Tribeca Interview: ‘Starred Up’ Stars Jack O’Connell, Rupert Friend, and David Ajala

Posting here only the fragments directly related to Rupert. You can check the pdf with the full interview by clicking here.

The Tribeca Film Festival hosted the “official” United States premiere of the new Irish/UK feature film Starred Up (it unofficially premiered at the 2013 Telluride Film Festival). In attendance, along with the film’s director David Mackenzie, were stars Jack O’Connell, Rupert Friend, and David Ajala.

Starred Up tells the story of Eric Love, a 19-year-old violent offender who has been moved prematurely into the adult prison system, which also holds his father, Neville (Ben Mendelsohn). Because of his aggressive behavior in the prison ward, and emotional scars from a troubled childhood, he is placed in group therapy with psychologist Oliver (Friend), which includes Ajala as a member of the group. The movie is violent, brutal, and incredibly powerful. The inspiration for Friend’s character. Ajala and O’Connell both noted Asser stepped back and allowed the actors to develop their characters without the interference of a screenwriter. Friend however utilized his intimate relationship with Asser in order get inside the mind of a man who would “would voluntarily work in a prison with known murderers, encouraging them to vent their feelings in a large group.” Friend spent a Christmas holiday in New York with Asser, and was given information about his personal history and therapeutic methods, which was ended by the prison systems in what Friend describes as “a tragedy of prison bureaucracy.

Working in a once fully functioning prison, which was closed but never renovated, had a major effect on all the actors, who rather than having trailers or dressing rooms, had to change costumes, prepare for scenes, and even eat meals in their cells, including Friend: “Well, it’s a full day, so sometimes you’re in make up before the sun comes up. And then went to our cells, where we would leave our clothes and things. The cells are freezing and the walls haven’t been cleaned or painted since the last occupation so there is blood and excrement still. The feeling of isolation and terror was pretty palpable. It does play into the psychology of the film.” One of the psychological effects felt by the actors was the claustrophobia the men experienced. Ajala, who shares a cell in the film, noted that added to the realism.

All three actors were required to be extremely physical in their performances, including Friend whose character is passive, but puts himself in the middle of many fights between prisoners (and even protects prisoners from guards), when his character leads therapy sessions. Friend said: “We shot all those scenes in a very improvisational way. One cameraman in the room with us. No clapboards or make-up in there with us. And there was a lot of fighting in those scenes, and none of it was choreographed. And I won’t say who, but I got punched so hard I ended up at the eye doctor. But we wouldn’t stop the scene because we had this unwritten code that whatever we did had to feel real.

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