Jackdaw interview | Oliver Jackson-Cohen on taking on a new kind of role

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Best known for his work in The Invisible Man and Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting shows, we chat to Oliver Jackson-Cohen about making Jackdaw.

A British crime thriller shot in record time across the North East of the country, Jackdaw is exactly the kind of movie we like to cover here at Film Stories. Directed and written by Jamie Childs, he knew exactly who he wanted to star in the film from the moment he met actor Oliver Jackson-Cohen.

He’s a talented performer who made a name for himself in the likes of Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man and Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting anthology series, but being the lead in an action-packed film was decidedly outside of his comfort zone. It took some convincing, but the actor eventually said yes to taking the role of Jackdaw's protagonist, Jack Dawson.

The character is an army veteran and former motocross champion who returns home to take care of his younger brother. Turning to less than legal means to do so, he agrees to pick up a mysterious package from the North Sea for some shady people, and soon finds that his actions will have dire repercussions for his family. Over the course of one night, he goes about trying to fix his mistake.

It’s an interesting and slightly mysterious role for Jackson-Cohen to take on. At first we don’t know much about Jack at all, but more is slowly revealed throughout the film. The actor very much suits the part, proving that he was right to take a chance on it, and showing his potential as a leading man.

Ahead of Jackdaw's theatrical release, we sat down with him to chat about taking on new roles, stepping outside of your comfort zone, and filming action scenes in -15 degree weather.

Read more: Jackdaw review | Oliver Jackson-Cohen beats up some bad guys

How did you first meet Jackdaw director Jamie Childs?

I was shooting [Wilderness]. We were shooting in New York and Jamie was a friend of someone on the shoot. He came to New York for a couple of days when we filmed. So I met him on set and then he followed us to Arizona, like the Grand Canyon. And then he told me one night in New York, he was like, ‘I’m sort of writing this thing. Like, I’ve been given this time frame to write this thing.’

And so he was talking to me about it over dinner and I was like, ‘That sounds great. What you should do is this,’ you know, ‘Maybe you should think about this. What about this?’ and it was completely sort of innocent, and then he just kept on writing it.

Then we wrapped the shoot and got back home and he called me up and he was like, ‘Hey, do you remember that thing I was telling you about?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, is it finished?’ And he was like, ‘Yeah, can I send it to you?’ I said, ‘Yeah, great, I’d love to read it’ and then he was like, ‘Will you do it?’ And I told him, ‘I really don’t think I’m the right person for it. I think you need to hire someone else.’

It wasn’t something that had even sort of crossed my mind. Or his, it felt like. But here we are.

What initially made you think you weren’t right for the role?

One of the first movies I ever did when I was like, 21 or something, was an action film and I didn’t have the best of times on it. And so I sort of stayed clear of that genre and up until Jackdaw just hadn’t sort of touched it again. I think Jamie is such a fascinating person and I think the way his mind works, his film references, they’re so mental and brilliant. And so I think all of us just sort of jumped on board, including the studio, but I think everyone just jumped on board because of their belief in Jamie.

I think he’s a really exciting director and I think he has quite a specific vision of what he wants to do. Something that was interesting about Jackdaw is that it’s a familiar story, but he’s kind of approached it in a way that I don’t necessarily think we see that often, specifically in the UK.

Jamie Childs said you did a lot of your own action choreography for the film.

That’s incredibly kind of him. I don’t know if that’s true, but that’s incredibly kind of him!

What was practicing for those action scenes like?

They set me up with this incredible team, and I think looking back on it they were trying to assess whether or not I could do any of it. And I think they were like, ‘Yeah, yeah, let’s just sort of set you up and see how you do, and see how comfortable you are with it all.’ They were just such an incredible team.

I’ve experienced this before with any kind of fight sequence, it can sometimes get quite tedious, you know? It has to be safe, so it’s sort of an orchestrated dance. They make you do it over and over and over again. But this team were incredibly safe, but they were not going to waste anyone’s time. It was an amazing group of people that we were surrounded by. Jamie Dobb, who is sort of the main guy – all those insane jumps in the movie on the bike, that’s all him. So he’s incredible.

But yeah, I kind of got into it. It’s quite fun. I guess it’s just sort of different, and I think that’s also why in the beginning I was unsure about it; it didn’t sort of feel like it was in my wheelhouse, a film like that, and I think I sort of surprised myself a bit because I actually really enjoyed it. I really enjoyed all the fight stuff.

I hear there was one particular night of the shoot where it got down to -15 degrees. What was that like for you?

The worst day of, I think, everyone’s life. It was so cold that the poor Jamie Dobb, who I mentioned before, who’s this incredible motocross champion, he got frostbite on his face. I mean, it was so unbelievably cold.

It was January time and it was just – no matter how much you wore, no matter how many thermals, we were shooting like three o’clock, four o’clock in the morning, up North, so it was bitter. I remember Jamie, Will [Baldy] who’s the DOP, and I just eating. Every 40 minutes just eating something. It was just insane. We were just eating and eating and eating because we were so cold. And then we went out and then they chucked me in the North Sea. That was fun in January. I don’t think I’ve ever been so cold. 

Oliver Jackson-Cohen in Jackdaw.
Credit: Vertigo Releasing.

This is quite a different role to the ones that you’re perhaps best known for, like The Invisible Man or Mike Flanagan’s Haunting shows. Do you think now that you’ve done it once you’d like to do more things like this?

I don’t know. I think it’s ultimately about character and story. I remember when I did the stuff with Mike, the amount of horror stuff that then ended up on my desk was insane. And I think that it wasn’t necessarily to do with genre, it was to do with those characters in that world and what you could tell through the veil of horror, you can tell all these quite interesting stories and sort of themes.

You know, Hill House was all about childhood trauma. And so it becomes, I think, more about the character than it does necessarily about the genre. But it was great; it was quite the experience, shooting Jackdaw. I got to learn how to ride motocross and lots of late night shoots and stunt work and spike training and all of that. It was great fun but I think ultimately it probably does come down to the character. I think there’s something so interesting about Jack Dawson that sort of switched on this light, I guess. And so yeah, I’d definitely work again with Jamie.

You say you got lots of horror stuff on your desk after working with Mike Flanagan. Are you looking to take on different types of projects to avoid being typecast?

Well, I think the whole idea of typecasting follows everyone, you know; I feel like people are desperate to put everyone in a box, sort of constantly. I don’t think that’s just particular to film, but I think within the film industry, the minute you do a romantic comedy, you become the go to person for romantic comedy. And I think there’s nothing wrong with just working within the same genre.

But I think I’ve never wanted to just do the one thing. You want to sort of experience a bit of everything and there’s some stuff that you end up being surprised by that you didn’t think you would like, and there’s stuff that you think you would like and actually doesn’t fit as much. So I think the whole thing is a bit of an experiment.

I think the typecasting will come whether or not any of us want it, so I think it’s just more about keeping it interesting for yourself, ultimately.

Jackdaw is in cinemas on 26th January.

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