988) or as an even creepier Humbert Humbert in a Lolita remake that might make Stanley Kubrick blush. There is both something seductive and terrifying in Irons’ many onscreen personas, whether as peeked through the eyes or as teased in the voice. As Alfred, Irons could bring an air of menace and danger to a butler who can teach Batman everything he knows about intimidation techniques and enhanced interrogation. Perhaps, unlike Caine’s caring father who for two out of three movies verbally doubted Bruce’s crusade as one of self-destructive suicide, this Alfred can push him forward through his own mysterious connections.

Alfred, A Man of SecretsThis could play into what I have long wished to be explored as a new variation on the Alfred character: the underworld spy. While Christopher Nolan and Caine’s Alfred knew his way around Burma, and at least Joel Schumaucher’s take on Michael Gough’s Alfred had a high pedigreed career at Buckingham Palace, it is time to see an Alfred whose previous career could have been just as complex as the Batman’s. Enter Alfred: retired spy. While Irons never played MI6 directly, he certainly got embroiled in the disturbing world of espionage with M. Butterfly (1993). However, as with the darkness that can be found in his audible scratch, Irons has the ability to bring something of the conspiratorial to M. Pennyworth. One need not look any further than his recent work as Rodrigo Borgia, aka Pope Alexander VI, in Showtime’s The Borgias. While lacking the real life Borgia pope’s excess girth, Irons found himself right at home in embodying Rodrigo’s penchant for manipulation and shadowy underworld power. The basis for Mario Puzo’s Vito Corleone, Pope Alexander VI ruled over the Papal States of Renaissance Italy with an iron fist in a velvet glove as his two illegitimate sons, initially one in the cloth and one in armor, confiscated all military and ultimately cardinal power around the Vatican. He proved a force worthy of thwarting French kings and spiteful matrons of power by creating his own network of spies across Western Europe. Alfred Pennyworth, the spymaster? That sounds pretty impressive. The Avengers may have Nick Fury, but the upcoming cinematic Justice League may have their own with connections to MI6, the CIA, Mossad, PLO, and the SVR. Plus, he can cook dinner too.[related article: The Many Faces of Lex Luthor]

Alfred, a Man of DecadenceMichael Caine’s Alfred marked the first time we had an Alfred with a cockney twang in his step. It was refreshingly different, offering up an image of an Alfred who worked his way up to a notable position in Gotham’s First Family from across the sea. Irons provides the opportunity to go in an opposite direction. Imagine an Alfred who not only served the wealthy, but also came from that most luxurious world. Yes, why he would be in a role of servitude could thus be questioned, but perhaps he met Bruce later in life and just believed in the cause that much? After all, Irons played one of the great worshippers of English nobility in the 20th century’s most beloved ode to fading aristocracy with the BBC’s Brideshead Revisited. Indeed, the novel, written on the cusp of an ending Second World War, so romanticizes its period setting of the 1920s as the last gasp of English greatness before the ravages of another war, that it’s author, Evelyn Waugh, eventually wrote a forward about how much he regrets its fawning for what many would now consider Downton Abbey era. And they still do fawn, and Brideshead Revisited’s 1981 BBC miniseries faithfully captures that vision with Irons being an artist who dances in those circles without quite being one of them due to his birth. That makes perfect sense for an Alfred who may now be more gentleman guide than a bemused butler. It would even explain why this Alfred could be more gung-ho with the idea of his wealthy patron going out in the middle of the night to thrash poor people. One step closer to the return of proper aristocracy!
Alfred, A Man of FeelingYet, at the end of the day, Alfred must remain the voice of fatherly concern to an otherwise isolated superhero who walks on the edge of the abyss every night. Alfred must be his teacher, his friend, his confidant, and most of all, his mentor. And for all these other new facets, Irons can do that too. Whether if it’s as the well-intentioned and knowledgeable Marshal of 1184 Jerusalem in Ridley Scott’s criminally underrated Kingdom of Heaven (2005), or even as the one bright spot in the otherwise interminable Eragon (2006), Irons brings confidence and poise to his roles as the helping hand for the protagonist. And despite what the most ardent fanboys will say about their special Bat-God, he will always need help.So there are five reasons we should hope for something different from Irons’ Alfred Pennyworth. Agree? Disagree? Have more reasons? Let us know in the comments section below!Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter for all news updates related to the world of geek. And Google+, if that’s your thing!