With the DVD for Unbroken released last week, star Finn Wittrock sat down to give an insight into the film, his character, working with Angelina Jolie and the man the film is based on Louis Zamperini. For a chance to win a poster signed by the one and only Angelina Jolie, scroll down to the bottom!
Q: How was the process of auditioning for the role of Francis “Mac” McNamara?
FW: It was a tough audition because I was asked to do everything from crying to push-ups. Then, three weeks later, I got a call to meet Angelina Jolie because she was interested in giving me the role of Mac.
Q: What did Angelina tell you in that first meeting?
FW: Angelina showed me some of the research she had done for UNBROKEN and said, “I hope to have you starving on a raft very soon!” Before I knew it, I was in Australia!
Q: Have you read Laura Hillenbrand’s book, Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, that inspired this movie?
FW: My mother had already read the book and loved it. Before I got the role, I looked it over. After getting the part, I read it a couple of times.
Q: What do you think of the book?
FW: I love the book! I was so engrossed by it and remember thinking, “If this wasn’t true, I would never believe it!” It is such a far-fetched story. Who could think that a human being would survive something like this?
Q: The truth is that Louis Zamperini’s incredible story of running for the United States in the 1936 Summer Olympics, flying on a B-24 bomber during World War II, being shipwrecked for nearly fifty days, and then surviving Japanese prisoner-of-war camps under the worst imaginable conditions is quite extraordinary and almost impossible to believe if it wasn’t true.
FW: You just keep thinking Louis can never continue, but then somehow he does!
Q: Your character, Mac, was with Louis on the plane that plunged into the Pacific and suffered the terrible experience of being stranded in the middle of the ocean without food or water for weeks. How did you see Mac?
FW: Not much is known about who Mac was. Louis was pretty sure that he must have been an orphan, and he kind of described him as a kid with low self-esteem who loved to party.
Q: What does Mac go through in this story?
FW: Mac is one of the three survivors of the plane crash along with Phil and Louis. He goes through some serious starvation and his own kind of delirium – where he has a moment of panic and eats all of their rations of chocolate. Then, Mac has to deal with some serious guilt about his actions going forward.
Q: What appealed to you about playing Mac?
FW: I loved the challenge. First of all, I had to lose all that weight, and then I had to try to discover the character to understand his delirium and find the humanity in him. A lot of people judge him easily, but there is a lot of despair that comes from his actions.
Q: Can you imagine what those three men must have suffered when they were shipwrecked in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean?
FW: No, because it’s unimaginable! To be in complete open water like that, not being able to see any land and without food or water, would drive me crazy.
Q: Did you get to meet Louis Zamperini to help you construct this role?
FW: I did get to meet Louis. Meeting Louis opened my eyes. A lot of the work of an actor has so much to do with his imagination, and I spent a lot of time on my own trying to develop the character. Then, talking to Louis opened up my perception of who Mac was as a person.
Q: What can you say about Louis?
FW: I can say that Louis was a great storyteller. He would easily jump decades between stories, and they were so full of detail!
Q: Speaking of stories, did you enjoy reading this script?
FW: Anything coming from the Coen brothers is kind of sacred ground for actors, but I was wondering how they were going to pull off all of these different chapters. Then when I read it, I was so engrossed with the story and felt that it was in very capable hands, especially when I arrived on set and saw what Angie was doing it with it.
Q: Many people are going to be surprised by the fact that Angelina Jolie is directing the movie but not starring in it. What is she like as a filmmaker?
FW: Angelina is very actor-friendly and likes to move things around based on our instincts. At the same time, she is incredibly detailed and specific about the art and her vision.
Q: Angelina also managed to surround herself with an extraordinary cast and crew.
FW: For me, the first sign of a great director has to do with their ability to surround themselves with great people. Angie went through a lot to get the right cast, and having a cinematographer like Roger Deakins by her side was a stroke of genius because he was this sort of guru figure that really grounded everybody.
Q: What was it like to be down in Australia for the shoot?
FW: It was fun and beautiful. First, we filmed the starvation part, where we didn’t have a lot of fun. Then, we went away and came back after we had put some weight back on to do the scenes in the plane, which was a lot more fun. Playing a tail gunner on the plane, I was lucky to have real experts from the Australian Air Force help me.
Q: It can’t be easy to lose and then gain all that weight in a relatively short period of time.
FW: It’s very impactful, and not just on your body because it can be pretty emotional and enlightening at times as well. Your whole appreciation for food changes after an experience like that.
Q: What would you say are the messages in the story that resonated the most with you?
FW: I think the message of endurance was the most powerful one for me. What I hope you can learn from Mac is that once your spirit shuts down, the body follows. However, Louis never let that happen to him. He never accepted that he had reached the end, even though he was so close to it.
Q: Do you believe we are tougher than we think we are?
FW: Absolutely, I believe there is an extra reserve of energy in all of us. It’s outstanding what humans are actually capable of surviving.
Q: Why do you think Louis Zamperini never gave up?
FW: I think it had to do with Louis’ childhood and being an athlete. Unless you are in a relay race, there is no team for a runner. I believe he just saw every obstacle as something he needed to beat. It’s kind of insane to never take no for an answer, but Louis never did.
Q: How has this whole experience of working on UNBROKEN affected you?
FW: I have learned to appreciate things much more. I feel it’s important to appreciate that 1940s mentality when people were less selfish and comfortable and took things less for granted after having survived a depression. There was a lack of cynicism then that I believe is refreshing. That is a universal message.
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