SANTA MONICA, Calif. -- A global star thanks to the now-defunct Brit boy band One Direction, Harry Styles plays a trapped British soldier desperate for a miracle in Christopher Nolan's World War II epic "Dunkirk."
Unlike singers-turned-actors Elvis or Eminem, Styles, 23, opted for a supporting role in his big-screen debut.
"For me, when I first spoke with Chris about making this, it was something I wanted to watch, something I would be excited to see. That's why I got involved," he said at a press conference alongside his writer-director and castmates.
"Dunkirk" charts how 400,000 British and Allied troops were saved from capture or death at the hands of the Germans by a spontaneous fleet of ordinary citizens who crossed the English Channel in their small boats and did what the British navy couldn't.
"We were lucky to tell such an important story in a little more detail than it's usually told," Styles said.
When his "Harry Styles" solo album, his first, was released in May, it simultaneously hit No. 1 in Australia, Canada, Ireland, the U.K. and the U.S. Yet he didn't worry his celebrity might overshadow this drama.
"I can't say I really thought too much about it. Everyone on Chris' set is so passionate, it's so infectious. Everyone has one focus: to do the best for him and for the film."
"My job as director is to see potential in people when casting," Nolan said.
"Whether you're talking about someone who has never done a film before or it's someone very experienced like Mark Rylance or Ken Branagh, you have to see their potential to do something that they've never done before. That's really the ideal.
"You can't worry too much about previous roles or Harry's celebrity. I think the audience when they come to the film, if you've done your job right, will be invested in the world you've created and the story you're trying to tell."
"Dunkirk" vividly chronicles land, sea and air exploits as the enemy closes in. Bombs kill, ships sink and Spitfires soar through dangerous skies.
"Chris creates this world around you where you don't have to 'act' too much. A lot of it is reacting.
"As much as anyone can possibly help you, he creates that situation for you," Styles said, "where you're not intimidated by the scale of everything that's going on around you."
("Dunkirk" opens Friday.) ___
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