A proper bloke hailing from the rural English hamlet of Gamlingay, Jeremy Irvine burst from relative obscurity to overnight fame after starring in Steven Spielberg’s epic feature War Horse in 2012. Prior to this breakout role, the stage and screen actor was best known by British television audiences for his work on Disney Channel’s popular comedy-sketch series Life Bites.
14-pound weight gain, 20 rat co-stars, 15 texts from across the pond: The British newcomer reveals details of his transition from a London stage to his big break in a Steven Spielberg epic.
“Can you meet Steven tomorrow morning for tea at a hotel in London?” This call was to turn Jeremy Irvine’s life completely upside down – although the then 21-year-old actor actually wanted to give it all up.
For months, Jeremy was rushed from one casting to the next. Unsuccessfully. But now he was suddenly to meet Steven Spielberg, who was looking for an actor for his war drama War Horse, about the fate of a farm boy and his horse who get caught up in the murderous maelstrom of the First World War.
Jeremy said: „It was all very secretive. I was at home building a go-kart for my brother and they asked me to come and tape and gave me a piece of script and said, “Steven wants this to be spontaneous and he wants you to just turn over the sides and start reading them to show you can do the accent.” And I start turning over the sides in my agent’s office — and it was some fake script, and I’m just reading, “Steven Spielberg wants me to play Albert in War Horse!” I have the whole thing on tape. I was asked to wait and not tell anyone. I didn’t tell my friends and family for a few weeks. It’s amazing, when you have come from literally nothing to being offered a Steven Spielberg movie, it’s amazing what you can do!“
“I looked at hundreds of very interesting actors and newcomers, but nobody had the heart or the spirit or the communication skills that Jeremy had,” Spielberg said in an interview. The sentimental epic did well at the box office and grossed around 180 million dollars worldwide – and promptly makes Jeremy Irvine a star.
After the London-based actor made his American War Horse film debut, the big roles were not long in coming. He was cast as Pip in the faithful and tasteful adaptation of Dickens Great Expectations (BBC, 2012), co-starring Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter. The story, as we all know, follows the little orphan Pip who rises from humble beginnings thanks to a mysterious benefactor. Moving through London’s class-ridden world as a gentleman, Pip uses his new status to pursue Estella, a beautiful, heartless heiress he’s always loved. The shocking truth behind his fortune will have devastating consequences for everything he holds dear.
The burgeoning star also scored leading roles in the independent film Now Is Good (2012) opposite Dakota Fanning. Jeremy is keen to play meaningful roles, but The Railway Man demanded more focus than any other. Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth were his colleagues.
Based on a best-selling memoir, the big screen adaptation of The Railway Man tells the true story of Eric Lomax, a British Army officer and railway enthusiast who became a prisoner of war at a Japanese labour camp during World War Two, aged just 21.
Directed by Jonathan Teplitzky, Jeremy plays the young Lomax who is captured by the Japanese, tortured and forced to work on the Burma-Thailand Railway, branded the Death Railway, after the Japanese defeat of the Allied forces in Singapore in 1942. Fifty years after the war, Lomax (now played by Firth) discovers that the Japanese interpreter he holds responsible for much of his torture and post-traumatic stress is still alive and he sets out to confront him and his own troubled past.
Firth suggested Irvine for the role of the young Lomax – a decision Irvine “didn’t have to think twice about”. Playing alongside Firth was a “privilege” but he also found The Railway Man an “incredibly moving book” when he read it as a teenager.
“It really stuck with me,” he said, adding: “It’s a period of history we don’t know much about in England. I felt it was a story that needed telling.”
Irvine lost more than 30 pounds in weight for this film and agreed to endure waterboarding torture – when a cloth is placed over the mouth and nose while water is poured over the face, to give the victim the sensation of drowning – to bring “authenticity” and “realism” to the role.
“It wasn’t really a difficult decision to make when I agreed to do those scenes for real, as much as possible. I thought we owed it to the real people,” Jeremy said.
After meeting Lomax, who he describes as a “remarkable man”, Irvine admits: “I did a lot of things I wouldn’t normally do for a movie. When I read the script I was very aware that this wasn’t just a character a writer had come up with in his bedroom and there’s a great sense of responsibility that comes with that.
“I was grasping at straws because there was no way on earth I could imagine what it was like for Eric. I did everything I could possibly do, to get those little glimpses of his life. I spent a lot of time – about two months – getting myself prepared [for the part]. I isolated myself. I moved back to my parents house in the countryside and spent a huge amount of time on my own, walking around fields with my script, not eating. I think for this type of movie you really need to focus. I became very emotionally attached to the movie,” he adds.
In Cannes 2013 his talent was celebrated when he was awarded a Chopard Trophée by Oscar Award-winning actor Colin Firth, patron of the Chopard Trophy. The much coveted award signals his quick rise to fame.
„I feel incredibly honoured and surprised; the last few years that I have filmed have felt very much like a party that I have crashed. I always feel incredibly honoured that I am invited to these big award events and to be around all these actors that I have admired since I was very young. Actors like Colin Firth are the reason I went into acting. So to be on stage with them is astonishing!“ Jeremy told.
Ahead of its 2015 release, the first trailer of director Roland Emmerich’s Stonewall was received by wide criticism. The movie, which stars Jeremy Irvine besides Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Jonny Beauchamp, Joey King and Ron Pearlman placed a significant emphasis on the fictional character of Danny Winters (played by Jeremy Irvine) for its trailer. Critics are displeased with how the trailer displaces leaders such as Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, along with fellow drag queens, lesbians and trans people, who played a significant role in the movement.
Jeremy then has spoken out to defend the manner in which the Ronald Emmerich film Stonewall depicts minorities within the LGBTQ community. The film addresses the climate amongst homeless LGBTQ youth in Greenwich Village, New York in 1969, a time of political tumult that led to the famous Stonewall riots. Critics began hitting out at the film following its trailer release, pointing out that the fictional white, gay lead undermines the plethora of protagonists within the LGBTQ community who played major parts in the actual Stonewall riots.
The accusation of under-representation and “whitewashing” was however rebuffed by the then 25-year-old Jeremy Irvine – who plays said lead Danny Winters – with him saying on his Instagram account: „To anyone with concerns about the diversity of the #StonewallMovie, I saw the movie for the 1st time last week and can assure you all that it represents almost every race and division of society that was so fundamental to one of the most noteworthy civil rights movements in living history“.
And then in 2019 Jeremy got his first engagement in a series. From show creator Tim Kring, the USA Network drama series Treadstone explores the origin story and present-day actions of the infamous covert program that turns recruits into unstoppable superhuman assassins. Having created super spy Jason Bourne, the CIA black ops program Operation Treadstone is now seeing sleeper agents across the globe mysteriously resuming their deadly missions.
Jeremy said about his Treadstone Role: Such brutal and physical fight scenes are lot more interesting. My own personal taste has always been things like the Bourne movies. I’m more of a Bourne guy than a Marvel, big, epic guy, so it definitely plays to my tastes and what I enjoy. I also really enjoyed learning from the guys that were teaching us. A lot of the guys were ex-military, and we learned all of the weapon disarms for real, and then learned how to fake it and how to make it look good on camera. There’s a scene where I escape from the CIA headquarters, and all of those disarms are real things that are taught to special forces. I really enjoyed myself. I became an actor, but when I left school, I wanted to join the Army, so I tried to join the Army, but they wouldn’t let me in. So, it was great that I got to play that.
In 2021 a new series named Dalgliesh will be released, which will trace Dalgliesh’s crime-fighting career from 1970s England to the present day, with each story featuring him solving an unusual murder. Each case will offer its own unique setting and guest cast. And the WWI Drama Benediction – the story of English poet, writer and soldier Siegfried Sassoon – both are Jeremy‘s projects this year.
Here is the first picture of Jeremy Irvine on a horse from the Benediction movie in which he plays famous Welsh singer and composer Ivor Novello, who was one of Sassoon’s lovers! Decorated for bravery on the Western Front, Sassoon is remembered for his war poems that brought him public and critical acclaim in his time and after. He also became a focal point for dissent within the armed forces when he made a lone protest against the continuation of the conflict. Adored by members of the aristocracy as well as stars of London’s literary and stage world, Sassoon embarked on affairs with several men as he attempted to come to terms with his homosexuality. At the same time, broken by the horror of war, he made his life’s journey a quest forsalvation, ultimately trying to find it within the conformity of marriage and religion. The film, which also includes Jack Lowden, Ben Daniels, Peter Capaldi, Gemma Jones, Simon Russell Beale, Anton Lesser in the cast, has finished filming after corona delays earlier last year. Terence Davies both wrote and directed the movie.
Last year Jeremy turned 30 years. From Spielberg snatching him from international obscurity, to landing leading roles in impressive motion pictures, Jeremy Irvine quickly became one of the most buzzed about British actors in years. Despite Irvine’s success, his good fortune still comes as something of a surprise.
“I can’t believe I’m still working – and that’s the biggest privilege you can have as an actor.” he said. And that’s why we love Jeremy Irvine.