Jeremy Irvine’s feature film debut is no slouch: a sprawling, Steven Spielberg directed epic based on a critically acclaimed stage play. In War Horse, which was recently nominated for a Golden Globe in best picture (Drama) and best score, newcomer Jeremy Irvine plays Albert, a teenager living in Devon, England who forms a special connection with a horse named Joey on the eve of World War I. A native Brit, Jeremy Irvine is humorous, self-deprecating, and seemingly unaware that he is about to be thrust into the Hollywood scene, with all its perks and temptations. He speaks openly, honestly, and is refreshingly humble about starring in one of the most anticipated movies of the 2011 holiday season.

Irvine does an admirable job in his first feature portraying Albert, who he defined as having “innocence”, “naivety”, and “a lack of cynicism.” Irvine expressed the challenge of playing the part of a young man coming of age in a rural English village and described Albert as having an, “insular view of the world.” The isolation and starkness of Albert’s upbringing make Joey, the horse, a believable substitute for a real life brother. When World War I breaks out in Europe, Albert’s beloved Joey must be sold as cavalry in order to keep the family afloat financially. Joey is “like a brother” to Albert and the remainder on the film focuses on each of their unique journeys during the war.

Irvine admitted to having very little work prior to War Horse. He joked that his biggest role prior to the film was as a tree in a stage play in his native England. Labeling himself as a “struggling actor”, he and a camera man friend put together a video audition that thoroughly impressed celebrated director Steven Spielberg. The audition led to screen tests, meetings, and eventually landing the plum role of Albert. The actor deemed his “leave no stone unturned” mentality as the reason he got his big break.

Irvine was “shocked” to get the part and overjoyed that such a revered director “would take a risk” on a huge project with an unknown and inexperienced actor. He spoke glowingly of Spielberg’s ability to be “nurturing, patient, and easy to work with.” Irvine delighted in the fact that he could have a “normal conversation” with the larger than life director through the audition process and beyond. Irvine put it best when he revealed that instead of having a chair with “Director” displayed on the back, Spielberg’s chair simply said, “Dad.”

Irvine admitted to not having any experience around horses, “I had to learn everything from scratch.” Given that the chemistry with Joey plays such a crucial role in the film, it was essential that Irvine be a quick study with his new co-star. In order to bring an authentic interpretation to the story and the role of Albert Irvine saw the play version of War Horse in England once and, he emphasized, only once but he admited the play brought him to tears. Bringing additional pressure to his performance, he noted that War Horse is a story “most people know in England.”

With Spielberg he revealed,” there is no rehearsal”; the scenes are shot “spontaneously” and organically just as the real life relationship between Irvine and the horse (or horses) used in the film developed. Irvine said that Spielberg “picks up the truth” in his films. He divulged that no less than fourteen horses were used to showcase different parts of “Joey”, but that one main horse was used for much of the emotionally charged scenes between Albert and the animal. The film goer senses the deep connection that Irvine created with the horse, and that relationship contributed to the heartfelt core of the film. Irvine described the scenes with the horses that stand in as Joey by stating, “You genuinely feel like you’re acting with them.”

“I never thought I was carrying the movie” mentioned Irvine when questioned about shouldering the main character in a Spielberg film. Indeed, Irvine correctly disputed that belief as War Horse is chock full of respected British actors such as Emily Watson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tom Hiddleston, David Thewlis, and Peter Mullan. The film is an ensemble piece that showcases several actors’ abilities and talents and he described the set as “a family atmosphere.”

Even though Irvine admitted to being a huge fan of Spielberg, fantasizing about being in a movie like the director’s unforgettable Saving Private Ryan, he found Spielberg to be “approachable, lovely, and kind.” In a moment of glee he exclaimed, “What young boy doesn’t dream of being in a Spielberg war film?” Despite the hype swirling around War Horse, Irvine asserted that he was “never worried to make a mistake” or even have a few laughs and pranks on the set. One such prank involved Irvine and another actor in the cast passing on some revisions to the script. The revisions made their way into the hands of Spielberg and he took it well; all in good fun.

Irvine said his “biggest challenge was getting used to acting in front of a camera.” The lights, makeup, sound and other distractions made it difficult for Irvine to focus. However, once the red light was on, so to speak, all the noise around him faded and it was just him, Steven, and the camera. According to Irvine, “Spielberg took me under his wing” during his learning process. Irvine also found it difficult to be in “a heightened emotional state all day” while filming some of the more heart wrenching scenes. As Irvine does more films, he says, this aspect of the job will surely become more normal to him.

What’s up next for this up and coming star? He just completed film with rising starlet Dakota Fanning, Now is Good about a girl dying of cancer, is currently filming a BBC adaptation of Great Expectations playing the protagonist Pip, and will soon begin production on a film in which he plays the younger version of Colin Firth’s character, The Railway Man, a World War II romp. The Railway Man also boasts another Hollywood heavyweight Rachel Weisz. It’s clear to me that Irvine’s path to a bright career in Hollywood is not only possible, but probable. The buzz surrounding War Horse and his performance certainly won’t hurt.