Telegraph.co.uk – When Mike Newell cast Jeremy Irvine as Pip in his forthcoming dramatisation of Great Expectations Irvine had only one film under his belt. But that film was War Horse, and its director was Steven Spielberg. As starts go in the movie industry, the lead role in a $100 million First World War epic made by one of the greatest ever filmmakers is some learning curve.
But Irvine says his education was made all the easier because of the example set by Spielberg: ‘He was the first on set every morning, the last to leave, and he spent long hours with me.’ Irvine had been plucked from nowhere to play Albert, the West Country farm lad who forms an unshakable bond with his horse, Joey. The partnership even survives the separate horrors endured by them both on the Western Front.
Almost daily on the Devon set, Irvine – with only one year’s experience of drama school – had to pinch himself as a reminder of his great fortune and unique opportunity. ‘There is no way if I was in Spielberg’s position that I would have cast in that role someone who’d never been on a film set before,’ he says. ‘Because it’s too much of a risk. They might get on set and just freeze up in front of camera for a start.’
Spielberg has described his search as ‘look[ing] for months and months… I was running out of hope, then Jeremy Irvine came in towards the last third of the casting process.’ Ten months on from the release of War Horse, does Irvine yet have any understanding of why Spielberg did choose him from hundreds of auditionees? ‘I honestly still don’t know why he felt that risk was worth taking,’ Irvine insists. ‘That is a huge responsibility to put on this snotty-nosed little kid who’s really done nothing. My way of explaining it is, he took that huge risk because he knew that he had the skill to manipulate and work with someone and make them feel comfortable.’ Irvine thinks that is Spielberg’s ‘greatest skill as a director of new actors. With me the best thing he ever did was make me feel totally at home.’
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