Jack Fox is telling me about his one true love. Before we even start our interview, he’s waxing lyrical about… Pizza Express.
As we enthusiastically discuss the merits of a Romana base, Fox gives an easy laugh: ‘I think we’re going to get along just fine.’
Flopping on to a sofa in a west London photo studio, Fox, 34, is relaxed. Chatting away at high speed, his anecdotes are peppered with swear words. He’s funny, charming and affable. Which may be a shock to those watching Sanditon, ITV’s blockbuster autumn drama.
But this series has Andrew Davies at the helm, the man behind big-hitter adaptations of War & Peace, Pride and Prejudice and Les Misérables, famous for sexing up the classics. And it shows. Over the past few weeks, Fox’s character has been in several incestuous trysts and a sex scene (in which he tears the clothes off Clara Brereton in a matter of seconds) that some viewers said was so X-rated, it left them ‘scarred for life’.
Davies himself has compared his adaptation to another ITV staple, Love Island — cue much ranting from Austen purists on Twitter. But Fox is fond of Davies’ light touch. ‘He’s a funny f***er, isn’t he?’ he says, affectionately. ‘There is controversy, yes, but I think he’s very clever. He said from an early stage that he writes things he wants to see. And anyone who says Love Island isn’t a phenomenon is talking nonsense.’
Even with Sanditon’s primetime positioning (occupying the same Sunday-night slot Downton Abbey once did), it’s safe to say Edward Denham probably won’t achieve the same level of pop culture hype as Ovie and Maura. But the show has been a surprise success, reaching more than 3.3 million viewers with its first episode. Fox is no stranger to a hit TV show: he starred in season two of Riviera earlier this year, opposite Julia Stiles and his friend Poppy Delevingne, and before that in Channel 4’s award-winning comedy, Fresh Meat. There have also been appearances in Dracula and Mr Selfridge, plus his stage role in Dear Lupin at the Apollo opposite his father, James (of 1970 film, Performance, fame).
You’d be forgiven for thinking the family name has given Fox a hefty head start. Brother of Laurence and Lydia, cousin of Emilia and Freddie and grandson of Robin, Jack Fox belongs to the kind of acting dynasty most young Rada graduates can only dream of — and he knows it. ‘I think I get in rooms that I wouldn’t necessarily get into without the surname,’ he tells me. ‘I wouldn’t have got my agent without my surname, I’m certain of that. I didn’t go to drama school. Listen, I’m not naïve.’ He’s refreshingly self-aware when it comes to the family career, joking that they ‘should do a Hunger Games, where all the Fox family are given weapons, and then compete to the death to see who finally gets to be the only actor. I feel like that might solve some problems.’
But he’s also seen the downsides to being part of one of Britain’s most famous thespian families. ‘People don’t want to hire me because I’m a Fox, in the same way that people do want to hire me because I’m a Fox.’ Has he been turned down for parts because of his name? ‘Look, never to my face. But for sure that’s happened.’
Fox’s parents (his mother, Mary, notably isn’t an actress but a former nurse) never pushed him into acting, instead encouraging him to get a degree before hurtling into a career on screen and stage. He grew up in Wimbledon and read philosophy and theology at Leeds, doing card magic to pay the bills in his early 20s. He even considered joining the Army. But the breakthrough part of turbo-toff Ralph in Fresh Meat came in 2011 and, since then, Fox has been firmly on the well-trodden family path. However, he’s keen to stress his father has been careful not to provide any shortcuts. ‘I remember asking him about the industry and essentially he said, “I’m not going to pull any strings for you.” He said fail or not, and you’ll have got there by yourself. No one in my family has ever given me a job.’
What marks Fox out most assuredly as, well, a Fox, is the easy and unselfconscious way in which he handles the idea of celebrity. He shrugs when I ask him if he gets recognised in the street — ‘Does anyone really give a shit?’ — and wears press interest lightly. ‘I’ve been up-and-coming for f***ing years, it’s a nightmare’. As far as girlfriends go, Fox is currently single, and has said that he likes to date people outside the industry. ‘Though I’ve not done a very good job of that!’ he laughs, referring to his two high-profile relationships: one with Les Mis actress Samantha Barks and one with Lily James, the Downton and Cinderella star. ‘I’m sure it works for some people, but two actors in a relationship? F***.’ He’s tentative about entering into another relationship, whether his next girlfriend is famous or not. ‘It’s got to be really right. You try to learn from each relationship and you owe it to yourself to know more the next time.’
Fox is currently on location filming season three of Riviera, which will star Sherlock’s Rupert Graves and is scheduled to air next year; the last series took seven months to film, so it’s seems unlikely Fox will be back at home in Camberwell for a while. ‘To be honest, it’s been a crazy year. But that’s the way it should be,’ he grins. ‘You spend a lot of time as an actor waiting around, so when you have the opportunity for stuff to be going your way, you’ve gotta hold on to it.’