posted by guardian.co.uk on january 8th, 2012
War Horse’s young British cast talk about the pressures of working with Steven Spielberg, the world’s most successful film director, and honouring the memory of a lost generation
Albert, who joins up to bring his horse, Joey, back from France
Sitting in his Los Angeles hotel, Irvine says he’s “living the dream”. But does he really mean that? The 21-year-old is the lead in War Horse and, after talking to me, is flying back to London to finish filming his role of Pip in Mike Newell’s adaptation of Great Expectations. Surely not even his wildest dreams could have made room for this?
“I was pretty desperate to get noticed,” he admits. “After one year at drama school, I traipsed round Soho knocking on agents’ doors and popping DVDs of my work through letter boxes. But I hadn’t actually done any work – I’d got together with a mate of mine who’s a great cameraman and we’d shoot scenes that looked like they were out of professional productions and I cut them all together into a show reel.”
Even when he was called for an audition for something called Dartmoor, he had no idea what it would entail until the brief script arrived. “I just recognised this scene of a boy talking to his horse as something I’d heard before,” he says.
“I loved Michael Morpurgo’s book when my parents read it to me when I was seven or eight, but I hadn’t seen the play. Somehow I got a couple of tickets for it on the Friday night before I was due to go to the audition on the Monday, and I think that was really important.”
It’s almost pointless asking him how Spielberg is as a director, given that he has nothing else to compare him with. “On set, he often films the very first take, no rehearsal, and that demands you turn up and be as truthful and as present in the moment as you can possibly be. And when Spielberg’s in charge, that seems to be very easy for everyone to do, not just me, but all the others were saying it too.”
Spielberg famously sits in a director’s chair with DAD written on the back. Is he really as paternal as all that? “He’s more like the best teacher you’ve ever had. But he’s also great at feigning innocence himself, so each shot is as if it’s his first.
“Only after the day’s shooting he’ll suddenly start talking about how such and such a shot reminds him of something they did on Jaws, or he’ll go into an anecdote about making ET, and you suddenly realise, my God, this is Spielberg I’m working with.”