Max Irons: 'Work with my father? That's worst my nightmare'

The actor-son of Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack knows the pressure of having famous parents. Gerard Gilbert meets Max Irons

Rafe Spall once told me that he knew that he'd made it as an actor only when interviews ceased referring to him as "the son of Timothy Spall". Max Irons (here we go), son of Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack, has a way to go yet – despite already having been dubbed "the new Robert Pattinson" for his role in the Stephenie Meyer vampire movie The Host, and winning the lead male role in BBC1's new history epic The White Queen.

"Interviews all end up mentioning my dad," he says. "And I always feel slightly sorry for the journalists because inevitably they're going to get the same answer, which is that: it has its advantages … it might get you a meeting … but the disadvantage is that if you don't do a good job, people will be quick … especially in this country … to say 'Oh, nepotism'. It's slightly dispiriting."

We're talking in his trailer in the car park of a disused factory near Bruges in Belgium, which is now full of interior sets for BBC1's lavish (the budget is estimated at £20m) adaptation of Philippa Gregory's Wars of the Roses saga The White Queen. Irons has the main male part in a femme-centric retelling of the 15th-century dynastic struggles, playing Edward IV, the Yorkist king who shocked his court when he wed the Lancastrian "commoner", Elizabeth Woodville. The role calling for him to periodically pull off his costume, revealing the ripped physique of a former model. (While working in a restaurant to pay his way through drama school, Irons was spotted by no less than Mario Testino, subsequently winning a contract with Burberry.)

Today he looks dashing in a doublet ("It's like wearing a duvet"), the part requiring him to age 20 years. "Now it's [Edward IV's] decline," he says. "The power is slipping. I've just had to kill my brother … so it's nice to play that."

Irons, 27, is part of a coming generation of ex-public school thespians including Old Etonians Tom Hiddleston, Harry Lloyd and Eddie Red- mayne, as well as Irons's former Bryanston contemporary (and best mate) Freddie Fox. As if to underscore the point, Irons has just been cast in the film of the Royal Court play Posh, about a fictional version of Oxford University's Bullingdon Club. "My mum wanted me to go through state education," he says. "She was very keen on that, but the class size wasn't good for my dyslexia and I was falling behind." This difficulty in being able to read fluently also nearly stymied his acting ambitions. "I'd always be Tree Number 3 or Dopey from the Seven Dwarfs … the one that didn't say much," he says. "When you'd audition they'd give you a script and say 'Up you get … read that', which is my worst nightmare." That all changed when he memorised a 30-page Neil LaBute script for a drama festival. "I was free and not bound by a book," he says. "It was as much fun as I had ever had at school."

Or not quite, as Irons was expelled from Bryanston, after a teacher caught him having sex (with a girl – it was a mixed public school), and after a gap year teaching drama to street children in Nepal, Irons decided to study the family trade, enrolling at Guildhall in London. His highest-profile role to date has been in The Host, a Stephenie Meyer adaptation aimed squarely at the Twilight crowd and which brought with it inevitable comparisons to R-Patz.

"I've seen countless younger actors of my age who've been asked 'Are you the next R-Patz'?" he says. "Twilight was a phenomenon unto itself." Irons is reluctant to go down the franchise route. "Since X-Men our perceptions of what success is have changed," he says. "You hear of people my age earning $10m on their second movie, and that's what we perceive as success. But when I look at people like Philip Seymour Hoffman, Helen Mirren, Meryl Streep, the really great ones, you see they did lots of little parts in great material – they built a foundation. There was a franchise that came in my direction and I said 'I can't do it' and my agent said 'No, you need to do this, it will add another zero to your pay, and I said, 'no, I can't … if I do it I might want to give up'. I think they got the message now."

This despite his parents' warnings. "I remember Dad saying 'me and your mother were very lucky, but statistically you know the numbers'. I'm starting to realise this now, how vulnerable you feel as an actor."

And then there's the limelight and the gossip, which the now single Irons experienced first-hand when dating the Australian actress Emily Browning, and vicariously as a boy, the state of his parents' marriage having been the subject of endless tabloid speculation. "I grew up in the countryside," he says of his upbringing in Oxfordshire, where author Ian McEwan was a neighbour. "My parents kept me away from all of it. I had no real memories of going on set, or paparazzi or parties or anything like that."

He currently inhabits his parents' mews flat in Notting Hill, west London, and avoids the company of other thespians. "I went to the Groucho Club the other day for about the third time and it reminded me why I should never go back there," he says. "Everyone was an actor, it was so exhausting. It was a competition."

On which subject, would he ever work with his father? "That's my nightmare," he says. "My mum maybe, but my dad … that would be really difficult. Have you ever met him?" I haven't. "He's a force of nature, I'll put it that way; he likes to make his voice heard on set, and I wouldn't be able to disentangle father and actor. No, keep well away from that."

The White Queen begins tonight on BBC1 at 9pm

Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
Arts and Entertainment
Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters performs at Suncorp Stadium on February 24, 2015 in Brisbane, Australia.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans had initially distanced himself from the possibility of taking the job

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
British author Matt Haig

books
Arts and Entertainment
Homeland star Damian Lewis is to play a British Secret Service agent in Susanna White's film adaptation of John le Carre's Our Kind of Traitor

Film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue