BRIGHT FU­TURE

Esquire (UK) - - Contents - Pho­to­graphs by An­ton Cor­bijn Fash­ion by Cather­ine Hay­ward

In­tro­duc­ing a man to watch for the next quar­ter cen­tury, Brit ac­tor Joe Al­wyn, star of Ang Lee’s up­com­ing Iraq War epic

In an is­sue ded­i­cated to con­sid­er­a­tions of the past, a new name to look out for: 25-year-old Brit Joe Al­wyn is about to be very fa­mous in­deed as the star of Ang Lee’s Billy Lynn’s Long Half­time Walk, an adap­ta­tion of the ac­claimed novel set dur­ing the Iraq War

In the spring of 2015, Joe Al­wyn was a drama stu­dent in Lon­don. He’d just signed with an agent, who sug­gested he au­di­tion for the di­rec­tor Ang Lee’s new film. (Lee is the man, in case you didn’t know, be­hind Crouch­ing Tiger, Hid­den Dragon (2000) and Broke­back Moun­tain (2005), among other Os­car-win­ners.)

“I got my dad to tape some [au­di­tion] scenes in my room,” re­mem­bers the 25-yearold, “and asked some friends to tape me in my lunch break at drama school, and I sent the tapes to Amer­ica.” Two days later, he was on a plane to New York to read in per­son for Lee and the cast­ing di­rec­tor for Lee’s next project, an adap­ta­tion of the best US novel so far to come out of the Iraq War, Ben Foun­tain’s crit­i­cally revered Billy Lynn’s Long Half­time Walk. Al­wyn was au­di­tion­ing for the part of Billy.

Lee and the cast­ing di­rec­tor kept Al­wyn in New York, ask­ing him to try dif­fer­ent scenes, then took him to At­lanta to read more in make-up and cos­tume in front of the 3D cam­eras to be used for the film proper, then even­tu­ally — per­haps sym­pa­thet­i­cally — put him on a plane back to Lon­don. In bed the next night, he got an­other call telling him the part was his. Four days later he dropped out of drama school. Ac­cord­ing to Al­wyn, it was “a very strange week”, an un­der­state­ment that per­fectly re­flects his unas­sum­ing de­meanour.

It isn’t of­ten one gets to meet some­one in the days be­fore they go from reg­u­lar per­son to in­ter­na­tional star. Joe Al­wyn is about to be ev­ery­where, and yet no one’s ever heard of him. (Also in Billy Lynn: Kris­ten Ste­wart, Chris Tucker, Vin Diesel and Steve Mar­tin.) Al­wyn grew up in north Lon­don with a film­maker fa­ther and psy­chother­a­pist mother, and never re­ally ex­hib­ited a de­sire to act at first. “I was never the loud kid, the pre­co­cious kid,” he says. “In my mind, the idea of an ac­tor was one of those peo­ple who put them­selves out there all the time. I was, and am, more in­tro­verted, I guess.”

How­ever, the de­sire soon grew through­out his ed­u­ca­tion. He acted when­ever he could at school and, in ad­di­tion to English lit­er­a­ture, stud­ied drama at Bris­tol Univer­sity, tak­ing nu­mer­ous pro­duc­tions to Ed­in­burgh as an un­der­grad­u­ate. The dra­matic ca­reer be­gan in earnest at the Royal Cen­tral School of Speech and Drama, but when he sent those tapes to Ang Lee in the States, he was still very much an un­known quan­tity.

It’s this raw­ness that may have given Al­wyn the edge for the role of Billy Lynn. The film tells the story of a teenage sol­dier who comes home a hero af­ter a par­tic­u­larly grisly bat­tle in Iraq, and is pre­sented to Amer­ica on a tour cul­mi­nat­ing in an ex­trav­a­gant half­time live show at a Thanks­giv­ing Day foot­ball game. It’s the story of a young man — a boy, re­ally — thrown into a world he doesn’t yet un­der­stand and then pre­sented on a pedestal to the world: par­al­lels with Al­wyn’s own story are ob­vi­ous.

“There’s an echo [be­tween his and Billy’s stories], and I was aware of that. Ang likes his ac­tors to be raw. They’re un­formed and have no habits in front of the cam­era. You’re just try­ing to be truth­ful to the sit­u­a­tion, rather than hav­ing any knowl­edge of how a film set works, and you have no bar­ri­ers up,” he says.

In the movie, when the daz­zle of the sta­dium py­ros have faded, Billy goes back to re­al­ity. Joe Al­wyn’s time in the lime­light is just be­gin­ning. We’ll next see him in a BBC pro­duc­tion of Ju­lian Barnes’ Booker Prize-win­ning novel The Sense of an End­ing star­ring along­side Jim Broad­bent, Charlotte Ram­pling and Emily Mor­timer. Be­yond that, he doesn’t know, but Al­wyn isn’t fazed ei­ther way: “Peo­ple who I don’t know so well ex­pect things to have changed a lot, like some­thing huge has shifted in me. And I don’t feel that at all.”

Billy Lynn’s Long Half­time Walk is in cin­e­mas on 6 Jan­uary 2017

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