Tales From The Tents

The Washington Crew On and Off-Screen: Interview with Actor Bruce Herbelin-Earle from The Boys in the Boat


On the final day of the Regatta, Sir Matthew Pinsent CBE sat down with ‘The Boys In The Boat’ actor Bruce Herbelin- Earle to discuss his immersion into the world of rowing. Bruce portrayed one of the crew members in the George Clooney directed film - George ‘Shorty’ Hunt - from the University of Washington crew who represented the USA at the 1936 Olympic Games. The film depicts the inspirational true story following a working-class rowing team who go from absolute beginners to winning a gold medal in the men’s eight.

Their journey to victory is set against the backdrop of the Great Depression and the rumblings of World War II. Fast forward to today, The University of Washington raced at Henley Royal Regatta this year in a dramatic final of The Grand Challenge Cup, where they devastatingly hit the booms in the middle of their race after qualifying.

Tell us more about your connection to the sport?

“Two years ago I got a phone call from George Clooney asking to be in his crew for a film that he was directing called The Boys in the Boat, based on the very popular book. He wanted to find out whether I was up for the athletic component of the role. 

A couple of months later I was training in a boat with a group of novices. I'd never set foot in a boat before, let alone even learned the proper technique on a rowing machine.

When it came to training, the weeks went by and we naturally slipped into this amazing rhythm of working together and discovering the sport together.”

How long did it take you as a crew to have your first feel for a good stroke? 

“We were about halfway through filming and we were really getting it. We'd had all the training and we got into the rhythm of doing quick starts on the lake. As George Clooney would call action, we’d go for about 30 seconds and stop. 

We had a couple of times where we'd all look to each other and feel something different - that was about halfway through filming. 

On one of the days we even reached 46 strokes. The boys reached 46 in the Olympic race and we hit it- but not for very long. 

We tasted it, just for a few strokes, and we understood exactly why rowers do what they do.”

Did you find yourself going back to the book again and reading it with new eyes?

“I read it before I started the job. As we were shooting, it became my reference, a little emotional reference book, so to speak. It was a great tool.”

You are proudly wearing the colours of the University of Washington, the boys in the boat. Do you think the current athletes have reclaimed that title and used it to reinvigorate their programme?

“Yes, it has been revived. But I think this year the Varsity crew of the University of Washington are exceptional. There are three Brits in the boat who are exceptional. The coach is exceptional. It's very evident that these guys are extremely talented. It's great to have played even a small part in that.”

How have you found attending your first Henley Royal Regatta for finals day?

“I'm here supporting the Washington boys and they had a rough race. But, they've done amazing this year, and I'm so proud of who they are and what they're going to go on and become.”

How does this experience now leave you within the sport? Are you a passionate observer? Are you still rowing? What has it done to you inside?

“I would love to be in a boat, but it won't be with my boys. So there's this barrier, there's this reluctance. 

Joel, one of the actors in the boat, is rowing with a different crew - that’s fantastic. Every time I go to the gym, I warm up on the rowing machine. So, it’s still in me. But, I'm reluctant to jump into another boat so soon because of the experience that I had with these boys. It was just so special.”

With the Olympics in Paris coming up - you’re going to watch all of that with new eyes, right?

“Absolutely. It's going to feel amazing. I'm connected to the sport in a way that not many people can say they are. I went from zero to a hundred miles an hour in about eight weeks. Then it was time to shoot and we had to be ready. We had to look like Olympians and it was a daunting task, but thanks to the trainers, we passed that test.”

Have you been to the University of Washington boathouse? What did it feel like to walk in their footsteps?

“An absolutely crazy experience. The University of Washington was very kind to invite us over and the boathouse is still standing and British boatbuilder Pocock's office is exactly the way it was. It's sort of like a museum now. I was speechless when I walked in.”



Henley Royal Regatta Press Team – hrr@thephagroup.com

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