Jeremy Irvine: ‘Ryan Gosling asked my advice on whether he is being overexposed’

Jeremy Irvine & Charlotte Hope in Buried Child, Trafalgar Studios, Picture: Johan Persson

Jeremy Irvine & Charlotte Hope in Buried Child, Trafalgar Studios, Picture: Johan Persson - Credit: Archant

Bridget Galton talks to film actor Jeremy Irvine (War Horse, Great Expectations,The Railway Man) about his latest stage role in a dark comedy

If you spot a handsome guy power walking around Hampstead Cemetery and muttering to himself, don’t be alarmed, it’s probably Jeremy Irvine practising for his next Hollywood audition.

The West Hampstead resident, who caught his big break as farmboy Albert in War Horse, says most movie tryouts these days are in the comfort of your own home.

It’s a far cry from the gruelling two months of auditions before Stephen Spielberg cast him in the 2011 movie of Michael Morpurgo’s First World War tale.

“I’ve yet to find a city which I like living in more than London,” says the Cambridge-born 26-year-old.

“It’s not that difficult to live here these days, I spend four or five months of the year out there (in L.A) but auditions are mostly making tapes in your living room, which I much prefer. The worst part about being an actor by far is going in front of a room full of people and proving yourself. Now you put something down that’s your interpretation of a character and see if it’s what they want, so I spend most of my time walking around Hampstead Cemetery learning lines.”

“Horrendously dyslexic” he finds it helps to walk while he learns them.

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“There’s something about having a regular rhythm that helps dyslexics like me to remember. So I walk round acting to myself looking like an absolute madman.”

Irvine’s taken a temporary break from Hollywood to appear in this winter’s West End sensation. Buried Child (at Trafalgar Studios until March 4) Sam Shepard’s darkly humorous drama of dysfunctional rural America features Irvine’s not quite prodigal grandson returning to a family broken by a secret. His grandparents (played by veteran movie actors Ed Harris and Amy Madigan) refuse to acknowledge him until he explodes with frustration.

“There isn’t a time when I’m not looking for good theatre work,” says Irvine, who was cast in War Horse while still at drama school.

“Theatre’s initially what I fell in love with. It’s all I thought I would ever do. When you go to drama school, getting on stage with the RSC is as good as it gets. I still agree with that. I was lucky I got a movie when I was still young and now don’t need to pay the mortgage. You get these really good jobs that everyone goes for so it’s not a difficult decision when they come to you and you get an offer like that.”

Set in rural Illinois in the 70s, Buried Child has a “meticulousness to the writing that you have to honour,” says Irvine. “After doing it a few weeks I realise you either hit it or miss it by a mile. You find yourself relaxing and you can’t afford to do that. It’s got funnier and funnier as we’ve gone on. Buried Child doesn’t sound the most cheerful thing, but it’s full of comedy and we’ve got better at getting that timing down and playing the laughs. Actors of the character of Ed Harris do it differently every night, it’s unique, it’s live magic, which keeps it fresh for everyone. It’s about keeping it in character and Ed is in character from the minute he steps into the theatre to the minute he steps out.”

Having worked with heavyhitters like Nicole Kidman, Kevin Spacey and Mel Gibson in movies from Great Expectations to The Railway Man, appearing alongside Harris didn’t phase him.

“Working with A list stars, the first day you arrive you think ‘Oh God, Ed Harris or Helena Bonham Carter or whoever’, but then you see the level that they work at, the huge commitment - Helena had books full of notes - you realise you are working with someone who is just incredibly professional and good at their job. In my short experience, 90 percent of these people aren’t successful by accident but because they really put the work in.”

Despite his success he’s still blown about by a “fickle industry”

“It’s a wonderful industry but you have to accept that we do not know what we are doing next month and that can be scary. Whenever I meet an actor I look up to and think they must not have to worry, I realise we are all the same, paranoid, weird and a bit neurotic.

“I met Ryan Gosling a couple of years ago, he started asking me advice, do you think I am being overexposed? ‘I don’t know you’re the A List Actor!”

“It’s easy to look at people and think it’s all roses but they’re always going to be worried about the next job. I’m aware of how quickly things change, you have to keep doing solid work.”

Inevitably there are regrets if he loses out or turns down jobs, but he adds refreshingly honestly:

“There are things you see in cinema and say ‘thank God! I really dodged a bullet there, but every year there are also things you think ‘Oh shit that turned out great.”

A recent screening of an an unreleased movie that bore little relation to the script he read left him wondering “what the hell went wrong?”

“It cost tens of millions and didn’t work yet I did a tiny movie the Beautiful Fantastic shot in three months for no budget and it turned out beautifully. You try to make the best decisions, some of them are surer than others; Spielberg has a pretty good hit rate and will achieve what he wants to achieve in every movie.”

Irvine reputedly puts in huge efforts for his roles including losing two stone in two months and undergoing waterboarding for his roll in Japanese prisoner of war drama The Railway Man.

“Movies cost millions of dollars for 90 minutes of entertainment, you are an integral part of that so not to put in the effort is not acceptable. You’ve got to commit to it. I saw the level that Colin and Ralph (Fiennes) were playing to and the amount of work they do. Railway Man was extraordinary it stayed with me for a long time afterwards. I got to know the man I was playing and went to stay with him before doing the film. It left me with a real hangover from playing that traumatic experience. I don’t think anyone was in that film for business reasons. It took 15 years to get made, it was not a money maker but of all the films I’ve done it’s a story I felt should be told.”

After Buried Child he’s hoping for something lighter: “I have been making myself have a breakdown every night, sometimes twice a day and I am definitely looking for the next job to be something fun. I can’t say what it is but there’s a big action movie thats just right.”