Interview: Jai Courtney Talks “Unbroken”

Ahead of the May 14 release of Angelina Jolie‘s Unbroken, Universal Sony provided us with this interesting interview with Australian star Jai Courney, who plays the role of Hugh “Cup” Cuppernell in the film.

Q: How did you get introduced to this incredible story and project?

JC: I was familiar with the book and had heard that Angelina Jolie wanted to make a movie about Louis Zamperini’s life. I also read a very early script.

Q: How was the audition process?

JC: The audition process was quite lengthy. I think I had gone in for about five different roles by the end! They were very meticulous about getting the right cast in place – which is a testament to how well the crew worked together on this movie as an ensemble. After a series of auditions, they offered me the character of Cup, who is one of the co-pilots on the B-24 bomber Zamperini flew in during World War II.

Q: What appealed to you about this opportunity?

JC: At the time, I was focused on getting involved in sophisticated projects and working with good directors. This was a fantastic opportunity to take part in something that looked like a really great project from the ground up. It is such an incredible story! It’s unbelievable to the point where if it hadn’t really happened to someone, you probably wouldn’t believe it.

Q: Hugh “Cup” Cuppernell was a real person. What did you know about him before getting the role?

JC: I didn’t really know much about him at first, but I was able to learn more about him through my involvement with this project.

Q: What kind of man is Cup?

JC: Cup is like an ex-football player and a prankster – the type of person whom we would refer to in Australia as being “cheeky.” He is kind of an easy individual, which allowed me to have fun with the character.

“…That lighter personality is definitely what spoke to me about Cup…”

Q: How does a character like that help balance the drama of the story and the war that is being fought in the context of the film?

JC: I believe that a lighter role like the one I was playing, peppered in with the crazy drama we go through in this story, helps you understand the camaraderie that exists between the guys. There is a sense of brotherhood between them that you see in their banter, even in the middle of very tense situations.

Q: All of that action takes place in the limited space available to move around in those aircrafts.

JC: It’s unbelievable that anyone managed to get anything done in those planes, where they were bumping into each other all the time! After seeing how big they really were inside, I don’t know how they were able to navigate their way in there. We were constantly smacking our heads against something.

Q: How does Cup get along with Louis Zamperini, the true hero of UNBROKEN?

JC: Cup and Louis are good friends and teammates. That does not mean Cup doesn’t give Louis a bit of jib that will go back and forth between them. In the book, there are stories of Cup and Louis stealing gum from each other and playing pranks.

Q: What was your main source of investigation to preparing for your role?

JC: I tried to do as much digging as I could about Cup, as we were telling a biographical story. However, the truth is that there is not a great deal I could find about him beyond what is depicted in the novel. The book and the script were my main sources.

Q: What was the main trait about Cup that you wanted to make sure you portrayed?

JC: It’s funny because I found these wonderful images of him in which he always seemed to have a sense of humor about things. That’s what I wanted to inject into the character. It’s not a large role, but I wanted to have as much fun with him as possible during the time he was on screen.

Q: Is that lighter aspect of Cup what you also have in common with him?

JC: That lighter personality is definitely what spoke to me about Cup. It wasn’t so much about a transformation. I could see myself in that role really easily, which is ultimately why I also believe it went my way. We shared some common personality traits, and I think I understood him.

Q: How did filmmaker Angelina Jolie help you create the role?

JC: Being a performer, Angie was great in letting us bring our own ideas to our characters. She understands the value of putting something of yourself into what you are portraying on the screen. I wanted to kind of make an impact with Cup’s short screen time. For instance, there is a sequence in Hawaii where Cup is following Louis in a Jeep as he is training. For that scene, I had this idea to wear a ridiculous woven palm hat that I thought Cup might have worn, and she loved it! I also liked the image of him with a cigar in the corner of his mouth. It was cool!

Q: What is Angelina like as a director on set?

JC: Angie is fantastic! She made sure the set was an easy place to work in and that there was always a great vibe. The director sets the tone of a shoot, and she is just so passionate and enthusiastic and generous.

Q: How did Angelina surprise you?

JC: You never know how someone is going to be and what their work ethic or personalities are like, even if they are recognizable. I had a sense of anticipation of what working with Angelina Jolie could be like, and now I can say that what you imagine her being like is actually kind of what you end up getting. She is a lovely, sophisticated and very intelligent woman that has complete control of the work environment. That is a wonderful quality to have. I guess what surprised me the most was precisely that I wasn’t surprised. Working with her was even better than I had anticipated.

Q: UNBROKEN was made in Australia. How did it feel to be at home for the shoot?

JC: It felt great to be home while filming. Australia is always a wonderful place to work, and I was able to kill two birds with one stone. I live in Los Angeles now, so any chance to go home for a job is kind of a bonus because it’s an opportunity to see everyone and hang out. Getting to be there with the cast was good because we felt a similar camaraderie to what these characters went through while stuck in those strange little corners of the world, where they had to rely on each other.

Q: Louis Zamperini is embodied on the screen by British actor Jack O’Connell. What can you say about him?

JC: Jack is a fantastic young talent – very raw, passionate, and hard working. He is quite a character himself! Jack O’Connell is a great leader for this cast. This is a huge role for him, and I think he really nailed it. I have no doubt that his performance is stunning.

Q: For your performance, how did you make sure you accurately portrayed the technical aspects of playing a American World War II B-24 Liberator bomber pilot?

JC: The technical aspects were a large part of the performance. Luckily, we had consultants on set who were pilots and knew all about those planes. They made sure we were acquainted with what we were doing because every man on that bomber had a very specific role. We had access to some fantastic material regarding the B-24s and how they worked and what formations they would fly in, which was just fascinating.

Q: How did you manage to shoot those bomber scenes?

JC: A life-sized model of the B-24 bomber was constructed on a sound stage that was placed on a huge hydraulic platform with remote controls to mimic what we would be going through in that situation. We would be in a chase scene dipping, diving, moving around and really feeling everything.

Q: Did that experience spark an interest in you to learn how to pilot a plane?

JC: Learning how to fly a plane would be awesome. It’s something that I always wanted to do as a young kid. I actually felt pretty comfortable up there in the cockpit.

Q: How do you feel now after being a part of a movie that tells the extraordinary story of Louis Zamperini including his achievements as an Olympic athlete and the hardships he endured during World War II, where he survived being stranded at sea and even a prisoner-of-war camp?

JC: This movie is a testament to Louis’ character. It’s just unimaginable to think that someone could have made it through all of that and lived to tell the tale and, beyond that, enjoyed a long wonderful life! Louis did just that. I’m just in awe and so happy to be a part of this project. I believe in that message of never giving up, which is Louis’ legacy.

Unbroken will be available to own on DVD and Blu-Ray from May 14th 2015.