‘Dunkirk’ star Fionn Whitehead takes on war, Christopher Nolan and One Direction

A year and a half ago, Fionn Whitehead was an unknown aspiring actor working in a coffee shop in the Waterloo district of London. On his off hours, he’d go in for every audition he could, hoping to catch a break that would free him, he says, from “washing dishes and taking orders from angry businessmen.”

Then one day Whitehead went in to read for a part in director Christopher Nolan’s World War II thriller, “Dunkirk,” and — if you’ll forgive the Hollywood cliché, which happens to be true here — everything changed.

Arriving in theaters on July 21, “Dunkirk” recounts the harrowing story of the evacuation of nearly 400,000 British and Allied soldiers from the beaches of Dunkirk, France, where they were surrounded and under heavy fire from German forces in the spring of 1940. Chronicling a pivotal moment in the war — albeit one unfamiliar to many Americans — the film plays out on an epic scale on land, sea and air and features such boldfaced British names as Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance and, in his first film role, pop star Harry Styles.

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