CS Interviews: Jack O’Connell Talks Jungleland
Max Winkler’s Jungleland is set to make its debut on streaming platforms on November 10. To celebrate, we reached out to one of the film’s stars, Jack O’Connell, to discuss the emotionally charged film. The actor weighed in on everything from his on-screen chemistry with Charlie Hunnam to the difficulties inherent in his role.
Stan (Charlie Hunnam) and Lion (Jack O’Connell) are two brothers struggling to stay relevant in the underground world of bare-knuckle boxing. When Stan fails to pay back a dangerous crime boss (Jonathon Majors), they’re forced to deliver an unexpected traveler as they journey across the country for a high-stakes fighting tournament. While Stan trains Lion for the fight of his life, a series of events threaten to tear the brothers apart but their love for one another and belief in a better life keep them going in this gripping drama that proves family pulls no punches.
The movie also stars Jonathan Majors (Lovecraft Country, Da 5 Bloods), Jessica Barden (Hanna), and Emmy nominee John Cullum (Northern Exposure). Jungleland is directed by Max Winkler (Flower) who co-wrote the script along with Theodore Bressman (Future Man) and David Branson Smith (Ingrid Goes West).
Jungleland is produced by Jules Daly, Kevin J. Walsh, Ryan Stowell, Brad Feinstein. Ridley Scott executive produces.
ComingSoon.net: What drew you to the role of Lion in Jungleland?
Jack O’Connell: I think it was an opportunity to just kind of give a little bit of depth to the fight that he’s in. Some of the best, most full, wholesome personalities I’ve ever come across through being involved in some way in boxing. And there’s real depth to these people. There’s a real magnitude and earth-like quality in the balance. I think it’s probably a result of throwing everything down on the line every time he stepped into a ring. You’re literally risking your life. And the thing that gets trivialized a lot and it’s the thing that gets packaged and presented as entertainment — it’s fucking life or death, man. And I think it was through something about that which really appealed to me.
CS: The crux of the movie is this story between two brothers. Stanley is the best and worst thing for Lion. In a way, before Sky even comes along, Lion knows this and continues to obey. What do you think this says about his character?
O’Connell: I think it’s his lack of voice. He has no voice. He’s got no backup plan. He has like, a job, but it’s not a career. And he’s a gifted fighter. And I think from pretty much before the film begins, I think the dynamic here is a lot — a younger brother that is actually trying to help his older brother by making him feel like he’s helping. You see what I mean? He’s gotten along with his maternal dynamic that his brother has created in order to actually help Stanley feel like he’s got a place in the world. But it means more to Stanley than it means to Lion. And I think one of the interesting parts of the film is as we get to see that. You know, we’re presented with this dynamic, where the older brother is a training figure. There’s a sort of drive and influence of Lion’s career. But the more we learn, Stanley’s actually a hindrance. He’s the reason why Lion is a professional boxer. And I think we see a competent willingness on Lion’s part to go along with that façade for Stanley’s sake. That’s what I’m interested in.
CS: Then you throw Sky into the mix, who helps open his eyes to his situation.
O’Connell: Well, yeah, she cuts through the crap. She cuts through the crap, for I think the first time. And she gives Lion this, for the first time, she gives him a capability of feeling like himself and feeling like his human form, not the animal that gets thrown into the pit in order to make money. She makes him feel this human form. And it’s a confirmation for Lion. And I think that is the beauty of Sky to Lion, is this mysterious, mysterious character, seeing him for him.
CS: Talk about the on-screen chemistry between the three of you. Was that difficult to achieve?
O’Connell: No, it wasn’t difficult. You’ve just got to spend the time. You’ve just got to spend time and if you’re going to go on camera as brothers — and it can be another way too — it has to have been nurtured, in a way. You need to spend time; we had the common interests of the gym — we would train a lot — and that was benefitting what we were going to do on camera. We’d eat together. We’d hang out and we’d suss out a dynamic between us, which in this case, fortunately, it worked for the movie as well.
CS: What sort of training did you have to undergo to get into this character?
O’Connell: I just boxed, boxed and boxed. I went to the gym every day and trained. The only difference was I wasn’t sparring anymore because it’s not really wise to risk getting your nose broke in a sparring match a couple of weeks prior to shooting. So that was the only real difference.
CS: So would you say it’s apt to call Jungleland the anti-Rocky?
O’Connell: I’m not sure. I’m going to say this. I don’t think Jungleland and Rocky should be mentioned in the same breath. And here’s why. Partly because of the budget. And secondly, like this is a bareknuckle boxing movie. I think it gives you a license to be separate from any of the kind of boxing movies that we used to see. It’s just set in a bare knuckle world, which is still pretty far removed from boxing. You know, the boxing version of this film, to my mind, is probably a little less interesting. You have these guys here who are working within the illegitimate darkness of the fighting.
CS: You’ve worked with directors such as Angelina Jolie and Jodie Foster, among others. How was Max Winkler’s style different from theirs?
O’Connell: Yeah, I mean, listen, Max just had a total willingness to sit with us on set and — personally, he made me feel like I was in the driving seat when I was portraying Lion. And he instilled this feeling with me or within me that I couldn’t do any wrong, which is great, but it’s not necessarily true, because we’re all going to make mistakes. I love Max’s style. I love his style. He’s very personal. And yeah, I love his style. And I think he’s got a beautiful, beautiful movie out of it.
CS: How difficult are these types of roles to play? Do they drain you as an actor?
O’Connell: Yeah, of course, man. Look, if I ever wrap a film and I don’t feel drained, then something’s wrong. So that’s a given. With this, for me, look, we’re delving into a world which is — by the time we see it — take boxing, right? By the time we see it, all the emotions been removed. You see two fighters talking shit to each other, you see them in the ring. Emotion only comes in after the final bell, and we got to explore that. Where is the emotion? Where are the injustices? Where are the chinks in the relationships? Where does it flourish? Where was the glory? Where is the reward? And then, what’s the cost? You see what I mean? So in a world that has usually been void of real emotion until the final bell, we were able to explore it sort of a little bit of a behind the scenes on the reality.
CS: What do you think this film ultimately says about our capacity for perseverance, even in the most dire of circumstances?
O’Connell: Difficult question, man. Yeah, I think in Lion’s case, he’s able to discover it through. He’s able to discover it through — and he’s at an interesting stage in his life, where he’s a man. He’s a man. And whatever discoveries he’s made by this point, he’s going to take on for the rest of his life. That’s the man that he’s becoming. And that’s the time we catch him at. He’s going to be his family or is he going to be his own self? So I think in answer to that, man, I think through wherever you can find truths. And it’s not always obvious. But wherever you can find the truth, that’s the direction you want to be in.
CS: What do you want audiences to take away from Jungleland, specifically?
O’Connell: Yeah, I want audiences to look at Jungleland and be blown away. I want them to feel only ecstasy from the journey that is taken throughout this sort of industry that they’re in. But I also want them to understand the emotional cost. There’s a great speech from Lion. It was great when I read it, about the cost of what he’s having to do. He’s being used. He’s being used. And so, we have Sky, who’s being human trafficked. There’s such a usage of these people that I think, I mean, unless you’re involved in these very sordid, seedy worlds, I think just that awareness — an awareness that, you know, it’s very rarely a choice. It’s very rarely a choice.