If up-and-coming actor Austin Stowell looks familiar, it’s likely because you remember him for not being able to hit J.K. Simmons’ tempo in Whiplash and/or you’ve seen him on TNT’s crime drama Public Morals. This weekend Stowell arrives on the big screen in Steven Spielberg’s historical thriller Bridge of Spies, as the decorated Air Force veteran and gunned-down CIA spy plane pilot, Francis Gary Powers.
Screen Rant caught up with Stowell recently for a brief chat about how he landed the role, what research he did for the role and how he and the filmmakers pulled off the film’s intense plane crash sequence.
I read that Mr. Spielberg saw you in Public Morals and recommended you for the role, when did you meet with him?
He came, of course he approved the casting as he does for all of his shows, but then he came to set while we were filming the pilot. We met there and that was the first time, he came when Ed Burns and I were doing that scene where I’m telling him, if Timothy Hutton ever touches my mom again he’s a dead man, and to have Steven there that day was great because it’s a really fun, strong scene for both Eddie and I, so it was great to have the master there.
What was the first conversation about Bridge of Spies?
They sent me the script and I read that and shortly afterward they called the offered me the part and, what else do you do [but say yes]? I have a tradition, whenever I get a bigger role like that I find the nearest body of water and jump into it. I ended up in a pool with all my clothes on, to which one of my roommates came outside and goes, “Alright what did you get?”
What information or background did you get from your filmmaker history buffs Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks and then what research did you do on your own?
I read the book, I went out and picked that up right away it’s called Operation Overflight: A Memoir of the U-2 Incident, that’s like an actor’s roadmap in creating the character. And then I got to go a step further because his son, Francis Gary Powers Jr., sent me all of the interviews that his father had done during that time, preparing for the book, so I got to hear all kinds of stuff that never made it to the page. Getting to hear the voice of the man I’m portraying and to get inside the head of and hear his personal account first hand of not only the crash but the imprisonment, his return home and what life was like growing up, all of that was just, that’s invaluable to me. Not only as an actor but also just as a curious participant in the movie, to get to hear all about this time was just amazing.
How did you film the crash sequences and what sort of training or flight maneuvering was involved?
We didn’t do any flight training, there was no boot camp for that so to speak but, the flight sequence was filmed over three days in Tempelhof Airport inside one of the hangers where I literally was Steven’s puppet. I was hanging from the ceiling and he was able to control, they had a hydraulic arm with a cockpit attached to it, so it could go up, down, twist around, spin, vibrate, I’m surprised the thing didn’t do cartwheels too, it was wild. It was a lot of fun and getting to do such, to have it pay off so well like it did it’s an amazing sequence and while I did not go through a crash, I feel like I did and I hope audiences will also feel like they at least know what that might feel like and definitely not ever want to experience that in real life.
A dramatic thriller set against the backdrop of a series of historic events, DreamWorks Pictures/Fox 2000 Pictures’ “Bridge of Spies” is the story of James Donovan, a Brooklyn lawyer who finds himself thrust into the center of the Cold War when the CIA sends him on the near-impossible task to negotiate the release of a captured American U-2 pilot. Screenwriters Matt Charman and Ethan Coen & Joel Coen have woven this remarkable experience in Donovan’s life into a story inspired by true events that captures the essence of a man who risked everything and vividly brings his personal journey to life.
Bridge of Spies opens in theaters October 16, 2015.