Freaking out

Woman in Black out today: Jeremy Irvine tells us how to scare co-workers crapless
Film+TV | 1 January 2015
Interview James West
Photography Fabien Kruszelnicki.

Jeremy Irvine shot for HERO 11: SHIFT ZERO bY Fabien Kruszelnicki

This past year, Jeremy Irvine has been chugging films out like there’s no tomorrow – today, Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death hits big screens in the UK. Prepare to get the bejesus freaked right outta you. If you’re in the USA you’ll have to wait until a whole extra day (sorry). Not only is the evasive cloaked lady back, lingering down hallways and behind creaky doors, but she’s made it all the way to an England caught in the frenzy of 40s wartime commotion. A host of new characters find themselves in Eel Marsh House, and, like the good woman herself, each has their own tormented past to reckon with.

James West: Hey Jeremy.
Jeremy Irvine: Hi James!

JW: How’s it going? What are you up to today?
JI: I’ve just been taking my little brothers to a fair in Cambridge, I’m driving them home now.

JW: I spoke to you before, I think in March, and you were in Budapest at the time shooting FallenHow did it end up?
JI: Yes, all good – I saw it the other day actually. It’s quite exciting, you can get very ‘teen-y’ with that genre but it’s been done in a way that’s given it kind of the adult treatment. Obviously it’s a young adult subject matter that’s been taken by Scott [Hicks, director] and he’s given a real class to it I think, it’s quite a style piece as well which is cool.

Jeremy Irvine in Woman in Black: Angel of Death

JW: And where have you been since Budapest?
JI: I went straight from Budapest to Montreal to go and do the lead in Roland Emmerich’s last movie all about the Stonewall riots, the gay rights revolution in 1969. So I’m really excited, that should be a good one. For Roland it was a passion project and he’s probably one of the best drama directors I’ve worked with, I think Anonymous is one of the most perfect films and was a big part of me wanting to work with him. I think it’s going to be a very important movie.

JW: There’s a lot of anticipation for it for sure. Isn’t it Montreal that has all the underground shopping centres because it’s so cold?
JI: Montreal does, yeah! Most of Montreal is underground but we were there in summer, which is beautiful. They only really get three months where they can actually… be above ground [laughs]. It’s so funny, everything goes crazy over the summer, it’s a constant music festival vibe. I had a really great time there, amazing food as well. Then I’ve been in LA a bit, because that’s where you have to be, that’s where the work is.

JW: And Woman in Black is out today. You filmed it a while back now, what’s it like to watch it again? Can you see it with fresh eyes, like a regular member of the audience would?
JI: Well… yeah. It’s a funny one that. It takes quite a long time I think, watching yourself is horrible enough. I normally only see my films once or twice if possible. With Woman in Black I had a lot of fun, I went straight into it from quite a tough job, I did this thriller with Michael Douglas called The Reach. But with this we filmed in London, I could sleep in my own bed at night. I mean, Roland offered for me to watch Stonewall about a month ago and I actually said no. It was too soon! I need to forget all of my ideas that I had for it, and then I can watch it again. Ultimately you have these very specific moments that you are very precious about, and a lot of the time bits get cut, or things turn out very differently to how you saw them. It doesn’t mean they’re bad, but because they’re not how you planned, you tend to beat yourself up about it. I’m terrible for kicking myself. The one film I’m probably most proud of so far is The Railway Man and when I first saw that I thought it was the worst thing I’d ever watched myself in. Not the film… but myself in it, I came out of it almost in tears. I said to my agent, “My career’s over, this is it.” Then I saw it with fresh eyes after a bit of time and went, “Oh yeah. Yeah, it’s not so bad.”

JW: You can appreciate why things have been cut together a certain way in retrospect.
JI: Yes. And you can look at what you’re doing and not feel sick!

Jeremy Irvine shot for HERO 11: SHIFT ZERO by Fabien Kruszelnicki, coat by Dior Homme W14; sweater by Neil Barrett FW14

JW: I always picture it like a scab, when a new project comes out and all the memories of bits that didn’t go quite right are fresh in your mind you keep picking at it… you’ve got to let it heal over for at least six months first.
JI: Yeah you’re right, ever since watching The Railway Man I leave it a good year. It takes about a year and a half for films to come out anyway.

JW: I’m interested that you said Woman in Black was fun… I’ve always wondered with scary movies what it’s actually like on set.
JI: I think Phoebe Fox [Irvine’s co-star] would tell you something very different but it was my first experience in working with a lot of kids, there were eight of them… I kind of adopted them as my little minions, and we spent most of the shoot trying to torment Phoebe who admitted that she would scare easily at the beginning of filming. So me and my little street gang would be hiding in cupboards waiting for Phoebe every day. The director was just as bad, Tom [Harper] would actually call rehearsals just so that he could hide in a cupboard and jump out at Phoebe when she arrived. He would literally pull her out of her trailer just to do that.

JW: Are all the jumpy timings done in the edit or is there a lot of work to get it right in camera? Is it creepy at all when you’re filming it?
JI: It’s all in the edit. On set it’s not scary, we filmed in some pretty dark locations though. It wasn’t the first film I shot in London during the winter, so when I got to the costume fitting I made a lot of choices about my character that he would wear the world’s biggest coat, big sweaters… all the warmest clothes. I planned ahead! Whereas Phoebe was in summer dresses.

JW: Bad move.
JI: So I won the costume game and got to ride an amazing motorbike around for days on end. With the kids, I had one magic trick and suddenly I was Gandalf to them for the rest of the shoot.

JW: Did you see the original Woman in Black play?
JI: I did yes. Like a lot of people I studied it at school.

JW: What did you guys do to evolve from the play and the first movie?
JI: I think by not making it a sequel. Whatever it is, there’s something about the whole Woman in Black story which works incredibly well, I think it’s very haunting. Maybe it’s the fact that it’s this female character… maybe it’s the fact that you’re in this house on an island that can only be accessed every twelve hours and then once you’re there you’re trapped. I think Tom was very keen to find the bits that he thought worked well from the play and the first film and then improve on them, so I’m hoping that’s what we’ve done.

Jeremy Irvine on the set of Woman in Black 2: Angel of Death

JW: Why do you think people like being scared? Because it’s actually quite a weird thing to like. Do you like it?
JI: I do! I think it’s something to do with the fact that we know it’s not real, and we know we’re not going to get killed… but it’s like going to a theme park, you get a buzz from it. I love that feeling when you come out of a scary movie and you’re coming off that adrenaline high, it’s exciting. So this movie’s really good fun as well, I wouldn’t say it’s just a thrill-seeker’s film. Two of my favourites are The Sixth Sense and The Others and I’m not a horror fan specifically, but I think those two films had such a class to them. When I first got the script for this I remember thinking that if you took the horror element away, it would stand alone as a drama, it had such incredible character depth, set during a fascinating period of history. It has this wonderful British subtlety, it’s not one of those cheap horror movies which get churned out across the pond with girls in bikinis running into haunted houses.

JW: I love those movies! They’re my favourite.
JI: Ha, I love them too, as much as I tried to convince Phoebe to wear a bikini and run into some sprinklers she wasn’t having it [laughs]. But we know everything about the ghost, it’s not just a ghost for ghost’s sake. We know why she is the way she is, we know what she’s doing what she’s doing, and we can almost feel sympathy for her.

JW: I remember you saying before that you always feel you learn something new with each film. You’ve shot a few more now, so what do you think you’ve picked up recently?
JI: I definitely had an epiphany this year, especially after doing Woman in Black… it’s very easy to forget that what we’re doing as actors is playing make-believe. The hardest part about doing film, and also the best part, is that unlike theatre, there’s no rehearsal. So a lot of it is improvised and you are literally winging it most of the time.

JW: I didn’t realise that, so you don’t rehearse at all?
JI: No I’ve never rehearsed for a film ever. It’s weird. Well I did two hours’ rehearsal one for Stonewall, that was reading something through. But you are literally doing it for the first time, and that’s it, it’s there forever. Whereas with theatre you get to rehearse for six weeks and then try it again each night. But on the other hand with film, if a take’s bad then it gets cut. So I think learning to play and take risks, and have a laugh with it… I remember early on taking things very very seriously and I think that’s a trap you can fall into, getting a little bit wooden. You’re capturing the lightning in a bottle, that little moment that works. If you’re taking risks and having fun then there will probably be that one take where something magical happens.

JW: Final question, are you a New Year’s resolution kinda guy? What do you promise yourself?
JI: I’d say I have a new one each week, which I break! [laughs] I’m terrible, I can get into shape when I have the fear of doing it for a film, but in-between that I’m useless. So it’s the typical fitness thing, but that normally happens every week, I’m like “MONDAY! Monday is when I’m going to start.” And invariably it doesn’t happen. I make excuses for myself, I have a rule – within 24 hours of getting on or off a plane I’m allowed to eat or drink whatever I want.

JW: What kind of rule is that?!
JI: Well… I just feel if you’re jet lagged and you’re tired…

JW: It’s like a treat.
JI: Yeah, you can have whatever you want. But when you’re travelling a lot it applies to most days. And then it was Christmas…

Main image: Jeremy Irvine shot for HERO 11: SHIFT ZERO by Fabien Kruszelnicki, wearing jacket and shirt both by Dior Homme W14.

Fashion images additional credits: flowers by Jam Jar Flowers; grooming Teiji Utsumi using Fudge; photographer’s assistant Thomas Davis; fashion assistants Noa Zarfati and Samia Giobellina


Read Next