Harry Styles on Dunkirk From stage to screen:

For­mer One Di­rec­tion singer Harry Styles has dis­pensed with his boy­band heart­throb sta­tus to play a reg­u­lar sol­dier in Christo­pher Nolan’s WW2 drama, Dunkirk, says

Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Inside - Shilpa Gana­tra

THE first time Harry Styles ap­pears on the windswept, grey beaches of Christo­pher Nolan’s film, Dunkirk, you’d be for­given for do­ing a dou­ble-take. Yes, it is the for­mer boy­band heart­throb, only this time his fa­mous good looks have been scrubbed off him in favour of WWII grit­ti­ness. In Dunkirk, his cus­tom­ary po­si­tion cen­tre-stage has been ‘cast off’ in an en­sem­ble of heavy­hit­ters (Tom Hardy, Mark Ry­lance, Cil­lian Mur­phy) and promis­ing new­com­ers (Fionn White­head, Barry Keoghan).

That’s prob­a­bly the point for Styles. In the 18 months since One Di­rec­tion split, Harry has stri­dently moved on from the fresh-faced, teenage im­age of yore. His solo al­bum, re­leased in May, showed a ma­tu­rity that elicited a grum­ble of “fair play” at worst, and this weighty role is some start to a bud­ding film ca­reer. It’s a clear sig­nal to those who might have con­sid­ered him for, say, Pitch Per­fect 3’s self­ef­fac­ing Bri­tish love in­ter­est, that he’s ca­pa­ble of so much more.

But ask him why he picked this project, and he gen­tly in­sists that he wasn’t look­ing for a part that repo­si­tioned him.

“I’m such a mas­sive fan of Christo­pher Nolan’s that when I heard about him mak­ing this film, I re­ally wanted to get in­volved. I didn’t think too much about it be­ing dif­fer­ent from me,” the 23-year-old says, in a slight Cheshire droll. “But it does feel the op­po­site to mu­sic. In mu­sic, you’re try­ing to put so much of your­self in it, and, with this, you’re try­ing to re­move ev­ery­thing of your­self.”

We meet in a ho­tel the day af­ter Dunkirk’s Lon­don pre­miere, and, given the pos­i­tive re­views, it’s no sur­prise he’s in good spir­its. Crack­ing the odd joke, not an air or grace on him, the only sign of fame is in his at­tire: around th­ese parts, not many can get away with wear­ing a baker boy hat and a half-but­toned shirt that ex­poses a low-dan­gling cru­ci­fix.

How was it, I ask, to go from top of his game in mu­sic to novice in the film in­dus­try?

“Re­ally fun. Ev­ery­one who was on it was so amaz­ing at what they do, and be­ing around pas­sion­ate peo­ple is a priv­i­lege,” he says. “You want to soak up as much as you can and use it as a learn­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.

“In terms of be­ing out of my com­fort zone, you have to do new things and not get com­fort­able. I mean, you can if you want, but it can get bor­ing — not bor­ing, sorry, mu­sic isn’t bor­ing, that’s not what I meant — but it’s im­por­tant to chal­lenge your­self all the time.”

In­deed, that was the premise be­hind One Di­rec­tion’s

split. Rather than run the band into the ground, they left on a high (all five al­bums reached num­ber one in Ire­land) and ven­tured for­ward to pur­sue their own pas­sions. Zayn Ma­lik, the first to go, is now a Vogue cover star with girl­friend, Gigi Ha­did. Liam has be­come a dad with Ch­eryl Cole, and Louis Tom­lin­son is pur­su­ing both an in­dus­try and solo ca­reer, hav­ing just signed to Epic Records. Our own Niall Ho­ran has rein­vented him­self as a singer song­writer, leav­ing Harry as the only mem­ber to ven­ture into act­ing.

There’s no deny­ing Styles’ ap­pear­ance in Dunkirk helps its pub­lic­ity, though he au­di­tioned like ev­ery­one else (“I pre­pared a mono­logue from Legally Blonde. I do a good Reese Wither­spoon”) and he sug­gests it was the need for a rake of young ac­tors that was more in­flu­en­tial in land­ing him the part than his name.

Ask Christo­pher Nolan, and he in­sists that the cast­ing was merit-based. “I’m well-used to deal­ing with fa­mous peo­ple. That’s what I’ve been do­ing for 20 years,” he says later. “My job as a di­rec­tor is just to see po­ten­tial. In this case, for me, Harry fit the part per­fectly. I’m very ex­cited to see what

he’s done with it. I think it’s a great per­for­mance.”

Writ­ten and di­rected by Nolan, the pas­sion project weaves to­gether three grip­ping sto­ries of the ef­fort to evac­u­ate Bri­tish forces sur­rounded in Dunkirk, France, as the coun­try falls to Nazi Ger­many. Tom Hardy pro­tects the skies, Mark Ry­lance nav­i­gates his civil­ian boat, and Harry is one of the 400,000 young sol­diers trapped on the beaches, just 26 miles from home.

“I love the way that it’s so in­ti­mate and fo­cuses on the hu­man as­pect of the op­er­a­tion,” Harry says. “When you learn about war as a child, at school, a lot is about num­bers of how many peo­ple died, and, in this case, how many peo­ple got home. But this film looks at ev­ery one of those num­bers as a hu­man rather than a statis­tic, which is in­cred­i­bly im­por­tant to re­mem­ber.”

Of course, it’s a lucky ac­tor whose first film is with Christo­pher Nolan, a Mi­das­touch di­rec­tor who built his com­mer­cially and crit­i­cally suc­cess­ful ca­reer on fan­tas­ti­cal films like The Dark Knight Tril­ogy and In­cep­tion.

“On set, I was very much in awe of him,” says Harry. “He’s very much the con­duc­tor, but he knows how to play ev­ery in­stru­ment. It’s easy to trust some­one like that.

“The first day I was on set, he told me that my laces were tied wrong; the Bri­tish laced them a dif­fer­ent way. He’s amaz­ing. I think that’s why he doesn’t churn out films ev­ery year; he wants to do it jus­tice. Es­pe­cially with this be­ing an im­por­tant event, he wanted to re­ally nail it.”

If the devil is the de­tail, the movie skil­fully em­ploys a num­ber of tac­tics to en­sure the ten­sion is re­lent­less. It’s filmed with a com­bi­na­tion of IMAX and 65mm

film, invit­ing an all-en­com­pass­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, and Hans Zim­mer’s ur­gent sound­track only adds to the drama.

“I can’t say I’ve ever been af­fected by a score as much as this one,” says Harry. “It’s dif­fi­cult to match the emo­tion of the movie with the mu­sic, but Hans has done it. It keeps you wired in. It gets you as much as the movie does.”

The viewer feels as if they were there. And see­ing the choices made by all the play­ers in the film, it begs the ques­tion of how we might act in their place.

“It’s so im­pos­si­ble to put your­self in that sit­u­a­tion,” Harry says. “Ev­ery­one has an idea of what they think they might be like, and maybe what they hope they would be like, but I don’t know if you could ever have your be­ing stripped away more than that. I think ev­ery­one was very aware of that, when we were film­ing.

“As much as you can’t get there emo­tion­ally with­out hav­ing gone through it, we were lucky that Chris was able to cre­ate the phys­i­cal world around us,” he adds, re­fer­ring to Nolan’s pref­er­ence for real-life sets over CGI.

“Imag­in­ing be­ing in that sit­u­a­tion is hard enough, so not hav­ing to imag­ine lots of things fly­ing around is a gift from him.”

All the signs point to a promis­ing Hol­ly­wood ca­reer for Harry, if he wants it. But it turns out that he’s not par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in one.

“I haven’t re­ally thought about it too much, to be hon­est,” he says, with a shrug. “I was lucky to be in­volved with this one and I loved it. I’d ab­so­lutely do this one again. But, af­ter this, I don’t know, re­ally.”

No mat­ter. Even if he never steps foot on a film set again, Dunkirk has proved a piv­otal move in his ca­reer: it should make crit­ics hes­i­tant about doubt­ing his abil­i­ties again, be­cause he’s a man of many tal­ents.

“This

film looks at ev­ery one of those num­bers (who died) as a hu­man rather than a statis­tic

For­mer One Di­rec­tion singer, Harry Styles, in WW2 drama, Dunkirk, his act­ing de­but.

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