‘Masters Of The Air’ Star Callum Turner On The ‘Grueling,’ ‘Mind-Blowing’ Apple TV+ Series

Just a month into 2024 and Callum Turner is already having one hell of a year.

The 33-year-old British actor can count the George Clooney-directed sports drama The Boys in the Boat and the Steven Spielberg-produced World War II series, Masters of the Air, amongst his recent on-screen credits. Both roles have earned him praise from critics, thrusting him into the spotlight with Hollywood “It” boys of the moment like Austin Butler and Barry Keoghan – who, coincidentally, serve as his co-stars on the Apple TV+ show.

And, in what may be the most definitive piece of evidence concerning the question of whether Turner has “made it,” he’s now fielding rumors during red carpet walks that he’s in the running to become the next James Bond. (He’s not, that he knows of.)

With his role as Major John “Bucky” Eagan in the Spielberg and Tom Hanks-backed Band of Brothers off-shoot, Turner trades on his physicality, vibrating with barely-contained rage in every scene he’s in. The high-flying bomber pilot is reckless, antagonistic, and ill-equipped to weather the emotional brunt of war, but his heroics in the air and his care for his men weigh the scales.

Uproxx chatted with Turner about his personal connection to the big-budget war series, being a loose cannon on set, and trying to lose his American accent once filming was done.

Was a World War II movie near the top of your acting bucket list?

Not anymore, but it was, for sure. The truth is that my granddad went to war when he was 16 years old, and I grew up on the stories that people would tell about him. I’ve always been fascinated by this moment in history and how miraculously the Allies managed to win and how close we came so many times to losing — how many mistakes got made and how fragile life is. I guess that’s what it represents, how lucky we are that we live in this time. I didn’t know about the Eighth Air Force and I didn’t know about the 100th, and I’m just very grateful that I get to be a part of this story, to shine a light on their legacy.

I always thought it would be the infantrymen who had the toughest time down there on the ground, but actually, it was these guys. They would fly into the face of adversity, into hell, and lose men left, right, and center. What’s exceptional about our show is that we experience that. We go up with them and we see that hell, and we see that pain and we see how outrageous it is, what they had to put themselves through. Only 23% of them make it, which is such a low number. It just blows my mind. And we watch them deal with grief and trauma, the effect that has on their mind, body, and soul.

Your The Boys In The Boat role required a lot from you physically. Did this show challenge you in a similar way?

Absolutely. It’s tight in those planes, it really is. And you’ve got a lot of gear on. You’ve got your flak vest, you’ve got your life jacket, you’ve got your parachute rig. I’m also 6’2″, which is a lot bigger than John Egan. He was wafer thin and I’ve got broad shoulders. It was just an interesting exploration of who this man was. I didn’t want to just bring this idea of John Egan with me. I wanted to find him from within, and that meant being him as much as possible, staying in the accent, drinking loads of whiskey, and dancing and singing as much as possible. I mean, I know it sounds like really hard work.

It does, yeah.

[laughs] It wasn’t. It was a lot of fun. I was lucky enough to be one of the leads of the show with Austin, and I felt the weight of that. I carried that on my shoulders.

Did you learn anything about your leadership style playing Eagan and being one of the leads on this show?

I love the responsibility because you get to work closely with the directors and you get to be there every day. I always describe it as like being on a train. Once the train leaves the station, if you’re already on the train, it’s much easier to stay with it. When you’re playing a supporting part and that train is moving, you’ve got to jump off, and then further down the line, you’ve got to jump back on while it’s still going. I just like the rhythm and the flow of being in it. And 10 months is a long time to shoot something. We had some COVID breaks, our schedules got compressed. [But] I just really loved every second. It was grueling at times, five days a week, sometimes six, and I relished it.

Did that make it harder to come back to the real world when filming was finally done?

What was difficult was leaving the character. I mean, I spoke in an American accent every single day. In 2021, I spoke more in an American accent than my own.

I’m so sorry. That sounds terrible.

[laughs] No, it was so much fun. I went from John Egan to Joe Rantz. I had a month off before I started. Going from playing someone who has a high level of alcohol dependency to someone who is an Olympic rower was a real shock to my system. But I feel like what I get to do is the most special thing on the planet, and I never take it for granted. It truly is like being part of the circus. You can have the most beautiful experiences if you’re lucky.

Over the first few episodes, your character feels a bit unhinged. He’s definitely reckless. Why do you think he acts out in that way?

He’s an extrovert anyway, and he’s dealing with all this grief and trauma and this high-pressure situation. It must just be the most mind-breaking situation for you to be in. I just wanted to let him loose. Everything that I read was that he was this loose cannon, and the 100th was this loose cannon group of people, and I wanted to embrace that.

And then, I think that embracing that side of him meant that when he says, ‘Oh, I want to write the letters to the families of the men who we lost because it’s more of a personal touch,’ it means so much more. Because he’s multifaceted and he’s got a heart. That’s the thing that bonds him and Cleven, they’re both extraordinary pilots and extraordinary men.

How much of those aerial fight scenes, like the one in episode three, are CGI versus real effects?

We had the old-school way of making movies and the new-school way, which was just a beautiful dichotomy. They built 81 buildings — the barracks, the officers’ mess, the clubhouse … it was so big that they gave us a map. You really immerse yourself in that world. It’s like you’re there. You have all these extras, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds, sometimes thousands of extras. And then, you had this thing called the volume, which is the new-school way of doing things and that was the CGI element. It’s a horseshoe of high-definition screens that are wrapped around you while you’re 50 feet in the air on a gimbal in the plane, doing these scenes. And the screen and the gimbal are in sync, so whatever you see, you feel.

I found the etiquette video they made American GIs watch before heading over to England during the war. I heard you watched that as well. Are there any tips that still stand?

It’s hilarious. “Don’t be loud when you go into a pub and don’t be rude.” Just some basic manners there. But what’s important is that that video represented the moment. The Brits didn’t want the Americans there. But by the end of it, we were all brothers in arms. We’d achieved something together.