Jeremy Irvine in action as William H. Pitsenbarger
In The Last Full Measure, Jeremy Irvine plays airman William H Pitsenbarger, who flew in helicopter rescue missions during the Vietnam War to aid downed soldiers and pilots. But, as Georgia Humphreys hears, the star is happy to be taking a break from acting.
You might have wondered how actors keep themselves busy in between jobs.
Well, in Jeremy Irvine’s case, he’s building himself a house, 40 minutes north of London.
He says it’s been a “godsend” during lockdown measures imposed because of the coronavirus pandemic, because it’s given him something to do.
“We’ll see how it turns out,” says the Cambridgeshire-born actor, 29, who made his film debut in 2011 Steven Spielberg epic War Horse.
“I think I sort of had images of Ryan Gosling in The Notebook, but it doesn’t quite look the same on me I’m afraid!”
The charming star continues: “I was hoping to get loads of help from mates and stuff, and I really have been doing it on my own.
“There are things like when you’re putting up a fence you do kind of need another pair of hands to hold it up for you, so I’ve got a couple of wonky fences. But aside from that, it’s all right.”
Irvine – who’s also known for the 2012 adaptation of Great Expectations, and his role in The Railway Man alongside Colin Firth is chatting ahead of the digital release of his latest film, American war drama The Last Full Measure.
A true story, it follows the efforts to recognise air force pararescueman William H Pitesenbarger (played by Irvine), as a Vietnam war hero who was killed on the battlefield at the age of 21, having saved 60 lives on a single day in 1966.
It has a seriously impressive cast – William Hurt plays one of Pitsenbarger’s air force buddies, Samuel L Jackson portrays the officer whose men he rescued, the late Peter Fonda is a soldier he saved, Christopher Plummer and Diane Ladd are his elderly parents, and Sebastian Stan takes on the role of Pentagon worker Scott Huffman, who is responsible for gathering witness statements about the heroism Pitsenbarger displayed. In the end, 34 years after his death, the soldier was awarded the nation’s highest military honour.
Irvine was actually just starting rehearsals for Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again when his agent asked if he would like to be part of the project, which meant flying to Thailand.
Luckily, the producers of the Mamma Mia! sequel said he could have three weeks off.
“Thanks to my bad dancing, I got the job” he quips, laughing.
“That is a true story – I got the scripts [for Mamma Mia], came in for a dance audition thing, and the next week a new draft of the scripts came out and my character had all his dancing cut!
“I got to go and do The Last Full Measure so, silver linings.”
What was the shoot in Thailand like?
“It was so brief for me. I knew when I started to read the scripts that the character was dead already, so you know your screen time is going to be pretty limited. But, it was great.
“The Railway Man, we filmed in exactly the same place in Thailand, so it was lovely to go back. And I love filming in Thailand. Thai people are just so polite, and the crews are, I think, some of the best crews in the world.”
Shooting the battlefield scenes “was chaos”, he recalls.
“We filmed with real helicopters and stuff buzzing over the jungle, and lots of extras, and we’re using real machine guns… Explosions going off.
“But, to be honest, I love that stuff. It’s every boy’s dream.”
The action-packed shoot featured some terrifying-looking stunts.
Irvine “had a blast” filming scenes involving the jungle penetrator (which were used extensively to hoist a survivor from the jungle floor to a hovering helicopter in Vietnam War search and rescue efforts), revealing that he didn’t use a stunt double.
It would seem he’s a bit of an adrenaline-junkie.
“I became really good friends with the director [of The Last Full Measure, Todd Robinson] afterwards because I’ve been getting my pilot’s licence and he’s a super-accomplished pilot. I was just with him in LA just before all this kicked off, flying planes together.
“So, yeah, I made some good friends and got to be around planes and do war scenes. It was a win-win really.”
Before the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown was enforced, Irvine had just finished a year in Budapest, filming US TV show Treadstone, and was waiting to hear if they’d get the green light for a second series.
“I said to my agent I was going to take time to a) be in England and b) do something that wasn’t acting.
“It’s weird, with acting, you can work your arse off for a year/year-and-a-half, and you don’t really know how it’s doing until it comes out and even then all it takes is for some critics and things to be like, ‘No, we don’t like it’, and that’s that.
“Whereas building something, I can finish a day here and be like ‘Yep, that’s a wall I’ve built, and it looks good’. It’s quantifiable. So, I enjoy that.”
Irvine is very candid about his experience working in American telly.
“It’s a bit of a double-edged sword,” he confides.
“You tend to get paid very, very well but they own you for the time while you’re doing the show; the only jobs I could have taken after it would have been things that had absolutely no options, which rules out a lot of stuff these days.
“I remember even when I did War Horse, they optioned me five sequels, and you go, ‘Well, what are they going to do, ‘War Pony?!’”
As for when he will next be acting, he muses: “I struggle to see how they’re going to shoot anything properly before mid-autumn/Christmas, because there’s just so many people, and it’s such an international industry.
“We’ll see… I’ve read a couple of scripts that I think have been clearly catered for filming in a sort of quarantine environment recently – that makes me nervous.
“I’d rather wait and do something of quality than do something that’s two people do a movie over the phone, those sorts of things. Anything where there’s compromise makes me a bit nervous.”
For now, he’s more than happy being a builder.
“A few of my mates were helping me before, so we might start an actors’ builders service,” he quips.
“We’ll come to renovate your house and then read you some Shakespeare!”
– The Last Full Measure is available on streaming services from Monday June 1.
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