Nepotism. It’s such an ugly world, yet one that pops up time and again when the offspring of the rich and famous decide to follow their parents’ path.
“I find the expression ‘following in his footsteps’ quite odd,” muses Max Irons, the youngest son of Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack.
“People often say ‘I’m following in their footsteps’ but you want to forge your own footpath,” says the 25-year-old.
“In this country we have a heightened awareness of nepotism but realistically, I don’t think you’re going to get a job because of who your parents are. Perhaps there are casting agents who’ll say, ‘I’ll meet him’ because of it, but if you go in there and you do a rubbish job, you’re finished.”
At 6ft 3in, Irons makes a striking figure. His skin is flawless, with not even the barest hint of facial hair, and he has deep, brown eyes that pierce you when he’s speaking.
All the better to tease those teenage audiences with his new film Red Riding Hood.
A sexy revamp of the original fairy tale, the film stars Mamma Mia!’s Amanda Seyfried as the red-cloaked heroine and Irons as one of her would-be suitors Henry, alongside fellow newcomer Shiloh Fernandez.
Considering his background and looks, you might expect someone a little bolshy but Irons is reminiscent of the polite boy at school who always remembers his Ps & Qs. He and his older brother Samuel, 32 (who’s now a photographer, though some may remember him starring opposite daddy Irons in 1989’s film adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Danny, Champion of the World), divided their time between Cheshire and London when they were growing up.
Irons lives in Notting Hill, preferring to commute back and forth to LA rather than live there.
“I don’t think you have to in this day of Skype and email. And it’s good to have an amount of unavailability. If you’re always available, knocking on doors and saying, ‘Give me a job’, it sends the wrong smell out.”
And no one likes the whiff of desperation, as Irons discovered to his detriment at the age of 12, when he tried to attract the attention of a girl called Miranda. He would strategically cycle to where he knew she’d be, but fell off his bike in front of her – twice – while waving enthusiastically.
He had a more fruitful time at his mixed boarding school in Dorset. Despite battling dyslexia and an unforgiving combination of a pudding bowl haircut and glasses, he showed a rebellious streak early on and was often suspended for smoking and drinking. “Nothing serious,” he said.
Despite the dynasty, Irons wasn’t born to tread the boards and for a long time dreamt of becoming a fighter pilot.
When he did show interest in his parents’ profession, they supported him but not without a word of caution: “They’ve always said to keep an eye on what’s important; the work, the acting. The rest of it is inconsequential – the photo shoots, the press and for lack of a better term, celebrity.”
He made his film debut in 1994’s Being Julia, starring Annette Bening and his father. He enrolled at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, where he says he endured “unspeakably embarrassing things”.
“You exist in a leotard for three years and I remember having to get up and make everybody laugh – it was just mortifying. Or we had to sit in a circle and talk about our life for 45 minutes...” he trails off grinning at the irony of the current situation.
Theatre is where his heart’s at and already he’s appeared in fringe productions to great acclaim.
“It doesn’t pay as well and not as many people see it, so my agents will tell me not to do it, but if it’s a good play it’s a complete joy.”
Not that experiencing such joy in front of his parents goes down well.
“I can’t bear the idea of them watching,” he says. And as for them giving him pointers, he likens the idea to parents giving their kids driving lessons.
“You know they’re right but you want to tell them to shut up,” he laughs.
His eyes light up when he talks about watching his parents on screen and stage but admits there are certain things you don’t want to see.
“You know... the sex scenes. Occasionally I stumble upon them and it’s very uncomfortable,” he says.
“I’m not ashamed of them. I’m very proud of my parents,” he says – and that’s why he’s never considered changing his surname.
It doesn’t matter to Irons anyway; he’s too busy paving that pathway of his.