IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Jeremy Irvine talks 'War Horse'

Friday, 23 December 2011 07:43 Written by  Jami Philbrick
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IAR EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Jeremy Irvine talks 'War Horse'

In a relatively short amount of time, British actor Jeremy Irvine’s career is already off to a very impressive beginning. He is currently filming director Mike Newell’s adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic Great Expectations starring Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter, and he also just finished work on the drama Now Is Good co-starring Dakota Fanning. But first, audiences will get to know him for his lead role in director Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the award winning stage play and novel War Horse, which opens in theaters on Christmas Day and is already earning dozens of accolades and early Oscar buzz.

The film, which is set in Devon right before World War I, tells the story of Albert (Irvine) and his beloved horse, Joey. When Joey is sold to cavalry and shipped to France, Albert swears to one day reunite with his trusted friend. The horse takes part in an extraordinary journey, fighting for both the British and the German armies, while Albert ends up joining the British Army in order to find Joey. In addition to Irvine, the movie stars Emily Watson (Red Dragon), Peter Mullan (Children of Men), Tom Hiddleston (Thor), David Thewlis (Anonymous), and Benedict Cumberbatch (Tinker Tailor Solder Spy).

I recently had a chance to meet Jeremy Irvine at the Four Seasons Hotel in Beverly Hills, and briefly spoke with him about his work on War Horse. He discussed the new film, shooting a “war scene” directed by Steven Spielberg, acting with a horse, the movie’s father/son theme, and the FINAL SCENE OF THE FILM!

Needles to say, SPOILERS AHEAD, so if you haven’t seen War Horse yet, and you plan to, please don’t read further until you’ve had a chance to watch the movie.

Here is what he had to say:

IAR: To begin with, was it a surreal experience for you as an actor to be directed in a war scene by Steven Spielberg, the man who made Saving Private Ryan and Band of Brothers?

Jeremy Irvine: I mean this in a completely honest way; it’s still not real. It’s still completely surreal. It really hasn’t hit home yet and I don’t know when it will. It’s crazy because I remember not being old enough to go and watch Saving Private Ryan. I remember getting the VHS and watching it with the volume down so my parents didn’t know and thinking, God, I’d love to do that and be in one of Spielberg’s movies. I don’t think I would call this one of his war movies, but getting to do some of the battle scenes was awesome. You get to … you know it’s kind of every guy’s dream. I got to run up with a grenade and throw it at a German machine gun. God, it’s every kids dream, its great!

I’ve heard actors in the past compare their craft to the back and forth of a tennis match, when your “tennis match” is with a horse, does that change the process for you as a performer? Do you have to do a lot of preparation with the trainer?

Irvine: Yeah sure, in prep you do. But what’s important, and what I worked out very quickly, was that you couldn’t just turn up with your set ideas of how a scene will be. You have to be very adaptable, the scene has got to be very fluid because the horse is going to do what the horse wants to do in that scene. Yeah, its kind of controlled but you have got to be able to roll with the punches. If the horse is going to, in the middle of when you are doing a close up and you are looking right in its eyes, if its going to move its head around there, well then you have to work with that. You’ve got to adapt. In a way that’s kind of amazing because these horses are not being fake. They can’t act fake; they’re being real the whole time. In a way you can learn from that. They don’t feel nervous in front of the camera, why would they? So if you can take a bit from that then its great.

Finally, the film is obviously about the relationship between your character Albert, and his horse Joey, but there is also a powerful father/son theme that runs through the film. Can you talk about the relationship between Albert and his father, and do you think his love for Joey is connected to the lack of love he got from his dad?

Irvine: Absolutely. In the way that Albert’s story is a coming of age story, I find there are two parts to this. What I find is that there is an incredible innocents in Albert that I don’t think you see anymore. Here is somebody who hasn’t been exposed to the Internet or TV, and is from a very isolated part of Devon where you wouldn’t see anyone outside of your community. He hasn’t got any brothers or sisters, he’s only got one friend, so when this horse comes into his life it becomes his brother, and it becomes his best friend. With his father, he’s fifteen and he’s at that age where he’s beginning to realize that his parents aren’t perfect. He’s beginning to question his father’s drinking problem and from a naivety and lack of understanding, he doesn’t know why his father is like that. As it happens his father has been to war and was mentally very scarred from that. That’s why he has issues like he does. What’s great is that Albert gets this horse and it becomes his confidant and his brother, but when he goes off to the first World War, that innocents is kind of torn from him and he sees what his father has seen. Then he goes home, and now he understands. Now he knows why his father is like that and he knows what his father has been through. He’s seen what his father’s seen.

To follow up on what you just said, is that what is going on in the final moment of the movie, when you come home after the war and hug your father? Is that the unspoken feeling of what is happening in that scene?

Irvine: You know, in the script there was a scene, there was a written scene, then what happened was we were about four or five weeks into filming and we were shooting is this incredible place in England. Its an incredible place of natural beauty but its also this wilderness, you can walk for miles and not see anyone, and you get these incredible sunsets. Steven saw one of these sunsets and said, “I’ve got an idea for the ending. We’re going to shoot the ending and this is what we are going to do.” There was no kind of script for this because in the script the ending was set down in the village and it was a big homecoming thing. He said, “You ride the horse down the path. Now see your mother. Now you two approach.” He’s talking us through it as we’re shooting it so we didn’t really know what was going to happen. He’s kind of talking to us and then he says, “Right, now walk up to your father.” So what myself, Peter Mullan, and Emily Watson have to do as actors was just be very present, and be in the moment, and just do what we thought our character would do. What that does, I think, is create some incredible spontaneity in the ending and that was just Steven Spielberg doing what maybe only he can do. He is just an incredible master craftsman in that sense.

War Horse gallops into theaters on Christmas Day!

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