Freddie Fox makes an engaging Northerner. “That looks absol-yutely smashin’, darling!” he tells the waitress, squeezing every last ounce from the vowels. “You are the loveliest, kindest girl.”
The Mancunian is spot on, if a little surprising. Freddie, 25, is the public school-educated scion of the Fox acting dynasty. His father is the famously tight-jawed Edward Fox. His sister, Emilia Fox, could enunciate for England. So what’s with the accent?
“It’s for a part I’m playing. I decided I was going to stay in the accent until the job’s done. Of course, my parents hate it,” says Fox. “But they’re actors, so they have to deal with it.”
The image of his father as a young man, Fox is exceptionally good company; quick, funny, flirty. The charm, like the accent, is all the more disconcerting since our lunch follows a screening of The Riot Club, in which Freddie plays the president of an Oxford University club notorious for loutish behaviour. The film is adapted from Laura Wade’s 2010 play Posh, and is a thinly fictionalised exposé of the mindset and mores of the Bullingdon Club, whose famous ex-members include David Cameron, George Osborne and Boris Johnson. As a portrait of unbridled arrogance and entitlement, The Riot Club is compelling and at times – as the champagne- fuelled violence crescendos – truly shocking.
“You’re watching schoolboy skulduggery become something vicious and adult and very horrible,” explains Fox. “And it’s clever because you’re allowed to get to know these boys. You’re allowed to like them, even, and then it’s all torn apart in front of you.”
Not everyone, it is fair to say, will get to the “liking them” stage. “Well, perhaps not liking them,” Fox admits. “But you do get to see them having fun together – it was certainly a lot of fun acting all the frat-boy antics, the revolting initiations they’re put through. You can totally believe why you would want to be a part of it. There’s something very attractive about being in amongst a clique. My character is not one of the worst on screen but he’s the guy who should weigh in when things turn bad, and doesn’t. It’s the weakness of him that I find most disgusting.”
The screenplay hammers home the point that, however appalling their behaviour, these boys are on a fast track to the Establishment. It’s no coincidence that the film is released just a week before the Conservative Party Conference.
“I don’t believe it’s going to affect the way people will vote, but I do think it will maximise press for the film,” says Fox. “The things you like in those boys, shouldn’t equate to the things you like about Boris and David and George. But then, equally, the things you don’t like, you shouldn’t attribute to them, either.
“But it’s interesting, isn’t it? What is it about these people – the Borises of this world – that we can find them slightly repellent but at the same time absolutely charming and charismatic? I hope that when people see the film they ask questions of themselves. What is it about ourselves, in our nature, that responds to that kind of authority and elitism? Why do we like and feel comfortable with having these people lead the country? Because it seems we can like it and feel disgusted with it at the same time.”
The irony is not lost on Fox, that in a film about a self-perpetuating elite, three of the stars have famous parents (he shares the screen with Max Irons, son of Jeremy Irons and Sinead Cusack, as well as Ben Schnetzer, whose parents are American actors Stephen Schnetzer and Nancy Snyder).
“I can speak from personal experience here because my father has achieved a great deal, and it seems to me that if fathers have achieved a lot, and if you’re going into the same field as them, then you have a greatly heightened awareness of what the future could offer.
“The ambition to succeed is bred into you. My father and mother [the actress Joanna David] are my heroes. They have been wonderful examples to me and they have also been open about the things they have got wrong. But it does make you think how much of talent is inherited. My great, great grandmother was an actress who married into the [Ellen] Terry family. So it goes back a long way.”
While he has no patience with Benedict Cumberbatch’s complaints about “posh- baiting” – “A load of b******s. I mean, Ben’s doing alright, isn’t he? It’s not like too many people are hating him in Hollywood!” – Fox is keen to avoid the silver spoon stereotype. He’s pleased that his Islington flat was bought with his own earnings and has “immense respect” for colleagues who had it harder when they were starting out. And he picks his roles carefully. It’s not about “Oh, if I keep doing films like The Riot Club they’re going to think I’m a posh git. I’m sort of over that now. I am who I am. But I do want people to think of me as an actor, not just a posh actor who does posh parts.” Hence the Mancunian Method.
The accent, which hasn’t slipped once, is for his leading role in Russell T Davies’s new series, Cucumber, which is set and shot around Manchester. “I play a nymphomaniac who gets his entire validation through sex,” he explains, rubbing his hands.
Does speaking in a different voice make him feel like a different person?
“I’d have to say yes. Maybe it’s just the character and the accent bleeding together, but I feel much more confident. I feel like I don’t have to apologise for myself, ever. I feel – and this is a huge thing for me – like I belong in a room, instead of having to trick my way in.”
There may indeed be some Shavian mechanism, where voice determines character, though to be honest, it sounds more like growing up. Either way, Fox is on a roll. “ It’s been so nice” he says. “But I must run. I’m going back up to Manchester this afternoon and I want to make myself a mackerel and quinoa sandwich for the train.”
You can take the boy out of London…
The Riot Club is in cinemas today