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A schoolboy’s taken under (dragon) wing

Eighteen-year-old British actor Edward Speleers says he was just minding his own business, appearing as “Hamlet” in a school play, when he decided to go on an audition for the title role of “Eragon.”

The special-effects laden adaptation of Christopher Paolini’s 2003 bestselling fantasy adventure opens Friday.

“I had always done school productions,” he says. “But I had never been in front of the camera.”

Speleers thought the audition would be good experience and a nice addition to his curriculum vitae. He didn’t think it would lead to anything. But after his initial reading, he was sent the entire script.

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“I had another audition; I was told I was on the short list,” he recalls. “But I had to do the wait for 10 days not knowing if I got the part. Then my dad phoned up and said I had the part.”

“Eragon” revolves around a young man who discovers he is part of an elite troop of Dragon Riders. His best friend and protector is a female dragon named Saphira, voiced by Rachel Weisz.

The film marks the directorial debut of Oscar-nominated special-effects whiz Stefen Fangmeier.

“He helped me through a lot of difficult scenes,” Speleers says of the director. “He also gave me leeway to create the character myself.”

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Because Saphira is computer-generated, Speleers had to act opposite an orange tennis ball on top of a 12-foot pole that filled in for the dragon. “That was tricky. I got over it by creating my own Saphira in my head -- a mixture of my best friend and my mum.”

He had a far easier time bonding with Jeremy Irons, who also plays a Dragon Rider. “Jeremy was literally my on-screen and off-screen mentor,” he says. “He was helping me learn as a person and an actor. He really did take me under his wing.”

Speleers is excited and nervous about the film’s release -- “it has been 18 months of my life I won’t forget” -- but the young actor is determined not to get a swelled head.

“I’ve got to remember I am here to be an actor,” he explains. “That is sort of my philosophy on it. And I have people around me who will make sure I keep my feet firmly on the ground!”

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-- Susan King


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