Q: Was the actor who played Albert in War Horse an expert rider before he got the job?
—Carlos Lopez, Flagstaff, Ariz.
While Jeremy Irvine, 21, grew up in a small country village in Great Britain, much like Albert, the character he plays in War Horse, he never learned to ride. So the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art alum undertook a period of intensive training, riding up to 10 hours a day at the Hertfordshire stables, where the horses included stars from such films as Seabiscuit and Black Beauty.
"The horses were so sensitive," he says. "It was a joy learning to ride with these magnificent creatures. And it's incredible how quickly you can pick it all up when you've got the very best people teaching you."
War Horse, set during World War I, is Irvine's first feature film. His previous acting experience was on stage, so he was determined to do everything necessary to make sure director Steven Spielberg didn't regret casting an unknown.
"The main thing was to get Albert's innocence," he explains. "We don't see that any more. Here is someone who hasn't been exposed to TV or the Internet. He lives in a very isolated part [of the country]. He doesn't have any brothers or sisters. He probably hasn't seen anyone outside of his small community. This is before cars. This is someone with incredible naivet‚ and innocence and complete lack of cynicism. I really wanted to get that.
"When the horse comes along, it is like his brother. It is his best friend. The stakes need to be that high to justify going off and risking his life to get his horse back."