Ang Lee has said he knew straight away that he wanted to cast Joe Alwyn – a teenager still in drama school who had never made a film before – in his latest movie.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, which is based on a novel of the same name, tells the story of a fictional soldier brought home from Iraq for a victory tour after becoming a hero when he’s filmed during a battle.
Lee, who has won Academy Awards for Brokeback Mountain and Life Of Pi, says British-born Alwyn was an easy decision for him.
He said: “We saw his tape, I think about two or three months – pretty late in the [casting] process.
“We had a few possibilities. We saw his self-tape and flew him in, and one minute into the reading it was him for me.
“It still took a while to convince the studio to use somebody who has no credit, never done anything for camera, but I wouldn’t even call him raw talent.
“He’s top-notch talent, period. You see his face – he’s a very soulful-looking young man.”
Although Lee chose a newcomer for the lead role, he did select some better-known faces for other parts, including Vin Diesel, Steve Martin and Kristen Stewart, who plays the title character’s sister.
“She was my first choice, when I was contemplating about the movie I saw the angry sister played by her,” Lee said.
Casting a newcomer in the lead role wasn’t the only unusual step Lee took when making the movie – he also chose to make it the first feature film shot at the high frame rate of 120 frames per second.
That frame rate is five times the standard speed of 24 frames per second, and Lee says he wanted to use the new technology to immerse audiences in the story.
“It allows things to be magnified, clarified and personalised. This technology, I think the intimacy of it – the way you’re involved in it, I think it’s something new,” he said.
The use of the higher frame rate has attracted mixed reviews from critics, but Lee says he would like to use it on future projects.
Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is out in cinemas in the UK on 10 February.