My character in The White Queen, Edward IV, was modern in so many ways; he was politically and economically very savvy.
But on the other side of the coin, he was reckless, impulsive, some would say, foolish. He fell in love with a girl on the side of the street, married her and consequently threw into jeopardy everything that he and Warwick (the powerful noble known as “the Kingmaker”, who had helped him gain the throne, played in the series by James Frain) had worked for. He should have kept in Warwick’s good books. It was a foolish move.
When you play a king, it’s the people around you that make you a king by the way they respond to you; you don’t have to “play” a king so much.
During filming, I could walk around Bruges in my costume and feel really relaxed about it. I could go and get a sandwich and no one did a double take. I was like, “I’ve got a sword, a huge, gold sword!”
I got the part quite early on. I did quite a few chemistry tests with different Elizabeths and it was incredible to see everyone’s different interpretations.
I’ve always thought the most exciting part to play would be a politician because you’ve constantly got to be aware of your surroundings and people’s intentions. Alastair Campbell would be an amazing part to get to grips with!
There’s a bit of something for everybody in this drama. There’s the romance, there’s the politics, there’s the ambition creeping everywhere, it’s a tale of survival. Philippa Gregory, she can tell a story!
It’s safe to say that I feel more comfortable in this role than any I’ve played before. I’ve really enjoyed it.
I always had an interest in acting because around dinner tables I’d been exposed to those kinds of conversations and it’s been a big part of my family life to go to the theatre [Max is the son of Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack]. But when I was younger I used to want to be a teacher. Or a pilot.
I used to audition but I had really bad dyslexia so the idea of going to an audition where you’re just going to sit down and read… that was a minefield. And then I did a play at school and I thought, “Oh s—, this is a good as it gets, this excites me more than anything I’m doing academically.”
The White Queen has been a long shoot and I’m thankful for that, it’s something to really get your teeth into.
Look, I’ll be honest. I’ve done work over the past couple of years that is typical of American films, targeted to the 13-15 year old female demographic. It isn’t written, frankly, with that much care and attention. I was asked to go up for another big franchise that’s already established to play a similar part and I said to my agents, “I can’t do it.”
There is a trend, seemingly, in Hollywood where the concept of success is to go there and to be massive overnight, get paid way more than you should and then disappear and a lot of people seem to be making that mistake. I’ve come close to making that mistake and I don’t want to do that. I want to work for 60 years.
The White Queen begins on BBC One on Sunday 16 June at 9.00pm