Back for a second season of tense thriller Condor on Sky One, Max Irons talks to Georgia Humphreys about not doing his own stunts and his fears for the theatre
Max Irons got to tick something quite exciting off his career checklist while filming Condor. For a stunt in the American thriller series — based on the film Three Days Of The Condor, starring Robert Redford — the London-born actor headed a police convoy.
“I thought that was quite exciting,” says the 34-year-old, whose parents are actors Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack. “They shut off the whole freeway for us. And just time and time again, driving down, followed by a squad of FBI cars with their blues and twos, it was quite good.
“It’s quite difficult, on occasion, letting that go at the end of the day. I played the King of England once in a show called The White Queen and you get very used to everyone bowing to you.”
In Condor, Irons plays lead character CIA analyst Joe Turner who, in series one, went on the run after his entire team was assassinated. Trying to keep one step ahead of those who want him dead, he also works to uncover a conspiracy within the US government.
The second series finds Joe still wandering around Europe when his past catches up with him in the form of a mysterious Russian intelligence officer.
“I was thrilled to see the involvement of Russia on the page,” notes Irons, whose other notable roles include the 2014 film, The Riot Club.
“I have a long-running real, real fascination with the Cold War and Russia in general, especially their approach with active measures and their long-running psychological campaign and asymmetric warfare.
“That’s what the new modern battlefield is and I think we go down that road in this season, which is interesting, and I also think people will learn a bit because it’s interesting stuff.”
Did he feel pressure coming back for a second series?
“No, I didn’t. It’s funny when you’re about to do a show like this, because it’s political inherently and you’re not getting the whole season at that early stage, you’re getting a couple of episodes, usually setting the scene. So, you’ve got to really trust the writers and producers that they’re going to go down a political road that you stand beside.”
He continues, candidly: “There are shows from, I don’t know, 20 years ago — I’m not going to say any names — which had, I would argue, an agenda. It wasn’t the case with Condor and I really believed in the writers. And when you stand behind a show, it’s always a pleasure to come back to.”
It was important for Irons, when making a show within the spy genre, that he portrays a nuanced character, and that they explore the cost, emotionally, to people involved.
“We’ve had a good fill of that sort of purely kinetic, kicking down doors, locking guys up, saving the day in the nick of time. I think we’ve had enough of that,” he says.
“And now, with long-form, long-running, multi-series TV shows, we’ve got enough time and the audiences are clearly interested enough to sit down and invest in the nuances of these stories. And when you’re dealing with subjects like we are in the show — you know, long-running American foreign policy, the economy and all the nebulous interactions — that is a nuanced conversation.”
Irons was just about to do a play — The Contingency Plan at the Donmar in the West End — when the UK went into lockdown amid the Covid-19 pandemic, which he says now “may or may not go ahead”.
“We’ll see. As you know, theatre is at the bottom of the list of what is reopening.”
He’s not afraid to admit he’s “very worried about London theatre. Its impact on the broader economy is not to be underestimated at all.”
“That being said, I can’t see it happening soon where hundreds of people sit in a dark room for three hours where people invariably cough. I can’t see it happening. We’ll figure it out and go around it. Like many industries, I guess.”
Theatre is what Irons — who married Tatler’s fashion director, Sophie Pera, last year — trained in and what he says is the most fun discipline.
But he doesn’t have a preference between doing TV and film.
“Film, you can get microcosmic in your examination of scenes because you might only have seven of them, whereas, with TV, you’re going so quickly, you’re three shots and you’re moving on; new episodes, new writing every day, which is good because if you’re of a slightly nervous disposition, or a catastrophiser.
“Too much looking back in time and cringing, there’s no time for any of that. You’ve just got to go every single day. That is a real training for an actor and you’re lucky to get it, to be in front of a camera every day.”
For series one of Condor, Irons had to learn how to use a gun, a skill he continues to utilise in series two.
“I still don’t like guns; they really scare me. I guess that’s the normal reaction,” he says.
“They send you to work with the guns specialist, who turned out to be a SWAT guy, ex-Army, and I’m telling you, his biceps were thicker than my head.
“We walked into this room and I’m not exaggerating, every square inch of wall space, three solid rooms, was just covered in machine-guns, and they sort of hand you a machine-gun, and, I dunno man, I just started sweating and shaking.”
Asked whether he has any battle scars or injuries from the physical action stuff on set, the charming star smiles, and retorts: “I love how tough you think I am. I was on set, I had to run and I had to hop over a fence.
“I kid you not, it was about a metre — I did high jump when I was at school, I was dead good at it. I could have bolted over there made it look very graceful, very special forces.
“They wouldn’t let me do it. They brought in a stunt man to hop a fence.”
Condor 2 starts on Wednesday on Sky One at 9pm and on streaming service NOW TV