2 actors praise Angelina Jolie as director
LOS ANGELES—By coincidence, we recently talked to two of the lead actors in Angelina Jolie’s much-anticipated second directing job, “Unbroken,” a biopic of Louis Zamperini, an Olympic track prodigy who later survived a shipwreck, then endured being imprisoned and tortured by the Japanese guards during World War II. Both Jack O’Connell and Jai Courtney, who play Zamperini and Hugh “Cup” Cuppernell, respectively, gushed about their experience being directed by Angelina.
“Certainly, I found Angelina very selfless as an individual, very committed to her work,” said Jack of the actress-director who shot the film, written by the Coen brothers, Richard LaGravenese and William Nicholson, based on Laura Hillenbrand’s best-selling book, “Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption.” “She’s a great person for me, at the age of 23, to be in a working environment with. I learned huge life lessons.”
The boyish-looking UK-born actor, who also stars as Calisto in Noam Murro’s “300: Rise of an Empire,” landed the role of a lifetime. Zamperini was a world record-breaking American high-school track star who went on to compete in the 1936 Berlin Olympics.
In WWII, his US Air Force plane crashed in the Pacific. He and two other survivors were adrift at sea on a life raft for 47 days (one died after 33 days) until they washed up ashore on the Marshall Islands, where they were captured by the Japanese Navy. He and his fellow prisoners of war were severely beaten until the war ended.
On what life lessons he learned, the actor replied, “Patience and tolerance for other people and their jobs. Since I come from an arguably low-budget British cinema background, it was strangely reassuring to see that the same kind of problems were occurring in ‘Unbroken.’”
No two film projects could be more different from each other than the “300” sequel, where Jack plays a young fighter joining a war, and “Unbroken.” Jack said the filmmakers also “do differ quite largely as individuals. But, the whole thing has been a continuous process of educating and strengthening myself as an individual and professional.”
“She’s very generous,” added Jack about Angelina, who made her auspicious feature-directing debut with “In the Land of Blood and Honey.” “She has acquired great leadership skills. She’s inspired. She’s genuine, a grounded, committed professional; hence she has this level of success that she has rightfully earned for herself.”
Jack was grateful that Angelina fought for him, a virtual unknown in the United States although he has impressive English indie film credits. He told us, “Because of that filmography, I was able to approach the role with an acknowledgment that I had earned that position. I deserved to be where I was.”
The Zamperini role seemed to have really challenged Jack physically and mentally. “I think I finally became a man,” he summed up his experience filming “Unbroken.” “I was pushed beyond what I was capable of doing. That involved stamina…It’s a lot of work. The title is ‘Unbroken,’ but there certainly were times when I felt quite the opposite.”
He had to lose about 22 pounds for the POW scenes. Equally challenging for Jack was speaking with an American accent. “I have never done an American accent before in a feature, and that comes with its own challenges,” he said. “Also, this is a real-life American hero who has qualities that should appeal to everyone. The fact that the character’s appeal is so wide—that comes with enormous pressure.”
Jack shared that the story of Zamperini, who’s now 97 years old, was one of victory amid adversities and forgiveness. Zamperini and his Italian family didn’t speak English when they moved from New York to California. He was bullied in school. His brother steered him to school track sports so he could avoid getting into trouble. Pretty soon, Zamperini was breaking records.
Jai, who essays a WWII pilot caught in a deadly midair gunfight alongside Zamperini, said of his filmmaker: “I had a great time working with Angelina. I felt a little wiped out on that film, because I arrived on the set when it was after the holidays. They had just done this epic period of shooting on a raft. The three key actors in that sequence had starved themselves to look as emaciated as possible. They had a chance to go home and put weight back on over the holidays. I didn’t know them beforehand, but they were describing it as though they were zombies. Then, they were born again (after gaining back weight), so the set was thriving.”
“I had a lot of fun on that shoot,” added Jai, who also stars as Eric in “Divergent.” His other credits include Tom Cruise’s “Jack Reacher,” “A Good Day to Die Hard” (he played Bruce Willis’ son) and TV’s “Spartacus” (he portrayed Varro). “Angelina was great. She’s very gifted, totally in control and completely down to earth. She has such a warm, kind, generous presence. I felt very safe in her hands. The film is going to look wonderful. She found a great home for herself in that new role (as a director).”
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