When heading to see Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, some members of the audience might not be those you would typically see at a gritty World War II movie about a battle that happened before the U.S. entered the war. That’s because former One Direction singer Harry Styles makes his acting debut in the dramatic story about Dunkirk evacuation.
The 23-year-old Styles is became a member of One Direction after auditioning for The X Factor. Although he was eliminated, he was brought together with fellow singers Niall Horan, Zayn Malik, Louis Tomlinson and Liam Payne to form the group. Styles recently began his solo career, with his first album, Harry Styles, coming out in May 2017.
Styles has appeared on the big screen before, but in One Direction’s This Is Us and Where We Are concert films. He also hosted Saturday Night Live earlier this year. But Dunkirk marks his debut as an actor.
Here’s what you need to know about Malik’s role in Dunkirk and how he got the part of Alex. WARNING: Some Spoilers Follow.
1. Christopher Nolan Claims He Didn’t Really Know How Big Styles Is When He Cast the Singer
It’s hard to fathom this, but director Christopher Nolan and Oscar-winning actor Mark Rylance said they didn’t fully understand how big Styles is when he joined the film.
“I don’t think I was that aware really of how famous Harry was,” Nolan, the director of Interstellar and the Dark Knight trilogy, told the Associated Press. “I mean, my daughter had talked about him. My kids talked about him, but I wasn’t really that aware of it. So the truth is, I cast Harry because he fit the part wonderfully and truly earned a seat at the table.”
Rylance, who won an Oscar for his supporting role in Steven Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, also told the AP that he didn’t know who Styles was until his 11-year-old niece told him about the singer.
“She was just more excited than anything I’ve ever done because I was going to be acting with Harry Styles,” Rylance said. “I went up in her estimation. I won the Harry!”
As for Styles, he said he was overwhelmed by the massive production. He told the AP that his One Direction bandmates supported his acting career. “They are big fans of Chris, too, and I think they’re excited to see it,” he said.
2. Styles Was 1 of ‘Thousands’ of Young Actors who Auditioned for Roles in ‘Dunkirk’
In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, Nolan said he really wanted young, unknown actors to play the soldiers on the Dunkirk beach. Styles had to audition for his part, just like thousands of other young men. As the director explained:
When we put the cast together, we had some established names: Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Tom Hardy, Cillian Murphy. But for the guys on the beach, we really wanted young unknowns. He’s not that unknown, but he’d never done anything as an actor before. So he auditioned. I auditioned literally thousands of young men with different combinations of young men. And he had it.
Styles told This Morning that the audition process for Dunkirk was scarier than his X Factor auditions. While Simon Cowell gives you immediate feedback, Nolan didn’t say anything at first.
“I think Chris [was scarier] in that he doesn’t say anything. Like at all. He just sits in the darkness in the back of the room,” Styles explained. “It’s so intense because you do the audition and go home and obsess over whether people liked you or not.”
“He’s got his head screwed on right,” costume designer Jeffrey Kurland told People Magazine about Styles. “He’s a terrific guy with a great sense of humor and he’s quite talented – not just in music. It’ll surprise [fans] because he’s so talented, just to see him in an acting role, doing something quite different from what he usually does and how successfully I feel he’ll be at it.”
3. Styles Had to Cut His Famous Long Hair During Production
Since British soldiers didn’t have long hair during World War II, Styles’ famous long locks had to go. Styles posted a photo of his hair on Instagram in May 2016, with the caption “Whoops.”
Styles added the hashtag #LittlePrincessTrust, a reference to the U.K. and Ireland charity Little Princess Trust. The charity provides real hair wigs for free to children who have lost their hair because of treatments for cancer and other illnesses, like the U.S. charity Wigs For Kids. After Styles posted the image, the charity thanked him for his generosity.
“We are grateful to anyone who decides to do good things for us. Harry Styles’ high profile however helps raise awareness about the charity too,” the charity wrote. “He reached out to the Trust because he wanted to support us – what an endorsement from someone so popular!”
“I felt very naked for a while,” Styles told The Breakfast Club of his short haircut. “I was like, ‘Yeah, I’ve gotta shave my hair off.’ It wasn’t a hard decision, it got made into a wig.”
4. Styles Developed a ‘Bromance’ With Co-Star Fionn Whitehead
Nolan succeeded in filling out his cast with mostly unknowns, including star Fionn Whitehead, who has no major credits to his name other than Dunkirk. While filming, Whitehead became friends with is much more famous co-star.
Styles told The Project in Australia that they developed a “bromance.” They even held hands during the interview.
“I think the thing was that it was really exciting to kind of explore obviously the relationship between the two characters,” Styles told The Program. “And I think exploring that was kind of the most fun part for us.”
In that same interview, Styles said everyone on set understood that they have it much easier than the men who survived the real Dunkirk evacuation, when over 330,000 Allied troops were evacuated over eight days.
“We got to go home and shower at the end of the day. That obviously makes it much easier to deal with,” Styles said.
5. Styles Doesn’t Have Another Movie Planned… Yet
Styles doesn’t have another movie lined up just yet, but he’s hoping to get another role soon.
“I haven’t thought too much in terms of next movie,” Styles told USA Today. “I’m so excited about this project coming out. Even with the drowning scenes, I quite enjoyed it, to be honest. I’d do it again.”
Styles will be a little busy with his music career after he finishes the promotional work for Dunkirk. In September, he’ll be starting a U.S. fall tour, and many shows have already sold out. He’ll be on the road until July 14, 2018 when he finishes up the tour in Los Angeles.
The singer couldn’t ask for a better project to launch his acting career. The film has earned rave reviews, with many critics noting that Styles can surprisingly act. He even has a big role in the film. It’s not just a cameo where he waves at the camera. And – spoiler alert – he doesn’t die!
You can see Styles as Alex, a private, in Dunkirk this weekend.