Jeremy Irvine caught everyone’s attention, turning into an overnight success after portraying the lead role of Albert Narracott in War Horse. He did, after all, manage to earn the approval of Steven Spielberg -- a feat that many spend their entire lives striving for – and very early on in his career. But the 25-year-old actor did more than just catch a lucky break. He saw acting as the ultimate challenge and set out on a quest to accept it.
Growing up in rural England, the young Brit dipped his toes into the world of make-believe, playing characters like Romeo in a variety of school productions. Following a run with the National Youth Theater, he set his sights on the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts. “London Theater schools, I was told that 6,000 apply and there are like 30 admitted to each one,” he recalls. “I was like, ‘Yeah. Let’s see if we can do that!’” Irvine then went on to perform with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2010 production of Dunsinane and has since become a big screen staple, earning accolades for his role in the six-time Academy Award nominated film War Horse and landing spots in prolific films such as The Railway Man, Beyond the Reach, and A Night in Old Mexico.
With all the attention, it would seem that Irvine is a red carpet regular – one that prefers the bright lights of Hollywood to his quaint English hometown. That, however, is far from the case. The charming actor spends his free time reading history books, collecting World War I and II paraphernalia and even admits to once having owned a rock collection. “I’ve still got all the same group of friends I always had. We still go to the same dirty bars and do the same things,” he reveals. Stardom has certainly not gone to his head. “If I ever stepped out of line, my mom would take me down!” he says jokingly. Irvine even humbly discloses that his on-screen six-pack in Beyond The Reach lasted only through the six weeks of filming – “Life’s not fun if you keep yourself looking like that all the time. I’d rather be able to eat and drink what I want,” he declares. And though he looks like a seasoned pro at love scenes, he gets nervous before filming them and once even knocked on Michael Douglas’ trailer to ask him for some tips.
Recently, Irvine portrayed Danny Winters in Stonewall, which follows the story of the 1969 New York City Stonewall riots. And co-star Joey King had nothing but great things to say about him: “I think Jeremy is so talented and so funny. He’s not only a great actor but he’s really fun to work with. He makes everyone feel comfortable and he just loves to be silly and fun on set,” she explains. And just like everyone in Tinseltown, King knows that Irvine’s career has only begun to flourish. “I definitely think that’s he going to go so far. I mean he’s already gone so far but he has a lot to go,” she adds.Just Jared: What made you originally want to be an actor?
Jeremy Irvine: I think I got into acting because I kind of had not much else to do! I guess I was kind of looking for something challenging. I heard about the London Theater scene and it was very different from the upbringing that I had and it felt like a challenge. And the whole sort of London Theater schools, I was told that 6,000 apply and there are like 30 accepted to each one. I was like, “Yeah. Let’s see if we can do that!”JJ: Was it true that you almost quit acting before your big break in War Horse?
JI: Yeah. I had a lot of time before I actually got my break so to speak. I was building websites for other actors. I worked in a grocery store back in the little village where I grew up but I found it mind-numbingly boring. One day I remember just going, “I will do anything so I don’t have to do this for another few years.” I was a shelf-stacking, bagging, check-out guy. I never expected acting to be anything but a hobby for me. Being able to do it for my job is like the icing or the cherry on top.JJ: Your first big job out of the gate was with Steven Spielberg, so no pressure there, right?
JI: My first time acting for camera really was for Steven Spielberg in War Horse. I was trained in theater and I was actually working in theater at the time. I had a small role with the Royal Shakespeare Company, which is a huge prestigious theater company back in England. I honestly thought that was as good as it got. I was like, “This is great. If I never do anything more, at least I can say I’ve worked as an actor.” And then at the same time I was making my own short films and in the end it was those that I went looking for an agent with and told them it was professional work when it wasn’t. I don’t know if anyone believed me. One at least humored me enough that they took me on. I think I signed with them on a Friday night; I went up for War Horse on a Tuesday morning. So it was all a bit of a whirlwind for me. There was obviously a huge amount of pressure but then it was something that I had been working towards for the last five years. So when the chance came, there was no time to be nervous. There are a lot of people watching! You just have to do the job and when you come home at night, then you can freak out.
JI: The Railway Man was a particularly intense and immersive experience. I definitely got carried away. I lost about 35 pounds. I really was incredibly skinny and also quite unwell while we were filming. It wasn’t very healthy. I don’t recommend it. But then also doing the torture scenes, the water boarding stuff, there wasn’t really any other way just to do it really. It was a movie that stayed with me a long time. It’s still one of the things I’m most proud of. I got to know the man that I was playing and unfortunately he passed away just before the movie came out. It’s one that meant a huge amount to me, and one that I’m particularly proud of.JJ: Having gone that far for that role, do you have any limits now? Is there anything you just absolutely won’t do on camera?
JI: You do what you have to for the role. I wouldn’t rule anything out in the future but for that one, I was playing a guy that was a victim of torture and who was starved for years and years. How am I to relate to what he went through? I can’t. So you have to kind of grasp with straws. I hate the word “method acting.” It’s just so silly. You hear people going, “Yeah I’m a method actor.” I’m like, “So what happens if you’re playing a period film or something? You’re in the Second World War. And what happens when your mom calls you on your phone? Do you go, ‘Oh! What is this strange talking brick device?’” No. It’s stupid. But you do everything you can to get in that mindset. I would do it again for the right movie and if I had to. I love what I do and if it was something that I felt the need to do it justice in the same way that I did on that film, yes of course.JJ: So you’re ready to get fat on camera next?
JI: I’d love to get fat on camera. Wouldn’t that be great? I’ll tell you what’s almost as hard though, getting bulked up, getting that big. Here we are in LA and you see guys walking down the street and everyone looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger. That’s really quite grim, if you haven’t done it before. Obviously I’ve had to go up and down a lot and that’s rough as well. I feel that Channing Tatum has just ruined it for all of us! Especially being British! I’m meant to be skinny and wearing tweed jackets and now I have to have a six-pack. It’s horrible! (laughs)
JI: It’s not often that you get to read something that just feels very original for a star but also something that feels like it’s more than just a movie or entertainment. Even though the riots were one of the most pivotal riots in civil rights history, especially for the LGBT community, I knew surprisingly very little about them. You don’t learn about Stonewall in schools. It’s a bit gross really! So it certainly felt like something that was quite important. And then there was a fact at the end of the script that said that 40% of the homeless youth in America today in 2015 identify as being LGBT. That was a really shocking fact. But it’s a really great character and it’s surprising how few and far between good characters are. And when one does come up, you really have to chase it.JJ: What are your thoughts about the controversy behind the film? At one point, Twitter was going crazy with Stonewall backlash.
JI: Well that all happened from the trailer really. I’ll be the first to admit, the trailer is a bit misleading. The problem was the trailer makes it look like my character starts the Stonewall riots, which just isn’t the case at all. No one had seen the film at that point. Everyone that has seen the film has been so supportive. All the controversy tended to come from people who weren’t there as opposed to understanding that we had as many natural witnesses act as advisors on the movie as we could.
JI: I don’t know. I’ve been very reluctant on the Twitter front. But I do Instagram now, so I’m slowly coming around. I’m quite a private person, so much of what I do for my job means that I have to be quite public so I’m just nervous about everything being public. I might turn around. Three years ago, I was against all social media but I actually really enjoy Instagram now. Who knows? I never say never!JJ: Now that you’re a big movie star, what’s it like for you at home in London?
JI: People expect your life to change completely. The main difference is I can get work now. I can do my hobby as a job. It’s great. It’s a privilege. But in terms of the rest of the stuff, I still got all the same group of friends I always had. I don’t do anything different. We still go to the same dirty bars and do the same things. So nothing really changes. I think in this world and this industry, if you let it, it does. And I feel that the people who don’t have good friends and family around them are the ones who get a little funny. But I’m very lucky. I have good friends and good family and if I ever stepped out of line, my mom would take me down!JJ: What’s one of your favorite ways to kill time on all those flights between London and LA that you are frequently on for work?
JI: I’m an expert at killing time on planes now. I do a lot of reading. My secret sort of nerdy side is I’m quite into history so I read a lot of history books. Now I write for a few things and I’ve had a few history things published, which is cool. I indulge my nerdy side and it’s kind of as far away as you can get from the acting world so that’s nice as well.JJ: Have you ever been nervous or starstruck to work with big actors? You’ve worked with people like Michael Douglas and Colin Firth…
JI: I get starstruck all the time. It’s so awesome to meet someone, especially when you get to work with someone who you’ve grown up watching. The first time you step on set with someone like Helena Bonham Carter, Ralph Fiennes, Michael Douglas… Initially, it’s like, “Wow. This is awesome!” and then you start working with them and then of course you have to treat each other like colleagues and equals and it’s amazing. What I’ve realized is that all of these people are so successful because they love what they do and they work exceptionally hard. No one gets successful in this business by fluke really. There are probably a couple of exceptions but most people just work so hard. They are working every day and they are doing their prep. I remember the first day of turning up on set with Helena Bonham Carter. She had shown up with pages and pages of notes and ideas. I was like, “Yeah. Wow. That’s why you are so good at what you do because you put the work in.”JJ: Which one of those big guys were you the most nervous to work with?
JI: Ralph Fiennes was a big hero of mine acting-wise growing up and while I was training. I just find him so watchable. He was playing this very intimidating character when we worked together and it certainly felt like he was in character off set as well! He was very cool. Before a scene, he’d be like, “Come on. Let’s improvise. Let’s just do stuff.” But Jesus Christ. He’s Ralph Fiennes!JJ: Is it true that before filming your first on-screen sex scene, you knocked on Michael Douglas’ trailer to ask him for advice?
JI: Ah yeah, definitely. Well he’s had some of the most iconic sex scenes in movie history and he was right next to me so I’m like, “I’m absolutely doing that.” He said to be cool and talk things through beforehand. I just needed someone to chill me out a bit. I had a lot of nerves. I’ve done a few now and in a way, it’s like learning a dance. You have to do the moves. And there’s nothing sexy about a sex scene. It’s a scene like any other. You are just trying to convey whatever emotion is in that scene in the best way possible.JJ: What’s one movie that you’ve watched over and over again?
JI: I have two movies that I watch probably once every month or once every couple of months. One is Withnail and I, which is an old movie about two out of work actors and I think I can quote the entire film by heart. There is that. There are movies like LA Confidential. I Loved In Bruges. They are the ones that I always have on my laptop and they come with me. And American Beauty as well. That’s just awesome. If I’m ever hungover, I like to watch the original Dr. Doolittle. It’s mad. It feels like it was made on one long LSD trip. The whole thing is so freaking odd. And there are these odd songs and a 20-minute interval where it just shows a picture of this town in England. But if you want to just let your brain go away with the fairies, it’s quite a good movie to watch. It’s filmed in the same town where we filmed War Horse actually.JJ: If you could model your career after any famous actor, who would that be?
JI: Ralph Fiennes for one. The choices that Benedict Cumberbatch has made have been really interesting. I’m always impressed by actors who take risks. Anyone who goes after the projects where there’s a good chance that they won’t work again. And most of them probably don’t but then you get one that does. It’s always very special. And that’s kind of what I do when I’m looking for stuff. I try to find the things that are a little edgier and weird.
JI: I sent a happy birthday message to my friend’s mum. I played happy birthday on guitar and sent it. It was very bad (laughs). Very embarrassing! Me playing. Appalling!JJ: Do you collect anything interesting?
JI: Yeah. I collect old first and second World War artifacts and things. I’m a little secret history nerd. I’ve been lucky enough to do quite a few war movies too so I’ve taken little things off each film.JJ: What’s the coolest thing in your collection?
JI: When I was growing up, there was a man who gave me lessons and things. I’m very dyslexic so he used to give me extra reading and writing. And he always knew that I was interested in stuff but he never told me that he was in the Second World War himself. One day he gave me his helmet that he had worn through the North Africa Campaign. It was just before he died. So I’ve got his helmet. That was pretty special to me.JJ: Was there one fad that you were into as a child that you are embarrassed about looking at now?
JI: At one point when I was growing up, I had a rock collection, which is pretty lame. It doesn’t get more lame than that. That definitely had to go as soon as I started being interested in girls. That got pushed under my bed.JJ: What’s your biggest fear?
JI: I’m not scared of animals, except for rats. I’ll break down in tears if I see a rat!JJ: Have you ever had any near death experiences?
JI: When I was filming in Texas once, I ended up getting in an argument with a guy that turned out that he was in a local gang. And the film had to get these guys from Homeland Security to look after me because I was getting hate threats. It was all a bit weird.JJ: What movie scared you the most as a child?
JI: 28 Days Later. I’m a huge Danny Boyle fan and he just creates such an uneasy atmosphere throughout that film. It really psychologically got to me as a kid.JJ: What’s the secret to your six-pack? We’ve seen you with your shirt off in Beyond The Reach and we know it’s under there!
JI: I can honestly tell you that I’ve had a six-pack for about six weeks of my life. I’ll do it for six-week periods but that’s it. Life’s not fun if you keep yourself looking like that all the time. I’d rather be able to eat and drink what I want. I’ll hit the gym for jobs but when I’m not doing films, I’m not. It's so boring. And there’s nothing worse than hearing someone talk about the gym the whole time. If that’s what you love doing, cool. But there are other things that I love doing a lot more.JJ: What’s coming up next for you? Any more crazy movies where you have to lose weight or be tortured in?
JI: I’m hopefully going to not be dropping too much weight again. I have another movie, something that I can’t really talk about yet, that I have to get fit for so I’m kind of in the process of doing that. I’ve got a movie called Fallen, which is a more young adult kind of movie. And then This Beautiful Fantastic, which is a cute romance film.