The global significance of World War II cannot be overstated. The Nazi menace had all but completely conquered Europe before the Allies were able to defeat the Axis powers. It's estimated that over eighty million people died in the conflict, the majority of them innocent civilians. Since the end of the war, Hollywood has produced hundreds of movies about the war, from On the Sands of Iwo Jima and The Longest Day to Saving Private Ryan and Hacksaw Ridge.
The latest film to document the real-life heroes who risked it all to stop the violent march of evil is Mission of Honor (known as Hurricane outside of the United States). Iwan Rheon stars as Jan Zumbach, a legendary Polish fighter pilot who served in the 303 Squadron. Comprised mainly of Polish staff serving under Royal Air Force supervision, the ragtag group of righteous warriors sought to avenge themselves on the Nazis. As depicted in Mission of Honor, the 303 went on to become one of the most decorated fighter groups ever to do battle in the skies over Europe, though their contributions to the war effort were largely – tragically – ignored following the end of the war.
While Iwan Rheon is best known for his disturbingly evil turn as Ramsay Bolton in HBO's Game of Thrones, he's quickly become a major player in Hollywood, from his turn as Maximus in the MCU's Inhumans TV series to his portrayal as Mötley Crüe's enigmatic guitarist, Mick Mars, in Netflix's music biopic, The Dirt.
In this interview, Rheon talks about Mission of Honor, playing Mick's classic riffs in The Dirt, not being privy to Game of Thrones spoilers, and even wistfully muses on whether or not he will ever get the chance to reprise his role of Maximus.
Can you talk a bit about how you prepared for the role, researching Squadron 303 and the life of Jan Zumbach?
First of all, I tried to gather as much information about the 303 as possible and I wanted to know more about what happened in Poland before they ended up in Britain. We were taught very little of their story in school. This gave excellent insight into their motivation. These men were remarkable. There are quite a few sources and also some wonderful photographs of them at the time which I find very useful. You can really see the character in their eyes. I found this particularly useful with Zumbach. You can see the mischievous glint in his eye. Jan Zumbach also wrote a book (On Wings of War: My Life as a Pilot Adventurer). Most of it is about his life after the war but it gives an incredible insight into who he was.
A hallmark of cinematic dogfight action is placing the actor inside a tight cockpit set, the camera focused on their face while they act out scenes of courage and harrowing combat. Can you tell us about shooting these combat scenes?
I had no idea how they were gonna shoot this. It was the first thing we shot. It was quite intense. I’m glad we did it that way because it made it easier to imagine the reality of what these men did. The confined claustrophobia of the cockpit in the chaos of a dogfight must have been harrowing. They were incredibly brave and gave no thought for their own safety. They just wanted to shoot down Nazi planes. This helped shooting the rest of the film. I think we all learned a lot from shooting these sequences.
You have a lot of Polish dialogue in the film, and your accent is great. Was it a challenge to learn your Polish lines and develop the accent?
It was very difficult. David Blair and I spoke very early on and we both felt that the scenes between the Polish characters should be spoken in their native tongue. We wanted it to feel authentic. It’s a story about Polish pilots and they deserve that respect. I didn’t have much time to learn so I had to learn the alphabet and the sounds so that I could read it. I had a good teacher and she recorded my lines so I just listened to them and learned what I was saying so that I could do the scenes. Our wonderful Polish cast were very supportive.
The Polish airmen who helped saved the world from Nazis were practically discarded by the Allies following the end of the war, and many met cruel fates upon being repatriated to a Poland that found itself on the wrong side of the Iron Curtain; some say the Allies betrayed Poland and left the country to the Soviet Union, and the film dares to shed light this difficult chapter of WWII history. Was this something that drew you to Mission of Honor? Did you feel a duty to lend your voice to Poland and the 303 Squadron, war heroes who were largely forgotten in the aftermath of WWII?
It’s a story that I hadn’t heard so I really wanted to be involved in telling it. It’s something I wanted people to know. I feel it’s very relevant at the moment when you look at what’s happening around the world. These men gave their lives for an island that wasn’t their home and potentially saved the day, then they were discarded so easily. Another very shameful part of British history. I’m glad people can finally learn their story through this film.
Let's talk about your turn as Mick Mars in The Dirt. Your fans know you're an accomplished musician in real life, though your music is quite different from that of Mötley Crüe. Still, did knowing how to play guitar in real life help you while making the film? At the very least, did you enjoy showing off your chops to your cast mates?
It really helped being able to play but Mick is a much better guitar player than me. Guitar has always been more accompaniment for singing to me, but Mick shreds some awesome solos and plays aggressively. This was fun to play... I’m not sure if my neighbors would agree!
Did you get to meet Mick Mars before you shot the film to study any of his quirks or behaviors?
I only got to speak to Mick on the phone while shooting. He was lovely and very supportive. We just talked about amps and guitars and how he played in the early days. The rest I had to make up. It’s all in the book though. I met Mick for the first time on the red carpet at the premiere. He said I did a good Mick!
While you were preparing for The Dirt, did you learn any of Mick Mars' classic riffs and licks?
A big part of the movie for us was getting the live stuff to look authentic so we all learned a few of the songs that are featured live in the film. I particularly like playing Shout At The Devil and Looks That Kill.
What happens in the final season of Game of Thrones? Just kidding... But did you get to visit the set during the shooting of this final batch of episodes? Or was it so secretive that they wouldn't even let you in?
I don’t think I’d be allowed in. Once you're dead, you’re dead. I’ll have to watch it on telly!
You are part of The Marvel Cinematic Universe. The last time we saw Maximus, he was trapped on the moon. Do you think we'll ever see him and the other Inhumans again? Would you be open to appearing on Agents of SHIELD or bringing the character back in some form or another?
I hope he’s not stuck up there forever. I’d be very open to releasing him from his dungeon. He’s a very interesting character. Maybe one day he’ll find a way out.
Mission of Honor is available now on VOD, Blu-ray, and DVD.