Jim Sturgess was deep in the throes of working on a thriller when he auditioned for Peter Weir’s The Way Back. The young Brit felt “a combination of intimidation and awe and desperation” going up for a part in a Weir film. “I had quite a strange entrance into the movie,” he recalls, “because when I found out that Peter was casting for the film and wanted to see me, I was in the middle of shooting a film back in London called Heartless, where I was playing a kind of psychotic, delusional, manic-depressive, suicidal character in a comedy, a British rom-com.” When he met with Weir, he had been doing two weeks of night shoots and looked terrible, and left feeling disappointed. The actor ended up putting himself on tape and sent Weir a letter. “Thank god I did that,” he says now, as Weir offered him the key role of a Polish Gulag survivor who leads a gang of escapees across 4000 miles to freedom.
To prep for the role, Sturgess researched, lost weight, visited Auschwitz, prepared his accent in Poland (where he drank a lot of vodka), and fasted an entire day without food or water. Weir told him to put some weight back on because his character was meant to be one of the stronger survivors. More about Sturgess’s career path as a singer (Across the Universe) and actor in my four-part flip cam interview below.