Max Irons, the son of actor Jeremy Irons, talks about following in the family tradition and getting to work alongside Gary Oldman and Amanda Seyfried in Catherine Hardwicke's Red Riding Hood. He also discusses his career and what may lie ahead...
Was it always obvious that you wanted to become an actor because "it runs in the family"?
Max Irons: Well, I suppose it does run in the family but no, not at all. I think I was about 16 when I first figured I wanted to be an actor. I wanted to be a fighter pilot before that, but then I thought, "I don't want to kill people," so that ruled that out. But I had dyslexia as a kid so when I used to audition for plays they'd always say, "get up on stage and read this and act," but I couldn't do that. So, it took me a while to just say: "Listen, give me the piece and I'll go away and learn it and then I'll come back." So, I started doing that and then realised it was as much fun as you could have.
Your father recently took some time off to build a house. Does the fact that even he obviously has some reservations about the profession also influence you when you choose your profession?
Max Irons: In West Cork, Ireland, yes... But I think acting as a profession does have certain strains. You spend a lot of time away from your family and it is kind of an all-consuming profession. There's the cool work, which is acting, but then there's stuff like press and various things you have to do continually and I think he was aged about 48 at the time, so felt the urge to just take a couple of years out and build something.
Did he encourage you to act? Or give you any tips?
Max Irons: No, it's a bit like when your parents give you driving lessons... you know they're right but you want to tell them to shut up. But he warns me about the professional aspect to the business... the more business side of things.
Did you have to audition for Red Riding Hood?
Max Irons: I did. It was five auditions - three in London and then two days of screen tests... horrible screen tests. It was a bit like X Factor. In England, people tend to be really good about auditions... you know, you sit in a room and go, "good luck," [to each other]. People are very earnest about it. But then in LA I found myself in a room with about 20 muscular, white-teethed actors who all are kind of saying "I'm going to kill it", which is very bizarre. So, you just have to deal with that. And we had "chemistry tests", so you had to pair up with every single actor there, which was hard work.
Are you quite competitive in that environment?
Max Irons: I don't think I've got enough energy to be competitive! Most of my energy is just devoted to me being nervous and trying to deal with the situation.
Director Catherine Hardwicke seems to have quite an unusual way of testing chemistry...
Max Irons: How do you mean?
The kissing on her bed...
Max Irons: Well, that never happened to me, unfortunately.
Did you know about that beforehand?
Max Irons: No, thank Christ! It was quite awkward when I was in London for the screen test because I didn't know Amanda [Seyfried, eventual co-star] was coming. So, in walked Amanda Seyfried who, at the time, was on the side of every single bus because she was out in two movies.And I then had to snog her in the scene, and it's terrifying when you have to do that because most of your life you've been concerned about your kissing technique just from her perspective. But suddenly you become concerned about what everybody else sees and what the camera is seeing when it's zoomed in on your lips. It's terrifying and pretty uncomfortable.
You mention nerves, so what was it like appearing alongside someone like Gary Oldman on that first day on set?
Max Irons: Well, Gary is amazing and he's also English, which was very nice because instantly you have a little connection. But he walked onto set on the first day and we were all kind of: "Oh, Gary Oldman's coming!" But he came on set in his big purple thing [a witch hunter's outfit] and he was walking around the sound stage just singing his lines and roaring his lines at the top of his voice despite the fact there were 200 cast and crew around. He was just doing his own thing. So, you just thought: "OK, that guy is just playing... he's having fun." So, to work with him, who is prepared to do that and not be worried about making a fool out of himself, is exciting.
What do you think is the lesson of this story?
Max Irons: Well, for me it's the paranoia that Gary Oldman's character introduces to the village - that if you have a closely knit society, then if a little bit of fear is injected into it you can watch a place tear itself apart - just like The Crucible. And I think that's relevant to the world we live in. So, that's the message I took away from it - and follow your love, I suppose.
When you took on the role were you ready to face the possibility of becoming a heart-throb? Did you know there's now a Camp Peter and Camp Henry split of fans [à la Twilight]...
Max Irons: I'd heard about this! It hasn't changed my life so far yet. I can live a fairly ordinary life. I think if you start being too concerned about that, which is consequential of the actual work we do, it'll mess you up - because it's not the work, it's just a consequence of it. So, keep your eye on what's important and try and dismiss what's not. But it's very nice to have people like what you do.
How is working with CGI?
Max Irons: It's very bizarre but quite easy at the same time. You have to go to a childlike place. You know, when you're a kid you enter games with cowboys and Indians and you've got massive machine guns when, in fact, all you have is a stick... but as you get older, you kind of shut that part down of you. But you just have to re-engage it and pretend you're face to face with a massive wolf!
Did you know what it looked like?
Max Irons: No, I didn't. We knew the size of it. Catherine Hardwicke played the wolf one day, which was very bizarre and quite hard to take seriously. But then this Canadian guy had a wolf costume, and of course we also had the tennis ball on a stick. So, it's just imagination.
I gather Amanda has quite a playful sense of humour on the set...
Max Irons: Yeah, I think it's too X-rated to repeat! I mean, she's given me a badge I can show you, which she's insisted that I wear in this interview [it says I Love C**k]. I think that's an appropriate example.
Interview: Rob Carnevale
Photos: PA/Warner Bros