max irons on his new film 'the riot club'

the dark side of wealth

Photo by Jason Merritt / Getty Images

Born to famous parents, Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack, blessed with model good looks, and educated in the finest schools, it would have been very easy for Max Irons to turn out to be just another entitled rich kid. Instead, he’s been forging a quiet but effective career in a variety of movies, as Amanda Seyfried’s suitor in Red Riding Hood, and yang to Saoirse Ronan’s yin in The Host

Based on the hit play, Posh, Irons' latest film The Riot Club provides him with his first leading role as a freshman at a prestigious Cambridge University. There, he becomes the envy of his friends when he is selected to join an elite group known as The Riot Club composed of members of Britain’s most powerful families. What appears to be an honor turns into a nightmare as he learns the savage nature of privilege. 

This is your first real lead role in a movie that really defies expectations. 
On first reading I really didn’t like it because I was worried that it glamorized these people unintentionally. I worried that it made that world look too fun and inconsequential. Also instinctively I found the very characters and their nature so repulsive that I didn’t want to be around those ideas. But then I read it again and I realized that it wasn’t in fact glamorizing, that these characters had purpose and were written in detail, and it was making a point which you rarely see made in a movie about the fate of the upper classes, that they’re not these soft woolly largely harmless people. They’re actually the gatekeepers, people that control the upper echelons of government and big corporations. 

But you’re well aware of the double standard between classes when it comes to social standards.
The film shows that they’re two types of justice, which I do believe does apply both in America and in England. If you’re wealthy, privileged, highly educated, you tend not to wait often, get a different understanding and a different treatment by the judicial system than lower class backgrounds. 

You see it in England too?
We famously had the riots in London when young kids with call for complaint, from difficult backgrounds, few resources at hand when they’re growing up, express their dissatisfaction with the situation and they were very quickly and mercilessly branded thugs and hooligans by our politicians, the people who should be representing these people. 

And half those guys were in groups like the Riot Club.
They attended the Bullingdon Club, which is our version of the Skull and Bones, which is a club that stands for racism, hedonism, wealth, and excess. Famously they committed random acts of violence. They burned 50-pound notes in front of homeless people, they trashed expensive cars leaving checks under the dashboard. So basically they were doing the same things at a far more discerning age after being given every opportunity and advantage known to man. And then they have the gall to call these kids thugs and hooligans and they get away with it cause they have the money to pay for the damage.

Are you concerned about the future, the erosion of the middle class?
The wealth gap is growing and growing and growing and there’s no sign of stopping it. Fewer and fewer people are controlling more and more of the world economy and that’s the fact of the matter. Whatever’s happening that’s not changing and that’s the thing that needs to change.

As the son of a famous movie star, how do you avoid getting sucked into the ethical quandaries of the privileged?
I guess you just have to listen to your gut a bit and be as effective in life as possible. Look at the success stories and the failure stories and realize what truly matters in life. Is it money? Is it fame? I don’t think it is. The things that do matter, love, friendship, experience, travel, try to get those things into our life.