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Meet Fionn Whitehead, the Lead of Christopher Nolan’s Highly Anticipated Battle Epic ‘Dunkirk’

Bale. DiCaprio. McConaughey. And now, Fionn Whitehead.

The 19-year-old Brit (whose Irish first name is pronounced “Finn”) joins elite ranks as the lead actor in a Christopher Nolan joint, headlining the acclaimed filmmaker’s upcoming ensemble war, Dunkirk.

At this point Whitehead doesn’t have clearance to say anything about his character, Tommy. But if you happened to catch the intense seven-minute tease Warner Bros. unspooled on Imax screens in front of Rogue One, you’ll recognize him as one of the two poor chaps charged with hauling a stretcher over a decimated dock as enemy warplanes whiz by overhead. (While plot details on the film are also scant, we have WWII history to tell us the film is about the 1940 rescue of Allied soldiers cornered by the German army on a French beach.)

“It’s a suspense thriller,” Whitehead told Yahoo Movies. “It takes you there and you see this world through my character’s eyes and ears. And it kind of explores what it would’ve been like to be there at that time, on sea, land, and air. It’s all about survival, and the human urge to survive.” Whitehead was in Los Angeles this week where we got to know the fresh-faced star of Nolan’s fiercely intense-looking battle film. Here’s what we learned:

Dunkirk will mark Whitehead’s movie debut. The actor, who grew up in an artistic household (his dad is jazz musician Tim Whitehead) on the southwest edge of London in Richmond, performed on stage at the National Youth Theatre and Orange Tree Theatre, and was in the process of applying to drama school when he booked the lead role in Him, a three-part U.K. miniseries about a teen with supernatural powers. The casting director for Him referred Whitehead to agent Sophie Holden, who put him in contention for Dunkirk.

His hair almost got in the way of his dream role. Whitehead auditioned for Dunkirk over an extensive three-month period, with Nolan present at every tryout after the first. “For Him, they made me grow my hair out, and then they’d straighten it out every day because I’ve got quite curly hair when it grows out,” Whitehead explained. “And I remember turning up to do one of these auditions and I had this straight long hair, it just looked so ridiculous. And they’re like, ‘Um, Chris has asked if you could push your hair out of your face this audition.’ So they gave me a tub of wax and I’m slicking my hair out of my face in this ridiculous fashion.”

He was put through the ringer before production even started. “I was quite scrawny when I started out, so they saw that and realized that they might injure me in the whole process of shooting,” Whitehead laughed. So the upstart was dispatched to Dunkirk (where the majority of filming would be completed on location) two weeks early to work with the stunt team. Along with costars Harry Styles and Aneurin Barnard, Whitehead was put through a boot camp of sorts. “I did a lot of circuit training, did a little bit of boxing, did some weapons training. Then I went to the beaches and I was swimming in full war gear, which once it got waterlogged was about 60, 80 pounds. Running up the beach with stretchers with weighted dummies on them. It was quite a lot.”

Speaking of Mr. Styles… The One Direction singer also makes his film debut in Dunkirk, and Whitehead had nothing but props for the pop star-turned-actor. “He’s a lovely guy. Really hard working. There was no preferential treatment, and he didn’t ask for any. He was just a great asset to the team, one of the crew, no differentiation.”

The grueling shoot put things in perspective for the young actors. “Physically it was quite demanding,” Whitehead said of the five-month production. “So the toughest part was just keeping the energy up. Every night, as soon as my head hit the pillow, I was out… But that made it easier to step into the shoes of these people, knowing what they had to deal with and how they kept going.” Despite somber subject material, the cast tried to keep things light by riding bikes around set and playing the occasional game of rugby. They also learned quickly, though, not to pull any woe-is-me moves. “Any time any of us complained, somebody would say, ‘Well, at least you’re not actually there.’ And then everyone would feel so guilty and be like, ‘Oh yeah, sorry. I’m just going to crawl into a hole.'”

Whitehead abstained from fanning out over Nolan. Make no mistake, the actor was over the moon to work with the director of Memento, the Dark Knight trilogy, Inception, and Interstellar. “He’s so present as a director,” Whitehead said. “He’s behind every shot and he creates this family-like vibe on set which really puts you at ease. It’s a very collaborative environment. I was quite apprehensive going in but that was gone straightaway because you’re in this safe space where you feel comfortable to try different things, and encouraged.” But he made it a point not to geek out over the filmmaker. “Nah, I kept it in,” he said. “I tried to play it cool.”

Dunkirk is the cover story of the French film magazine Premiere, March issue 

@PremiereFR ~ World exclusive, Christopher Nolan gave us an interview for the highly anticipated #Dunkirk, March 1st on newsstands 🔥🔥🔥

There will be 10 pages devoted to Dunkirk with exclusive photos from the set.

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Dunkirk (2017) First Full Trailer

A summary & opinions post re: what we know about Dunkirk so far

About Harry’s Role

At the end of the day, this is what most of us want to know. Is his role a large one? Will his character survive? Those sort of questions. The good thing is, now that Dunkerque’s filming has been completed, we now have a better idea about how to answer them.

First of all, the very fact that Harry turned up in Dunkerque at all to film is good news. The movie won’t just start on the beaches – these characters will surely have a hell of a journey beforehand, trying to escape and fight back against the Germans, becoming separated from their units and trying to buy themselves time. The first and only real glimpse we had of Harry was during his outfit fitting, where he was wearing a life jacket. This is a soldier who WILL make it out to the beaches. He’s going to survive at least half of the movie.

You could question whether he’ll only be introduced at a later point, I guess, however he has also by this stage sustained an injury to his hand, which we will surely get to witness happening. It’s also interesting to note that he was seen wearing a different military jacket to the other actors, which caused some confusion to say the least! Even Scottish Military historians claimed the jacket was actually from WW1 and Scottish, but who knows what was going on with that?!

Harry participated in filming on at least 3 of the filming weeks between the 23rd May and the 17th June, so he’s definitely been filming a lot without us seeing exactly what was going on. The question now is, will he attempt to escape on a sinking ship?

The Large Ships

A number of large ships have been used in this movie, and none of these were actually involved in the evacuation. Because of this, they have all been repainted to portray real ones. The real ships being portrayed so far are HMS Vivacious (D36), HMS Vanquisher (D54), HMS Basilisk (H11), HMS Jaguar (F34) and a hospital ship, possibly portraying the hospital ship Paris. Oddly, another ship is labelled as J22, which would make her the HMS Britomart – a ship that did take part in WW2, but was not present during the evacuation.

The ships chosen certainly had a bumpy ride: Vivacious survived but lost 15 of her crew when the Germans fired on her, but the Vanquisher also survived and made 7 successful trips to and from Dunkirk to save soldiers. The HMS Basilisk was not so lucky. She sank after 3 attacks by German bombers, but some of her crew were saved by another destroyer ship called Whitehall. The Jaguar survived and aided the rescue of soldiers from the sunken SS Abukir, from which around 200 men are thought to have died.

The hospital ship, as mentioned, hasn’t got any identifying features, however a recent interview with her crew informed us that she too will perish. The hospital ship Paris is known to have sunk during the evacuation, and although nurses and soldiers did survive, those who were not walking wounded had no means of escape.

Because Harry has been seen so little during filming, it’s hard to make suggestions about his likelihood of escape. What we do know is that he was seen filming on the East Mole, a structure used by the majority of those who were evacuated (rather than the actual beaches). He featured in the same scenes as Kenneth Branagh, who in my opinion is playing Captain Bill Tennant, the man who organised the evacuation from Dunkirk (alongside his colleagues Vice-Admiral Ramsay etc. who were busy with the planning over in Dover). It was Tennant’s idea to use the Mole in the first place. One eye witness did suggest Harry was seen filming close to the hospital ship and the ship was positioned by the Mole for some of the filming. An explosion was filmed on board, but the actual sinking will be filmed later using a model. I would suggest if Harry does board it, he’ll survive.

On the subject of Kenneth Branagh, the Little Ship MTB102 was also seen filming. A search on its history notes that the ship was used by Rear Admiral Wake-Walker and a man who could have been playing him appeared to greet Kenneth’s character on the East Mole.

So I mentioned Kenneth Branagh, but what about the other actors?

Harry definitely won’t be the only actor who’ll need to do some swimming. Fionn and Aneurin were recently pictured with their tops off having surely just been in the water and about to dry off. In fact, these two have been seen in a lot of the public filming. I always presumed Fionn had a fairly large role in Dunkirk – he was long hinted to be a lead during the early press, and given that he’s a complete newcomer to movies that would be a very random mistake to make! The press release listed him alongside the most well-known actors in the movie including Tom Hardy and Kenneth Branagh, while the others, including Tom Glynn-Carney who is also a newcomer, were listed on a second line. Clearly Fionn has a lot to do.

It appears as though Fionn and Aneurin’s characters are stragglers who have made their way to the beaches after running into a few problems – they were seen attempting to jump over a gate to escape bullets during scenes filmed on the inner streets of Dunkerque. Leaflets were also seen dropping on them from German aircraft, the sort asking them to surrender as they were surrounded. Fionn was seen filming alongside some of the extras playing French soldiers as well as French actor Damien Bonnard. In another scene, Fionn and Aneurin were acting as stretcher-bearers, and in another, Fionn was seen lying across a part of the East Mole’s structure. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what’s going on, but Fionn & Aneurin have stuck together for a lot of the filming that has taken place. In comparison, it seems as if Harry has been filming scenes as a lone soldier among extras. Except for sharing the same costume fitting, I don’t believe he has been known to share any scenes with them.

Except from an eye-witness account from an extra, Jack Lowden doesn’t appear to have shown up during filming yet. If the extra is wrong, it does make me question whether his character perishes before he makes it this far.

James D’Arcy was seen filming as some kind of higher ranked soldier assisting Kenneth’s character, while Mark Rylance may have finally turned up towards the end of filming – on board a faux Dunkirk Little Ship called Moonstone alongside Tom Glynn-Carney and Barry Keoghan. This was a really important part to learn – the little ships were not involved until a couple of days into the evacuation, meaning these civillian characters will not get involved until quite a way into the movie. Even more importantly, Tom GC and Barry Keoghan were ruled out as soldiers, meaning the only “young” soldiers possibly left from the main cast we’re aware of so far are Harry, Jack, Fionn and Aneurin. Regarding the fate of Moonstone, seeing as she was not really involved in the evacuation, Nolan could choose to do whatever he wants with her. Both the Little Ship characters in the 1958 Dunkirk movie and the 2004 BBC series had a terrible fate. From memory, the 1958 ship broke down and the older civilian died on the beach. The 2004 one ended up being towed and was hit by a mine, killing all on board. Survival chances aren’t too great for those 3 on board, I’d say, unfortunately!

What about the actors who haven’t been seen yet?

As we know, Harry did a really good job of hiding, and therefore we cannot just conclude for sure that Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy have not filmed anything yet. It is however a fact that they have had some other projects to work on – Tom Hardy, for example, has just concluded work on Taboo. Rumours have now emerged that Tom H will play a pilot. This marries up with the claims that a catapult will be used in Urk to launch a replica Spitfire into the sea with an almighty crash. Probably doesn’t sound good, but somehow, some of the pilots did survive!

Cillian still remains a complete mystery. As soon as we get any inkling, I’ll be sure to let you know what I think.

Anything else to note?

The filming in Dunkerque has been nothing short of spectacular. Over 1000 extras were said to be hired, lining the beaches and the East Mole awaiting their escape, wading through the water to reach the Little Ships and even running away from gunfire and explosions. Lots of Dunkirk Little Ships were involved, including real ones from the actual evacuation including the larger Princess Elizabeth. She was used as a minesweeper at the time and was seen positioned by the mole for some of the filming.

A mixture of real aircraft and models were used to portray the battles above the beaches and a number of buildings in Dunkerque were transformed into restaurants and houses of the time. The Kursaal theatre was turned into a factory by the beach. Over 7000 sandbags were used along the streets. The attention to detail for this movie was obvious and amazing.

What next?

I’ve already mentioned the Spitfire crash rumour & Tom Hardy’s possible link to that, but the focus of filming next in Urk is on the open water. As yet unidentified ships will take part in the filming in Urk. The Rogaland (hospital ship) has gone home at least, as have the real Little Ships. We do know that the extras have been asked to provide evidence that they are strong swimmers, and the other main rumour is that a ship has been modified to sink especially for the movie. Christopher Nolan’s aim to avoid CGI and use real models and replicas continues to astonish me in a good way!

We also know that Harry is CONFIRMED to film in Urk, which begs the question whether he’ll actually be on board the ship in question. As for the other actors, we don’t yet know if Fionn and Aneurin will make their way to Urk for filming, but I would suggest it is quite likely, especially for Fionn. It has been suggested locally that Harry and Tom H will both be in secret private housing away from the rest of the cast.

If the movie really interests you, make sure to give me a follow on Twitter @StylesMovieNews and keep checking my website at www.stylesmovienews.com.

Dunkirk - A Summary & Speculation Post

Part 1: How it all begins

Before you continue reading this, please consider how little you want to be spoiled about this movie. A lot of what you are about to read is pure speculation, however I do look into some of the details we have seen in photographs from the set and the amount of filming individual actors have taken part in. I will therefore be making suggestions about who comes out alive and who doesn’t. If you don’t want to know any of this, I suggest you ignore this post and wait until next year!

So how to begin? That’s the question really. How will Nolan kick off his “Epic Action Thriller” Dunkirk?

I spent a lot of time looking into some of the major details of Dunkirk’s history before they reached the beaches. A lot of this information was regarding the difficulties as the Germans broke through the Ardennes and the British began to be surrounded. I speculated that Nolan might find a lot of material in the massacres which took place in Le Paradis and Wormhoudt, where many British soldiers were murdered by Nazis. However, there has been no indication that any of this will actually be present in this movie.

In fact, there is a strong suggestion that the movie will begin almost on the actual beaches of Dunkirk. The first hint of this was the press release for the start of filming back in May. Warner Bros. states ‘“Dunkirk” opens as hundreds of thousands of British and Allied troops are surrounded by enemy forces. Trapped on the beach with their backs to the sea they face an impossible situation as the enemy closes in.”’ Mark Rylance also told Empire that “With some of those old war films you used to get a lot of build-up, you play the guessing game: who’s going to die and who’s going to live. This one has none of that. It’s just BANG! Straight into the middle of a desperate situation.”

The earliest scenes filmed in Dunkerque were in some of the old streets close to the beach in Malo-les-Bains, including “Rue de la Colline”. These scenes appeared to involve Fionn Whitehead and Aneurin Barnard, playing soldiers from the British Expeditionary Force, as well as a large number of French soldiers including French actor Damien Bonnard. There were bullets fired through a gate, but not a single German soldier was spotted (for those who’re not familiar with WW2, the British and French soldiers were allies rather than enemies, and the French were also evacuating to England).  The most noteworthy scene filmed here was of propaganda leaflets being dropped by the Luftwaffe (German air force). The leaflets warned the Allied soldiers that they were surrounded and should surrender. These leaflets were apparently dropped early into the evacuation of Dunkirk (the map on the leaflets portrays the situation on the 27th May 1940).

It’s quite lucky that the earliest scenes filmed were actually some of the earliest in the movie, as quite surprisingly a lot of the filming appeared to be chronological. It would also seem to suggest that at least one of these two characters are going to be one of the most important characters of the whole movie, and it has long been suggested that Fionn has somewhat of a lead role in all of this, despite the cast being described as an “ensemble”. Fionn was first reported to have been cast in Dunkirk on the 10th March 2016, when The Wrap said “Christopher Nolan has set his sights on newcomer Fionn Whitehead to play one of the two young leads in his WWII movie “Dunkirk,” multiple individuals familiar with the Warner Bros. project have told [us].” Fionn was also singled out as a newcomer alongside the most prestigious members of the cast on the press release, while the other young cast members (including Tom Glynn-Carney and Harry, who are both also newcomers) were listed in the “also includes” section below him.

The first scenes filmed in Weymouth were from the beginning of the evacuation and therefore likely the start of the movie. Weymouth was used as a double for Ramsgate, where the little ships were gathered to set sail for Dunkirk. The scenes showed Mark Rylance, Tom Glynn-Carney and Barry Keoghan getting ready to set sail on the little ship Moonstone, which is not a real ship from the evacuation. Tom was seen putting the blue ensign flag up (this will be relevant later) and they presumably were filmed leaving that harbour.

In Urk, a photoshoot took place with Barry Keoghan in a school uniform alongside some school friends. This could fit into the movie at any point really if it’s just a photo, however it’s important to note that some filming was also rumoured to have taken place in Bay House School in Gosport, UK. If anything, this is all suggesting that Barry’s character is a lot younger than him. I think that he could actually be playing a 15 year old boy similar to John Atkins, who was a real participant in the Dunkirk evacuation. I’ll go into further detail about him in a later part.

In Urk, they also filmed scenes of Jack Lowden boarding his Spitfire, which are also likely to feature very early on. The Royal Air Force and Luftwaffe definitely play a really large part in this movie, with scenes featuring the planes filmed in all of the locations they have visited so far.

All of the mentioned scenes appear to set things up nicely, while introducing some of the main characters for the first time. We’re introduced to the soldiers stuck in France and on their way to the beaches, we meet the heroes on the little ships who are setting off to save them and we’re introduced to the RAF that are off to Dunkirk to defend the ships as the evacuation plays out.

It’s difficult to quite understand how Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy fit into it all to begin with, however. It seems that Tom Hardy, who we do know is playing a pilot, has some new scenes to film on location this week in LA (w/c 22/8/16). Before this, the only filming he was known to have done was in the final week of filming in Dunkerque. The scenes filmed there seemed to be ones that take place quite late into the film. Cillian Murphy, meanwhile, only seemed to start filming for the first time in Urk.  We know that he’s playing a 2nd lieutenant from the BEF, but he seems to have lost his battalion. He does have a wedding ring on his finger, which tells us there will be some background story to tell, but otherwise his character’s story is a complete mystery. He’s filmed very little compared to many of the cast. However, there is still a lot of time for both Tom Hardy and Cillian to film scenes which actually take place closer to the beginning of Dunkirk.

Some have suggested that Nolan wants to add some non-linear scenes to the mix. It wouldn’t surprise me at this stage if we started at the end, or many years into the future. It would be a great way of fitting Sir Michael Caine into the mix as well (surely he’ll have a role here, even if unannounced?! He ALWAYS works with Nolan!). I can imagine Caine playing an old veteran, remembering his time in Dunkirk. Perhaps he’ll play an older version of one of the characters? Perhaps it’s all just wishful thinking. However, if Nolan did want to add some later scenes here, it may be the reason why we were allowed to see so much of the filming in Dorset, which for the most part was from the end of the evacuation. Perhaps it wasn’t a spoiler to see Harry on the train after all, and in fact we’ll be seeing him on it a lot earlier into the movie than expected? I guess we’ll just have to wait and see…

Of course, as well as Harry, we’ve still not been introduced to Kenneth Branagh and James D’Arcy at this stage. If things stay chronological, it seems we may meet the both of them, as well as Harry, on the East Mole.

I’ll return tomorrow with Part 2.