If you don't know who Jack O'Connell is, you're about to: the 23-year-old British actor, whose accent is so thick you could easily mistake him for a Dickensian street urchin, stars as Louis Zamperini, a real life hero who won Olympic medals and was then a World War II prison camp survivor, in "Unbroken," the Oscar-bound drama directed by Angelina Jolie. Up until this point, he had starred in small British films like "Harry Brown," "This Is England," and this year's prison drama "Starred Up." Now he's about to jump off.

And for a kid with such exciting career prospects, he is unusually thoughtful and contemplative. Sitting down with him recently to talk about "Unbroken," I got the impression that this all weighs very heavily on him. At one point in the interview he uses the word "we" to discuss the team that helps him make career decisions, but he could have just as easily been discussing the inhabitants of planet Earth. He feels things deeply. But not that he's overly serious. At one point he notices that the orchid, sitting on a table between us, is wilting. "Look at these orchids! They're dying, man! Oh f*ck, we've got to get them some water." Then he rushes over and pours water on them, all while answering questions just as thoughtfully.

Read on to find out what the physical and emotional transformation of filming "Unbroken" was like, what other real-life personality O'Connell would love to essay, and what he learned from being around Jolie.

Moviefone: When you were first offered this opportunity, what was the aspect that you were the most scared about and what was the aspect you were most excited about?

Jack O'Connell: Both questions might be answerable with one response, which is that I was equally excited and scared by the enormity of it. The possibility of challenging myself as an actor, of putting myself in positions that I don't know 100% that I am capable of at the age of 23, is very attractive and also very daunting. So what you then gain afterwards, like now for instance, is all feels very deserved. I know the level of import that went into this, from all of us. So to see it fly the nest and achieve the reception that it has achieved, is satisfying too. So when I was given the role, I was hopeful that this would be the case, I was hopeful that it would take this trajectory. It was exciting, but again I was scared that I was perhaps be in beyond my comfort zone.

You had to go to these amazing places emotionally, but you also had a physical transformation. What was that like?

It was arduous and lengthy but also very necessary. It was an important part of the uniform. At no point did I suffer like Louis did or at any point was I going to. So with that example constantly overhanging, that Louis was pushed to an extreme that almost tempted death, and it was such a gulf between whatever extreme I was at or whatever level of suffering I was going through. That was such a gulf between my account and his, you can't really complain.

Louis died earlier this year. What was your relationship with him like?

On three separate occasions, we got together. Twice prior to the shoot and one final get-together afterwards. And I suppose that one was the most sentimental, the one afterwards, because I felt that, being aware of the import that we put in, I was just allowed to be there and hang with him in his company. There was no agenda. It was just a case of feeling quite settled in his company. As a person, I don't really feel the need to pick brains or seize whatever opportunity I had there to chew his ear off. I was more than content to just be in his presence.

Did you do a lot of research? Was there stuff from his life that you regret not fitting into the movie?

God yeah. God yeah. If there ever was a sequel to this film, I would thrive from playing that side of him too -- the post-traumatic stress and the full circle that he had to make in order to reintegrate and regain his sanity. Not that he ever lost it. He always had hope. But returning home must have been a huge ordeal for him and continuing his life from that point onwards, I can't imagine the amount of trauma that comes with that. We could only really scratch the surface with two hours and ten minutes.

People have talked about how there was a scene in the book where he meets Hitler at the Olympics.
We shot it. And Angelina was battling with a film that ran, in the first cut, for three and a half hours. So she was really pressured into deciding what to shed. And I guess that's what DVD extras are for. I'd love to see Angie's director's cut, and I'd gladly sit through three and a half hours of that. But this is a wide release movie and we had to cater for an audience and the ins and outs of what they'd prefer. And unless they're fanatics, they're not going to sit for three and a half hours in a cinema. But I anxiously await the DVD extras and we did other things that excite me -- the band that we formed and the gig that we did for the rest of the crew and the cast. It will hopefully be edited together into something worth watching.

Can you talk about the experience with working with Angelina? Do you want to follow in her footsteps at some point and direct yourself?

I felt guided, definitely guided. I did throughout the shoot, I felt very supported. She did a very thoughtful job of eradicating any of that superstardom that follows her around by presenting herself as a committed director with this personal investment. That was surprising. But should I ever find myself in her position, then I've been guided well, by the likes of Angelina.

Another all-star member of this team was cinematographer Roger Deakins, who has shot everything from the Coen Brothers movies to "Skyfall." What was it like working with him?

I found myself feeling very thankful. If I am ever in a position of working with greats, and I consider Roger Deakins a great, when this is the case I find it quite important to spend at least some part of every day just witnessing it all. It gave me another insight to what level of work ethic is actually required not only to complete his job but push the boundaries and exceed himself again. So when he was on set, I never saw him lose focus. He was another driving force throughout the shoot.

This is obviously a super-heavy movie, but were there moments of levity on set?

Oh yeah. It really saved our asses, having the likes of Domnhall and Finn, who weren't going to take it too seriously, who weren't going to take our discomfort seriously, we were all on the same boat -- in this case same raft -- so, yeah, it kept whining at bay and the negativity that comes with it. And by the time we were in the prison camp there really was camaraderie. I guess you get that with boys -- as long as the atmosphere and environment encourages it

If you haven't already, I'm sure you're going to be on the short list for these giant action movies and franchises. Does that hold any appeal?

Well, sure with the right director and the right production team backing that director; if the script should appeal, then I'm open minded to that. But I don't believe in making committed decisions to certain realms of this business. As an actor, I'd like to think that I'm approaching any project with an open mind, in terms of reading or whatever propositions I might be on the receiving end of. We have a format and a system in which we judge these projects, so again, if it's integral, yeah, but I don't need to make decisions based on finances.

But you're not waiting anxiously for a "Star Wars" script to show up at your door?

That'd be cool. But, you know, I'm not the biggest "Star Wars" fanatic.

Is there any property that you're really excited about?

I'd like to play Elvis Presley while I'm still young and vibrant enough.

"Unbroken" hits theaters Christmas Day.
Unbroken
PG-132014
Based on 48 critics

During World War II, Louie Zamperini survives for 47 days in a raft and is captured by the Japanese. Read More

categories Interviews, Movies