LONDON—Jack O’Connell, 24, is a hot property right now.
Following his much-acclaimed performance earlier this year in the angry prison drama “Starred Up,” now he is receiving rave reviews for his part in director Yann Demange’s high-octane debut “‘71.” And then there’s his highly anticipated role in director Angelina Jolie’s “Unbroken” later this year.
The rising young star says he’s not letting all the attention go to his head—he just thinks about what’s next and how he can do the best possible job.
“Otherwise I’d just be a one-trick pony. I just got to look forward,” he says.
In “‘71,” O’Connell plays Gary Hook, a British soldier lost in the streets of Belfast. For the half-English, half-Irish actor, Northern Ireland’s decades of unrest are a very real part of his family history.
“I had to know that the film wasn’t going to try and point fingers and take a biased view on anything, nor portray anyone either side of the divide unfairly,” he said.
He even considered joining the military as a teen.
“I thought there was an honour in it and I still believe that,” he said.
Luckily for film lovers, O’Connell turned to acting instead and his role in Jolie’s “Unbroken,” due for release around Christmas, could firmly establish him in Hollywood. O’Connell plays former U.S. Olympic distance runner Louis Zamperini, who enlisted in the U.S. Air Force during WWII, where he was shot down over the Pacific and spent two years as a Japanese prisoner of war. He had to lose a lot of weight for the very physical role.
O’Connell says he found the experience “maturing.”
“It made a man out of me and it broke me, contrary to the title,” he said.
The actor described Zamperini, who he met before his death in July at age 97, as a “most extraordinary human being.”
“He was so humble,” he added. “He never once considered himself anything extraordinary at all.”
O’Connell said “Unbroken” was his big biggest challenge to date because he was “under the command of one of the most famous people on the planet”—director Jolie.
“I think the more I focused on the enormity of the whole project, the more it felt beyond me,” he said.
“Unbroken” is set for U.S. release Dec. 25, reaching UK cinemas on Dec. 26.