“Unbroken” is one of those movies that couldn’t get made until a powerful star with clout convinced a studio she could pull it off. Jolie made the Louis Zamperini story immortalized by Laura Hillenbrand her second movie and Universal backed it at $65 million: modest for a period war film with scenes in the air, on the water, and in a Japanese prison camp. Jolie was able to lure the top artists in Hollywood to support her cause, from cinematographer Roger Deakins to editors Tim Squyre (“Life of Pi”) and William Goldenberg (“Argo”).
The result is a handsome well-crafted movie that is admirable for any sophomore filmmaker. Is it also earnest, old-fashioned and straight-forward? Yes. Reviews are mixed enough to put a taint on Universal’s Oscar campaign.
O’Connell and Miyavi talk about what it took to film the intense climax of the film, when The Bird threatens to kill Zamperini if he can’t hold up a heavy plank. O’Connell fainted twice while shooting the sequence.
Anne Thompson: How did you and Jack O’Connell decide to interact with each other on set? You were playing antagonists. How did you handle that?
Miyavi: First of all, I have no experience as an actor so I didn’t know how to act. But to get into the character, I tried to imagine if he killed my family, my daughters. I would do anything to protect them. It’s insane what I would do. That’s the situation everyone was in. It’s sad, and it’s way beyond what we can expect, but that’s the extreme condition everyone was in. Our mission is to portray our characters with respect, and deliver the message of forgiveness, and how strong a human being can be. To deliver that message, to the audience, I felt was really meaningful. To be a villain, the more evil I become, the more dramatic the story can be.
The climax of the film is the plank scene. You’ve both said that it was very difficult. You took about two days to shoot, over and over and over.
It was my first experience on a set in a film. Even while they’re changing camera, I was just crying. I couldn’t stop myself. There is no switch, as an actor on camera. I can’t do that. I was into the character the whole time; even off-camera I was crying, and I couldn’t stop crying. I couldn’t control myself. It’s really, really tough.
The Bird picks up on Louis right away, right at the beginning. What did he see? What bothered him so much?
I don’t know but I think The Bird felt the similarity in Louis’ eyes. He was the only one looking at The Bird the first time, so at that moment he could feel, and he just wanted to be like Louis, how strong Louis was and it’s like a love and hatred. The Bird realized that Louis had something that The Bird wanted to achieve, and he couldn’t. That’s why all he was able to do was just try to break down Louis. He was so unbalanced and such a vulnerable person. From that aspect, we can see that everyone was a victim, everyone was struggling in that era. The war is difficult for everyone, so we don’t say what he has done is right but he was also struggling.
Do you think that audiences in Japan — I know there has been some criticism already, but they have not seen the film yet — will be able to understand and appreciate this point-of-view on the film?
I really hope so.
You were nervous about that.
I used to be. But now I’m more confident… He came back to the country where he suffered and was traumatized to spend time with a lot of people and to give his forgiveness to them. It’s incredible. Only a man who could… that’s the message and the whole story leads to that moment, and this is what we are trying to deliver to the audience and this is what we need to learn and pass on to the next generation. It’s beyond nationality or boundaries. It’s a global message. That’s what I strongly believe and now feel confident. That’s why I was able to make a decision when Angie said, “This story could be happening anywhere.” It’s not about the war. I was really happy to be able to talk to Brad [Pitt], who produced the movie “12 Years a Slave.” It’s also the dark side of the history of the states. They accepted. That’s the first step to new involvement. This film is also what we all learn as human beings.
What did Angelina Jolie do to help you with your performance?
Trust. She trusted me. I was surprised how much she trusted me, and all of us, all of the actors. She has her career as an actress and she knows how we all feel on the set. That’s why she felt the most important thing was to trust us. We didn’t have actual rehearsal when I flew to Australia doing a tour, for a rehearsal, but we didn’t have a rehearsal. It was just doing a test, come feel the waters. I asked her, Do we have to have a rehearsal? And she said just be yourself, follow your instinct. She’s so determined and passionate on set. She’s such an artist.
Have you caught the acting bug now?
There is an option. The choice is all about the message and passion and emotion. Each time I learn many things from this experience.
Jolie said she responded to some of the messages in your own work, as a musician. And you performed with Jack in a band, The Breakables?
The only thing the movie crew knew about me was just the performance on set, hitting people with a stick. Angie called my music staff from Tokyo to see me, to share my performance with everyone. Angelina Jolie was dancing in front of me. I play guitar. Everyone was dancing. On set, every day was so intense, the responsibility, the schedule was really tight, but at that moment, everybody was able to enjoy the moment and music.
Did you feel some of your experience commanding a major auditorium as a rock star gave you the poise that you would need to take care of all of those details on a set?
This time, I have prisoners as the audience, and I got the bamboo stick instead of my guitar. It’s all about the timing and flow. I know they are English, so I didn’t keep talking. There’s less dialogue than the other actors.
Are you aware of the work David Bowie has done as both a musician and an actor? Does that inspire you?
Yes, you know “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence”?
I love that movie.
Me too. It’s another different point of view from this film but that’s a creation to deliver a message. It could be any dimension or aspect but…we can’t generalize things, such a sensitive issue, war. There’s no justice in war. I wish I could join in creating the music for this film, but Alexandre Desplat did a great job.
O’Connell video, below: