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Boys' Night Out: Max Irons

The youngest son of Jeremy Irons and Sinéad Cusack plays the heartthrob in "Red Riding Hood," opening March 11.

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Max Irons

Max Irons

Photo By Andy Kropa/Getty Images

Appeared In
Special Issue
Men'sWeek issue 02/24/2011

What is it with actors wanting to fly planes? There was a list a few weeks ago in some weekly tabloid that rounded up all the celebrities with pilot’s licenses. Maybe mastering the sky is a way to reclaim the control they’re constantly giving up to movie directors, film studios, publicists, etc. In any case, Max Irons would like to get in on that one day. “I’ve always wanted to be a fighter pilot,” says Irons, 25. “But I don’t want to kill people. I’d hate to.”

So acting it is. Irons, the youngest son of Jeremy Irons and Sinéad Cusack, will appear in “Red Riding Hood” (March 11), the dark, lusty thriller/fairy tale directed by Catherine Hardwicke, best known for turning Robert Pattinson into a demigod overnight with the original “Twilight” film. Irons plays Henry, one part of a very pretty love triangle, which also includes Amanda Seyfried, in the title role, and Shiloh Fernandez.

So he’s a heartthrob?

“Your words, not mine,” says Irons, on the line from Los Angeles, where he has just flown in from his home in London for an open-ended stint of press, press, meetings, press and meetings.

The thing about a phone interview is that, while immensely convenient for all involved, with it you forfeit your ability to observe and, most important, judge your subject up close and personal. By the sound of his voice, Irons is just lovely, all upbeat English charm, saying things like, “What’s that, love?” From the photos I’ve seen, he is gorgeous, or at least extremely photogenic, which is essential for a movie career. Even better, he tells me that he’s 6 feet 3 inches. And since everyone knows that Hollywood is the place where short guys go to thrive, things are looking good. He has his father to thank for the height.

At this point, you really can’t talk to Max Irons without much of the conversation winding up about Jeremy Irons. Not yet, anyway. But Max is prepared for those questions. He’s in the unique position of being a relative newcomer professionally but has spent his entire life around the business. He says he can’t quite pinpoint when he knew his parents were actors; it was more like “one of them was always absent, and they were always doing strange things in foreign countries.” As for when he realized they were famous, it was one summer spent in Portugal when his father was filming “The House of the Spirits” with Meryl Streep, and seven-year-old Max spotted a long lens in the bushes. “I told my dad, and he went out and threw a shovel at them, which I quite liked,” he says.

Doesn’t he find the whole thing bizarre? People in bushes, putting on makeup and pretending for a living?

“It is a really weird thing to do,” says Irons. “But it’s also a really fun thing to do. I mean, it’s fine when you’re a kid and someone runs into the playground and goes, ‘I’ve got this great game of pretend,’ and you play.…As an actor, getting to play, getting to use your imagination and be childish — it is weird but it’s wonderful.”

If he has to say, Irons classifies himself as a mama’s boy who has inherited his mother’s Irish sensibility, hopefully her work ethic, and what looks like her bone structure.

But fathers are always role models for their sons, even more so when the offspring chooses to follow in the family business. The list of sons of celebrities who have gone on to great acting careers (Michael Douglas, Ben Stiller, um, Charlie Sheen) is even shorter than the list of celebrity pilots, a fact of which Max is acutely aware. His father told him so. “In England, nepotism as a concept is kind of despised,” says Irons. “Less so here, I’ve noticed. I can see why there’s a misconception that it’s easier when your parents are actors, but it doesn’t work out at all. In fact, it’s the reverse.”

The elder Irons has mostly imparted his wisdom with regard to the business side of the industry, leaving the technical for his son to learn on his own. “Acting advice is a bit like your parents teaching you how to drive a car,” says Max Irons. “You know they’re right, but you still kind of want them to shut up a bit.”

But if Max ever finds himself charged with nuancing the sexy side of a creepy character, he has several examples to look to from his father’s body of work, none of which have been off limits. “There is one I wish had been — it was called ‘Damage.’ Lots of sex scenes, which is quite hard,” says Irons.

I have not seen “Damage,” the 1992 Louis Malle film about a father (Irons) who falls for his son’s fiancée (Juliette Binoche), but a quick scan of IMDB.com turns up an image of Irons and Binoche sitting naked and intertwined Indian-style.

So this was a family screening?

“No…thank God,” says Irons. “I would have run out of the room screaming.”

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