ByJon Negroni, writer at
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Jon Negroni

A recent trend for writers who write about movies has been the evaluation of actors we refer to as "Rising Stars."

I'm not really sure what that term is supposed to mean considering "stars" already exist well above us (and should we assume actors are burning out? That's a different discussion).

But the idea of pinpointing someone who pretends for a living as someone who does it just a little better than everyone else is certainly worth discussing, and many of these actors already chosen are fantastic additions to the conversation.

One day, Harrison Ford will finally quit acting. Jack Nicholson. Meryl Streep. RdJ. Mel Gibson, if we're lucky. It's good fun to predict who the world will fall in love with next, after Chris Pratt, Emma Watson, and Jennifer Lawrence have somewhat dominated the first half of the twenty tweens.

So it may surprise some of you who follow my work that the actor I've chosen to put my favor behind is a British actor you've probably never heard of, or if you have, it's because you have a love affair with anything on the BBC.

Who is Jack O'Connell?

I asked this question when I first read his name on the cast list of Skins, when it entered its third season with a remix of actors. This is the British version of the teenage-centric show about promiscuous, apathetic kids who unapologetically smoke, drink at pubs, and disappoint their parents.

Jack O'Connell is James Cook, my personal favorite character in the large collection of Skins' many great actors, including Nicholas Hoult, Kaya Scodelario, and some actors you've seen on HBO's Game of Thrones. Of all of these characters, Cook will always be the show's greatest creation, in my opinion.

We're introduced to O'Connell's "Cook" in a less than subtle way. He's loud, brash, and again, unapologetic. Though the show spins him as a secondary character, he ends up getting the girl anyway. At least for a while. He's the villain, the hero, the best friend, the comic relief, and the anti-hero. Not in that order, I suppose.

I'll never forget the line permanently engrained in my mind from the Season 4 finale,


The uttering of this line is the titular moment I realized Jack O'Connell is a big deal. It was the most memorable thing to happen to the show, I'd say, and easily the most discussed. For spoiler reasons, I can't explain why.

It's no surprise, then, that the show decided to finish their widespread story with a mini-movie centered around completing Cook's story. Compared to the rest of what we saw on Skins, it's truly masterful.

The really real Jack O'Connell.

The real life of Jack O'Connell is just as interesting. He grew up in a blue collar household in Derby, far from any aspirations of acting. He's 24, like myself, and found his path to success despite middling school grades and self-destructive behavior resulting from the death of his father at age 18.

Even during his stint on Skins, the young actor had a troubling reputation for being trouble. He arrived at interviews hung over and was known as a ladies man (and likely still is).

But those days are more or less over for the British star. He received acclaim for his role on the indie film, Starred Up in 2013, and O'Connell was most recently the star of the major motion picture, Unbroken this past December. In that film, he worked with Director Angelina Jolie to tell the remarkable true story of Louis Zamperini.

Though the film got mixed reviews, O'Connell won the New York Film Critics Online award for best breakthrough performance in both Unbroken and Starred Up. In his most recent film, '71, O'Connell received high praise for his role as a British soldier separated from his unit during the 1971 riots in Belfast.

To be clear, O'Connell is a charmer. He's just now starting to show his acting range outside of the typical "rough around the edges" personality he's typically assigned. Unbroken truly tested him as an actor by not only giving him a biopic to work with, but painfully pushing us to believe that O'Connell could pull off a stoic American from the WWII era turned into a brutally treated prisoner of war.

When we talk about rising actors to watch, we like to default to debating which "superhero" said actor will emulate. I won't bother because O'Connell will likely transcend that stereotype and find his footing anywhere he decides to plant it. I don't consider him a safe bet because I want him to be someone from a comic book. Instead, I know O'Connell has the charm and ability to make it happen, as he's already demonstrated time and again.

At any rate, the actor has two more movies planned to release in the next year or so. I recommend you pay close attention.


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