I always enjoy when a film brings to life an accurate portrayal of important historical events. With Bridge of Spies, you've got a top-rate cast led by Tom Hanks, direction from Steven Spielberg ('nuff said, honestly), and a story that almost tells itself with levels of intrigue that easily transitioned into a compelling screenplay.
The Oscar buzz is swirling already, and I was really happy to get a chance to chat with Austin Stowell, who plays Francis Gary Powers in the film. Just in case you're unfamiliar with the story, he's the American spy who was put to trial in the U.S.S.R. for taking surveillance photographs above Russian plots of land during the Cold War.
My first question was simple. How was it acting under the tutelage of Steven Spielberg?
"There's a reason why that name rings a bell for any human being not living under a rock somewhere. He's responsible for some of the greatest films of all time. It's an honor to get to work with him. But, he really does hvae an incredible ability to make you feel comfortable and welcome. He breaks the ice by his Steven-isms, I guess you could call them. He's so passionate about film and the story that he's going to tell with you, that he wants you to know everything that's going on in his mind. So you get to take a little journey with him every single day into whatever world that you're trying to create. And in this film we were creating the world of 1960s Cold War. So for me, not being alive at that time it was wonderful to see that world come alive and realize the levity and the suspense that the entire population was living with during this time. When the world was filled with paranoia and fear that, y'know, they could push the button at any time."
The film did in fact put you in that period of time nicely. Many Americans still alive today remember the safety tutorials that they would run through in schools. Things were supposed to go on as usual, but things were actually far from usual or routine.
He explained the amount of research he did to get into the mind of Powers, his character.
"Well, I read his book called 'Operation Overflight' which is a really great read and then his son, Francis Gary Powers Jr, was able to give me hours of interviews that his father had done, recorded interviews. And so I got to hear his voice and hear him give his first-hand account of the crash and his experiences with the overflights and then what it was like when he got back to the states. And at that point, I was already filming the first season of 'Public Morals' (TNT TV series), so I had been living in that world of the 1960s and I use music a lot to take me to places as an actor. What better time period than the '60s? Some of the best music, in my opinion, that is out there is from that time period. So, it wasn't difficult for me to get in the role of Powers since I was already in the middle of it playing Sean O'Bannon (from Public Morals)."
Without giving too much away, there was an epic action sequence in the film that involved Stowell - you have to see it for yourself to feel how awesome it was.
"That entire sequence, it looks so real because I really was getting ripped out of that plane and swung against the side of it, using the air-hose to climb back up, grabbing the seat-back. It looks real, because I was actually doing it."
If you see the film, you'll notice one of the main themes is resilience. It took a lot of that for Stowell's character Powers to get through what he goes through.
"The amount of courage is unfathomable. To have to spend three years over there, in a place where you don't know who you can trust, which means you can't trust anyone... being away from friends and family and having no contact with them for about the first year and a half. Not knowing what tomorrow was going to bring for him. If anything, I was just trying to keep that in mind at all times. I tried to keep pressing forward. You know, he was there for a bigger reason, because he represented something. He represented freedom and he represented his entire country. And I think the weight of his country is what got him through it, and it was what was so daunting at the same time. To be the face of a nation is such a large responsibility and I think he took on that role honorably and thought it was a great honor to be the one who was representing the United States."
Austin's film, 'Bridge of Spies' hits theaters this Friday, October 16th.