‘Unbroken’ tells the true story of a true American hero, Louis Zamperini, who competed in the Olympics at age 19, fought in WWII as a bombardier, drifted lost at sea for 47 days, and was taken prisoner by the Japanese Navy and personally tormented by a commander known as Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe.
Angelina and the cast spoke passionately at a press conference in New York on December 5th about what it was like working on this poignant and remarkable film – physically and emotionally.
Simply said, there are so many instances in which he could have lost his life: he lived on a raft in shark-infested water, he survived a plane crash, he was tormented mercilessly as a WWII POW… and yet, from somewhere deep inside of himself (and his faith), Louis found the power to survive even the most mind-blowing of situations, and resiliently live until he was 97 years old.
A film made for everyone, it’s nostalgic for a generation who, as of very recently, is no longer with us.
Angelina said, “[I want to] remind [of] this generation and of their sense of family, community and honor, and pay respect to them. And I want my children to know of men like Louis. So when…they think all is lost, they know they’ve got something inside of them – because that’s what this story speaks to – it’s what’s in all of us.”
She added, “You don’t have to be a perfect person, or a saint, or a hero. You know, Louis was very flawed, very human, but made great choices, extraordinary, and in the end a great man.”
Based off of the book “Unbroken” by Laura Hillenbrand, not every colorful event in Louis life (like when he stole the Nazi flag when he was in Berlin for the 1936 Olympics!) could be included in the film.
Angelina explained, “The Coen brothers said something to me that helped: ‘When you put the book down, you have a certain feeling, a certain understanding. That’s what [the audience] needs to feel when they walk out the theater. That’s your job.”
Therefore, Jolie had tremendous care in telling his story, which is one that is inspiring, adventurous, miraculous even. Louis’ motto, inspired by his brother Pete, was “If I can take it, I can make it”.
That, and his will to keep on fighting (perhaps in part learned through training as an Olympic runner and striving for the 4 minute mile) permeates throughout each of his battles for survival.
Directing this film was an “exciting challenge” for Angelina. She explained, “If you’d asked me a few years ago, ‘what kind of a film do you want to make?’, I would never have assumed to make a film that included shark attacks, and plane crashes. I would never have thought of myself as handling that kind of cinematic filmmaking, or I wouldn’t think I could do that, or should do that. But I cared about this story, and so I had to suddenly learn how to do all those things.”
In fact, the film’s message about the strength of the human spirit is so inspiring, Jolie commented that everyone who worked on the film came in to the project either because they had read the book or known of Louis, “So we were kind of all there with a higher purpose.”
Jack O’Connell and the other members of the cast (including Finn Wittrock, Garrett Hedlund, and Domhnall Gleeson) went through serious physical transformations for their roles, each losing an incredible amount of weight until they were nearly emaciated, but continuing on even after eating “4 blueberries for breakfast” as Finn (who plays “Mac”) remarked.
Jack commented, Domhnall (“Phil”) “lost so much weight even his eyeballs changed shape”, as in, his contact lenses later on didn’t even fit because he got so skinny, that even “his eyes were skinny”!
However, Finn added, “[Louis and Mac] could be any of our grandfathers, and I think we all kind of felt that sense of responsibility and also that we were in service of a story bigger than any of us.”
Miyavi, who plays the darkest role in the film of sadistic, POW prison guard Mutsuhiro “The Bird” Watanabe, had actually never even acted before. A rockstar well-known in Japan, Miyavi took some convincing to take on the role. Angelina spoke about Miyavi, saying,
It was very important to us to not cast a stereotype of a Japanese prison guard. It would also be inaccurate to who Watanabe was, he was a very well-educated man who was described as very striking, very strong physically. And so I had this thought of somebody who would have real presence … I wanted to know what [Miyavi] was like as a person because before his talent as an actor. I believe strongly if your playing somebody dark, you have to cast somebody who’s in fact a very balanced, a very good person. Someone who doesn’t enjoy violence. Somebody who doesn’t indulge in it…And in fact the truth is because of his [and I’m speaking for you] the scenes to bring him to violence were so against his nature, it carried this complexity that the character deserved. You could see, he seemed mad, he was driven, he was imbalanced.”
In Miyavi’s words: “I’m not used to hit[ting] people. I’m always hitting a string on the guitar, not people. So it was a tough process. But the more evil I become, the more dramatic the story gets. And to deliver the message to the audience is our mission. And I tried to imagine they kill my family, daughters. I would do anything to protect my family. It’s insane, but that’s the situation everyone was in.”
To keep in character, he kept his distance from the rest of the cast on set. With a laugh, Miyavi remarked, “On set we had to keep a distance from each other. Thanks to Jack’s hard accent, I was not able to understand what he was saying.”
Watch ‘Unbroken’, a truly magnificent film in theaters on Christmas Day, December 25th.