Brief Encounter With…Max Irons – from Whatsonstage.com

Brief Encounter With … Max Irons
Date: 10 December 2009

Max Irons is currently making his London stage debut in Tom Stoppard’s Artist Descending a Staircase at the Old Red Lion in Islington.

Born to theatrical parents (Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack), 24-year-old Irons has already notched up film credits including Being Julia and Dorian Gray, and earlier this year he appeared on stage in Wallenstein at the Chichester Festival Theatre.

Artist Descending a Staircase, which was written in 1972 as a radio play, was first performed on stage at the King’s Head Theatre in 1988. The current production at the Old Red Lion, under the direction of Michael Gieleta, is its first major revival since then.

What made you decide to become an actor?
I always find that people have these massively romantic reasons for wanting to become an actor. I, unfortunately, don’t. I always wanted to do it, in school while growing up, from being in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs playing a dwarf onto more serious things. Problem is, I have dyslexia, which is always a bit of a killer on stage. People would hand me a script and say “Read this and act!”, which was a mind-bending idea, and I would start sweating and shaking profusely. As I went on and did more serious things, I would have time to prepare. I did a Neil LaBute two hander, which I enjoyed massively, and I did other bits and pieces at school.

I considered going to drama school, but I wasn’t entirely sure, so I took a gap year and worked with a company in Nepal who taught kids living on the streets – they asked me to teach theatre, which I enjoyed immensely. After that I came home, and over a period of six months I prepared myself for drama school, did my auditions and got offered a place.

You come from an acting family. Was that an encouragement for you or a put off?
To be honest, it was a bit of a put off. It’s a difficult question because I can’t say with a clear conscience that my choice had nothing to do with them. What I mean by that is not that I saw them out there working, making money, having an enjoyable profession, but that I was exposed to theatre and film at an early age. When I saw told my parents that I wanted to be an actor, their first response was “Don’t”. They said “Just because we had a successful career doesn’t mean that the same will apply to you”. I now know, after being in the business for two years and facing rejection, just what they were talking about.

Many actors are going straight to television and film these days, and some are accused of fame-seeking. What’s your take on that?
The business is different to how it used to be. My Dad said “do rep”, and I had to explain to him that it’s hard to come by these days. Celebrity culture, seeking fame and fortune and all that, is definitely out there. To be honest, to be an actor for life requires for steely stuff. You have to have a lot of conviction. If you’re only looking for fame and fortune, you won’t survive.

You’ve done some modelling.
Unfortunately.

How did that come about?
Burberry was the first to approach me. I got a phone call on a Saturday morning from a man saying “we want to photograph you with Kate Moss, and we’ll pay you a bit”. And I thought, ‘well it’s a good experience to cross off your to do list’. And more recently, I worked with Mango, which is another great company. So I put a little bit of money in the bank for when times are bad, and God knows times are bad now.

Are you keen now to mark your territory as a serious actor?
Well, ideally I still need to learn a lot. And the best place to do that is in theatre where you can do it night after night after night. To be honest, I enjoy theatre more than film, but then again, if an interesting part were to come along, I don’t think I would hesitate too much. Beggars can’t be choosers!

What attracted you to Artist Descending a Staircase?
I quite like intimate spaces, and the project seemed really interesting, so with that combination I couldn’t help myself. I worked in Chichester for a while, which I adored. It was in the round, but not nearly as intimate as the Red Lion.

Can you provide an overview of the play?
It’s about three artists who share a studio together and much of their lives together, and still in their 70s are exploring what modern interpretive art can offer. In the middle, there a three scenes when you see the same artists when they were in their 20s, which is where I come in. Mainly I would say it’s about the way these three personalities view the world artistically, but then there’s also a whodunnit element, as two characters pass away during the course of the play. I don’t want to give too much away.

Which character do you play?
I play Beecham, who is the mousiest of the three artists. I think he’s the best at keeping his mouth shut and his eyes open, and seeing the world truly for what it is – which is in stark contrast to many other artists.

What particular challenges are posed by the fact it was originally a radio play?
Well, in terms of staging, there’s a lot of trial and error. Tom’s an incredibly skilled writer, so there aren’t any holes to be plugged, so it’s basically a case of improvising and trying different ways of playing it. Our director Michael (Gieleta) has left a huge amount to us, which is really nice, but what’s also nice is that he’s got a very clear vision of how it should be done. He’s very good at sketching the picture in our heads, and then letting us fill in the gaps.

Why do you think it hasn’t been revived for so long?
I think primarily because it’s a radio play. Plus, a lot of the subject matter is quite hard to handle. I struggled with it at first, because it has a lot of references to various artistic schools of thought. If you don’t know what they’re talking about, it can be very tricky.

What have you got lined up next?
Well, ideally I’d like to do some Chekhov, who is probably my favourite writer. I also hear that David Hare might be doing a production of Ghosts, which is very exciting and another great play. There are various possibilities, but primarily I just want to keep working.

- Max Irons was speaking to Theo Bosanquet

Artist Descending a Staircase, which also stars Jeremy Child, Olivia Darnley, Ryan Gage, Edward Petherbridge, Alex Robertson and David Weston, continues at the Old Red Lion until 31 December 2010.

Jeremy Irons to be a presenter at Whatsonstage.com Awards

Cat Stars, Sister & Rat Pack Launch WOS Awards
Date: 3 November 2009

Just days after their London opening in the transatlantic transfer of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Broadway stars James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad and Sanaa Lathan will help launch one of the biggest events in the West End: the TENTH ANNUAL Whatsonstage.com Awards, the “theatregoers’ choice”. This year’s glitzy launch party, at which all of the artists and shows in the 2010 awards running will be revealed, is held at Cafe de Paris, at lunchtime on Friday 4 December 2009.

The three Broadway stars, who have a collection of Tony Awards and other US accolades between them, will be our special guest co-presenters, reading the shortlists for the shortlists of nominations across the 20+ awards categories. The 2010 Awards cover the 2009 theatregoing year, running from 1 December 2008 to 30 November 2009. (As Cat on a Hot Tin Roof opens on 1 December 2009, the three actors and their production will be considered as part of the 2011 Awards.)

The Americans will be joined by British stage and screen legend Jeremy Irons, presenting on behalf of this year’s adopted charity, Theatre Royal Haymarket Masterclass, which gives young people the chance to learn from and be inspired by leading artists (See News, 29 Sep 2009).

There will also be three live musical performances. Patina Miller, who won rave reviews earlier this year for stepping into Whoopi Goldberg’s shoes as Deloris von Cartier in blockbuster screen-to-stage hit Sister Act at the London Palladium, will prove why she’s “Fabulous, Baby” in the show. And the ever-smooth Frank, Sammy and Dean from Christmas with The Rat Pack at the Adelphi Theatre will get guests in the festive mood with some croon-worthy seasonal classics.

Last but not least, in honour of the tenth anniversary of the Awards, the stars of satirical musical comedy hit Jest End, which returns this month for a five-week season at Jermyn Street Theatre, will perform a special celebratory medley.

Top (l-r): Patina Miller in Sister Act; Jeremy Irons; Bottom (l-r): Cat on a Hot Tin Roof’s James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad and Sanaa Lathan with co-star Adrian Lester; Jest End; and Christmas with The Rat Pack.

Charity, voting & sponsors

The nominations phase of the 2010 Whatsonstage.com Awards has now opened – click here to nominate your favourite shows and artists! After the launch party, the race is on to decide the eventual Whatsonstage.com Award winners, with voting on the shortlists opening on Monday 7 December 2009 and continuing until the end of January. Results are announced and awards presented in front of a live audience of theatregoer voters at our Winners’ Concert on Sunday 14 February 2010 at the West End’s Prince of Wales Theatre.

Both Awards events are held in aid of this year’s adopted charity, Theatre Royal Haymarket Masterclass, which gives young people the chance to learn from and be inspired by leading artists (See News, 29 Sep 2009). Set up by the Theatre Royal Haymarket in 1998, the hugely successful Masterclass programme has now welcomed over 40,000 people aged 17-30. Events are given free of charge and occur at least one Friday a month throughout the year, focusing on all aspects of theatre from acting and directing to writing and producing.

Though Masterclass events are designed for those at the start of their careers, theatregoers and others, of whatever age, are also welcome. The Masterclass Benefactors scheme (priced £55 per annum) has been set up for this purpose. It includes: access to over 12 events a year, an annual friends’ party and special ticket offers for Theatre Royal Haymarket productions. Details can be found at www.masterclass.org.uk.

For more information on the charity and our corporate sponsors in relation to the Awards, please visit our awards microsite later this week. For the first time this year, we’re also making a limited number of sponsorship packages available to individuals. For information on theatregoers’ packages, click here.

 

 

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