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Max Irons on Breaking Into Acting, His Famous Parents & Being Discovered by Mario Testino
by Ben Barna
April 8, 2011
When Max Irons turned 17, his parents issued him the following warning: a career in film is brutal, filled with paranoia, jealousy, and financial potholes. They were, he was told, the exceptions to the rule. “Don’t look at us and think it will necessarily be the same for you,” he says, recalling their sound advice. “99.9% of actors are unemployed, or are employed, but not as they’d like. Look at them more than you look at us.” Like any self-respecting teenager, Irons ignored their wisdom. “When they saw I was serious about acting,” he says, “they backed off.” 0digg
Irons’ mother and father, actors Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack, have appeared in more than 100 films combined. Now 25 years old and a professional actor, Irons grew up in the theater, with talk around the dinner table often centering on who was likely to win an Oscar that year. “It would be naive to say they had nothing to do with it,” Irons says of the relationship between his famous parents and his own acting ambitions. “I was exposed to it and developed an interest.”
Acting became more than a pastime for Irons when, after a stint at a UK boarding school marked by “smoking, drinking, and girls,” he traveled to Nepal, where he spent six months teaching the craft to street kids. When he returned home, he was accepted to the prestigious Guildhall School of Music & Drama in London, all but guaranteeing himself an agent upon graduation. In Hollywood, however, a young actor also needs looks, and it was Mario Testino who confirmed Irons’ heartthrob potential. The famed fashion photographer stopped Irons on the street and offered him work, a twist of fate that led to his starring in a Burberry campaign opposite Kate Moss.
But it was director Catherine Hardwicke—a connoisseur of smoldering Brits—who gave Irons his true break when the Twilight director cast him in Red Riding Hood, her CGI-enhanced retelling of the classic folktale. As the blacksmith Henry, Irons is one part of a love triangle that features a woodcutter (Shiloh Fernandez) and the title character, played by Amanda Seyfried. As a result, before anyone has even seen his performance, Irons has been busy in meetings with studio bigwigs. Is he ready for his close-up? “You can’t get hypnotized by someone offering you a lot of money or saying they’ll make you famous,” he says. “None of the photo shoots, parties, and flattery means anything. You have to remind yourself that what you do is act, and that’s all that matters.”
Was acting something you wanted to do from a young age?
I’d always tried to get into plays, but I was dyslexic as a kid and so it was kind of difficult, because they’d give you a script and say, Get on stage and do an audition. For a dyslexic kid that’s impossible, it’s a minefield of problems. It took a bit of time before I had the courage to say, Let me go and learn this. And I suppose I was about 15 when I started getting roles, and we have this thing at my school that’s a festival, and I did a play and I just thought, This is as much fun as you can legally have. And then I applied to drama school, which is quite a competitive business in England, and I managed to get it, and it boosted my confidence a little bit. It was a gradual thing, there was no epiphany moment.
Did you grow up watching your parents, and did that have an influence on your decisions?
You know, it’s a funny one, because it’s a double-edged sword. My parents were always gone, and I was always at boarding school, so I didn’t really see what they did actively. I didn’t naturally gravitate toward watching their work, because when I was young it felt weird.
I also read something about Mario Testino plucking you off the street?
I was nineteen and I was coming back from the DVD store with my girlfriend. We always used to have fights at the store, and I was on one side of the street, and she was on the other, and we were yelling at each other when this big, black SUV pulls up and this guy got out and he said, “Hello, I’m Mario.” And I said, “Hello,” and he said, “I’m a photographer and I’d quite like for you to come in for a meeting,” and I said, “Okay, thank you very much,” and he got back in his car and drove off. I thought it was weird, and my girlfriend came across the street and I told her it was a photographer called Mario who looked a bit like Tom Stoppard, and she said, “That’s Mario Testino.” Then I went into meet him and he put me in this Vogue thing, and a couple of months later I did Burberry.
Now that you’re in the movie business, how do you view all the duties that come along with it? Are they secondary?
It’s very interesting and nice that you say that because it kind of is. You have to catch yourself, especially when you find yourself fussing over what to wear to a Vanity Fair shoot, when actually what you do for a living is act. None of the photo shoots and none of the parties and none of the flattery that you receive in interviews mean anything. It’s just hot air and part of a system that’s bigger than you.
Are there any steps you’re going to take to make sure you have a lasting career?
You’ve got to be careful and not being hypnotized by someone offering you a lot of money or saying they’re going to make you very famous. I think also there’s an attitude around Hollywood at the moment of young, disposable talent that kind of turns up, gets shot up with arguably more money than they deserve, and then burn out quickly. And that’s not what you want. Fortunately, I’ve got agents and people around me that are all on the same page.
But essentially the decision is yours to make.
It is, yeah. I got a script to read the other day which was another fairly tale, and I would have been kind of right, but you can’t do it because you’ve just done one, and if you do another one, you’ll be known as that guy. So even though it was a different studio and offered a bit of money, you have to say no sometimes. You have to think in those terms.
Photography by Rene Dupont.