There's Much Ado on Broadway Over Mrs. Jeremy Irons: Irish Actress Sinead Cusack
The pregnant pause is a well-worn stage convention, but Irish actress Sinead Cusack managed to give it a new dimension one evening in 1977 at a theater in London's West End. As Jeremy Irons, her leading man in Wild Oats, waited in the wings for his big scene, co-star Sinead (pronounced Shin-ed) sidled over and approximated a stage whisper. "Jeremy," she said to her roommate of long standing, "I am with child." Poor Irons then heard his cue and stumbled wordlessly center-stage. "I remember thinking about mortgages, school fees, midwives, nappies and nannies," he says, "all in a great cloud of adrenaline."
The denouement of all this was marriage three months later, the birth of Sam, now 6, and a succession of respective acting triumphs only slightly less stunning than that moment of high drama backstage. First Irons achieved international celebrity with Brideshead Revisited and The French Lieutenant's Woman, then went on to dazzle Broadway this year with his Tony award-winning performance in The Real Thing. Now it's Sinead's turn. Cusack has just debuted in the colonies with the Royal Shakespeare Company playing Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing and Roxanne in Cyrano de Bergerac, a triumph that has left critics doubly impressed. Cusack's co-star in the two RSC productions, English actor Derek Jacobi, is also admiring. "She's got a very distinctive voice," he says of Cusack's smoky contralto. "It's got a delicious crack in it. And she can do anything, comedy or tragedy. She's bloody good."
And bloody happy to finally be recognized in America in her own right after long months of being Mrs. Jeremy Irons. "I feel tagged quite often," admits Sinead, 36, who has a double identity problem. She is the daughter of acclaimed classical actor Cyril Cusack, sometimes known as Ireland's Olivier, and has long struggled to emerge from his shadow. "My father did not heap approbation on me in the early years," says Sinead, whose achievements as the RSC's rising star won Cyril's praise only belatedly.
Such problems seem far away as the earthy, high-spirited Sinead sits in the cluttered Manhattan apartment she and Jeremy have borrowed from a friend. Last night Cusack rushed home from the matinee to cook rib of beef and corn on the cob for her family. Today, Sam is off at school and his nanny is fixing tea in the kitchen. Jeremy is holed up in the study perusing film scripts and presumably mulling whether to return to The Real Thing, which he left last June for a much-needed rest. The fact that they are a family again seems to delight both Cusack and Irons, whose work has kept them apart for much of the last year. The separation, not to mention Jeremy's publicized closeness for a time with his Real Thing co-star Glenn Close and his propensity for muttering to the press of his love of women in general, led inevitably to disquieting rumors.
To hear Cusack tell it though, their marriage is as traditional and trusting as Ozzie and Harriet's. "Jeremy loves going out to dinner with friends, and he tends to get on better with women than men. So, inevitably, he sees a lot of other women," she reasons, "and quite right, too! I would hate for him to be a recluse sitting at home with a tin of baked beans." Jeremy is not quite so cavalier. "I would love her to be at home with baked beans, but that's life," he says, not unaware of Sinead's busy social life back in London. Not long ago that life encompassed so many offstage appearances with her RSC director Terry Hands that a romance was rumored. Sinead denies this, and says don't get either Jeremy or herself wrong. "When I talk about Jeremy having stimulating evenings with other women, I'm not talking about affairs," she says. "I'm very vehement about that. I'm not European at all in that way." But what if passion overcame the man Glamour magazine has dubbed, "The Thinking Woman's Sex Symbol"? Says Sinead: "I can't afford to carry that fear. It would jaundice my life." Jeremy, for his part, accepts the risks of having a wife in the theater. "I want her to be fulfilled," he says. "I think I would be bored by any woman fulfilled by doing dishes."
Sinead's aspirations as a child in seaside Dalkey, outside Dublin, had little to do with the stage. Jane, as she was called until she adopted the Gaelic version of her name at 11, yearned to be a saint. But father Cyril, who was often away performing, and her late mother, actress Maureen Kiely, forced her to buckle down to worldlier studies. Only later did the family passion take hold. As a student of English literature at Dublin University, Sinead enrolled at the prestigious Abbey Theatre. At 21, she descended on London and began playing ingenue parts for the BBC. In films she appeared opposite Peter Sellers in Hoffman and Marty Feldman in The Last Remake of Beau Geste. Still, she ached to be a classical actress, and repeatedly—finally successfully—sought out the RSC.
During the run of an RSC production in London in 1973, she spotted a handsome, bearded young actor playing at a nearby West End theater in Godspell. Later, long after Irons and Cusack were living together, he suggested she play opposite him in Wild Oats. The fact that the pair has not acted together since has more to do with circumstance, they insist, than with Sinead's backstage pregnancy bulletin or the telegram Jeremy sent Cusack before her Wild Oats opening: "Darling, I'll be beside you tonight . . . just slightly upstage."
The couple may yet appear together, Sinead intimates, though Jeremy murmurs something about liking "fresh air" in a marriage. For the moment their aim is simply to stay on the same side of the Atlantic, either in their West Side Manhattan rental or their Victorian house in London's woodsy Hampstead district. Sinead is committed to Broadway at least through March and then plans to quit the RSC in search of more contemporary roles. Jeremy is branching out from Broadway to MTV—he is directing, writing and producing Tired of Being Blond, a cut from Carly Simon's new album.
With their eclectic interests and schedules, there will, inevitably, be more separations for Irons and Cusack, not to mention a fresh spate of rumors. But last year's Broadway matinee idol and this year's leading lady will probably scoff at the talk as much ado about nothing. "We are a couple," says, in this case, Mrs. Jeremy Irons, "and with a little luck, we always will be."
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