West Sussex actor on the big screen in new George Clooney movie

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So how do you prepare for a Zoom meeting with George Clooney? The answer is that you don’t, says Bruce Herbelin-Earle from East Grinstead, one of the cast in Clooney’s massive new movie The Boys In The Boat.

Bruce had received an email about a sports drama that Clooney was directing: “I hadn't read the book but they were casting their lead guy and so I sent in an audition tape. And George Clooney must have liked it. I didn't get the lead role but a couple of weeks later I got an email saying that he would like to do a Zoom call with me. But you just don’t prepare. You don’t have to because Clooney has such charisma and such a way with people that he makes you feel very at ease, and from every interview I had seen I was expecting him to be the man he is... and he is that man.”

The result was a fabulous five months of work telling the remarkable 1930s story of the University of Washington's rowing team, from their Depression-era beginnings to winning gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

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“It was just post-Covid that I was auditioning and out of all the auditions I went for George was the only one that picked up the telephone and gave me feedback. He wanted to know if I was physically fit enough to be up for the movie and whether I would be able to learn the sport. I said I would consider it an honour to be in the film and that I would do whatever was needed to do that.”

Bruce Herbelin-Earle (pic by Wil Coban)Bruce Herbelin-Earle (pic by Wil Coban)
Bruce Herbelin-Earle (pic by Wil Coban)

The Zoom lasted 12 minutes and the upshot was that Bruce was given the character of George “Shorty” Hunt to play: “We were shooting in February 2022. We spent two months in Oxford in the rowing facility at Radley College. We were given eight weeks to learn how to row and I became very close with those boys. We were taught by ex-Olympics rowing coaches and then we spent three months making the film. It was a total of about five months. The filming was in and around London. We were on the Thames for training but out west they built a replica boathouse in Swindon, a replica of the original that you can see in Seattle, Washington.

“George is just not any different to what you see on TV. He's very charming and very open and a joker and a trickster and very generous with his time. And he wasn't too hands on. He wanted to see what we brought to the table. If there was something he wanted, he would come and give us very short and very simple notes and we would go again and most of the time just that little adjustment would make all the difference. But really he was wanting to see what we were made of. We were playing real-life characters but he was not completely fixed on that aspect. There was the bigger story to tell which was about the camaraderie and the team work rather than just the individuals who were involved.

“I have watched the film about four times now, and it’s certainly an unusual experience to see yourself on that big screen however many feet wide, but once you have got the initial viewing out of the way then you can really focus on the actual film and I feel so proud of it. Even before I saw the film for the first time I knew that what we had made was going to be on the screen in its entirety. I felt so confident in the making of the film that I knew that it was going to be no less than what we had shot. What is so great is the pace and the editing. It's a film that will certainly resonate with rowers but also with people who don't row who will love the fluidity of the piece, the speed and the rhythm, the fact that it tells such a beautiful story at such a beautiful pace.”

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And that story? “We all consider ourselves the underdogs and it's impossible to escape that feeling sometimes even if you are happy and optimistic as a person. We all have those lows but the point is in this film that in those low moments it is not just about thinking about yourself. It is about thinking who is next to you. It's about thinking about your family and your friends. It's about leaning who is beside you and letting yourself be helped. It's not about bottling ourselves up and putting ourselves in a corner. It's about working with the people around you.”