John D'Leo is a young actor to keep an eye out for as he teamed up with Robert De Niro and Michelle Pfeiffer last year for The Family.
We caught up with the actor to chat about The Family, working with big screen legends, and being directed by Angelina Jolie on Unbroken.
- The Family has just been released on DVD here in the UK, so can you tell me a little bit about the film for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet?
The Family is an action comedy that stars Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, Tommy Lee Jones, Dianna Agron and myself.
It is more of a family story and is not your typical mob movie. I think people are going to like that a lot, as it is a completely different take on the mob and that culture.
- The movie sees you take on the role of Warren Blake, so what was it about the character and the script that initially sparked your interest?
I realised how young he is and yet he is such a strong character: there is so much that he could do.
I realised on set that we could probably come up with so many more ideas. There is just so much more that the character can do and create, and I really liked that aspect of him.
He wasn't a shallow character he had real depth: he really does have a lot going on. He was a young kid, and yet he was experiencing all of these problems. He was growing up way too fast, I think.
- The Family is the latest film for Luc Besson, so how did you find working with him? And what kind of director is he?
Luc Besson is such a great guy; I love Luc (laughs). As a director, he really is amazing. He goes behind the camera for every scene and he takes control of the whole set.
He works the camera for the scene, then after the 'cut' he will go and watch the monitor and make sure that he likes everything. If he likes it, he is like 'right, moving on', and if he doesn't he goes back behind the camera and does it again.
He is really great as he lets us do a lot of little stuff. He brings the best out of everybody.
- That does sort of touch on my next question, as I was wondering how collaborative a filmmaker he was? And how open he was for you, and the other actors, to bring your own ideas to the scene and the moment?
He was great. All Luc cared about was making sure that the moments felt real.
Sometimes that meant letting us do our own thing, and other time it meant that he needed to point me in the right direction.
- This movie sees you star alongside Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer and Tommy Lee Jones, so how did you find that experience? And what were you able to take away from that?
It was a little unbelievable at first: it really did take a couple of weeks to sink in. Eventually, I was 'this is really happening. I think I am going to go and read my script' (laughs).
Being on set with them, I learnt something every single day. Just playing off of them in a scene was just incredible.
- The Family has been out in cinemas and is out now on DVD, but how have you found the response to the film?
I like the film. I think that a lot of people are going to enjoy it because it is laid back and it does have a little bit of everything. It is just plain entertainment and is not too serious.
I think that it is a great film for people to just sit back, relax, and watch in their living room.
- You have also finished working on Unbroken. Can you tell me a little about that project and being directed by Angelina Jolie?
That was so much fun. Angelina Jolie is so nice, she is a sweetheart. Her kids are great. That was a lot of fun. That was really the first film that I had done where there was an actor/director at the helm: it was interesting to see how she was.
She was very open to acting techniques, it was cool. We would talk about the characters and their motivations, which is always great.
She was very laid back and we would do a lot of takes of scenes, as she wanted us to try a bit of this and a little bit of that. I am really interested in seeing the final cut.
- You have worked with the likes of Luc Besson & Darren Aronofsky - who are very experienced filmmakers - while Angelina Jolie is relatively inexperienced behind the camera. How did you find that?
I thought it was cool because, overall, she still knew exactly what she was doing. She and Roger Deakins (cinematographer) made a great team.
Unbroken is going to have such a good feel about it, and I think people are really going to like the soul of this movie.
Between her and Roger Deakins' eye for cinema, the point of the film is really going to get across: people are really going to respond well.
- Can you talk a little bit about the film? It is already being tipped as a possible Oscar contender for next year.
I wouldn't be surprised if that turned out to be so. It is probably going to be the most powerful story of the year: I don't know what could possibly beat it, story wise.
It is based on a true story: this is not a piece of fiction. Everything that Louis Zamperini went through is really amazing, and I think people are going to watch this and then look at their lives differently.
- You are at the beginning of your career and you are moving between TV and film roles, so how do you find working in the two different mediums?
I just love acting overall. It is totally different working in television and film.
In film, I feel that people take a little more time and it is a little less rushed. However, there is less material compared to television, as television runs for years.
I haven't had the luxury of being a regular on a TV show yet, but that is definitely something that I would like the chance to do. That would be cool. I have a lot more experience with film.
- As well as launching your acting career you are still attending school, so how are you finding that tricky balancing act?
School is what it is; it is high school (laughs). I am doing my homework, but I am also focused on acting. Luckily, my school programme is extremely cooperative with helping me.
Even when I started acting back when I was in elementary school, all of my teachers and principals have been very willing to help me. That is a really big deal because I know people who cannot act because of school.
- How did you get into acting in the first place? And what made you want to pursue this career?
I was always into movies, I loved entertainment, and I would watch lots of TV and films as a kid. However, I watched them in a dreamy and escapism way, and just appreciated the magic. Then I just thought 'I want to try this'.
Once I tried it, I saw all of the technical aspect and all of the things that go into making a movie, and I was really like 'wow'. I really fell in love with it, and it is definitely something that I want to pursue.
- I was reading that you also do quite a bit of writing, so is behind the camera something that you are also thinking about?
Yeah, I am definitely interested in both sides of the camera: I don't want to stick to just acting. I have an overall interest in filmmaking.
Acting and filmmaking are two different universes, and yet they come together so perfectly. I also have just got into photography - I have just bought a camera - so I am taking pictures and working on my cinematography and stuff.
- Finally, what is next for you? And what are you hoping will happen for you over the next few years?
Hopefully, I just want to keep getting jobs and learning more. I want to educate myself more with photography and acting. I just want to evolve as much as I can, as fast as I can.
I am doing several auditions at the moment, and hopefully I will get something (laughs).
The Family is out now on DVD & Blu-Ray.