The news that former One Direction member Harry Styles would be joining the cast of Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk (out July 21) alongside some of the director’s regular stars, like Tom Hardy and Cillian Murphy, was met with a mix of reactions to say the least.
Fans of the singer were obviously ecstatic that their beloved Harry would be making his acting debut with one of the premiere filmmakers working today. While followers of Nolan likely scratched their heads at what — from the outside — looked like stunt casting, an unusual movie for such a particular visionary.
As trailers for Dunkirk began to trickle out beginning last August, fans scoured the footage for images of Styles, with his previously long locks shorn for the World War II tale of British troops surrounded by Nazis on the beaches of France.
But he was barely there.
Sure, if you looked closely, there was evidence of Styles in the movies, but there weren’t lines of dialogue or big moments of action. Among a young cast of unknowns, why would Warner Bros. and Nolan hide one of the biggest pop stars in the world? Well, because they didn’t want to piss off the people looking for him.
“We’re not trying to oversell Harry in the movie for the specific reason that it’s an ensemble,” Nolan told EW during a discussion at one of his production company’s offices. “We don’t want people who are huge fans of his being disappointed that he’s not in it enough.”
And the fact is that no one actor in is Dunkirk that much. While the three storylines are anchored by individual performances — by Hardy, Mark Rylance, and newcomer Fionn Whitehead — the evacuation of Dunkirk involved 400,000 soldiers, so there are just as many stories on which to focus.
For his role, Styles — who’s credited as “Alex,” though he’s essentially nameless like the rest of the cast — has a difficult part to play. His character can only see one aspect of what’s happening at Dunkirk. The British are retreating, hoping that they can escape annihilation by running away across the English Channel, and retreat is a shameful thing. It’s defeat.
“I think what Harry does is extremely subtle because it’s very real,” Nolan said. “It’s not cartoonish. It’s not obvious. He really taps into the reality of the situation. It’s a subtle performance. It almost risks being missed because what it’s actually doing. I think it’s a great character for him, and I think he did an incredible job.”
Next week, audiences will finally be able to see for themselves what it’s like to watch a One Direction member in a Christopher Nolan movie, and like most things that get a lot of attention on the internet, the result is not nearly as sensational — one way or the other — as some might hope.
Perhaps the best thing that can be said about Styles in Dunkirk is that he disappears rather easily into the fabric of the film, only adding to an incredible story that’s waited too long to be told on such a grand scale.