From director Jodie Foster, the real-time, high-stakes thriller Money Monster follows financial TV host Lee Gates (George Clooney) and his producer, Patty Fenn (Julia Roberts), as they are put in an extreme situation when a young man (Jack O’Connell) who has lost everything takes over their studio. During a tense stand-off that’s broadcast to millions on live TV, Lee and Patty must unravel the mystery behind a conspiracy that led to the disappearance of $800 million of investor money.
At the film’s press day, actor Jack O’Connell sat down with Collider at the Four Seasons Hotel in Los Angeles for this exclusive interview about what drew him to Money Monster, making the accent feel lived in, and whether his character was seeking redemption. He also talked about playing a cowboy in the upcoming Netflix series Godless, set in 1800s America. Be aware that there are some spoilers.
Collider: This is a wholly original adult thriller, it’s smart and relevant, it relies much more on character development than action sequences and set pieces, it’s opening in summer movie season and it’s directed by a woman, which is very rare these days. When you got this script and read it, what was the draw for you?
JACK O’CONNELL: Just the reality of it all. What personally makes me feel very excited, as an actor, is when a film is brave and bold and it exposes wrongdoings, which are real. And it was a great opportunity to step into the shoes of someone that I could find quite instantly relevant. Being the same age, I’m sure if I wasn’t acting, I’d probably be a lot worse off than Kyle is. That was quite instantaneous, the way I was able to adopt that, and that was very attractive. But also, to be in there with Julia [Roberts], George [Clooney] and Jodie [Foster], it gives you an instant gratification.
Doing an accent is a challenge, in and of itself, but in this film, you have a lot of dialogue. Does that make it even more challenging?
O’CONNELL: It can never be an impersonation. I can never be trying to imitate. I have to feel like I’m giving something that’s lived in and natural. That’s the main challenge. It’s made a lot easier when all of the content is on the page ‘cause then you have something very definite to work towards. Also, sometimes in a scene, you might go off page, so you have to give yourself enough room and prepare enough. That way, when you do find yourself in that scenario, you have something that you believe in. Otherwise, it’s just too much to juggle. It requires preparation. I can’t imagine taking on any role without trying to figure them things out first.
Did you and George Clooney play around with the dialogue, at all?
O’CONNELL: What I enjoy, as an audience member, is when I feel that actors really realize what’s given to them on the page. So, there wasn’t a lot of improvisation, and I think that’s credit to the screenwriters. The only one whose name I’m equipped with is Jamie [Linden], and he was there a lot. I have total adoration for what he put on the page. We do have a lot of characters on the screen, but I feel we get an understanding of them all. With Lee, very similar to Kyle, we dislike them originally. I dislike Lee Gates, to begin with, but then I ended up liking him. And Jodie made an interesting point when she said that all of these characters could be embodied by one person. They might represent factors in one personality. That’s applicable. As people, we can be quite erratic, going from one extreme to another, so it is conceivable that all of these people are representing versions of one person. I think that’s a very interesting theory, and I can imagine that being very helpful from a writing perspective.
(Spoilers) When this guy took these actions, do you think he had any idea what the final outcome of it all would ultimately be?
O’CONNELL: Jodie told me that he was very aware of the fact that he was probably going to die, doing what he’s doing. He’s dealt with the fact that he might be neutralized as a threat and he’s obviously at a certain state of desperation, but instead of being a total mess in dealing with that, he’s actually very active and he manages to achieve a lot of what he wants to achieve. I don’t think it’s a suicide mission. I think he’s gone there to better his situation, and a lot of other people’s while he’s at it. There’s something quite selfless in what he’s doing, which might be quite honorable. But, the reality of what he’s dealing with is potential death. I think it’s a very well thought out mission that he’s set for himself. It’s probably not advised, but he’s certainly schemed and conspired towards something that proves to be quite effective.
(Spoilers) Do you think he felt any redemption or vindication from this mission?
O’CONNELL: I think he gained a sense of self-worth. Before this, he probably felt rock bottom. He probably didn’t even feel human anymore. He was trapped in a system that’s unfair and that took his money, and not with any rhyme or reason. I think the version of self-worth that he’s given from the answers that he gets, and the fact that he’s also bringing that to other people’s foreground is another one of the rewards for him. He gets to wake up a lot of people while he’s at it.
You’ve worked with both Angelina Jolie and Jodie Foster, who both come from long-time acting backgrounds, as directors. Do you find that directors who have an acting background approach actors differently, on set, than directors who don’t come from that sort of background?
O’CONNELL: Without being in that situation with a director that’s perhaps acted a little less, it’s always hard to compare. I do have those accounts, but I don’t think they’re fair comparisons. There are all these different processes. Some directors enjoy torturing actors. There are some many different processes, and I’ve got to find myself operable with all of them. The experiences that I’ve had have certainly been benefitted by the level of consideration given by the directors, perhaps because of their experience. There’s such a thing as first-time directors, as well, and I’ve worked with them before. Sometimes the inexperience can also be quite a quality to the film because they perhaps don’t know the rules so much. Maybe in a few years time, I’ll have figured out my preference.
Do you know what you’re going to do next?
O’CONNELL: Yeah, I’m going to go be a cowboy for Netflix, for six episodes of a series called Godless. That will be with Scott Frank, who I’ve had a great time with. I feel very encouraged by where he finds himself creatively. I’m looking forward to partnering up with him, getting on horseback and being in the 1800s in early America. I can’t wait. That’s next. I’ll be in Santa Fe, New Mexico for a little while. I’ve gotta be a cowboy, once in my career.
Are you having to do a lot of training for that?
O’CONNELL: Yeah, and if it’s not pistols, which I’ve gotta be good at, it’s also horse riding. I’m playing a horse wrangler. These are things that you have to put the groundwork in for, but it’s also very enjoyable. I like horses. My dad is from Ireland, in Cary, and his whole family, for hundreds of years, bred horses. It’s in my blood. So, it’s a very smart casting choice by Scott Frank. Horses have to respect you. You’ve gotta earn it. You can’t buy that.
What kind of character are you playing in the show?
O’CONNELL: He’s a horse wrangler who’s a good lad. He’s the protagonist of the series, I’d say. He’s very honorable, but he lives in the Wild West. He’s a male, but he’s not a pussy, so he naturally gains enemies. It’s quite interesting. The whole thing has not been written. I’m going off of what was originally pitched as a movie, and now we’re turning it into a series.
You’ve done a fair bit of TV work in the U.K., but not in the States. Was that something you were looking to do? Do you enjoy getting a bit more time to live with a character?
O’CONNELL: Maybe. But, the time that it will take to shoot Godless is less than the time that it would take to shoot a lot of movies. It’s more to do with the fact that the lines between television and film aren’t as distinct as they were when I was first getting into this profession. We live in a day and age now where a lot of TV is as good, and sometimes better, than a lot of cinema. It’s just about choosing the quality jobs and the quality roles, and working with the right people that are going to try to keep that level of quality. It’s also partly down to the fact that we live in this very exciting day and age. Matthew McConaughey can win an Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club, and then go straight into True Detective, and that’s just one example.
Money Monster opens in theaters on May 13th.