Jeremy Irvine has spent the majority of his burgeoning career on screen with a broad west country accent, first in Steven Spielberg's War Horse and now as Pip in a new adaptation of Great Expectations. So it's rather odd, in person, to hear him speaking with clipped vowels more reminiscent of Laurence Olivier than Vicky Pollard. "Yes, the accent was quite hard work. I actually spent ages with 1920s recordings of old Dartmoor accents trying desperately to pick it up. Now that I've got it, it's pretty hard to stop. Sometimes I slip into it. I always wonder whether I'll get treated differently with a different accent."
It's no wonder this earnest 22-year-old, impeccably polite though his sentences are littered with swearwords, is curious about being treated differently. Not so long ago he was a jobbing actor from a small village in Cambridgeshire, with one year of LAMDA (The London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art) under his belt and little to recommend him but a stint as a tree with no lines in a Royal Shakespeare Company production and a brief appearance on a Disney sitcom.
But he had, like Pip, great expectations. Along came an audition for War Horse and, after two months of endless recalls, his role as a Spielberg lead and as a British rising star was confirmed. In September he appeared in Now is Good, a drama with Dakota Fanning, and he has just returned from filming the prisoner-of-war drama The Railway Man in Thailand with Colin Firth, and A Night in Old Mexico, a comedy with Robert Duvall.
In just two years he has gone from nervous newbie, 'freaking out' on the set of War Horse, to a celebrity in his own right unfazed by his co-stars, with a huge teenage girl fan base and, it seems, a famous new girlfriend, singer Ellie Goulding, with whom he was recently spotted at Somerset House inLondon, ice skating hand-in-hand. He is tight-lipped about the latter. "Let's just say it wasn't easy to go on dates before all this fame and it sure isn't easy now." Does he feel like he knows what he's doing now? "Ha!" He grins bashfully. "I'm glad I've given that impression. But no, a lot of it's still guess work. Of course, walking onto a set with people like Ralph Fiennes as Magwitch and Helena Bonham Carter as Miss Havisham, you are going to be a bit like, 'God, that's Helena Bonham Carter, you know?' I'm just this snotty-nosed little new kid. But you just try desperately not to think about it." Fiennes, he admits, was a bit intimidating. "But," he proffers diplomatically, "he's playing a really scary role."
This new adaptation of Great Expectations, directed by Mike Newell with a screenplay by One Day author David Nicholls, is, he is keen to stress, the first period film since David Lean's much- revered 1946 version, although there have been several contemporary adaptations and TV series, including last year's by the BBC. But his Pip, Irvine insists, is very different from his predecessors. (Francesca Steele/The Independent)