Jack O'Connell in a scene from the movie Unbroken.
Jack O'Connell in a scene from the movie Unbroken. Universal Pictures

Go behind the scenes of Unbroken with star Jack O'Connell

JACK O'Connell has played an Olympian, a bombardier, a man lost at sea and a prisoner of war.

They were all, in fact, the same person: Louis Zamperini.

Unbroken, the latest directorial effort of Angelina Jolie, tells the story of Zamperini's incredible life, from his troubled childhood to competing as a long distance runner at the 1936 Olympics to his military service.

During the Second World War, Zamperini survived a plane crash and spent 47 days adrift at sea before being captured by the Japanese.

He spent more than a year at several prisoner-of-war camps, where he was tormented by notorious prison guard Mutsuhiro "Bird" Watanabe.

Jack O'Connell and Takamasa Ishihara in Unbroken.
Jack O'Connell and Takamasa Ishihara in Unbroken. Universal Pictures

Zamperini's story is one of resilience and survival.

"In order to portray Louis, we had to understand selflessness," O'Connell told APN.

"In my generation there's a lot of emphasis on me, you know, what I'm doing.

"I don't plan on changing the world, but I certainly want to set an example there (with this film)."

The 24-year-old went through a lengthy audition process for the starring role.

During the screen testing phase he was locked in a dark room and hit with a rubber baton to simulate the brutal conditions Zamperini endured.

"I was close enough to smell it, you know?" he said.

"I was pretty adamant that I was going to make sure it (the audition) went my way, even if I had to get a couple of blows.

"When they were showing the tape he (Louis) didn't like my bad language (laughs). It was definitely eye opening… but I don't deserve any sympathy."

O'Connell spent time with Zamperini on three occasions - before, during and after the film shoot - before the war veteran died.

Angelina Jolie with war hero Louis Zamperini.
Angelina Jolie with war hero Louis Zamperini. Universal Pictures

"When everything was all done and dusted, that was probably my favourite time (with him)," he said.

"There was no pressure. I just got to hang out with him, and I was feeling good about the film too.

"We got to talk about rude things (laughs). He was a great flirt; he was brilliant at flirting. It was effortless to him."

The war drama was shot in Queensland and NSW and Aussie cinema-goers can finally now see the film after its world premiere was held in Sydney in November.

O'Connell is full of praise for Jolie. He describes her as a maternal director, but also notes she was happy to have a dance on a night out with the cast and crew.

Director Angelina Jolie with the stars of her movie Unbroken, Takamasa Ishihara, left, and Jack O'Connell in Sydney.
Director Angelina Jolie with the stars of her movie Unbroken, Takamasa Ishihara, left, and Jack O'Connell in Sydney. Universal Pictures

"She is so maternally instinctive. Not overly (though). She wasn't trying to adopt people or anything," he laughed.

"She commanded everyone's respect in that way. It was already kind of earned."

Japanese rock musician Takamasa Ishihara (also known by his stage name Miyavi), makes his English-language feature film debut as The Bird.

"He's a rock 'n' roll legend in Japan and he's a really gifted actor too. Those are two traits there I ultimately respect," O'Connell said.

"We spent a lot of time apart (on set). We'd say hello, but any time we were on set we just kept to the vision (of him as my captor/torturer).

"After (we filmed) the prison camp sequences I joined him on stage for a gig. One of our producers is a drummer… apparently we sounded good."

Unbroken opens nationally on Thursday.


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