Young, Rich and Out of Control” declared the promo for a 1987 US mini-series starring Judd Nelson. The plot was pure Hollywood: a group of wealthy young men in Los Angeles established an exclusive syndicate – part investment corporation, part private social club – and lived the high life until some of their members were arrested in connection with the murders of a conman and a former Iranian government official. But this cautionary tale of the greed and lack of personal responsibility in the decade of excess is not the result of a scriptwriter’s commission, but a true story, and one that is about to be played out again in the 2016 big screen remake of Billionaire Boys Club.

“It’s a brilliant story,” says British actor and unofficial Chopard ambassador Jeremy Irvine. “And Judd Nelson, who played the Billionaire Boys Club leader Joe Hunt in 1987, came back to play Joe’s dad. I play a character called Kyle Biltmore, although this was not his real name. Kyle and his brother Scott were brought into the club by Joe and his second-in-command Dean Karny. Together they were the party boy rockstars of LA – they bought nightclubs, took copious amounts of cocaine and partied all night and all day. They basically slept their way around 1980s LA.

“It was great fun to be involved in the film and I basically rock up throughout to snort coke and party. The director sent me a Spotify playlist of the music he felt Kyle would be listening to – lots of aggressive post-punk stuff. The costumes were brilliant – amboyant, neon pink shirts with leather jackets. The Biltmores typify excess and sociopathic behaviour – they would buy a Porsche 911, smash it up and think, ‘Fuck it!’ then throw the keys in a ditch and walk away to buy another one. It’s nice to have a role like this. I’ve played some pretty unhappy characters so it’s great to just have a blast for a few months.”

HOLLYWOOD ROYALTY

If being Kyle Biltmore involved playing a role of excess and glamour, Irvine’s character Ben in 2014’s Beyond The Reach was the polar opposite. Described by Irvine as a “fun but odd film”, this was his first chance to perfect the American accent that he needed for Billionaire Boys Club. For almost the entirety of the movie, the only two people on screen are Irvine and his co-star Michael Douglas. Douglas plays an unscrupulous businessman John Madec with a compulsion to bag himself the hunter’s ultimate trophy: the elusive Bighorn sheep. After hiring guide Ben to take him into the Mojave Desert, an accidental shooting completely changes the game and Ben becomes Madec’s new prey.

“Michael Douglas was fantastic,” says Irvine. “I was asked to fly out and see him in New York and to audition with him. I turned up at his house at 10am and knocked on the door and he answered. It was slightly terrifying meeting him but, like most people with impressive careers, he is just very good at what he does and very normal to work with – at least once I got past the ‘Oh my God, it’s Michael Douglas’ phase. Michael is close to being a workaholic – he was producing the movie and working on other stuff at the same time. While we were filming in the middle of nowhere, he had to fly out for an awards ceremony and when he came back, he had his Emmy [for HBO-funded Behind the Candelabra] in the boot of his car.”

Spending most of the movie naked, save for his modesty-sparing boxer shorts, Beyond the Reach apparently opened up a whole new fan base for Irvine. “Michael was a jammy bastard – he was the one in the Mercedes-Benz G63 AMG 6×6 with the air conditioning, cocktail bar and coffee machine, while I was out in the desert in my pants. It’s funny, it has become a bit of a cult lm in the gay community now. My next film after that one was Stonewall, a portrayal of the riots that erupted in Greenwich Village in 1969 leading to the formation of the gay liberation movement in the US. A lot of people involved with the film commented that they had first seen me in Beyond the Reach.”

A FLYING START

Enjoying huge success now, Irvine was just 19 when he first found fame in the role of Albert Narracott in War Horse. “I was really green,” he confesses. “I had been working in theatre, which is all I ever really expected to do. I had never learned how to act for camera before War Horse so my whole learning process was done in front of Steven Spielberg. It’s a wonderful experience to jump straight in but for me it meant making my mistakes in front of one of the greatest living directors.”

Irvine is keen to point out how hard he had to fight for the role that launched his career. “I auditioned solidly for a couple of months and I totally understand why. It was a huge risk to take on an unknown. A feature film that lasts for an hour-and- a-half can cost hundreds of millions of dollars. It’s mad. So for Steven to take a risk on someone who had no screen experience, he needed to be pretty sure I could do it. I was really put through the ringer, I have never auditioned for something so hard.

“Steven is lovely, very paternal and family oriented – he even has ‘DAD’ written on the back of his chair rather than ‘DIRECTOR’. He’d come into my trailer in the morning and we’d talk about what we were going to do. He was very caring, which was important because I could have easily freaked out. I never once saw Steven get upset and there was no screaming and shouting because he doesn’t need to – everyone trusts his judgment implicitly.”

And Spielberg was not the only bond Irvine made on the set of War Horse. Although he had not met any of his fellow actors before, he was a huge fan of both Tom Hiddleston and Benedict Cumberbatch – mostly through their work in theatre – and since lming, Robert Emms, who played Albert in the original stage version of War Horse, has become a close friend.

“The great thing about a war movie is it’s like a big boys’ holiday,” Irvine explains. “You have to forge relationships very quickly because you are working so closely with each other. You meet someone for the first time, be it actor or actress, and soon you have to do something that inevitably feels embarrassing or silly. I met Tom Hiddleston and within a couple of days had to play the scene where Tom takes the horse from me. I had to cry in front of him and to keep that vulnerability, that emotional peak, for a whole day, you have to feel comfortable around your colleagues. It’s almost part of the job to make sure that you are forming these bonds off set because you have to be able to trust someone fully.”

MOVIES AND METHOD

Does that make Irvine a method actor? “Listen,” he laughs, “that is something people have said about me but I’m not even sure what it means. It stemmed from my weight loss in the film The Railway Man but that was necessary for the role as I was playing a prisoner of war working on the Burma-Siam railway. Basically everyone has his or her own method. The idea of staying in character all the time for a First World War movie is nuts to me. What happens when your mum phones you? Do you pretend to not know what the phone is? It’s just ridiculous.

“Of course you stay in character when you need to. Crying was drilled into me at drama school – if it’s fake people know so it has to be real in that moment. People have to believe it. I’m an animal person but I’ve never had a horse taken from me so I had to think that the horse was like Albert’s brother, so how would I feel if someone was taking away one of my brothers?”

All perfectly sensible, but what if you are acting out something that you cannot relate to? “When it came to waterboarding in The Railway Man we had to do it for real. We tried all these ways to fake it, but none of them worked so we had to do it. We only did it in very short bursts and obviously I could stop whenever I wanted so it was never comparable to genuine torture but it was close enough for me. I know other actors who can just learn their lines the night before and deliver an amazing performance by just putting on their character – Harrison Ford, for example, says that’s how he works. Everyone is different. Maybe I’m just not good enough to do that.”

One can only imagine that Irvine is being overly modest when he talks about not being good enough. At just 26, he already has an impressive list of films and co-stars to his name – Michael Douglas, Kevin Spacey, Colin Firth, Ralph Fiennes, Helena Bonham Carter – and the list goes on. But what led this unassuming guy from rural Cambridgeshire into an actor’s life? “I think I was looking for something to be rebellious with,” he says. “I went to a school that was quite laddish and I originally wanted to go into the military. I tried, but was rejected because I am diabetic. I tried to lie but they found out very quickly.

“I had a drama teacher at school who went to LAMDA [London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art] and he made out that it was like boot-camp, with 3,000 people applying for every place and where you got the shit beaten out of you for three years. That appealed to me because it was a challenge. I also thought it would piss off my parents. I got into it to be contrary but then I fell in love with it. Acting has a reputation for being full of prima donnas, but in my experience there’s certainly no more arseholes in the profession than in any other. You always know how easily it can all be taken away from you and having that in the back of your mind it’s a bit difficult to get too carried away.”

LIVING THE LIFE

According to Irvine there is a huge gap between how people perceive celebrities and reality. As an example he cites Bonham Carter, who he worked with on Mike Newell’s 2012 version of Great Expectations. “Ralph Fiennes was also in the movie and it was the first time I had worked with such established actors,” he says. “Helena showed up at the first day rehearsal with pages and pages of notes and ideas on her character. There I was, terrified that these people would be so far beyond me, but this made me realise that they feel the same nerves and desire to do a good job as I do. I think sometimes the opinion outside the industry is that screen fame is like suddenly winning The X Factor, when it’s actually the fact that most people are where they are because they have worked harder than anyone else and sacrificed a lot.”

Irvine believes that, on the whole, working actors appreciate their luck and he, for one, embraces the experiences that his job has provided, like learning to shoot, ride and rock climb. “On War Horse I learnt to ride quite proficiently. I went the other day for the first time in ages and I couldn’t walk upstairs afterwards,” he laughs.

“Sometimes you have to remind yourself how lucky you are. Press junkets can be hard and I do hear complaints from young actors about the hours, but you know, I used to work in the Co-op and I certainly didn’t get treated as well as I do on a promo tour. About two years ago, I shot five movies back-to-back. I didn’t go home in about a year and I lost the love a little. I started to get jaded and I was missing my family, but then I had six months where I didn’t work and after two weeks I was champing at the bit. Now and again you need a gentle reminder that people would kill to be in your position.”

During the promo tour of War Horse, Irvine remembers doing up to 100 interviews a day, all adding to this “jaded” outlook but, he recalls, the cynicism quickly turned to healthy fear when it came to following up his first big role. Worried that people would think he hadn’t put in the groundwork, he strategically turned down the big studio movies that inevitably follow a blockbuster, instead choosing ones that he thought were grittier and would show a better range of character.

“It’s such a high turnaround in our industry and everyone’s looking to the next big thing,” he says. “You’re hot in film for about five minutes after your big movie comes out. One week you’re on the Top 10 upcoming actors list and the following week it’s a totally different line-up. It’s incredibly fickle”.

TIME FOR ACTION

For Irvine, watches are an important part of getting into character. In Beyond The Reach, he was appropriately kitted out with a Casio Pro Trek – the perfect timepiece for any hunting guide. For The Railway Man, he wore a Bulova re-issue of an officer’s watch – one he fell so deeply in love with that he took it with him after filming. For Billionaire Boys Club, the watches were as bling as they could possibly be, with Rolexes aplenty.

In his personal life Irvine is equally concerned with the way his timepiece looks. He describes his personal style as “casual”, saying he always knew a job where a suit was part of the daily uniform was not for him. “I like comfortable and I like black. If I find something that suits me, I tend to buy five and rotate them. I don’t like sparkly and flashy, nothing too showy. Whenever I look back at old photos where I thought I looked great, I cringe because I’m trying too hard – I think that’s a guy thing. I am just too messy to look smart every day – I’d spill food down myself but, if I stay black, it hides the ketchup stains.

“I do love watches though. My special one is my Chopard L.U.C XPS. I love it and I save it for really special occasions. It’s my pride and joy. I do like to get dressed up for big events and watches for me are a night-out thing. I don’t want to ding them by wearing them to mess about in. There’s something so beautiful about a watch being the sole piece of jewellery on a man and for me Chopard is just cool without being too try-hard. I love the men’s pieces – they are classic, effortless and cool in a timeless way. I’ve been told L.U.C is a brand for the connoisseur – a piece you wouldn’t necessarily recognise unless you knew. That’s why I love it. My dad is an engineer so I’ve always had an eye for well-made, precision engineering. It’s in the blood.”

Irvine’s first connection with Chopard was being presented with the Trophée Chopard in 2013 – an award given to two up-and-coming actors chosen by a jury of film professionals during the Cannes Film Festival. Although not an official ambassador, he has become a close friend and advocate for the brand. “Chopard has been incredibly supportive – I was just starting out when they took me to Cannes. It was my first award and it was amazing to be presented with the L.U.C, too. I have seen some films of the manufacture and I’d love to go. I’m not sure they should let me anywhere near the workbench though. My dad tried to teach me how to weld once when I was between jobs and, if I am as bad at watchmaking as I was at that, I’ve got no chance. I should definitely stick to prancing around on stage.”

The night that Irvine was awarded his Trophée Chopard in 2013 is one he says he will never forget. The trophy was presented by Colin Firth, who Irvine was soon to work with on The Railway Man and was to become something of a mentor to the young actor. “Colin and I share a publicist and an agent and I’d met him once before,” says Irvine with a guilty look. “My agent Jess had said, ‘Would you like to meet Colin Firth, he’s having a birthday party?’ I was a huge fan so said I’d love to but I didn’t know him at all. She said: ‘Just come along,it’ll be great.’

 

“So I rocked up to his house, knocked on the door and Colin opened it with a confused look. I said: ‘Hi, I’m Jeremy, Jess invited me.’ He said: ‘OK, well I’ll make another space at the table.’ There were six people there – his family and two friends. I felt so awkward but I think he was just messing with me. It turns out they were in the process of casting The Railway Man and that night he phoned the director and said I might be suitable for a part.”

CARRY THE CANNES

For Irvine, the award in Cannes was a night he will never forget. “It was a huge deal,” he says. “Instead off flying down, I got all of my mates in the back of the car and we set off on a road trip– I had them all sleeping in my hotel room on the foor. There was a great party for me and Blanca Suárez [the Spanish actress and Irvine’s co-winner] and we were all wearing very expensive, loaned Chopard watches and jewellery. Cara Delevingne and I decided to go off on a boat and the next minute security pounced on us and took our jewels away. I think that was a sign that we were not to be trusted – and also an indicator of what a good party it was.

“I went again last year for the 15th anniversary. It is the definition of glamour, the dream of the film industry. I used to be nervous of red carpets but Colin Firth’s advice to me was to have a ball and not get too weary. That’s the problem – there are amazing highs, being own flown first class around the world meeting your heroes, but there’s a British tendency towards cynicism. If you’re not enjoying it, it is such a waste. This life may only last a few years so I make sure I have a blast – I always take my friends, or my mum, and I treat it like a party.”

On the subject of what comes next, Irvine is thoughtful: “I had a small part in Jack Whitehall’s The Bad Education Movie last year and I’d love to do some more comedy. I also like the historical stuff – with The Railway Man, I got to go out to the Death Railway and to actually clear a section. I like the research side and I like playing real people but it’s also a huge responsibility. I really felt this with Billionaire Boys Club because the people we are playing are still out there and we are showing a warts-and-all version of them.

“It was actually quite fun – all the things your conscience doesn’t allow in real life, you can do in film. With Billionaire Boys Club we broke a record for damages – all in character, of course. I jumped on a table in one house we had rented with disastrous consequences. Then, at a dinner two weeks later with a producer, he dropped into the conversation: ‘Yeah, you guys filmed in my house and broke my $50,000 marble table.’”

Luckily the table incident was not the end of Irvine’s Hollywood dreams and after final reshoots for Billionaire Boys Club in September, the long awaited movie, which also stars Kevin Spacey and young Welsh acting sensation Taron Egerton, will hit cinemas later this year. This will be closely followed in early 2017 with The Beautiful Fantastic, co-starring Jessica Brown Findlay and Andrew Scott (Moriarty in Sherlock), after which Irvine is hoping to return to the theatre. Although judging by the demand for his work and his impending hot date at a watchmaker’s bench in Fleurier, Revolution wonders if the London stage will have to wait a little longer.

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