*Original story published on Variety Latino 12.17.14
Your life can change in an instant. That is what’s happening to Jack O’Connell, star of the new Angelina Jolie film, “Unbroken.” The British actor has captured the attention of critics and the hearts of many around the world portraying the Olympic distance runner, Louis Zamperini, whose life changes in a matter of days.
The true story of Zamperini, who died on July 2, 2014, is amazing and miraculous. Known as “Louie,” he was a renowned Olympic athlete, who at the age of 24 became a soldier for the Second World War. At the age of 26, his plane crashed into the sea during a search mission and survived on an inflatable boat for 47 days until the Japanese army captured him and his partner.
For two years Louis was a prisoner of war, brutally beaten daily and tortured by the prison guard, Mutsuhio Watanabe, until the war ended in 1945. This telling tale of physical and spiritual survival shows how strong a person can be under unimaginable circumstances.
“If I can take it, I can make it,” is what Jack says in the film to keep himself motivated during those brutal and torturous years as a prisoner. I had the pleasure of interviewing O’Connell for his newest role where he told me about his most memorable moments.
What scene are you most proud of?
It’s really hard to dissect because I don’t really look at it separately. It’s kind of a whole. I’m proud of different elements for different reasons. But there was one particular scene were Louis is addressing home at Radio Tokyo. The thought that made me cry wasn’t my mom. I usually use my real life to achieve emotions when it’s necessary, but not this time. This time I was thinking of Maddalena [Ischiale] who plays Louis’ mom. I was thinking of the guy who plays his dad, Vincenzo [Amato], his sisters and Pete. I was missing them and I was far enough into the shoot to really find a groove with Louie and that’s what produced the tears. And I’m really shit with tears usually.
Was there anything that Louis said to you that stuck with you?
The second time I met him I shook his hands and said, ‘you’re in good hands Louie’ and he said, ‘I know. I can tell.’ And he didn’t need to say that, I didn’t expect that from him.
What was Louis’ reaction to the footage that he got to watch?
Well Angelina was referring back to him a lot, trying to decide whether the raft was right and she’d send him photos. I remember after he watched one cut he said my hair was right, my run was right and he said I had some kick on me and there were a couple notes he did give. Bless him, we were shooting in Australia and the doctors didn’t want him to travel. But Angelina knew the man, so there was that constant point of reference and endless information from him because of their relationship. And then the idea that one day we’d watch it and we’d all be together, that was very motivating. That won’t be the case but it still motivated me nonetheless.
In the movie, Louis refuses to read the letter the Japanese wrote. What do you think you would have done in that situation?
I honestly think I would fold. Self-preservation in society, but that’s me as I’m standing here. I don’t have that relationship that he developed with the boys in the camps, you know. And I think that if I was to draw parallels and do my best to put myself in that situation, he didn’t want to disappoint his friends then I think maybe. I don’t know if I could walk into my own death like that.
What part of the story do you feel stayed with you?
I think the part that I’m still wrestling with is the forgiveness because I know I don’t see it within me at this stage. I aspire to be as selfless as Louis one day. I’m all and well sitting here, professing myself like I’m a well natured individual, but in that heat of the moment, when it’s spontaneous, I just don’t know if I’m capable of being that big of a man. But it’s good to know and it’s good to have that example. I feel very advantaged to have been 23 and look this man in the eye and promise him that much.