“I was so glad to be able to do a little bit of meddling,” smiles Max Brown slyly, stabbing a fork into his salad. “I was very involved, right in the heat of the drama. It was great!”
It’s an uncharacteristically devious admission from the actor. Mild-mannered and well-spoken, Brown hasn’t as much as creased his frown or crossed his words during our day together. Not that we could blame the actor if he had a little grumble. After all, we’ve unwittingly chosen the wettest August day in modern history for a three-hour outdoor photoshoot.
Now, sheltered and salading inside the ritzy Marylebone Hotel, Brown is revealing some behind-the-scenes secrets from the set of Downton Abbey, the long-anticipated and secrecy-shrouded film adaptation of the seminal television series.
“I’m not just saying this because it’s my latest project,” Brown implores, “but they really are the nicest bunch of cast members. It was incredibly calming to find everyone so welcoming, because being the new boy in a show like that can be seriously intimidating.”
Stepping into the world of Downton Abbey was a daunting prospect for Brown. And understandably so — at its peak, the meddle-a-minute period drama raked in 13.3 million viewers a week. In the lavish film adaption, the Crawley family receive their first royal visit, and Brown has joined the cast of national treasures as the valet to King George V.
But the 38-year-old was more than equipped to go toe-to-toe with acting heavyweights such as Dame Maggie Smith — “she’s so brilliant at delivering a line; there’s only a few of her kind still acting”, Hugh Bonneville, Penelope Wilton and Imelda Staunton. For, in the past, Brown has fought terrorists in Spooks alongside Peter Firth, served the people with Michael Kitchen in Foyle’s War and played the late John Hurt’s son in the iconic actor’s final film.
“That was my biggest ‘pinch myself’ moment,” says Brown of filming That Good Night with Hurt. “I was able to spend time hanging out and having coffee with an actor I had admired forever. He was so down to earth, and just a lovely man to be around. You tend to avoid the ones who take it all too seriously — as with anyone in life!”
"You tend to avoid the ones who take it all too seriously..."
But that’s hardly Brown’s only ‘pinch yourself’ moment. As we shot, umbrellas up, on the rainy streets of Soho, Brown’s conversation was littered with casual anecdotes that most of us would be dining out on across disinterested dinner tables for months.
Among the best; a post-audition beer with his good friend Henry Cavill after both testing out for a certain DC Comics superhero, a fan retracting her request for an autograph when she realised Brown wasn’t actually that actor she liked from The Bill, and a stressful sprint across Soho to make his audition for Spooks — not far from the streets along which we shot today.
But Brown’s most enviable quality is his composed, carefree personality. To spend an afternoon in the actor’s genial company is to relax — and it is refreshing to meet a thesp who’s happy to leave any drama for the film set.
“Personally, I work to live,” Brown adds. “Quite often with success in our business, it tends to be all or nothing — and it’s really hard. I love my level of success, where I can do good work but get to spend a lot of time with my family — without that I’d fall apart.”
Downton Abbey is released in UK cinemas on 13th September. Want more period drama insights? We spoke to the young stars of Peaky Blinders…