White Queen's Max: 'I worked out before the sex scenes!'

After inheriting the acting bug from his father Jeremy, Max Irons has already starred in this year's Hollywood blockbuster The Host. Now he's playing King Edward IV in the BBC's sweeping drama The White Queen (BBC1, Sunday), a 10-part show adapted from Phillipa Gregory's bestselling novel series 'The Cousin's War...

This series takes place during the Wars of the Roses - one of the most chaotic periods of British history...

It's an absolutely crazy time to be English. Bring the King and keeping your throne was a tough job and Edward was one of the very few kings at that time who managed to do it relatively successfully. For a guy who's only just turned 20, it was even more impressive."

He had some powerful friends though didn't he?

"He had help from his cousin Warwick - the 'Kingmaker' - but they fell out over his relationship with Elizabeth Woodville, a common girl he meets in the first episode. People thought that Warwick was the real power behind the throne and I think that ultimately, Warwick wanted to be the puppet-master. But as Edward gets older he starts to show that he has a mind of his own, a political mind, a military mind.

"His decision to marry Elizabeth was massive and it's the beginnning of the end for his relationship with Warwick, because the consequences of that marriage were massive. Not only was she a Lancastrian - as opposed to Edward who was from the House of York - but their relationship destroyed a potential allegiance with the French which would have stabilized Edward's position entirely."

Did you enjoy filming the battle scenes?

"The story is scene through the eyes of three women, so there are lots of battles which you don't see on camera, but I did get to do some sword-fighting, which was a lot of fun. They're the days when you forget that you're being paid to be there."

Did you pick up any injuries in battle?

"The armour gave me back problems and I actually dislocated my shoulder during a battle! The armour wasn't actually metal, it was rubber but it was still heavy. I went to swing my sword to the side during one scene and my pushed my arm to a funny angle and it popped out! It went back in on its own, but my shoulder was agony. I didn't even get the rest of the day off!"

Did you read Phillipa's novels before you started filming?

"I was keen to read them, but I was advised not to. We decided it would be better if we went from the script and not from the book, because there's a huge amount in there which doesn't make it to the screen. Emma Frost (the screenwriter) has adapted three books, The White Queen, The Red Queen and The Kingmaker's Daughter into one series and the three stories overlap in the show, rather than coming one after another."

You were one of the first actors cast in this series, but Rebecca Ferguson (Elizabeth Woodville) was one of the last. That must have been a bit strange..

"Yes it was. I did so many screen tests with so many girls - I'm not complaining because they were all beautiful! But it's actually pretty nerve-racking because you know that you're responsible for the person you're with - if you're on terrible form that day then you won't be helping them at all!"

There are a few sex scenes in the series, can we expect it to be anything like The Tudors?

"There are a few sex scenes, but not as many as The Tudors. They were the first proper nude sex scenes I'd ever done. They give you a little thong to wear and tell you to get on with it! They said it was a closed set, but there were a lot of people there who didn't need to be there. I did a lot of working out in the gym before the sex scenes and then stopped going afterwards!"

Did you ask your dad for some tips beforehand?

"No way! I didn't really want to talk to him about that!"

Is it true that your dad tried to stop you from becoming an actor?

"My dad didn't dissuade me from going into acting, but he did say that he had been very lucky and that I might not necessarily be as lucky as he'd been. He explained that it's not all about how good you are and that you need to accept that if you embark on a life of acting there are going to be high times and low times, there's jealousy, insecurity, you spend a long time away from home and it's difficult to form relationships. But as long as I was at peace with those truths then I should go for it!"

What would you be doing if you hadn't become an actor?

"If I wasn't an actor, I'd have liked to be a teacher - or a fighter pilot!"


Sean Marland
Feature writer for TV Times, What's On TV, TV & Satellite Week and whattowatch.com

Sean has been writing about all things telly for over 10 years and in that time he's been lucky enough to interview stars like Ian McKellen, Tom Hardy and Kate Winslet. His favourite shows are The Great British Bake-Off, People Just Do Nothing and Succession and in his spare time he enjoys drinking tea, doing crosswords and watching football.