Before U.S. Olympian-turned-WWII hero Louis Zamperini died on July 2 at age 97, director Angelina Jolie showed him the film she’s made about him, adapted from Laura Hillenbrand’s 2010 best-seller. ”I brought it on my laptop to the hospital,” says Jolie. ”It was a deeply moving, very profound few hours of my life. Telling his story is a giant responsibility.” It was certainly an extraordinary life: Zamperini competed in the 1936 Olympics in track, enlisted with the U.S. Air Force in WWII, survived a crash into the Pacific, spent 47 days marooned on a raft, and then endured over two years of torture in a Japanese POW camp.
Playing Zamperini was no easy task. Jack O’Connell, a veteran of British TV’s teen drama Skins, had to lose nearly 30 pounds to appear emaciated in key scenes. ”You learn not to think of your own problems,” he says. ”That’s something you can attribute to Louie and Angie — they both strive to be selfless every day.”
Luckily, not every day was so grueling: One night, O’Connell formed an impromptu band with producer Matthew Baer and costars Garrett Hedlund (who plays a fellow prisoner) and Miyavi (a real-life Japanese rocker who portrays a sadistic guard in the film). Their tunes included ”Angie” by the Rolling Stones and, of course, the Kingsmen classic ”Louie Louie.”