Strange things happen when Max Irons sleeps.
“I’ve been having the most vivid dreams, involving all real people, really clear and believable dreams,” the 27-year-old Irons says, staring intently to make it clear he’s serious. “Some nice, some not.”
Blame melatonin for what’s going on at night with the jet-lagged actor, who’s on a jaunt to New York from his home in London. His other dreams, however, the ones that are coming true, can only be attributed to hard work—and more than a pinch of good luck.
In August, the period dramaThe White Queen (adapted from the Philippa Gregory novel) will debut on Starz, beaming Irons’ fetching mug into millions of homes. Following that is an Antonio Vivaldi biopic with Irons as the Italian composer, and Posh, a look at an Oxford secret society, from An Education director Lone Scherfig. Indeed, Irons seems poised to become that most dreamed-about thing: a serious, successful actor.
“It wasn’t a calculated step,” Irons, who starred in Twilight creator Stephanie Meyer’s The Host earlier this year, says. “I was recently up for a large part in a franchise, a very well-established franchise, and I said, ‘I can’t do it.’ No matter how you spin it to me, it was a version of the two parts I played before [in Red Riding Hood and The Host]. I’m very grateful these films got my foot in the door, but if I do it again, I’ll want to quit acting.”
Enter Edward IV, the first king of England to come from the House of York. “When this came along, it felt like a different direction,” Irons says of his role in The White Queen. “It was this really fascinating piece of English history. And there’s development of the character: You meet when he’s 22 and young and powerful and you see him—I don’t mean to spoil anything—on his deathbed. It felt like something I could get my teeth into.”
It certainly is. During the series’ first season, Irons’ Edward—who, like the actor, was known for his height and good looks—progresses from the tenderfoot monarch whose reign, beginning in 1461, was bloodied by the War of the Roses to a seasoned king presiding over a peaceful land until his untimely death at the age of 41. Along the way, the series’ titular regent, who is Edward’s wife (played by Swedish stunner Rebecca Ferguson), complicates matters as a powerbroker in her own right.
To untangle the story’s knotty web of ancient aristocrats, Irons had his work cut out for him. “There is, relatively speaking, not much information on this particular king,” Irons says. “I had to go into a bookshop and track down his journey. What I love to research is what everyone was up to. You know it was very conniving, backstabbing way of life. People were constantly after you, so consequently you’ve got to know what everyone in the room was up to.”
That feeling probably isn’t too unfamiliar to Irons, who, as the son of actors Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack, has grown up in the public eye. Irons says while he can ride the Tube and go where he likes virtually undetected, it still isn’t easy following in the footsteps of prominent parents. “I became an actor at 17, and whether or not I like to acknowledge it on a conscious level, my parents are very successful actors—there is no way around it, ” he says. “Which is difficult for a son because you want to impress your family and I’ve realized I never truly will. I’ll never amaze them.”
Although stardom might be old hat for his family, Irons is still wide-eyed enough to appreciate the experience. “I have to do it for me, I have to amaze myself,” he says. “I’m on sets surrounded by people on horses, people in armor and they’re all following me because I’m the king. This is an amazing moment; I’m not letting this moment drift by and then trying to amaze someone later by reporting back. I’m living life, I’m living the life I’ve created.”
Indeed, the decisions that Irons is making now will shape what he hopes will be a decades-long career. And if Edward IV can teach him anything, it must just be how to survive life as a movie star.
“He was cheeky and charming and dangerous,” Irons says of the young king, “but he could get away with it.”