Renowned, primarily, his roles on the smaller screen, in hit TV series such as Game of Thrones and Misfits, Welsh actor Iwan Rheon can now be seen gracing the big screen in WW2 drama Hurricane, where he plays a Polish pilot, assigned to assist the British army to help defeat the Nazis. He not only put on an accent, but learnt Polish for the role, as he discusses exclusively with Hot Corn the challenges in learning a new language, and why he was surprised he was cast in the role. He also discusses the childlike joy to being an actor, the film’s timely pertinence, and on life post-Game of Thrones, as he discusses his excitement about the forthcoming series finale.
So what was it that initially attracted you to getting involved in the project?
As soon as I read it, it was a story that really jumped out at me. I felt it was a story that needed to be told. It was something I wasn’t really aware of, I thought it was terrible so I wanted to get involved. I met with David Blair to discuss it and everything he was saying about it fitted with what I thought. His idea to do it in the native Polish language was right, and respectful to the guys. It’s very rare you get that these days in English films, you tend to have actors doing dodgy accents whey they’re speaking to each other, so I thought it was a really great way to approach it. So I jumped on board straight away.
Did you have to learn Polish for this then, or did you have a grasp of the language beforehand?
Yeah it was all for this, I think I could probably say ‘thank you’ and ‘good day’ before, so it was all for the film. It was quite tricky and I didn’t really have a lot of time so I had to do a bit of a crash course in literally just learning the sounds and phonetically learning it and how to read it, so that I could read my lines. My teacher recorded all the lines so I could follow that. Also the rest of the guys, the Polish actors were fantastic to me and really helped me and they were really supportive, and they were really grateful that I had put so much effort in to be able to do it in Polish, to tell their story. Because it’s essentially their story. Initially I did think – why do you want me to do this? Surely they’d get a Polish actor to play the part, but I like a challenge and I just thought it was right to commit and at times I thought I wouldn’t be able to do it, but we got there in the end. So hopefully the people of Poland will understand what I’m saying.
Yeah because the nuances and subtle elements to language are what Polish audiences will pick up on?
Yeah exactly, but as long as they can understand what I’m saying I hope that’s a massive part of my job done.
That must be one of the joys to acting, you pick up so many skills along the way, things you probably wouldn’t have done otherwise?
Yeah definitely. It’s great to be able to do that and to push yourself and do things that are way outside of your comfort zone, far away from what you thought you would be doing on a given Wednesday afternoon. It’s great, and you get to learn a lot about things you may not have come across, like this story. It’s a cool job, it’s always changing and you find yourself in situations that you didn’t expect to be in, and you learn a lot.
Do you hope to do more films around the world? Because Britain are quite sheltered, it’s the same with football, you get so many foreign players in the Premier League but so rarely do we have players in other countries. In cinema, so few British actors go abroad, why do you think it is that we have a culture to expect everything to come to us sometimes?
I guess it partly has something to do with the humungous English language industry and I guess it’s easier for Brits to go to the American side of things and do that. It’s an interesting challenge to have to do everything that you do in a usual job in English, but having to do it in a language that you don’t really know. To get all the feelings and the emotion and the sense of the lines, it’s a really cool challenge. Polish is particularly difficult because there’s nothing in it that you can grasp. But it’s a great thing and makes you approach everything in a very different way, and you’re way out of your comfort zone. I’d quite like to try something else, yeah. Why not?
The film feels accidentally quite timely with Brexit. This is a film that celebrates the notion of coming together as one for the greater good. It feels like a film, and a message, we quite need at the moment.
Yeah absolutely. I think it’s something that Britain is quite bad as doing, and it happens in the film and it’s kind of happening now, we’re a small island and so many times we’ve needed to get people from outside to come and help us, and as soon as it’s done we turn our backs on them and expect everyone to bugger off. But it’s something we need to celebrate about our island, you never know what could happen in the future, and we just keep turning our backs on people and not learning from our own mistakes and history, and it’s something we need to rectify, especially at the moment, because other cultures bring so many great things to ours.
We’re always lauded in the Second World War as being the saviours, we stood up for the little man and took on the Nazis. So I was surprised in this movie at how apprehensive and nasty the British soldiers were to the Polish. Did it surprise you too?
Yeah it’s bizarre isn’t it? You get given fantastic help… Maybe in the RAF it was a posh boys club in those days and the establishment dug out these Poles no matter how good they were, and there was snobbery involved, but as soon as they saw how good they were and as soon as they started taking down all these enemy planes, then they were alright. But it’s very surprising but then I guess, maybe it’s not.
How about playing in a war movie? Filmmaking, at its core, is play-acting, it’s the notion of make-believe, tapping in to that inherent, childlike quality we have. When you’re on that set, all dressed up, does it tap into that same playful energy we have?
Yeah absolutely. That’s very much how I view acting, and acting probably is that. When you look at kids playing they’re so immersed in that world because they believe in it, their imaginations are so in it. Mum says ‘food’s ready’ and they’re completely out of it and then they finish food, and they’re straight back into it. I guess that’s what I try to do as an actor, to regain that, the truth of it. Essentially acting is about telling the truth of the circumstances of whatever play or film it is, so it’s exactly the same, and it’s a lovely job when you get to do that, it’s basically like being a kid when you’re a grown-up.
Next up we can see you as Mick Mars in The Dirt – what was that experience like?
We shot that earlier this year and it was great fun, really cool, we had a lot of fun doing it as you can imagine. I also wanted to just do something completely different to what I’ve done before, and playing someone who is alive today is cool, and to get to be in a band, and we spent three weeks learning the songs as a band, and reproduced the live stuff so it could look as authentic as possible, which was really good fun. Fantastic time.
Having played a role in such a huge series like Game of Thrones – is there a conscious decision to do things that are so different and far removed to avoid being so closely associated with one role?
Yeah but that’s something that as an actor I always wanted to do anyway, I’ve always wanted to play completely different parts and different characters, because it’s more fun to do different things and go to different places, particularly when I was playing such a horrible character, an evil character. Often the industry can tend to want to put you in a box and they want you to be able to reproduce the same thing in a different show or different film or whatever, so it is important to do as many things as possible, for the variety and the enjoyment in it. So I guess as an actors I’m always looking for things that fun and interesting and different, and challenging.
Are you looking forward to the finale? I guess it’s a rare case, as you could be a lead star on the series and yet there are whole characters and worlds you aren’t a part of – it must allow you to watch it almost an audience member would?
Yeah absolutely, I’m really looking forward to it. When I was doing it, at first I would read all of the script, then I decided to start only writing scenes that I felt were relevant to my character and his part of the world so I would get to enjoy the rest of it. So I’m really excited. Although it’s sad to not be involved in it any more, it’s kind of exciting to not know anything now, because once you’re out, you’re out. You end up just watching it like everyone else, and it’s exciting to be involved in that debate, ‘what do you think is gonna happen?’ is kinda nice.