Angelina Jolie’s directorial debut, Unbroken, is worth the hype (see her talk about it here). The film chronicles the epic true-life story of Louis Zamperini, an American Olympic distance runner and war hero who survived horrific ordeals during World War II.
And the actor she chose to take on the role? Derby-born newcomer, Jack O’Connell.
Having made a name for himself in a handful of smaller projects (including Shane Meadows’ gritty Brit drama, This Is England, and E4's Skins), the actor’s effervescent energy manifests itself with fiery conviction onscreen.
We grabbed five minutes with the man all of Hollywood has its eyes on right now.
ELLE: How did you feel when you found out that you were going to be working with Angelina Jolie?
Jack O’Connell: If you’re going to be taken seriously, you have to shake off that star-struck mentality early on. I felt a similar sense of awe around Sir Michael Caine and Judi Dench, but you have a job to do, and if I want to keep acting, I wouldn’t be doing myself any favours by getting wrapped up in that.
ELLE: So what were your first impressions of her?
Jack O’Connell: She actually seemed a bit nervous! It made the whole thing more normal. She’s very caring; she’s got this huge heart. So, very quickly the job became a personal investment.
ELLE: Did she have any advice for you?
Jack O’Connell: Yes, she is full of advice. She gave me relationship advice! She was always there and she’s done a lot for me, but I never really wanted to pick her brains too much.
ELLE: Would you ever follow in Angelina’s footsteps: acting then directing?
Jack O’Connell: I have a few more strings to my bow. [Laughs] I’m a jack-of-all-trades. Her example is definitely one that I consider an inspiration in terms of what I want to achieve. Yes, there is a long-term plan.
ELLE: Have the Oscars crossed your mind?
Jack O’Connell: When I was filming and feeling my worst, there were times when the idea of Oscar recognition motivated me, but that doesn’t make the film any more important. It does represent an element of validation - because the job and the task at hand are so heartfelt and important for us – so, for anyone to praise that, we’re going to take it straight to heart.
ELLE: It’s an epic film. Have you thought about what kind of fame it is going to propel you to?
Jack O’Connell: I mean it’s been so gradual; I’ve been eased into it with Skins and my TV work prior to that, so I feel a bit seamless about it. I know I like my privacy, but I also love the job I do and they go hand in hand. I received priceless advice from Brad [Pitt] to just remain focused and keep looking forward. Whatever I did isn’t going to define me; it’s what I choose to do next.
ELLE: Would you rather play a love interest or a raving psychopath?
Jack O’Connell: I’d go for the psycho. I feel up for it and youthful.
ELLE: If you could go back in time and steal any film role, what would it be?
Jack O’Connell: I really like Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest; I would have loved to have done that.
ELLE: He’s a bit of a psycho in that…
Jack O’Connell: He is a bit of a psycho, but it was his; he put such a stamp on it. So much so, that I probably wouldn’t benefit anyone by doing that.
ELLE: Who would you love to work with?
Jack O’Connell: Matthew McConaughey has inspired me a lot recently; he’s great. I regard him as royalty. I love watching him.
ELLE: If you weren’t an actor what would you want to do? Did you have a plan b?
Jack O’Connell: If I had really failed at acting, I’d be a missionary somewhere, just helping. That’s the only thing that I think could stimulate me.
Unbroken is out on 26 December.