Jack O’Connell exclusive interview: Rising film star still values his Derby roots

YOUNG Derby actor Jack O’Connell is on the fast track to global stardom.

But, as recently as the first part of 2011, a shortage of film offers left him questioning his future.

Now, he is the UK’s fastest rising Hollywood star and will appear in not one, not two, but three blockbusters in 2014 – two of them as the lead character.

300: Rise of an Empire was released earlier this month and sees Jack impress in gruesome scenes filmed in Bulgaria.

And in December, Jack, of Alvaston, will again hit the cinema screens; this time playing the main character in Angelina Jolie’s eagerly-anticipated film, Unbroken.

On top of that, last month he won acclaim at the Berlin Film Festival for his performance in 71 – a non-stop thriller about the conflict in Belfast between Catholics and Protestants.

All this has left film critics queuing up to lavish praise on the rising star.

And while Jack – who first rose to fame playing James Cook in teen drama Skins – said it was “nice” to be in demand, having endured a short spell of being out of work, he vowed to keep his feet on the ground.

Speaking to the Derby Telegraph, the 23-year-old said: “The more grounded I can remain, the better. I’m in the sort of field where everyone has an opinion.

“I might read a cheeky review here and there but, to an extent, I’m really cautious about what I let myself read.

“Too much dwelling can be hazardous. I’m more focused on moving forward.”

Among the critics who have hailed Jack in recent weeks is Guardian writer Henry Barnes, who said his performance as a young offender in Starred Up was the best of his career.

However, Jack disagrees. He said: “I was very comfortable playing Eric in Starred Up, which may or may not be worrying!

“I wasn’t particularly stretching myself. I benefited from seeing a little bit of myself in Eric from when I was younger. Because of that, I was half way there.

“This debate about what is my best work must mean I’m doing something right.

“The one job that stands out for me was playing Bobby Charlton in (BBC 2 drama) United. I was playing someone who I had no awareness of as a person but who a lot of people knew.

“A huge amount of responsibility came with that job and I became more confident for going against the grain and accepting a role people had not already seen me in.

“I was made up to get that role before I was 21.

“The other job that stands out for me was being opposite Michael Caine in Harry Brown and having him torture and interrogate me. That really was a milestone for me.”

Jack said another highlight was being directed by Angelina Jolie.

He said: “She’s phenomenal on a daily basis. She supported me throughout. The whole time we were filming, she treated everyone as equal. I thought that was a really good quality.”

According to the Internet Movie Database (IMDb), Jack has 28 television and film credits.

Indeed, he has proven himself to be a versatile actor who is comfortable in a number of roles. He is even happy stripping off, as he had to do for a torture scene in Starred Up.

Asked if he minded doing nude scenes, Jack said: “If it’s for the right reason, I don’t mind. In Starred Up, it was justified and benefited the film.

“It does cross your mind that your family and friends will see these scenes, but I just find that amusing more than anything.”

When speaking to Jack, it is clear his family in Derby is what matters most to him.

Asked what his hopes for the future were, he said: “I’ve got an eventual plan and that’s to have a family and carrying on supporting my mum and sister. That’s my long-term goal and that won’t change for any reason.

“As for whatever happens in between, I’ll have to wait and see what that is.”

Jack, whose late father, Johnny, died of pancreatic cancer in 2009, said he would not have achieved what he has without his family.

“Certainly not,” he said. “That’s a given. I came from a very strong foundation.

“My old man is not about any more but I take a lot of my identity from the time I spent with him.

“I still feel influenced by him and that motivates and encourages me.

“I’ve got a large family that’s Derby through and through and they all support me. It means that when I’m filming in Bulgaria or Australia, I don’t feel so alone.”

Derby, itself, is also close to his heart.

Jack said: “I like coming home to Derby when I can. It’s a very realistic part of the world. I know a lot of good people at home. I’m very lucky. I don’t have to reinvent myself in Derby. I miss the place, although I like going away and then coming back.

“I’m trying to set an example. Where I’m from isn’t particularly glamorous and there’s no silver spoon in sight. But I hope I’m showing people you can make something of your life.”

The ardent Derby County fan insists he is more focused on the Rams’ crunch clash with Nottingham Forest this weekend than film reviews.

They take on their arch rivals at the iPro Stadium on Saturday and Jack said: “I’ll be there.

“It wasn’t long ago Derby fans saw two wins over Forest as being a good season.

“If we finish above them this season it will be amazing considering the amount of investment they’ve had. I really hope we beat them.”

Jack’s busy schedule means he has missed many games this season. But his passion for the Rams has remained.

He said: “I see less games now than ever. But I’m always tuning in whenever I’m away.

“We’ve faltered a bit in recent weeks but I’m still very positive about our position in the table.

“When we were relegated, I was worried we would go into free fall and end up in League One like both Leicester and Forest did.

“Thankfully, that’s not happened. We’re chasing promotion and I still credit (Nigel) Cloughie for building up a strong foundation.

“I think we can go on and get promotion. If we don’t but we finish above Forest, it will have been a good season.”

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