Callum Turner Unpacks His ‘Soul Connection’ to Swashbuckling Character in ‘Masters of the Air’

Even before auditioning for “Masters of the Air,” Callum Turner felt a “soul connection” with John “Bucky” Egan, the troublemaking yet endearing Air Force Major he plays in Apple TV+’s WWII limited series executive produced by Steven Spielberg, Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman. When he read the scripts, he just understood who Bucky was.

“I felt incredibly connected to John Egan from the beginning. I got him,” Turner told TheWrap. “I didn’t know the skeleton of the show, but I knew that I had this thing with him that felt special. Sometimes, you get a character and you’re just completely and utterly in love with them, and John Egan is one of those.”

The London native, who appeared in the two most recent “Fantastic Beasts” films and costarred in last year’s “The Boys on the Boat,” was immediately drawn to Bucky’s commitment to service — he enlisted in the Air Force even before the U.S. joined the war following the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941.

“He had something inside of him, inherently, that (made him feel that) he needed to protect us and our futures, fight the good fight and face up to adversity,” Turner said. He was also moved by Bucky’s big, compassionate heart: In the series, he writes letters to the families of fallen soldiers he knew.

The flip side of Bucky’s “fire in the belly,” as Turner put it, was the anguish behind his heavy drinking while off the clock. “I read something early on that your personality is times 10 in warfare because of the things you have to battle every single day — seeing your friends go down or explode in the sky,” he said. “I’m a little protective of his swashbuckling personality and I gave him leeway for that. (He) probably wouldn’t be able to get back in that plane (day after day) if he didn’t drink himself into oblivion the night before.”

Turner stars opposite Austin Butler’s Gale “Buck” Cleven, who rose through the ranks as a Major after also enlisting prior to Pearl Harbor. The pair develop a tight-knit friendship that manifested off-screen as well. “Even though our personalities are completely different, like Buck and Bucky, we’re kindred spirits,” Turner said.

And just as their characters pass the torch to eager young pilots throughout the series, Turner and Butler made efforts to mentor their younger, less experienced costars, many of whom were working their first professional gigs. “(Buck and Bucky) really led by example, and it was so important to me and to Austin, too, that we did that on set,” the actor said. “Art seeps into reality. There are energies you can pick up.”

When Germans capture Bucky as a prisoner of war, he becomes what Turner likened to a “caged animal.” “I remember I saw this polar bear in a zoo in Toyko and it was just pacing around,” he recalled. “That’s Bucky, someone who’s so free is now caged and he can’t get out. He’s been stripped emotionally and physically of himself. Once he’s in there, he starts questioning who he is and what he’s fighting for.”

By the end of the series, Bucky earns his moment of victory as Allied troops fly over the POW camp sharing news of the war’s end, prompting Bucky to climb atop the camp’s flag pole and replace the Nazi flag with the stars and stripes. As they filmed the triumphant moment, Turner found himself thinking of his grandfather, who became a prisoner of war in WWII after enlisting at age 16 by getting his mother to sign what he told her was a permission form for school.

“I just felt like I was doing it for him,” Turner said. “I was up there for him, and not only him, but all the people that sacrificed themselves. There’s no way to repay them, but just to honor them and nod to them is what we can do. And to be a small part of that was a great honor.”

This story first ran in the Limited Series/Movies issue of TheWrap’s awards magazine. Read more from the Limited Series/Movies issue here.

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