The White Queen
Major new adaptation of Philippa Gregory's bestselling historical novels for BBC One
Interview with Max Irons
Visually you’re everything that Edward IV should be…
There wasn’t too much of a physical description other than that he was tall and strong and had ‘silly hair’ which was shoulder length. We did experiment with a wig, but decided it would be too distracting. And thank god I was the right height rather than needing to wear tall shoes and stand on boxes throughout filming!
Did you do a lot of research around Edward IV?
I wasn’t sure whether I should read books, or just look into Edward’s history and then use the scripts as my bible, which is what I ended up doing. So I went down to a book store and found their Medieval historian, who told me as much as they could on Edward – I then read books and took what I needed and relied on the scripts for the rest.
I did keep topping up on information. The fact that Edward was on the throne at this particular point in history (when maintaining the throne was particularly hard to do), you had to use survival techniques: knowing what everyone in your court was up to; what they say behind your back; what their intention was; who was loyal, who wasn’t. So character research specifically around that. The stakes are so high it’s not like a family quarrel, it’s like the mafia. If you move against somebody, it’s death for you or him.
Do you enjoy period dramas?
This is my first period drama. I have loved taking one on, all the resources at your disposal and researching into the War of the Roses, which is a fantastically rich part of our history.
The men during this period really were warriors…
The men had to be warriors in order to survive. As people will see throughout the series how many attempts there were to take the throne. We take transport for granted these days but then if you wanted to battle you had to jump on your horse and ride for a week just to get there.
Did you enjoy the costumes/armour?
The costumes were absolutely wonderful. We had a fantastic team and the armour was great as well – it looked metal, but it was a much lighter material. Even so, wearing it for an entire day was quite unpleasant - I actually dislocated my shoulder in a fight scene. I had to elbow someone in the face, and because of the restrictions that the armour put on your movement, in one particular take the armour went against my natural movement and my shoulder just popped out of its socket. Thankfully it got pushed back in, but I did have physio on it for the next couple weeks.
What about the riding?
I have ridden all of my life, but these horses were like no other horses I’ve ever ridden. You had to think of them like sports cars, if you put your foot one inch too far behind - the horse will kick into a gallop, one inch too far forward and they sit down. They were incredibly well trained. And I did love to spend my days riding around with a crown and sword, on a horse!
Tell us about the sword fighting.
We had a lot of stunt men and fortunately I did do a lot of stage combat whilst at drama school. One scene had a very long sequence which took place in what was like quick sand – mud up to your thighs. Because we were stuck in the mud and can’t move your feet, you lose your balance and fall straight into the mud - with the cameras rolling. You then have to get up and keep going. Like the horse riding scenes – these are the fun days!
Did you think what it would have been like in real armour?
Wearing armour for days on end would have been so hard; you would be so cold and wet. It would have been iron, which would have made it so exhausting, especially thrusting these huge iron swords around. Plus then you wouldn’t have a crack team to help take it off at the end of the day!
Was there a memorable scene for you while filming The White Queen?
The horse that I rode was actually offered to me to keep. Often when a stunt horse reaches retirement age, they like to give the horse away to people with whom the horse has a connection. The stunt horses don’t have to be tied up - they are so incredibly well trained that despite all the noise and movement around them, they are obedient. We were doing a big outdoor scene and when we pulled up, my horse spotted me across the field, walked straight through the scene towards me (our director had to call 'cut!') and just nudged me in the face to say 'hello' – a really lovely moment. Sadly I couldn’t keep him as it would have been terribly unfair. I couldn’t have just left him in a stable in London. I know someone else will do a much better job with him.
Have you met Prince William?
About two years ago I got to meet Prince William with my Godmother at Windsor Castle. He is such a normal, polite man, but has such presence and energy. It was almost like he had an extra foot on everyone else in the room. I thought back when playing Edward IV, 'What was it that he was doing that made me respond to him in that way?' I suddenly realized that he wasn’t doing anything - it’s actually the people around him who give him that power.
How was the experience of ageing?
I start at 22 and aged to my early 40s. The life Edward lived - spending months on the battlefield, probably not eating well plus the emotional toll of being a king and the unspeakable things you do as a king, I wanted to show that on my face. Towards the end there are some prosthetics involved, beards and specialist ageing techniques. When I looked in the mirror, it blew me away. I loved it as beneath it was a young, healthy chap! In my death scene, I’m lying in bed with all my family around me - we had two little girls playing some of my daughters. They started crying when they saw me looking so ill!
Did you have to learn a new skill while filming on The White Queen?
I guess learning how to handle the sex scenes, which are very hard to do. Being naked in front of 50 people definitely took some getting used to but by the end I was walking around starkers!
What was it like filming in Belgium?
It is beautiful. I loved Bruges - it was so romantic and really conducive to the type of work we were doing. It was very mysterious and magical. You couldn’t go far without hearing a church bell ring or a horse and carriage going past in the street. The great thing about Belgium is that they really take care of their architecture, whereas, we in England have a tendency to stick CCTV cameras on classic buildings and paint the streets with white and yellow lines.
What was it like working with Rebecca?
From the first day I met Rebecca in the audition, it was an absolute joy working with her. Without meaning to take away from anyone else’s work, our early story lines were very insular. We were an absolute team, and looked after each other through the hard moments, and celebrated the great ones. She has just got this effortless talent and really embodied Queen Elizabeth classically.
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