Jeremy Irvine is visiting with Movie Fanatic for an exclusive interview taking us further into the world of Steven Spielberg and War Horse, opening in theaters Christmas Day. “I’m here for less time than I was on the plane,” he said and laughed. Irvine was beyond thrilled to be in his first feature, War Horse, and the sight of himself on billboards and movie ads is still something he’s getting used to.
We’re in the lobby of the Four Seasons Beverly Hills and Irvine strolls in for our interview. You can understand if the UK actor’s a little worn, he flew in from London for this chat and will be flying back in the morning to report back to the set of Great Expectations that he’s making opposite Ralph Fiennes.
Movie Fanatic: Spielberg makes movies that millions and millions of people see, how did you find him personally as a filmmaker working with actors… one on one?
Jeremy Irvine: He’s the master craftsman. It’s funny, I turned up on set the first day and I remember looking at hundreds of trailers, all this machinery around. But, when you’re in front of the camera, it’s you and Steven Spielberg and the other actor… or horse [laughs]. It’s quite a friendly environment. He’s incredibly kind and generous. With me, he wasn’t just my director, he was my film teacher and he had a real paternal instinct. On the back of his chair it doesn’t say Steven Spielberg, or director, it says “dad.” His greatest skill as a director is making you comfortable. When you’re that comfortable, you do your best work. You don’t worry about making mistakes. You’re just doing your job the best you can.
Movie Fanatic: I was curious, there’s the appeal of working with Steven, and there’s the history of the play and the book. What was it for you that was the biggest appeal of the War Horse story?
Jeremy Irvine: I remember getting the script and it didn’t have a name yet. I also remember going to audition and it had a code name. I didn’t know what I was auditioning for. I had read the book at the age of nine, which I think a lot in Britain do. It had a big impact on me then and it’s something we can all relate to and the relationship between Albert and this horse. We’ve all had that special childhood friend, whether it an animal, a cuddly toy, best friend, brother or sister, we’ve all had that. We can all imagine what that’s like to have taken away. Also, the First World War is something that back home, we learn about in school before we even approach the Second World War. It’s such a huge bruise on our national pride and history. Everybody’s got a relative who was in the First World War. Every village we filmed in had a memorial to those who had fallen during the First World War. It’s about losing an entire generation of young men. That’s an enormous voice to lose. The last British soldier from World War I died last year. I think it’s very important that even though we no longer have a living memory, that films like this can keep that memory alive.
Movie Fanatic: War Horse is your first film. Is this entire thing surreal at all? I mean, you’re on the poster on the bus stop on the corner here!
Jeremy Irvine: [Laughing] Really? I’m on a poster around the corner? That’s incredible. To be honest, the whole thing is so surreal and weird. I feel like I’m about to wake up at any point [laughs]. All that kind of stuff. I never really thought about it while making the movie. I certainly never thought about people knowing who I was and stuff. [Pauses] It’s not something that I think about. I just read the scripts and do the job. What I really enjoy was waking up today and getting to do my hobby as a job. As for the poster on the corner, I don’t really know what to make of that stuff yet.