He became known for his sinister vocal performance as Scar in The Lion King and played the villainous Simon in Die Hard with a Vengeance. After playing Claus in Reversal of Fortune, he received an Academy Award for Best Actor.
He briefly performed in a four-man school band called Four Pillars of Wisdom. He attended Sherborne School in Dorset from 1962 to 1966.
In 2011, he became a Goodwill Ambassador for the UN.
His mother, Barbara Anne Brereton Brymer, worked as a housewife, and his father, Paul Dugan Irons, had a career as an accountant. He married Sinéad Cusack in 1978, and his son is actor Max Irons.
He played Franz Kafka in the film Kafka.