Jack O'Connell (actor)
O'Connell at the premiere of Unbroken in Sydney in November 2014
1 August 1990 |
Alvaston, Derby, England
Jack O'Connell (born 1 August 1990) is an English actor who has excelled in playing angry, troubled youth. Born and raised in Derby, he trained in acting at the Television Workshop, which led to his film debut in the coming-of-age drama This Is England (2006). He first found fame as troubled partygoer James Cook on the E4 teen series Skins (2009–10), followed by other lead roles in the television dramas Dive (2010) and United (2011). His breakthrough came when he gave critically acclaimed performances in the independent films Starred Up (2013) and '71 (2014), and starred as war hero Louis Zamperini in his first major Hollywood picture, Angelina Jolie's Unbroken (2014). O'Connell consequently won the BAFTA Rising Star Award.
Born in Alvaston, Derby, O'Connell grew up in a working-class family, whose home stood between two housing estates. His father, Johnny O'Connell, was an Irishman from Kerry, who worked on the British railways until his death of pancreatic cancer in 2008. His English mother, Alison (née Gutteridge), was employed by airline British Midland before taking on management of her son's career. He has a younger sister, Megan, an aspiring actress. O'Connell does not consider himself British, instead identifying strongly with his Derby upbringing and Irish heritage.
As the grandson of Ken Gutteridge, a player for and later manager of Burton Albion, O'Connell aspired to become a professional football player, taking trials with Derby County. After a series of injuries ended this career path, he wanted to join the army, believing it to be his only realistic option to make an honest living. His parents had sent him to army cadets when he was 12, with the aim of teaching him discipline, but his juvenile criminal record prevented him from graduating into the army. As a youth, O'Connell was in and out of court on charges related to alcohol and violence, and he received a one-year young offender's referral order when he was 17. Regarding his past transgressions, he has described himself as "a product of his environment."
At age 16, O'Connell left Saint Benedict Catholic School with two GCSEs, a B in drama and a C in English. He later reflected on his "brutal" experience at Saint Benedict, saying, "What I learnt aside from anything academic at school was probably very valuable lessons in terms of how to lie, how to play the game, how to play authority against itself." He had taken an interest in acting during the compulsory drama classes, and from age 13, he attended the free Television Workshop in Nottingham, where he trained in drama twice weekly. O'Connell began attending auditions in London, where he sometimes slept outside, not being able to afford a hotel. He eventually moved from Derby to Hounslow in west London, working as a farmhand in nearby Cobham while in between acting parts.
2005–12: Career beginnings
Since the start of his career, O'Connell has mainly played young delinquents; The New York Times writer John Freeman noted retrospectively, "If a British film called for a tough case, a grappler, someone with a bit of grit, chances were O'Connell got the part. [He] has delivered one gripping physical performance after another, bringing an electric authenticity to the portrayal of angry, troubled youth." O'Connell made his professional acting debut in 2005 when he played an aggressive runaway in an episode of the soap opera Doctors, followed by a recurring role as a boy accused of rape in The Bill. While attending the Television Workshop, he met director Shane Meadows, who cast him in his breakout role in "This Is England" (2006). At 16, O'Connell was deemed too old to play the main character, leading Meadows to write a supporting role specifically for him. Set against the skinhead subculture of the early 1980s, the film received widespread critical acclaim.
During 2007, O'Connell appeared in television episodes of Waterloo Road, Holby City, and Wire in the Blood. He made his stage debut playing a 15-year-old student involved in a sexual relationship with his teacher in the play Scarborough, first performed at the Edinburgh Festival before its transfer the following year to the Royal Court Theatre in London. Variety 's David Benedict wrote of his stage performance, "His sincere grasp of Daz's innocent tenderness is, paradoxically, a sign of the character's—and the actor's—unexpected maturity." In the horror–thriller Eden Lake (2008), which received positive reviews, O'Connell played a vicious gang leader who terrorises a young married couple. He next starred as a juvenile delinquent in "Between You and Me" (2008), an educational film produced by the Derbyshire Constabulary, followed by a minor role in the ITV serial Wuthering Heights (2009).
O'Connell first found fame, chiefly among people his age, as the troubled and hard-living James Cook in the third and fourth series of the E4 teen drama Skins (2009–10). Grantland writer Amos Barshad opined that among his co-stars, which included Dev Patel and Nicholas Hoult, none "ever quite matched the luminescent, leering mania of O'Connell's Cook. As a preposterously ramped up bad boy, Cook was almost like a baby Tyler Durden." He won a TV Choice Award for Best Actor for his performance in the fourth series. O'Connell reprised his role in the feature-length special Skins Rise (2013), which follows a twenty-something Cook on the run from authorities. He later said of Cook, "He's probably the most similar character to myself that I had the good fortune of portraying," though he noted that unlike Cook he had matured beyond adolescence.
In the vigilante thriller Harry Brown (2009), which polarised critics, O'Connell played an abused-child-turned-gangbanger. He impressed lead actor Michael Caine, who shouted "Star of the future!" at him during filming. His portrayal of a teenaged father in the BBC Two drama Dive (2010) earned him critical praise; Euan Ferguson of The Guardian described it as "a performance that is of an actor twice his years: mesmerising, comedic and soulful." The Daily Telegraph critic Olly Grant concurred, writing, "He was a revelation; nuanced, understated, wise beyond his years." Following a lead role in the Sky1 crime serial The Runaway (2011), O'Connell starred as football player Bobby Charlton in another well-received BBC Two drama, United (2011), which chronicles the 1958 Munich air crash that killed eight players of Manchester United.
His next film, the theatrically released Weekender (2011), showcases the rave scene of the early 1990s. Though the film received very poor reviews, O'Connell's performance as a "dumb but sparky sidekick" was called "a godsend" by Tim Robey of The Daily Telegraph. Similarly, the thriller Tower Block (2012), about flat residents under attack from a sniper, received mixed reviews, but The Hollywood Reporter critic Jordan Mintzer singled out O'Connell as "the standout [of the cast] as a snide gangsta who eventually rallies us to his side." Following his turn as a soldier in Private Peaceful (2012), an adaptation of a novel of the same name by Michael Morpurgo, he co-starred as the apprentice of a hitman played by Tim Roth in The Liability (2012), both of which met with mixed critical reception.
O'Connell's career breakthrough came when he starred in the independent prison drama Starred Up (2013). His portrayal of a violent teenager incarcerated in the same prison as his father received widespread critical acclaim; Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers found him "flawless," writing that he "explodes onscreen in a star-is-born performance," while A. O. Scott of The New York Times praised his "superb" performance in a film "sensitive to the nuances of emotion underneath the macho belligerence." O'Connell next starred in another well-received independent film, '71 (2014), portraying a soldier deployed to Belfast at the height of political violence in Northern Ireland. He was director Yann Demange's first and only choice for the part. Writing for Empire, Nev Pierce opined, "In a superb ensemble, O'Connell is outstanding," adding, "We know he can do violence, but here he holds the screen with no swagger—just a simple desire to survive."
Following a supporting role as an Athenian warrior in his first blockbuster, 300: Rise of an Empire (2014), O'Connell played his first leading role in a major Hollywood picture, Unbroken (2014), directed by Angelina Jolie. He portrayed Louis Zamperini, an Italian-American Olympic distance runner who, as a bombardier in World War II, survived a plane crash over the Pacific and was held for two years in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. To prepare for the role, O'Connell underwent a strict diet to lose almost 30 pounds and worked with a dialect coach to mask his thick Derbyshire accent. The resulting performance was positively received; Richard Corliss of Time concluded, "Jolie has made a grand, solid movie of the Zamperini story, but O'Connell is the part of Unbroken that was truly worth the wait." For his work in Starred Up and Unbroken, O'Connell received the Breakthrough Award from the National Board of Review. He additionally became the tenth recipient of the publicly voted BAFTA Rising Star Award, ahead of Miles Teller, Shailene Woodley, Margot Robbie, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw.
After his father died in 2008, when O'Connell was 18, he coped in part by engaging in self-destructive behavior, later commenting, "I didn't stop partying for like seven years." While living in Bristol during his 2009–10 run on Skins, O'Connell acquired a reputation in the tabloid media as a "party boy," a "bad boy," and a "bit of rough," regularly giving interviews while hung over. His childhood nickname "Jack the Lad"—meaning "a conspicuously self-assured, carefree, brash young man"—is tattooed on his arm. His troubled youth has influenced his work, resulting in him playing mainly delinquents for the first decade of his career, while his juvenile criminal record initially prevented him from being cast in Hollywood productions as he was unable to obtain a U.S. visa. By age 24, O'Connell had largely changed his lifestyle, saying, "I'm not trying to have the most fun I've ever had ever, anymore. That used to be the mentality every time I left the house." He has credited Angelina Jolie, who directed him in the 2014 drama Unbroken, with influencing his outlook, describing working with her as an intervention in his life.
O'Connell has resided in east London since 2014.
|2006||This Is England||Pukey Nicholls|
|2006||Black Dog||Chris||Short film|
|2009||Wayfaring Stranger||Bobby Brewer||Short film|
|2010||The Hardest Part||Thug||Short film|
|2010||Dive||Robert Wisley||Television film|
|2011||United||Bobby Charlton||Television film|
|2011||The Somnambulists||Man 10|
|2012||Private Peaceful||Charlie Peaceful|
|2013||Starred Up||Eric Love|
|2014||300: Rise of an Empire||Calisto|
|2005||Doctors||Connor Yates||Episode: "Like Father, Like Son"|
|2005||The Bill||Ross Trescot||4 episodes|
|2007||Waterloo Road||Dale Baxter||1 episode|
|2007||Holby City||Davey Hunt||Episode: "Trust"|
|2007||Wire in the Blood||Jack Norton||Episode: "The Names of Angels"|
|2009||Wuthering Heights||Shepherd lad||1 episode|
|2009–10||Skins||James Cook||16 episodes|
|2011||The Runaway||Eamonn Docherty||6 episodes|
|2013||Skins Redux||James Cook||2 episodes: "Rise"|
Awards and nominations
|2008||Fright Meter Awards||Best Supporting Actor||Eden Lake||Won|
|2009||Fantasporto International Fantasy Film Awards||Best Actor||Eden Lake||Won|
|2010||Monte-Carlo Television Festival Golden Nymph Awards||Outstanding Actor – Drama Series||Skins||Nominated|
|TV Choice Awards||Best Actor||Skins||Won|
|2013||British Independent Film Awards||Best Actor||Starred Up||Nominated|
|Les Arcs European Film Festival Awards||Best Actor||Starred Up||Won|
|2014||BAFTA Scotland Awards||Best Actor||Starred Up||Nominated |
|British Independent Film Awards||Best Actor||'71||Nominated|
|Chicago Film Critics Association Award||Most Promising Performer||Starred Up
|Dublin Film Critics' Circle Awards||Breakthrough||Starred Up
|Best Actor||Starred Up
|Dublin International Film Festival Awards||Best Actor||Starred Up||Won|
|Hollywood Film Awards||New Hollywood||Unbroken||Won|
|London Film Critics' Circle Awards||British Actor of the Year||Starred Up
|National Board of Review Awards||Breakthrough Performance||Starred Up
|New York Film Critics Online Awards||Breakthrough Performance||Starred Up
|2015||BAFTA Awards||Rising Star||N/A||Won|
|Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association Dorian Awards||Rising Star||N/A||Nominated|
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