Drama at the gallop
Newcomer Jeremy Irvine and actor Tom Hiddlestone talk to Steve Pratt about saddling up for blockbuster War Horse.
THE morning after the London premiere and Jeremy Irvine still can’t quite believe what’s happened to him. One minute he’s a bit player in a stage show, the next he’s starring in the latest Steven Spielberg Hollywood blockbuster War Horse.
“I really did come from no lines in a theatre show straight to this so it’s completely mad. I’m still trying to take it all in,” says the 21-year-old actor. “Just having lines is a privilege.
And being in a Spielberg movie is kind of more than I can relate to.”
He was chosen from hundreds of young actors who auditioned for the leading role of Albert, whose remarkable friendship with a horse named Joey takes him to the battlefields of the First World War in the film of Michael Morpurgo’s book.
Spielberg had earlier revealed why he chose Irvine for the role: “I looked AT hundreds of actors and newcomers for Albert – mainly newcomers – and nobody had the heart, the spirit or the communication skills that Jeremy had. Even silence, even without speaking, even in his video tape tests.
He tested five times, and he just got better and better.
“I’m used to working with actors who have no experience. Just look back at the kids from ET like Drew Barrymore, and Christian Bale in Empire Of The Sun, who’d never made a movie before. That career could be in store for Jeremy.”
Alongside Irvine is co-star Tom Hiddlestone, who plays cavalry officer Captain Nichols. This follows appearances as Loki in Thor (with the comic heroes epic Avengers to follow this year) and The Deep Blue Sea.
Both needed to work closely with the hundreds of horses featured in the story. Irvine had a dozen or so equine co-stars playing Joey, while Hiddlestone leads the cavalry charge against the Germans in one of the film’s most memorable sequences.
He says: “It’s an amazing thing to learn to ride because it isn’t about acting at all. Horses are so sensitive and will call your bluff. So if you’re feigning confidence with arrogance you’re off. They’ll bolt and you’ll fall. You have to be humble enough to allow them to teach you how to ride, which was a big lesson for me.”
IRVINE remembers on one of his first auditions trying to convince the casting people he was a master horseman, although he’d never ridden before. “I’m doing a scene with a horse and the casting director is filming me as I’m making a very emotional speech to this horse,” he recalls.
“Just when I’m meant to get the tears up, this horse stamps on my foot and anyone who’s been around horses know they are quite heavy. I was trying desperately to convince them I didn’t have a horse standing on my foot and the tears were real.”
Hiddlestone recalls that Irvine was an amazing horseman who took the training very seriously. “We were all taught to ride at the same place and I would turn up at eight in the morning for a cavalry session and Jeremy had already mucked out three horses and been there since six o’clock. He was part of the furniture like a stable boy and I think definitively the John Wayne among us,” he says.
That dedication to getting to know the horses was essential, says Irvine.
“What I learned very quickly about horses, not having been around them before or been on a horse, is that you know very quickly you can’t fake that.
“Those relationships you see on screen have to be real. there’s no way around that. I had to have that relationship with the horses that played Joey or you’re going to get on camera and those horses aren’t going to be interested.
It does take time and you can’t fake it.”
But the whole experience was daunting and did freak him out from time to time. “I was terrified and rightly so,” he admits.
“I had to force myself to stop thinking about it – that I was on set with Steven Spielberg. I had such a wonderful cast around me who’d sit me down and tell me it was okay, Steven Spielberg as well, he was so kind and paternal with me.
“I remember Tom telling me one day it’s just a job, it’s like any other job, turn up to work every day and do the best job you can while you’re there and then you can go home.
That’s when you can freak out.”
Irvine is already reaping the benefit of being in a Spielberg movie.
He’s just finishing playing Pip in a new screen version of Great Expectations, has another film ready for release in May and his next project, The Railway Man, will find him filming in Australia with Colin Firth and Rachel Weisz.
• War Horse (12A) opens in cinemas tomorrow
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