The Young and the restless
Rising star Jeremy Irvine tells Stephen Milton about fame, fears, famous friends -- and getting sex scene tips from Michael Douglas
Jeremy Irvine was once standing awkwardly at the bar of some hip innocuous eatery in downtown Hollywood, feeling akin to a lost puppy.
Having just landed the lead in Steven Spielberg's War Horse, he fidgeted nervously as his newly acquired agent was busy exchanging air kisses out of view, leaving the timid teen nervous and vulnerable.
"I was utterly terrified," he smiles, his face a flush of strategically placed dimples.
"My agent had left me to fend for myself and you know, I'm 19 years old, from the country, never been to LA before.
This wasn't my natural environment.
"But I'll always remember Colin Farrell striding over towards me, hand outstretched, pat on the back.
"We'd been introduced earlier that night, very briefly, because we share the same agent and he could obviously see the wide-eyed fear on my face.
"So he took me aside and gave me all this great advice, about how he'd been in the same position when he first came to LA and had gone through similar emotions.
"He just said not to take it all so seriously and to enjoy myself. And I think I've been doing that ever since."
With Farrell's jaunty counsel on board, Jeremy, who is now 23, has been making an intelligent and considered impression on Hollywood.
Military epic War Horse granted the intoxicatingly handsome newcomer -- who looks likes a combination of Colin Firth and Jude Law -- a lofty platform, and further capitalisation came with teen weeper Now is Good and Mike Newell's strangely flat Great Expectations.
But his latest effort, The Railway Man, is the first solid indicator of his capability. Based on the harrowing memoirs of WWII veteran Eric Lomax, who sadly passed away late last year, the action bounces between his brutalisation at the hands of his captors at a Japanese POW camp and the traumatising effects it had on his later life, culminating in a desire for revenge.
Colin Firth takes on Lomax's older self, ably exuding the emotional ravages of his internship, while Nicole Kidman is suitably stoic and subdued as his helpless wife Patty.
As a young Eric, however, Jeremy is a revelation, portraying the spritely fusilier's chilling descent into madness, punctuated by haunting scenes of beatings and torture.
"I did stuff for this movie that I wouldn't normally put myself through, but then it isn't just a movie -- this is somebody's life story.
"He was suffering from night terrors, still waking up screaming, right up to the day he died, so we had to be incredibly tactile and sensitive, yet realistic too.
"And Eric opened up far more than I expected and went into great detail about the torture and suffering.
"The reality was so much worse than what we showed in the film -- (it was) utterly horrendous."
As well as dropping two stone from an already slight frame, Irvine endured genuine scenes of water-boarding, eschewing safety restrictions for the sake of realism.
"There was one shot in the movie where I let it go on longer than I should.
You can actually see me throw up a lot of water and for that second, it was really fucking terrifying.
"But I needed that or it wasn't going to do it justice. I felt a lot of responsibility."
Relaxing in his agent's office in Central London, Jeremy looks super casual in uniform black, boots, a slightly worn sweater and a fitted overcoat.
Likeably easy-going, there hasn't been much of a private life to grill him about, other than a brief romance with warbler Ellie Goulding earlier this year.
The paps became momentarily skittish around the new handsome couple, offering the actor a glimpse of double celebrity wattage. Would it put him off dating another well-known woman again?
"If you like someone enough, you figure it out.
A lot of people deal with it and if someone's special enough, you do what you have to do."
Irvine, who is based in West London, keeps schtum on his current romantic status, but with his work schedule, it would be difficult to imagine that he has the time.
He's currently shooting a sequel to Daniel Radcliffe's Victorian chiller The Woman in Black, the latest called Angel of Death, but reports have also recently surfaced of a role in the new Star Wars chapters.
Jeremy offers a slight twinge of the brow and a slanted smirk. "Don't believe what you read," he tells me, struggling to suppress a deliberate grin.
There's also been the best part of a year shooting in the States with back-to-back movie legends -- Robert Duvall in road trip drama A Night In Old Mexico and with Michael Douglas for The Reach.
"Three years ago, I was banging on doors, practically begging for an agent, for work, any work, extra work.
You name it, I would have done it.
"And then I'm sharing scenes with Robert Duvall and Michael Douglas. That's when you say, 'I am a really lucky bastard.'"
Shooting for several months in the Arizona desert with veteran actor Douglas, the pair cultivated a very close bond and Jeremy found himself once again in receipt of some vital advice.
Unlike Farrell's guide to steering the potholes of Tinseltown, the Oscar winner offered guidance on the ins and outs of the perfect sex scene.
"I had to do my first one in this movie and Michael came in and sat down in my trailer beforehand and counselled me.
"If you look at his movies, I think he's had the best sex scenes of any actor out there. But when something like that happens, you really question yourself.
"I was about to jump into my beige thong and mime sex in front of a couple of people. Oh, but before all that, Michael Douglas is going to tell me how it's done."
And did his faux coital advice hit the spot, so to speak?
"He just told me to take the piss as much as possible. It was funny -- the director wanted us to have this really intimate, loving moment, very intense. And right before we start, the actress [Hanna Mangan-Lawrence] hops on all fours and cries, 'Right, let's get down to it.'"
But despite making friends with some of the biggest names in the business, Jeremy remains grounded. "I'm just collecting wise words from big movie stars -- I'm really learning a lot."
The Railway Man is in cinemas now
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