Wednesday, January 7, 2015

By Eric Kohn | Awards Spotlight January 5, 2015 at 3:56PM
One of the biggest breakout stories of 2014 starred in a movie directed by the biggest name in Hollywood. What was that like?

Jack O'Connell was having an amazing year even before he starred in Angelina Jolie’s "Unbroken," where he plays Olympic runner-turned-WWII survivor Louie Zamperini, who died a few months before the film’s release. Earlier in 2014, O’Connell appeared in the grim British war drama "'71" and the gritty prison tale "Starred Up," both of which found the 24-year-old actor — previously known best for his role on the BBC series "Skins" — receiving major accolades for his intense performances. But with "Unbroken," O'Connell made the leap from rising talent to global celebrity by appearing in one of the biggest Christmas Day releases, in a film directed by one of the biggest names in Hollywood.

Needless to say, there was a lot of pressure on O'Connell to deliver on a very challenging role: Zamperini’s story finds the soldier surviving a devastating plane crash in the middle of the ocean, where he struggled with two colleagues for nearly 50 days in a lifeboat before being captured by Japanese soldiers and interred at a POW camp. There, he received brutal treatment at the hands of an overbearing lieutenant (Japanese pop singer Miyavi) who was especially cruel to Zamperini because of his celebrity.

In addition to the extreme physical demands of the role, O'Connell was also faced with the challenge of tapping into Zamperini's struggles without overstating them. The soldier’s plight is notable for his ability to internalize much of his grief, so O’Connell found that it helped to work with a director who understood the acting challenge at hand. As he explains in the video below, Jolie’s communication skills helped the actor figure out a strategy for investing in the performance.

As the movie’s title implies, Zamperini’s resilience is a key aspect of his story. But the actor himself didn’t always feel up to the task at hand. However, O’Connell said that he managed to find the strength to do his job by scrutinizing the traits that allowed Zamperini to get through each brutal day.

While O’Connell learned a lot about Zamperini from Jolie, the actor was also fortunate enough to meet the inspiration for his character before Zamperini passed away. Here, the actor explains the impact of those encounters on his performance.

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