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

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
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.

    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor
    How to make your own Easter egg: Willie Harcourt-Cooze shares his chocolate recipes

    How to make your own Easter egg

    Willie Harcourt-Cooze talks about his love affair with 'cacao' - and creates an Easter egg especially for The Independent on Sunday
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef declares barbecue season open with his twist on a tradtional Easter Sunday lamb lunch

    Bill Granger's twist on Easter Sunday lunch

    Next weekend, our chef plans to return to his Aussie roots by firing up the barbecue
    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    Joe Marler: 'It's the way I think the game should be played'

    The England prop relives the highs and lows of last Saturday's remarkable afternoon of Six Nations rugby
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?

    Cricket World Cup 2015

    Has the success of the tournament spelt the end for Test matches?
    The Last Word: Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Justin Gatlin knows the price of everything, the value of nothing