Rupert Friend as Oliver: Starred Up

To be “starred up” is to be prematurely transferred from a juvenile to an adult institution, and the film begins with this happening to Eric (Jack O’Connell in a riveting, star-making turn), a young man deemed dangerous enough to warrant segregation—a cell to himself. Eric moves silently through processing and strip search before entering his cell, where he makes and hides a shiv in less time than it takes to smoke a cigarette. Before the week is out he will beat another prisoner unconscious, fend off a pack of guards, and reconnect with his dad (Ben Mendelsohn), one of the prison’s most powerful inmates. Further problems arise when Eric joins an anger management group, based on SVI and led by Oliver (Rupert Friend), a caring therapist who may have finally met his match. (*)

Starred Up (2013)
Eric Love (O’Connell) is a 19 year old teenager who is so violent he has been ‘Starred Up’ (Moved to Adult prison) where he finds his father Neville (Mendelsohn) who Eric hasn’t seen since he was 5 (since he was put into care). Neville tries to get Eric to settle down, so Eric gets a chance to go through therapy with Oliver (Friend).
Director: David Mackenzie
Writer: Jonathan Asser
Cast: Jack O’Connell, Ben Mendelsohn, Rupert Friend, Sam Spruell.

Oliver is my ego, in a positive, psychoanalytic sense, negotiating between the id and the superego in order to enable a meaningful connection.

Jonathan Asser (Starred Up screenwriter) for


[…] Friend plays a prison counselor who seeks to rehabilitate the inmates through non violent group therapy. The shooting of the film itself took place over four weeks in an actual prison which the filmmakers credited with helping to develop the film. “There was nothing else to be in” Rupert Friend described the setting, “and it’s freezing and the walls hadn’t been cleaned or painted since the last occupants so there’s kind of bodily secretions…don’t touch the walls. And the feeling of isolation and frankly, terror, was pretty powerful for everyone. And it does, it plays into the psychology of the thing. It really does.”

For Friend, the shooting got especially real in a fight scene, “We just kind of went for it. You know one of the scenes these guys, you know there’s a lot of fighting and we didn’t choreograph any of that…and I won’t say who it was, but I got punched so hard in the eye I wound up in the eye doctor.” Although for Friend, “the most interesting part” was remaining a nonviolent character amongst all the tension. “How is it that this one mild mannered, middle class guy was able to diffuse that tension and make it constructive? That’s what was fascinating” he said on the red carpet,  “Not just theoretically, but actually in the room when this lot are all going crazy.”

Rupert for

I knew this the scrpit was something very original. That’s rare to find. Oliver, my character, is based on the writer Jonathan Asser, who based the script on his own experiences working in a prison. The whole thing is very much drawn from life. I didn’t know that when I read it but I still felt it very keenly. That kind of authenticity leaps out at you and is very appealing. The role was offered to me. When I found out that the character was based on Jonathan, I wanted to speak to him and see if we could come up with a three-dimensional person, which I think we did. The process was very collaborative. I enjoyed that enormously.

Rupert for

Here’s one of Rupert’s scenes

The group scenes are some of my favourite parts of the movie, because they’re very forthright, they’re very dynamic, there’s lots of tension, escalation, de-escelation, and the interesting thing about what Oliver [the therapist in the movie, played by Rupert Friend] does – and I guess what Jonathan does – in the past, in his reality. If you’re taking some volatile people, and you’re almost asking them to explore their volatility, there’s something immensely dramatic about that. […]  There’s a scene in the film where things sort of explode in the group, and then they de-escalate; but there’s so much tension in that de-escalation, and there are little parts where it looks like it’s going to escalate again. And that scene was a scene that I asked Jonathan to write, having experienced this cast in the session, because I thought we hadn’t really explored the amazing power of that de-escalation, and it remains one of my favourite scenes of the movie.

During, I think a couple of those scenes, Rupert Friend’s character Oliver, the therapist, he kind of just stands in between two of the prisoners…
… absorbing all that aggression. That sort of technique I think Jonathan encouraged him to do; just standing in between people, of interacting, of putting yourself in the line of fire in a way to absorb whatever is there and try to stop becoming more dangerous. But obviously, the process of doing that is you have to be a very brave person to stand in that way, which is what the character so interesting.

David Mackenzie for

 I really loved that kind of scenes. The way Rupert managed to become a “silent barrier.” He was there absorbing all that bad energy, but at the same time, it was like if he was not there. Silent, his head bowed … I guess his great performance in these scenes was one of the main reasons why he was nominated as Best Supporting Actor for the British Independent Film Award. Oliver is a character that really fascinates me. He showed more concern for those people in jail than for himself (or better, helping those convicts was his own therapy), and I really think the jail was like his home. The complexity of his character is really interesting. His look in this scene, in my opinion, sums it up.

The character that I wasn’t expecting so much from in the film was that of Oliver, played by Rupert Friend. It’s a great performance, and the way you peel back on the so-called ‘do-gooder’, without giving anything away, is really something. How much of that character was as fleshed out when you read the screenplay for the first time, because the film could conceivably exist with the focus on the main two leads alone?
The most important thing to say about Rupert’s character is that he’s a facsimile in many ways of Jonathan Asser, the writer. Who himself is a prison therapist who has pioneered a lot of the techniques that are used in the film. And so Rupert had to relate to Jonathan, who was there on the set. To work out how to turn the character as written into something. Jonathan himself is an anti-stereotype figure in many ways, and it’s a juggle between Rupert’s intelligence as an actor, my desire to push away from stereotypes, and Jonathan as both a writer and a model for the character.
I think what that character does, and the group scenes, for all their dynamics, they are the conduit of hope in what could be a fairly bleak picture. It’s really important that we got that write, and they were among my favourite scenes in the movie to shoot and to be part of.

David Mackenzie for

Some days ago I posted the featurette of Starred Up, with some interesting comments by Rupert. Click here to check the post. Rupert’s screencaps from this film are available in the gallery following this link, and also some promotional photos. There are also available two albums with a photoshoot from the Toronto film festival and from a photoshoot made by Aidan Monaghan.

In short, if you’re a fan of Rupert (or not), you must watch this film. Despite the fact that you will hear the word Fu*#c and all its derivations even more than in Homeland :). No, seriously, you will not regret.



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