MIPTV: 'The White Queen' Star Max Irons Talks Power, Moats and Meeting Prince William

Max Irons as King Edward IV
Max Irons as King Edward IV
 Starz

CANNES -- As the cable networks continue to expand their domination of the premium drama space, Starz is adding to the increasingly competitive terrain with preparations for a ten-episode sweeping costume series, The White Queen for a debut later this year. 

“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,” says author Philippa Gregory, promising audiences won't be bored by the historical setting of The White Queen. Her best-selling trilogy The Cousins War, which is the basis for the series, is part history, part pure story. “It’s really a hybrid product,” she says.

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The author and star Max Irons were in Cannes this week to promote season one, which debuts on Starz in the U.S. and BBC One in the U.K. later this year, though a premiere date has not been set. Irons, who is currently starring in teen sci-fi thriller The Host, appears as King Edward IV, whose decade-long power struggle for the throne is dramatized in the first season. 

Filming the series at a slow and intricate pace was essential to capture the feeling of both the novels and the period, the author and actor say. 

“I’m rather glad we did it as television to have ten hours for these very complex novels. You have a lot of characters and they’ve got be introduced with interest -- not, ‘Here’s a king and his court,’ or worse, ‘Here’s this one bloke and six wives and that’s it,’” said Gregory, who is no stranger to adaptations. Her 2001 historical novel The Other Boleyn Girl was the basis for the 2008 movie starring Natalie Portman and Scarlett Johansson. “You have time to tell the backstory, who’s coming together, rivalries and eventual victories. You’d never get that in an hour and a half.”

“After The Host, it’s a really nice transition. The Host is a film aimed at 13-year-olds, and it was a 700-page novel that had to be boiled down to a 100-page script, so a lot of corners had to be cut,” explained Irons.  “So when you find yourself working on something like this where you have so much time to tell an intricate story, you see all these rivers colliding.”

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As much as it's about Iron’s Edward, The White Queen centers on the story of his wife, Elizabeth Woodville, played by newcomer Rebecca Ferguson. It’s a “Cinderella story” with a commoner marrying the king, much like the current royal couple of William and Kate.

They might have to contend with paparazzi instead of deadly power plays, but they still seem larger-than-life to the public, an idea that fascinated Irons. “I met Prince William once. My godmother was invited to Windsor Castle to meet him and she brought me along as her date. I remember meeting him and sort of being struck by his presence and his size – it was almost like he had an extra foot on everyone else in the room. I thought back, ‘What was it that he was doing that made me respond to him in that way?’ And I suddenly realized that he wasn’t doing anything; he is just a perfectly normal guy in a very bizarre circumstance, and it’s actually us who give him that power.”

For both author and actor -- who moved to tiny Bruges, Belgium for the six-month long shoot -- the location was integral to capturing the mood both on and off set. “I sort of fell in love with the place and could have stayed there longer. It felt very mysterious and medieval. There were lots of dark corners and you couldn’t go five minutes without hearing bells or a horse going past. And the amount of houses you could find with moats and drawbridges was just extraordinary,” he explained. “If we had been doing it on the outskirts of London in a studio, it wouldn’t have been half as good.”

Unfortunately, Irons won’t be heading back to Belgium without a little creative license. Though plans for the second season are already in the works based on the next book in the series, he starts shooting to the Oxford-skewing Posh in June and (spoiler alert!) anyone with a history book knows the fate of his king.  “Tragically, I’m dead. But hopefully Phillipa can use her imagination and write a ghost scene.”

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