Nolan Cast Harry Styles in Dunkirk for his Potential, Not His Celebrity

Harry Styles may be famous for his participation in One Direction, but Christopher Nolan only cast him in Dunkirk for his talent, not his name.

ChIn the age of social media, the attention on celebrities and their lives can overshadow everything, including their work. This is especially the case if celebrities are extremely high profile and profitable to paparazzi. It can cause a particular hindrance to stars who are trying to make a transition into other areas of the entertainment industry like, for example, a musician wanting to dabble in the acting realm.

With their celebrity trailing behind them, they run the risk of being judged based on their known presence and perceived reputation rather than by their abilities. This was a potential risk for former One Direction Member Harry Styles when he became interested in auditioning for Christopher Nolan’s Dunkirk, a World War II film that focuses on the Dunkirk invasion that occurred early on in the war.

Related: Dunkirk: Christopher Nolan Didn’t Realize Harry Styles’ Popularity

Styles will be making his acting debut in a supporting role which, for many people, is considered an unusual decision for musicians trying to transition into their first time acting. With musicians turned actors like Elvis, Madonna, and beyond, they had set the unspoken precedent for musicians to aim for starring roles. However, as we found out at the Dunkirk press conference, this was not at all the case for Styles. In fact, Styles primarily pursued this particular role due to his excitement for the chance to work with Christopher Nolan:

“I think for me when I first heard, that Chris was making this film, I was kinda already excited to watch it. I think it’s something I’ve always been excited for had I had absolutely no involvement, and I think other than the urge to want to get involved in it and try to you know, try to do anything to be a part of it. I can’t say I really thought too much other than that about it. I think everyone… being on Chris’ set he’s so passionate about it and he’s so infectious. He creates this environment where everyone, cast, and crew there’s one focus, and it’s what’s doing the best for him and doing the best for the film and making it as good as it could possibly be, and I don’t think there’s any room to think about anything too personal other than that. I feel like everyone has the same goal just to do their part for the film really.”

Christopher Nolan Dunkirk IMAX

While Harry Styles won his role in Dunkirk after auditioning against hundreds of people, it was plausible that the attention his celebrity attracts would turn out to be a concern for the director, especially one so dedicated to his craft, like Nolan. With so many people focusing Styles being cast in a production, there would be the chance that the overall message of the production would be lost to viewers who would go and watch the movie.

However, when asked at a press conference about whether or not he was concerned that Harry Styles' celebrity would overshadow the WWII film, Nolan responded as such:

“I mean, my job as a director is to see potential in within people you’ve cast whether you’re talking about someone’s who’s never done a film before like Fionn and Harry or whether you’re talking about someone who’s very experienced Mark Rylance or Kenneth Branagh. You have to see the potential for them to do something they’ve never done before. That’s really the idea. You try not to cast people who have done these roles because they won’t feel challenged. They won’t get anything out of the experience. You can’t worry too much about previous roles like Mark has done, you know and Harry... I think the audience when they come to the film, if we all do our job right, they’ll become invested in what we’ve created…”

Nolan's focus on the story and awareness of the potential people bring to his movies displays an attitude that is often missing in films. He actually says he had no idea Styles was so popular, but his real focus is always the craft and the passion each actor carries to his productions anyway. If the production team, as well as the cast, can transcend the project and bring the audience into the film, then the focus on celebrity doesn't matter.

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