Interview: The Woman In Black Star Jeremy Irvine

I interviewed Tom Hopper recently, and he mentioned you had a passion for planes, can you tell me about that?
It’s part of my secret nerdy side, but its good when you can combine your hobby and your job. I got to write my backstory for my character, Harry Burnstow, which Tom asked me to do, and we incorporated that into the film. It was a collaborative process with Phoebe [Fox] as well, and also a great chance to go down to the Imperial War Museum (which is something I do a lot), and come up with a story with Harry.
The film is clearly informed by your knowledge, with the dummy airfields…
It was something that they did a lot before D-Day, where they had inflatable tanks, and these fake air towers, which is fascinating.
What else, other than your love of planes, interested you in the project? 
I read the script and I phoned up my agent and said to him that I felt that if you were to take the horror out of this script and made it a drama then you would still have these incredible characters that make for a great story, who are haunted by their own ghosts. I felt that the story has a real class about it and is a true British drama.
This is, of course, a sequel, but it makes a sterling effort to try and avoid the pitfalls of being a follow-up movie. Do you feel the same?
The only character that comes back is the Woman In Black, and so I believe this stands alone as a film in its own right.
Being a horror film, was there a spooky atmosphere on set? 
Phoebe says there was, but I was having the time of my life on this film. I had a great time with all the kids in the film, where we made our own little gang making Phoebe’s life hell by hiding in cupboards and then jumping out at her. I was having a blast with my little minions.
Can you tell me what Oaklee Pendergast, who plays the young boy Edward, was like to work with? 
He was just so different, and very different in real life to his character – he is more like a little London geezer. We had really good fun on set and working together.
And how did you find working with Phoebe?
She is a phenomenal actor. Funnily enough, she is a very similar actor to Helen McCrory because both are very strong women that have this incredible emotional reservoir. I remember doing these scenes with Phoebe where she goes on about her past, and she is sobbing, and each take was the same level of emotional intensity, even when the camera was on me she was still giving it her all, and it was incredible to witness. She is a very committed actress, and where most actresses would have dried up after three takes, she was still going.
There is a great relationship between your character and Phoebe’s, and a strong emphasis on her having to be the hero. Was this part of the script that attracted you to the project? 
I think that films and books are now focusing on these strong female protagonists, and there are increasingly less weak female characters on screen. It is these characters, and the actors that play them, that are driving the industry forward and that is only a good thing.
There were a lot of stunts for you to do, diving under water and clambering around disused airfields. Did you find that a challenge? 
I had been in the underwater tank at Pinewood before, and it is basically this colossal swimming pool, and you get to dive around with scuba gear, and again, it was just another chance to act like a 12-year-old boy on set. I am sure that if you were to ask Phoebe she would say the complete opposite because I know that she hated it. I love it – it was a big ol’ playtime for me. Part of the fun is working at Pinewood – I mean, this is the place where the Bond films are made! It is a studio that has such a fantastic history.
What about filming at the houses that stand in for Eel Marsh House? 
Ah, now some of those were a little creepy. They were these abandoned old buildings, and a particularly freaky place was an old abandoned prison that was spooky, which is supposedly the most haunted place in London. Each of the cells had messages scratched into the walls by old inmates, which sent chills down my spine. Then there was this sign above the doorway that read, “Look ye into despair all who enter here”. I was quite glad to abandon that place.
You have a wealth of experience with period dramas. Do you still make them? 
The thing is I don’t go looking for a period or contemporary dramas, it is purely about the script. It is difficult to say what exactly it is that makes me decide on a project. For example, with this film I never intended to make a horror film, but the script grabbed me so much. As an actor, all you have is the script, and it is about finding those scripts that have that special thing. I can’t tell you what that “thing” is, but I recognise it when I find it.