Jack O’Connell is a British-Irish actor best known for his roles in the films Starred Up, Unbroken and Money Monster. He recently starred in Trial by Fire, a controversial biopic about an American sentenced to the death penalty in 2004. In this biography, O’Connell tells his story in his own words.

Jack O’Connell Bio: Early Life, Family, Education

O’Connell was born in Derby, Derbyshire, England, on August 1, 1990 (Jack O’Connell age: 28). His parents, Johnny Patrick and Allison, raised O’Connell and his sister Megan in the working-class neighborhood of Alvaston.

O’Connell initially wanted to follow in his grandfather’s footsteps as a professional football player. Though he joined the Alvaston Rangers football team and was scouted by Derby County, he suffered too many injuries to pursue an athletic career. O’Connell next turned to the army as a job prospect, having undergone cadet training at age 12. However, he was barred from entry due to the alcohol – and violence-related charges on his juvenile record.

O’Connell was no more successful in school. He left the Saint Benedict Catholic Voluntary Academy at age 16 with subpar grades and a “brutal” educational experience under his belt. He has expressed resentment towards the school, claiming the only enjoyable parts of his time there were his drama classes. These sparked his interest in acting, which he developed at the Nottingham Television Workshop beginning at age 13.

O’Connell then pursued acting professionally with a series of auditions in London. As he could not afford to stay in a hotel, he slept outside most nights. He moved to west London and sought farm work in Surrey to pay the bills in between small acting parts.

Jack O’Connell Bio: Early Acting Career

O’Connell’s juvenile record initially prevented him from obtaining a United States visa and any Hollywood roles it may have afforded him. However, once he broke into the acting scene, his delinquency worked to his advantage and secured him most of his earliest roles. O’Connell first appeared onscreen in a 2005 episode of Doctors as a runaway teen, then returned to the show The Bill as an accused rapist. Also in 2005, the actor graced London’s Royal National Theatre stage as a cast member of The Spider-Man.

O’Connell acted in his first movie, This Is England, in 2006. Though only 15 years old, he was considered too old to play the lead, so Shane Meadows created a custom role for him. The following year, O’Connell acted in the TV shows Waterloo Road, Holby City and Wire in the Blood. He also starred in the play Scarborough, which debuted at the Edinburgh Festival and ran again at the Royal Court Theatre in London. 2008 was another substantial year for O’Connell, who played a gang leader in the well-received horror movie Eden Lake. He also acted like a juvenile delinquent in the educational film Between You and Me and filmed for the 2009 series Wuthering Heights.

Between 2009 and 2010, O’Connell acted in two seasons of the teen drama Skins, garnering widespread attention and a TV Choice Award for Best Actor. He would go on to star in Skins Rise, a feature-length special following his character deeper into adulthood, in 2013. Later in 2009, O’Connell acted with Michael Caine in the thriller Harry Brown and filmed for the BBC drama Dive. In 2011, O’Connell took the lead in the TV series The Runaway and the film United, both of which received positive reviews.

O’Connell starred in Weekender and Tower Block in 2011 and 2012, respectively. Though critics rated both films poorly, they singled O’Connell out for his stellar performance. In 2012, the actor appeared in The Liability as well as the film adaptation of Private Peaceful.

Jack O’Connell Bio: Recent Acting Career

O’Connell’s acting breakthrough came in 2013 with the indie drama film Starred Up. His performance as Eric Love, a young prisoner incarcerated alongside his father, received glowing reviews. The next year, director Yann Demange selected O’Connell for his film ‘71, depicting the political turbulence in Northern Ireland. Both movies scored O’Connell Best Actor nominations from the British Independent Film Awards.

O’Connell appeared in his first blockbuster film, 300: Rise of an Empire, later in 2014. He went on to play his first lead role in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken the same year. He portrayed Louis Zamperini, an Olympic swimmer detained for two years in Japanese prisoner-of-war camps. In order to prepare for this role, O’Connell had to lose nearly 30 pounds and subdue his Derbyshire accent under the tutelage of a dialect coach. His performance received high praise from critics.

In 2016, O’Connell acted in Money Monster with co-stars George Clooney and Julia Roberts. He went on to play Roy Goodie in nine episodes of the 2017 mini-series Godless. The next year, O’Connell appeared onstage as Brick in the National Theatre Live production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.

Two O’Connell projects, Jungleland and Against All Enemies, are set to release later in 2019, followed by the film Little Fish. O’Connell is also preparing to star as Patrick Sumner in the 2020 mini-series The North Water. More forthcoming movies include Love Is a Gun and The Cradle, whose release dates have yet to be announced.

Jack O’Connell Bio: Exclusive Interview on ‘Trial by Fire,’ Capital Punishment

One of O’Connell’s latest projects is the dramatic biography Trial by Fire. Directed by Edward Zwick and released in 2018, this film tells the true story of Cameron Todd Willingham, who was executed under the death penalty in Texas 14 years prior. He was convicted of killing his children despite substantial evidence and testimony suggesting otherwise.

In May 2019, O’Connell sat down with uInterview for an exclusive interview about Trial by Fire. He began by discussing how he imagined Willingham felt by the time he met Laura Dern’s character, Elizabeth. ”I think he’s found a new sense of peace,” he said. “Not with his fate, but … he’s probably better at accepting the surroundings and the four walls and being on death row a lot more.”

O’Connell was less firm in his convictions regarding capital punishment. He initially underscored the injustice of wrongfully convicted prisoners being sentenced to death. “Just human error is a scary thing, isn’t it?” he said. “That the fact that people make mistakes whatever the rank, whatever the position. Like, you have to account for human error, and that’s what’s frightening.”

However, O’Connell is not entirely against the death penalty. He told uInterview, “If you were to ask me what to do, I think certain people deserve capital punishment for things they do. Perhaps so.” O’Connell described his opinions as a “weird juxtaposition” and expressed further concerns about human error. “But do I then entrust the system, the man-made system, to exact correct justice every time?” he asked. “No, I don’t trust that, and therefore I don’t think anyone should be at the liberty of killing people.”

Check out the full autobiographical interview at the top of this page.

Jack O’Connell Bio: Personal Life, Spouse, Children

O’Connell readily admits to his turbulent past. He was known as “Jack the Lad” throughout his childhood for engaging in rowdy and often illegal behavior. He recalls going on a seemingly endless bender following his father’s death, partying from age 18 to 25. O’Connell has been known to give interviews while hungover in the past, bolstering his reputation as a “party boy.”

After working with director Angelina Jolie on the 2014 film Unbroken, O’Connell decided to change his ways. He pulled out of the party scene and followed Jolie’s philanthropic lead, appearing in a critically acclaimed United Nations film about the global refugee crisis in 2016. 

O’Connell has lived in East London since 2014. He is currently unmarried and without children. He is rumored to have dated model Cara Delevigne and X-Factor judge Tulisa Contostavlos in the past.

Jack O’Connell Bio: Quotes

“What’s important to me is the longevity. I want to create a body of work that is entertaining and speaks to people for a long time. Longer than my life span. They’re the real goals for me as an actor, not the fame side of things.”

“I like the ideology of there being no such thing as perfection. But I’m of the opinion that I have witnessed perfection at various times, especially in art.”

“Growing up, Gary Oldman has been a big role model of mine. Also Tim Roth; I’ve always loved his performances. A more recent example would be Tom Hardy. He decides to do what he does for his reasons, but I like the way he’s been able to stay as Tom. He’s not been warped in any way.”

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