Spotlight on... Jack O'Connell

"I think you have to isolate each role and treat them individually. The preparation is rarely the same."

From humble Derby roots to Hollywood stardom, Rosie Marshalsay speaks to Jack O’Connell, Derby born actor who’s received critical acclaim for his work, most notably playing the lead role of Louis Zamperini in the Angelina Jolie directed World War Two epic Unbroken.


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So Jack, what made you want to go into acting?

I don’t remember any clean cut decisions being made; I guess I was just filling my time up someway and somehow. I’m a big Rams fan but there were times when I wasn’t playing or watching football and needed something to do.

Who’s been your biggest influence?

That’s a big one. Ian Smith at the Nottingham Workshop has had a lot of influence on my life professionally and personally. But I don’t want to neglect me mother, grandmother, or me dad. A lot of people, thankfully; I’m surrounded by good folk.

What do you look for in a role?

Now I need to assess whether it’ll give me an opportunity to do something different; I have to establish myself as a diverse actor. I’m always comparing a role to what I’ve just done, what it’ll enable me to do, and whether it’s a departure from what I’ve been seen doing before.

How do you prepare yourself for each role?

It always depends on the individual I’m supposed to be playing as there will be specific requirements to meet. Playing Louis I had to be at least half fit and have some stamina to get round those tracks, so that took some training.

I think you have to isolate each role and treat them individually. The preparation is rarely the same.

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J‌ack O'Connell

How long does it take?

All depends on the role. With Louis it took a while because I had to lose weight and also put my mind set in a place where I’d never been before. I had to do a degree of suffering in order to empathise with the man.

Preparation for my most recent role in Money Monster, directed by Jodie Foster, was relatively quick as the biggest hurdle on that was the accent.

You’ve enjoyed significant success - how do you keep grounded?

It’s important to remember the things that have actual value. It’s all well and good being told this and that about myself from some inspiring people, but at the end of the day it’s only acting, it’s only film making. I’d argue it’s an important art form but it is what it is, we’re not saving anyone’s life so it’s by no means crucial. I guess that helps me stay humble, as well as coming back to Derby and following the Rams, which keeps you on your toes.

I imagine Hollywood is very different to Derby – when you’re over there how does it feel to be part of that world?

Everyone in Hollywood is technically an outsider anyway as there are very few people actually from there. They call me one of the lucky ones, I get to leave, to disappear and only go there when it’s necessary for work. I’ve got little interest in ever living there.

What’s the biggest challenge facing actors today?

It’s hard to say because everyone’s different. For me, once you’ve become established as a certain type of actor it’s very difficult to try and move away from that, or to suggest or establish any range from that. It’s difficult to convince not only casting directors but sometimes audiences, let alone producers, that you’re capable of doing something that opposes what you’ve been seen doing before. That’s a challenge. And that’s after many, many challenges that come before that. Even getting started out is quite tricky; there was a lot of sacrifice that had to happen for myself. It’s not easy.

"It’s important to remember the things that have actual value. It’s all well and good being told this and that about myself from some inspiring people, but at the end of the day it’s only acting, it’s only film making."

If you could have anyone else’s career whose would it be?

David Beckham’s. He seems to get paid more and more for less and less these days!

Dream role?

Playing Paul Gascgoine or Elvis Presley, in some sort of biopic.  

What’s next for you?

I’m going to be playing a solider in HHHH, a film about the assassination of Himmler, who’s a pretty important character in history. That will take me up to January; then it’s a case of trying to branch out. I’d like to do some theatre and I’m having some very exciting conversations about other projects which I’m not able to speak about just yet.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?

Hopefully I’ll have directed a few things by then and people can call me a film maker, that’d be nice.

What advice would you give to young people keen to pursue a career in the industry?

Keep knocking on the door, and make sure you’re being influenced correctly. Make sure your ‘bullshitometer’ is nicely tuned; it’s all about detecting who’s lying and who’s not, even when you’re acting.

What’s your favourite part of your job?

Recently I’ve been able to go out and get stuck in with charities. I’ve been working in Cambodia with Angelina’s foundation that does a lot of work out there, helping to develop whole villages and offering them schooling. I was able to go out there as a byproduct of what I do and be in a position where I was feeling like I was actually helping. I’ve got to say that outweighs anything I do.

It’s good to have a cause to champion isn’t it?

I’d say so, it does me a lot of good too so maybe it’s not so selfless. 


Writer: Rosie Marshalsay

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