War Horse Star Jeremy Irvine on His Biggest of Big Breaks
Drew Barrymore. Christian Bale. Bruce the Shark. It's an elite class of young talent that has found launching pads in the films of Steven Spielberg. And while Jeremy Irvine is a little older than those actors who preceded him, you can go ahead and add the 21-year-old to the list thanks to his breakthrough in Spielberg epic Oscar hopeful War Horse.
Irvine plays Albert Narracott, whose bond with a thoroughbred named Joey persists from hard times on his family farm (his parents are played Emily Watson and Peter Mullan) through the devastating conflict of World War I. It's not only Irvine's biggest film role to date -- it's his only role, with at least three more to come in 2012. He spoke with Movieline over the weekend in New York, just ahead of War Horse's world premiere.
Congratulations on surviving your first foray into press-junket madness. How are you feeling?
Shattered. [Laughs] No, no. I was told a lot of stuff about how difficult doing this kind of thing is, but actually it's all new and it's all exciting to me. Maybe a few years down the line, it'll be a terror. But for now, it's new and exciting. It's great.
Fantastic. Is there a question you haven't yet been asked about War Horse that you wish you had? Or something you've wanted to note about the experience but haven't had the opportunity?
[Pauses] God, I don't know.
I am totally putting you on the spot.
Yeah, you are. But there are a few things. I mean, yes, we were making what was essentially quite a serious piece of work, but we had such a huge amount of fun doing it. There were so many funny moments.
You know -- trying to wind up other cast members. Robert Emms, who plays my rival, is a very good friend. And Steven Spielberg would come in with handwritten scenes every now and again. He'd maybe write it down in the car, and we'd get it and think, "Oh, OK, great, we're doing this." So we tried to get Peter Mullan, who's very established in Britain, by writing a fake scene between him and Emily Watson, who plays my mum. we wrote a fake, raunchy love scene between them and tried to get Steven Spielberg's assistant to give it to Peter in his trailer. We thought we could convince him that he was doing a love scene where we see them kiss through the barn doors, and Joey, the horse, nudges the barn door shut, blocking our view.
We thought we got him; we thought this was brilliant, you know? That night we're in the restaurant, and we go, "So, Peter, did you get the new scene?" He says, "Boys, haven't you heard?" We go, "No, what?" He says, "Oh, well Steven's gone ballistic. Apparently somebody forged his signature. They've got security down there; they're trying to figure out who's done this. Shit, whoever's done this... It's not funny. Someone's gonna lose their fucking job." And we're shitting ourselves. "No, no -- Steven didn't know! It was us! It was us!" And Peter's like, "Of course I knew it was fucking you boys! Who the hell else was it going to be?" [Laughs] So that was cool.
Earlier today in the press conference, you claimed that you had no idea how or why you got this part. All modesty aside, how or why do you think you did you get this part?
It's quite true: I have no idea. I don't know. I think that among my friends I'm known as being a hard worker; I think if you want to be an actor, there can't be any compromise. You have to work all day, every day. It's not a 9-5 job. There's always something to learn. I've always been of the mindset of, "What if there's someone working harder than me?" That means I have to work even harder. For me, I went to drama school for a bit; I thought, "This is great, but I'm with the crowd here. I want to get out of that. I want to be kind of graspy. I don't want to wait for somebody else to be in control of finding me an agent; I want to do that myself." I didn't want to have to wait until I got a showcase. Instead, I got my best friend as a cameraman; I went out and I filmed and made my own show reel so it looked like professional work. I went to agents and was probably a little bit cheeky and told them it was professional work, but that worked. I put thousands and thousands of hours into it.
That doesn't mean that it should pull off; a lot of actors put vast amounts of work in, and it still doesn't pull off for them.
That's obviously a huge risk. What did that kind of spirit or initiative come from in your background?
I never particularly enjoyed school, and I think I was looking for a challenge. I didn't want to do what everyone else was doing. I wanted to do something different. I had a great drama teacher, and he sort of made out drama school as this incredibly difficult thing to get into: 6,000 people apply every year, and some of the schools only have 12 places. It's a phenomenally difficult thing to get into. And that excited me -- I wanted that challenge.
But you didn't finish?
No, I didn't. I was offered to go back and do three years at different places, and decided... I just didn't want to put that in the hands of other people. I wanted to be in control. I wanted to do it myself.
Would you advise other young, up-and-coming actors to do the same thing?
Yeah. Yeah, I would. You've got to get away from the crowd. If you stay with everyone else, then you're just going to be another one. But there's no set way. At the end of the day, what it all comes down to is being in the right place at the right time.
And, I guess, being ready to deliver when opportunity calls.
Yes. And you've got to be right for that part. In some respects, you've got to be the best you can be at that time. But you can be the world's most amazing actor, and if you're not there at the right time, and you're not seen by that rot casting director, then it's not going to happen for you.
Another thing you mentioned earlier was getting accustomed to actually being on camera and the way moves are made. One frustrated director told me once that filmmaking doesn't even feel like you're creating art at a certain point. Did it ever feel that way for you, especially coming from the stage?
No, never. And I think that if it begins to feel like that, then you're doing something extremely wrong. Your job as an actor is to keep that [alive]-- it's solely up to you. No one else can do that for you. You have to keep present and be in that moment. If you lose that, at the end of the day you're not going to be in character and what you're doing is not going to be real. That's going to show; there's nothing to hide behind.
And you already have a number of things lined up for the future, right?
I've got a film called Now is Good, with Dakota Fanning, coming out in May. I'm filming the last couple of weeks on Great Expectations at the moment. Next year I'm doing The Railway Man with Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz, which I'm beyond excited for.
Who do you play in that?
I play Eric Lomax -- Colin Firth's character when he's younger. We kind of split it. It's one of the best scripts I've ever read. I can't wait.
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