For someone who is well on his way to becoming the next Robert Pattinson, Max Irons sure knows how to fly under the radar.
When he opens the door to his trailer in the grounds of Bruges cathedral, there is no army of publicists or assistants – just the man himself, 6ft 3in and dressed head to toe in black.
With his tousled hair and square jaw, Irons has matinee idol looks that served him well in The Host – Twilight writer Stephenie Meyer’s most recent film – and now as Edward IV in a new BBC1 drama about the Wars of the Roses.
“Nine months work, back-to-back, is more than you can ask for,” says Max, 27. “I was very glad to get the part of Edward. To have such a long time to get to know a character and follow all the seismic events he went through, from 22 up to 45 years of age, is extraordinary.”
Called The White Queen, this new series is a lavish 10-part adaptation of Philippa Gregory’s bestselling series The Cousins’ War. Filmed entirely on location in Bruges, the story centres on the women caught up in the battle for the throne.
Newcomer Rebecca Ferguson plays widowed commoner and would-be queen Elizabeth Woodville, with stellar support from Janet McTeer as her mother and Amanda Hale as the outmanoeuvred Margaret Beaufort.
As the son of Jeremy irons and Sinead Cusack, Max comes from a long line of screen stars (his grandfather was actor Cyril Cusack, while his aunts Niamh, Sorcha and Catherine are all big names in the business). But this Irons, it seems, is striking out on his own.
Watching Max in action as he sweeps into Bruges town hall (doubling as the royal court), he looks every inch a king, resplendent in gold brocade robes. You might think his career path was predestined, but the young actor shakes his head at the suggestion.
“There were a million other things I wanted to do apart from acting,” he says. “I struggled with dyslexia at school, and reading for auditions is the worst thing for a dyslexic. I’d go into panic mode and start shaking and sweating.”
That all changed at the age of 16 when he memorised a 30-page Neil LaBute two-hander for a drama festival.
“When I realised that I was free and not bound to a book, it was as much fun as I’d ever had at school.”
He went on to teach drama in Nepal, before taking his place at the London’s Guildhall acting school. He also dabbled in modelling to fund his training.
“I was pretty strapped for cash,” recalls Max, who is currently single. “I tried working in a restaurant but you don’t finish school until 6pm and then you work all night. Then I was spotted by Mario Testino, which was nuts. They said, ‘We’ll pay you this much…’ which was like a year and a half of funding.”
Contracts from Burberry, Mango and Macy’s menswear followed, but acting is where Max’s heart is.
He admits that the famous name is both a blessing and a curse, noting that “nepotism is despised in the UK”. It’s a fact not lost on his parents, either.
“They were very anxious about my prospects – they still are,” he admits. “Statistically the odds are against me so the trick is to accept that there will be tough times. But when it works, this job gives you gratification like very few other things.”
The White Queen starts on BBC1 soon.