Alex Russell is having a good year, and it’s only going to get better. After considerable roles in well-received Hollywood fare like 2012’s "Chronicle" and 2013’s "Carrie," the Australian actor is ending 2014 with a one-two punch. He just won strong reviews for his lead role as Sparra Farrell, an ex-con struggling to reinvent his life, in Tony Ayre’s (very) twisty noir drama "Cut Snake," which world premiered in Toronto this past weekend. And come December, he’ll star alongside fellow up-and-coming actors Jack O’Connell (who was recently featured on Springboard), Garett Hedlund and Domhnall Gleeson as Pete Zamperini in Angelina Jolie’s intensely anticipated "Broken."
We sat down with Russell in Toronto, which was something of a homecoming for the 26 year old actor. Back in 2010 his feature film debut — the Australian indie "Wasted on the Young" — had its world premiere at the festival.
Toronto’s very close to my heart. It feels wonderful coming back, and I couldn’t be happier coming to any other festival. I feel a bit of a kinship with Canadians, and Torontonians in particular.
I auditioned for "Cut Snake" back in 2011. I put down a self tape and Tony liked the audition, I think, but felt that I was too young. And as the story of Australian film often goes — by the time they got the financing together, I was old enough. We only shot it last year.
I thought "Cut Snake" was a brilliant story to tell. And more selfishly, I just wanted to take on the challenges as an actor and sink my teeth into the meatiness of that role. I was just excited by that prospect.
To a non-actor, this might sound really strange, but I did this exercise to prepare for the role. My best friend suggested it to me. I felt like the back history had so much to do with how Sparra went off the tracks back in the day. I walked around my apartment really slowly at a snail’s pace. And I imagined his history coming out of my back and happening behind me. Visually it like that made it really tangible.
In terms of time and creativity, I don’t feel much of a difference between working on studio films and smaller films. With the exception of maybe the massive, $100 million+ films, which obviously take way longer and you are doing far less pages a day and have far more time to get the perfect shot. I don’t feel a movie like "Cut Snake" is that much different to say "Carrie" or "Chronicle" in terms of what you have to work with. They really do an incredible job in making the budget work. You feel very privileged in that you have time to be creative. If anything, you don’t have executives looking over your shoulder and putting their two cents in. Which sometimes is a good thing, and sometimes not.
I just feel truly, truly honored to be involved in the telling of the story in "Unbroken." I think Louis Zamperini is a shining example to all of us of how well one can live one’s life. If we could all just live with half as much zeal and love for people. If we could let go of anger and resentment half as much as he did, then you’re going to live a blissful existence. He endured the unbearable and came out the other side. It’s just such an incredible story of willpower. The title is so appropriate.
Louis attributed everything to his big brother Pete, who I play. On Pete’s deathbed, Louis spoke of the cascade of good things that came about after Pete’s acts of unconditional love and devotion early in life. Because Louis was a delinquent child, and I feel honored to be playing that man.