When Steven Spielberg handpicks an actor to hang an entire movie on, there are great expectations placed upon their performance and subsequent success. Luckily for us all, Jeremy Irvine's post-War Horse career has been as gripping and exciting as his Oscar-nominated, tear-inducing film debut.
Following the little-seen, but simply wonderful, Now Is Good, Irvine stars as Pip in Mike Newell's retelling of Shakespeare's Great Expectations. And while the film is set in the 1800s, there's a marvelous modernity infused throughout that elevates it above your standard classic literary adaptation. ETonline chatted with the rising star about taking on this iconic role, how he brought something new to the seventh version of Pip and which of his upcoming roles he's most excited for audiences to see.
ETonline: What appealed to you about this incarnation?
Jeremy Irvine: There have been a few TV adaptations, and that modernized movie, but there hasn't been a period movie version since David Lean's movie [in 1946]. I felt like it was about time. There's a trap that actors fall into while doing period pieces; we get caught up in the etiquette of the time. If two characters are in love, they stand on opposite sides of the room and are terribly prim and proper. We wanted to make something a little bit more raw and violent and visceral. We didn't want to get caught up in that. Mike Newell, the director, wanted to do a movie that felt modern despite the period clothing.
ETonline: Period pieces with modern flairs are very in vogue right now, why do you think that is?
Irvine: I think it's real. You've only got to read Shakespeare to see that people have been falling in love the same way for thousands of years. They grieve the same way, they're jealous for the same reasons and I think we have this idea in our heads that for some reason we've evolved, but when you take two classic characters and play them as authentic people, it feels so much more real. If he wants to scream at her, he should. If he wants to grab her, he should. I think a lot of that comes from the sexual chemistry between the two of them; that really hasn't been properly explored before in period versions. That raw, sexual tension should be between the two of them because we see them as teenagers, who should have the same urges as teens today.
ETonline: I think there's something to be said for love that develops in the absence of modern conveniences. It forces characters to rely on themselves as opposed to technology.
Irvine: That's true. The thing that makes a love story interesting is when there's something in the way and there's a reason they can't be together, Nowadays it’s almost too easy. A movie where a character texts "Do you want to go on a date?” and they say “Yes!” isn't very interesting. The obstacles are what make a story interesting.
ETonline: Was there anything you wanted to do with your version of Pip that you felt hadn't been done before?
Irvine: I'd seen a lot of wide-eyed, innocent versions of Pip and I didn't like that. This is someone who has been abused physically and mentally every day of his life and I thought that would make for a tough character because he does survive. So when you first meet him, he's almost a Neanderthal and I wanted to have that transition to a gentleman. Also, this ambition of becoming a gentleman becomes an obsession because he starts to see it as his way out of this life of violence and abuse. But every day that goes by, that obsession becomes more toxic and poisonous to the point where it ends up eating him alive from the inside. It's a lot darker, and it's the only way to justify and understand why he's such a terrible person. I mean, Pip is not a good guy; he's quick to discard the people that love him if they're in the way.
ETonline: In general, what is it about a character that makes you want to play him?
Irvine: You inevitably end up saying no to more things than you take on. It's a big decision because, generally, a year of your life is spent prepping and shooting and then maybe a year of promotion. So these roles stay with you for a long while, which is why it's a decision you can't make lightly. You're looking for something you find moving and can relate to. With Now Is Good, I just bawled my eyes out for an hour and a half. Sometimes scripts just get to you and you feel like you just have to do them. They're no-brainers.
ETonline: How many of your choices stem from the experience a film provides?
Irvine: Quite a lot. I mean, most of it comes from liking a script, liking a character and liking the director. That's kind of where you have to come from. It's more of a gut feeling. You know if something speaks to you and what you find moving. They always say that when you start you should do one movie for you and one movie for your agents, but I've done nine for me [laughs]. I'm sure I could have a much bigger career, but I'm proud of every movie that comes out and know I did it for the right reasons.
ETonline: Which of your upcoming roles are you most excited for people to see?
Irvine: Probably The Railway Man, where I play the young Colin Firth with Nicole Kidman. This is the first time I played a real person, who I also got to know very well. That's a huge amount of responsibility to give his life justice. So it's a movie where I, for the first time, did the whole immersive thing and lost a lot of weight and did a lot for this role that I wouldn't normally do. There's a lot of torture scenes, a lot of waterboarding, which you can't really fake. I developed a real emotional connection to that one and feel really proud of it.
Great Expectations is now playing.