VIDEO EXCLUSIVE: Jack O’Connell & Laura Dern On ‘Trial By Fire,’ Capital Punishment
The pair talked to uInterview Founder Erik Meers exclusively about the film and their characters. O’Connell, who previously starred in the British drama series Skins and in films like Unbroken, plays a real-life man named Cameron Todd Wellington in his new film. Wellington was falsely accused of an arson-related triple homicide in 1992. Dern plays Elizabeth Gilbert who becomes an ally of sorts to Wellington, as she seeks to help the death row inmate prove his innocence over the course of his many years on death row.
“A lot of it could be found within the writing between real-life Todd and real-life Elizabeth,” 28-year-old O’Connell explained. “So it was kind of a well of information, that was very beneficial.”
“I think by the time [Todd] meets Elizabeth, he’s found a sense of peace,” he added of his character. “Not with his fate but just, you know, he’s probably better at accepting the surroundings and the four walls and being on death row.”
Dern added she found the “connection” between the two main characters and their “availability” to each other most interesting.
“The level of intimacy in what they shared was so profound and we have to consider how high the stakes are,” said Dern. “[Elizabeth’s] life and her own story is [told] at a very specific time in her life.”
Dern noted that she is “horrified” capital punishment still exists in the U.S. However, the 52-year-old actress added, she is a “proud Californian” whose Democratic Governor Gavin Newsom ordered a moratorium on the death penalty in the state in March.
Dern observed she finds it extremely inconsistent if many conservative states across the United States failed to abolish the death penalty given many of their hard-line stances on another highly debated subject, abortion.
“The conservative point of view in this country, talked about a great deal right now, is ‘thou shalt not kill,’ and state by state we’re seeing legislatures consider abortion rights shifting in order to protect that story, so I’m very confused [as to] why then the death penalty would not be abolished,” said Dern.
O’Connell compounded on his co-star’s statements by saying that the “human error” on these types of controversial subjects should always be accounted for.
“If you were to ask me, ‘do I think certain people deserve capital punishment for things they do?’ [I would say] ‘perhaps so.’ So it’s a weird juxtaposition,” said O’Connell. “Do I then entrust the man-made system to exact, correct justice every time? No, I don’t trust that and therefore, I don’t think anyone should be at the liberty of killing people.”
Directed by Edward Zwick (Legends of the Fall, Blood Diamond, The Last Samurai), Trial by Fire is out May 17.
Read full interview transcript below:
Erik : First of all, congratulations to both of you on such an important movie. Jack why dont we start with you. Your Character Todd is a convicted murderer who finds an unlikely ally in Laura’s character Elizabeth. Talk about the relationship and what he sees in her.
Jack: A lot of it could be found within the writing between real life Todd and real life Elizabeth. So there was a lot of… that was kind of a well wasn’t it… of information. So that was very beneficial, I think. By the time he meets Elizabeth, I think he’s found a sense of peace not with his fate, but just, you know, he’s probably better at accepting the surroundings and the four walls and being on death row a lot more… he seems so. I feel he came to terms with it quite a bit by the time he’s engaging with Liz, I find Liz’s introduction to Todd’s life very beneficial to him. That was my understanding of it anyway and it was quite nice to try and portray it.
Laura: And it’s an amazing thing to get to know two characters and also their love story, their connection, their availability to each other because the level of intimacy in what they shared was so profound and we have to consider how high the stakes are. I mean her life and her own story is at a very specific time in her life, but to enter the world that he is in and the horror of the world that he is in particularly as an innocent man is so devastating that perhaps there’s nothing to lose but to be completely in your truth and therefore offer unconditional love to each other.
Jack: Yeah the stakes are very high, aren’t they, for each other, drawing up area. You question how much a person would hold back and withhold at that.
Erik: What do you hope the message of the movie is about capital punishment?
Laura: I’ll let Jack speak to this because he speaks so eloquently about it. I will speak as an American who is horrified that it still exists and proud to be a Californian with a governor who has suspended the death penalty in our state. I think it’s a very exciting time to reconsider the conversation particularly when the conservative point of view in this country talked about a great deal right now is thou shalt not kill and state by state we’re seeing legislators consider abortion rights shifting in order to protect that story so i’m very confused why then the death penalty would not be abolished so i think we have to really get around our moral compass because as Jack says, youre trying to play God I’ll let you speak to the margin of error.
Jack: Oh yeah just human error is a scary thing isn’t it, that the fact that people make mistakes whatever the rank, whatever the position, like you have to account for human error and thats whats frightening. Now that doesnt mean to say that if you were to ask me what to do, i think certain people deserve capital punishment for things they do, perhaps so. You know it’s a weird juxtaposition, but do i then entrust the system, the man-made system to exact correct justice everytime? No i don’t trust that, and therefore I don’t think anyone should be at the liberty of killing people.
Erik: Well very important movie, thank you so much.
Laura: Thank you.