'War Horse's' Jeremy Irvine: What's Next for the Actor?

Jeremy Irvine War Horse red carpet - P 2011
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Jeremy Irvine War Horse red carpet - P 2011

With the galloping success of the Steven Spielberg epic, the British import is poised to break out in a big way.

War Horse's Jeremy Irvine is going from obscure actor to Hollywood star as the WWI drama continues to make good at the holiday box office.

The Steven Spielberg-directed, Disney-distributed epic premiered Christmas Day to a commendable $7.5. million, making it third in ticket sales behind Paramount's Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol and Warner Bros.' Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows. (The critical reviews were largely positive.) In the film, Irvine portrays Albert Narracott, a young Englishman who joins the army in search of his horse (and best friend), who had been auctioned off into battle.

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"I looked for months and months. I was running out of hope, then Jeremy Irvine came in toward the last third of the casting process," Spielberg told The Hollywood Reporter in a recent interview.

Setting Irvine back: The 21-year-old, a student at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art, lacked enough acting experience for the role. (His biggest role at the time: playing a tree in the chorus of the Royal Shakespeare Company.) "I had a couple of months of going in to audition two or three times a week, sometimes doing videotape and knowing it would be shown to Steven," Irvine told THR. "It was quite intense."

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Irvine, who auditioned six times before winning the role, waited weeks following his first audition to hear back. "I got a call at about 8 p.m. or 9 p.m., saying, 'Can you meet Steven for tea in a hotel in London tomorrow morning?' I did what any actor would do: I freaked out," he recalled.

Spielberg, who helped launch the big breaks of Drew Barrymore and Christian Bale, has proved yet again to have the magic touch when it comes to turning unknowns into bigger stars. Irvine -- possibly by dint of association with the filmmaker, or sheer raw talent, or both -- was recently cast as a young Colin Firth in The Railway Man, a drama to be directed by Jonathan Teplitzky and based on a memoir by Eric Lomax that chronicles his experience working on Japan's Death Railway during World War II (and falling in love).

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In another meaty role, the newcomer was tapped to portray Pip in David Nicholls’ big-screen adaptation of Charles Dickens’ classic Great Expectations, directed by Mike Newell and co-starring Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham Carter. He also has completed Now Is Good opposite Dakota Fanning, Paddy Considine and Olivia Williams.

"Great Expectations is one of the greatest stories. It's really easy to fall into the trap of doing a Dickens film that's all fun and jokey," Irvine told New York magazine. "This isn't that. This is a heartfelt, violent, dark adaptation. I mean, Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham? I've got great expectations for it."