Anthony Boyle shows his versatility and range as a heroic Second World War navigator in Masters Of The Air and the man who shot Lincoln in Manhunt

Masters Of The Air

Anthony Boyle as Lieutenant Harry Crosby in Masters Of The Air

Source: Apple TV+

The saying goes, ‘If you don’t ask, you don’t get.’ Be it in life or, indeed, acting, as Anthony Boyle discovered when he auditioned for Apple TV+’s Masters Of The Air. The nine-part miniseries, based on Donald L Miller’s book of the same name, follows the 100th Bomb Group, a B-17 Flying Fortress heavy bomber unit during the Second World War.

Boyle, a Screen International Star of Tomorrow in 2016, initially auditioned for another role, but was attracted to the part of real-life Lieutenant Harry Crosby, a nervy Flying Fortress navigator who wound up the 100th’s lead navigator and later helped plan the D-Day invasion.

“They sent me the first two episodes and Harry didn’t feel like he belonged in that story or TV show,” reveals Northern Ireland-born Boyle. “He felt so bizarre and offbeat to everything else that was happening, and I found that very interesting. Everyone felt so cool and a ready-made hero, and Crosby was throwing up in the first scene. But he was also narrating [the show] and I thought that was so clever. Then they sent me a series outline of what happened to him in the story, and he was full of surprises.”

Given all that, Boyle asked executive producer Cary Joji Fukunaga, who also directed the opening four episodes, if he could audition for Crosby. Fukunaga agreed, and Boyle used YouTube videos of the former navigator, interviewed later in life, “to get his voice and his movement down. I walked around Belfast pretending to be him.” He recorded a handful of scenes with friends, and Fukunaga offered him the part.

To help prepare for their roles, the show’s main cast — which included Austin Butler and Callum Turner — were all sent a folder of research material about how to fly a plane, what music the aviators would have listened to, as well as Miller’s book to read. But Boyle found Crosby’s memoir of his time at war, On A Wing And A Prayer, more useful. “He writes with such self-deprecation and humour; it gave me a good window into him as a human being,” notes Boyle. “I would take sections and send them to John Orloff, the writer, and say, ‘It’d be good to have a wee bit of this.’” Orloff agreed, incorporating several of Boyle’s suggestions into latter scripts. “If you get cast early, before everything’s drafted, you can have a bit more leeway.”

The actors also took part in a boot camp, led by former US marine Dale Dye, the show’s military advisor. “All of us playing majors were in charge of 20 other guys, so it was all very psychological,” explains Boyle, who wondered why Dye was getting them to march, even though they never march in the show. “We were trying to establish a thing called ‘crew glue’. If there’s 11 of you in this plane, you must think as one, breathe as one, feel as one. If we zig and one guy zags, we’re all dead. And I was learning how to put on the uniform every day, so you didn’t have a costume person do it. It was a useful and unique rehearsal process.”

Produced by Apple Studios in conjunction with Tom Hanks’ Playtone and Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Television, Masters Of The Air serves as a companion to Hanks and Spielberg’s Band Of Brothers and The Pacific. The production shot for 12 months beginning in 2021, but Boyle only met members of Crosby’s family at the film’s Los Angeles premiere earlier this year.

“The last two things I’d done [Tetris and Danny Boy] I had played real people and was involved with them,” explains Boyle. “For this I wanted to go it alone, to be separate and not have an extra weight of pressure by having a relationship with the family.” Not that they were anything but complimentary with his portrayal. “Afterwards, his eldest son handed me a whiskey and said, ‘We didn’t expect to see our father on screen, but I feel like we got dad back.’”

Polar opposite


Source: Apple TV+


During production, Boyle auditioned for Manhunt, another Apple TV+ limited series, in which he plays John Wilkes Booth, the stage actor who shot and killed US president Abraham Lincoln. And three months after finishing Masters Of The Air, he was in Savannah, Georgia filming Manhunt. “Having just played Crosby, who is motivated by love and goodness and kindness, I wanted to play someone the polar opposite. That’s how I’ve been picking roles the last couple years. I want to do whatever feels different. I enjoy that variety, jumping into different worlds and different kinds of people and living with them for a bit.”

Boyle continues: “I love the physicality and the mental stuff, and I like the accents. I like playing something away from me. I get a buzz out of that. And Booth was an asshole. He was an egotistical mother­fucker. He led with his balls. He led with his chest. He was a horrible guy.”

As with Masters Of The Air, Manhunt required several weeks of training — this time at a cowboy boot camp. “I’d never ridden a horse, so I started riding with all these cowboys, chewing tobacco, drinking whiskey,” Boyle recalls. “You pick up so many great things hanging around people, not just how they think, but little details, like they’ll pick up a blade of grass and stick it in their mouth, and during a scene, you’ll go, ‘I’ll do that.’ And it looks lived in. So much is body language, picking up how people are in a room, how they sit, how they scratch, tiny things can make a difference on screen.”

In addition, Boyle found a book of letters Booth had written and received between the ages of 15 and 26. “That was invaluable, to see him writing his own views on race in America, on women, on the arts, on himself, of which he wrote a lot because he was an absolute narcissist. I built the whole character on the letters. Aged 15, he’s a bit of a lad. By 17, 18, he’s saying things like, ‘Someone disrespected my sister, so I hit him with a stick and watched the blood pour down his head.’ And by 25 he’s saying, ‘The black man is enslaving the white man in America.’ So this complete brain rot, this racist ideology, it’s got hold of him.”

To play Booth, Boyle also took inspiration from Daniel Day-Lewis’s character in There Will Be Blood and from Joaquin Phoenix in The Master. “I like that style of performance,” he reflects. “They’re both capable of such beautiful subtlety in those roles, but the essence of those men felt quite big and I wanted Booth to feel larger-than-life. After playing Crosby, which felt all inward, I wanted Booth to take up space.”

Since finishing Masters Of The Air and Manhunt, Boyle has appeared in Disney+ show Shardlake and will next be seen as Brendan Hughes, former leader of the Provisional IRA’s Belfast Brigade, in FX’s upcoming nine-episode series Say Nothing. “There was a mural of him outside my school. It was kind of crazy to play him.”

Having spent the best part of 2024 promoting Masters Of The Air and Manhunt, Boyle is finally back at work next month. “I can’t wait,” he admits, although he is not allowed to elaborate. “That’s what the moustache is for.” He is sporting Booth-like facial hair. “I’m so excited about it.”

The nominations-round voting period for the 76th Primetime Emmy Awards is open from June 13-24.