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'What I do for a living isn't work ... it's a game' says actor Jeremy Irvine

He may joke about his job, but the rising star knows from personal experience just how hard it is to get ahead in the movie business.

By Julia Molony

Jeremy Irvine's looks could easily have been a liability to his career. You can imagine an agent trying to sell him to Hollywood as a cross between a young Hugh Grant and Ryan Phillippe - a well-brought up British boy with a male-model pout, and thus tossing him into a life of playing doe-eyed romantic leads.

But though he's only 24, he seems already dead-set on sidestepping that fate. Sure, in his role in the sequel, Woman in Black, Angel Of Death he appears initially to play to type as a dashing, self-satisfied motorcycle-riding fighter pilot. But it's a gothic-horror movie, so, as you would expect, that facade soon comes crashing down. And before that, he was last seen on big screens in The Railway Man, with Colin Firth, playing a real-life prisoner of war, for which he lost a lot of weight and even submitted to water-boarding.

"I've always worried about when people say you did the water-boarding for real, I've always thought, 'Oh God, how pretentious does that sound? But then, I was literally clutching at straws, how could I possibly imagine what it was like to be tortured? I couldn't. So doing all of that stuff was me literally trying to find little glimpses of what it might have been like."

Jeremy has five films coming out this year, but says that he still feels embarrassed calling what he does work. "If I'm out with my friends in the evening and I say "I've got to go, I'm getting up early to go to work - well it's not really work, yet …. it's still just a big game really." And yet the rigour he brings to the game hints at a type A personality. When required to bulk up when playing in The Reach opposite Michael Douglas recently, he spent hours in the gym every day and woke up at 5am to guzzle egg whites. "I'm basically in my underwear for the entire movie," he says. "The French director kept phoning me up and going, "Jeremy, you know, we must have ze abs."

For the film he spent a lot of time in the New Mexico desert with Douglas.

"We spent every evening in the bar together having a laugh. "You learn so much from people like that."

But preparing to show off his abs on film proved even harder than preparing to play a prisoner of war, because he'd destroyed so much of his muscle mass during his starvation diet for The Railway Man and it was a painstaking process to rebuild them. Surely as a diabetic, going to such extremes is seriously risky to his health? "I'm always sensible," he insists, before admitting, "Look, it's not healthy to go that thin for anyone. I was not particularly well doing it - I would injure myself a lot. When we finished shooting I was wheeled onto the aeroplane in a wheelchair. I'd torn my knee or something, because I had no muscle. Going out for a jog down the beach I ended up in hospital."

The physical rigours of working are nothing to the trials of being out of work. By the time he got his big break in the film adaptation of War Horse, for which he was hand-picked by Steven Speilberg, he hadn't had any work for about two or three years. "Apart from a very small role in a theatre show ... It was really tough," he says. "I definitely hit some new lows during those two years ... you just think that you've wasted the last five years of your life. And I was one of the lucky ones, I was only two years of no work. A lot of people go even longer than that."

The Woman In Black, Angel of Death is in cinemas now

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