Before Alex Russell worked with Daniel Radcliffe in Jungle, Greg McLean’s true-life psychological thriller set in the Amazon rain forest, the Australian actor had a couple of preconceived notions about the Harry Potter and Now You See Me 2 star.
Radcliffe may not have seemed an obvious choice to play Yossi Ghinsberg, an Israeli adventurer who set off on a trek through the jungle with two fellow backpackers, got lost and feared he’d never make it out alive. Russell plays an American traveler named Kevin Gale who risked a lot to try to find Ghinsberg in the Arclight Films production written by Justin Monjo and adapted from Ghinsberg’s memoir Lost in the Jungle, which chronicles his harrowing experiences in the 1980s.
Aussie Joel Jackson, who made his screen debut in Deadline Gallipoli, a Nine Network miniseries produced by Endemol Australia, plays a Swiss backpacker, with Thomas Kretschmann (Central Intelligence, Avengers: Age of Ultron) as their guide.
Russell describes Radcliffe as extremely committed, focused and dedicated, observing, “ For someone who grew up the way he did, there can be an expectation of living in a bubble , in a different reality, but he was so level-headed and kind and very professional.”
Author McLean also agrees with Russell’s praise of Radcliffe. “We cast Dan because he’s an exciting actor who’s committed to doing really challenging parts – this part needed someone who was going to really ‘go there’ in terms of what this real guy went through in his extraordinary survival story, McLean told Forbes. “He’s got to be one of the most professional, prepared, fearless and committed actors I’ve ever worked with.”
As soon as Radcliffe got the part he started working with a voice coach to perfect his Israeli accent and stayed in accent until the last shooting day of the film which was shot in Colombia and Queensland. “People were actually shocked when they heard his British accent return – it had been that consistent for so many months,” McLean says. Similarly, Russell used his U.S. accent on the set from first thing in the morning every day, as he does whenever he plays an American character, so he is always prepared for shooting.
Gary Hamilton’s Arclight Films packaged the film with investment from Screen Australia and Screen Queensland and pre-sales to a bunch of territories including France (AB Groupe), the U.K. (Signature), Germany and Benelux (Splendid), Australia (Umbrella Entertainment), Latin America (Imagem) and the Middle East (Front Row).
McLean, the creator and director of the two Wolf Creek movies, cast Russell after being impressed with his screen debut in Australian director Ben C. Lucas’ thriller Wasted on the Young and his later work in Josh Trank’s Chronicle and Tony Ayres’ Cut Snake. “We needed an actor to play Kevin Gale who was very masculine, physically strong and could handle himself in an expert way, while also being warm, smart and compassionate… Alex was a natural choice. He’s got a real knockabout charm about him and classic matinee movie star looks, coupled with the ability to show real vulnerability and emotion. He did an incredible job bringing this character to life.” McLean says he sees Russell “having a massive career.”
Russell, who is repped in the U.S. by UTA and Mosaic MOS +0.52% and in Australia by United Management, has also starred in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, Kimble Rendall’s Bait, Kimberly Peirce’s Carrie and Andrew Niccol’s The Host.
His latest Australian film, writer-director Ivan Sen’s outback drama Goldstone, opened the Sydney Film Festival. In the sequel to Mystery Road Aaron Pedersen plays an Indigenous detective who investigates the case of a missing Chinese woman. Russell plays a fellow cop. Transmission Films is the Australian distributor and Arclight is selling international rights.
Russell spoke to Forbes while filming Lionsgate’s Granite Mountain, an action film directed by Tron: Legacy’s Joseph Kosinski, based on the true story of a group of heroic firefighters known as the Granite Mountain hotshots who lost 19 members as they fought one of the deadliest wildfires in Arizona history.
The ensemble cast includes Josh Brolin, Jeff Bridges, Jennifer Connelly, Miles Teller, James Badge Dale and Taylor Kitsch. Russell is unable to reveal the location or the plot, but he sang the actors’ praises. “It’s amazing to be working with these legends. They are really collaborative and really care about this project and the firefighting community,” Russell says. “Josh sets the tone for the film and he’s emotionally invested, unlike some actors who lead movies, tick all the boxes, go through the motions and hit their trailer between each take.”
Like many actors, Russell has launched his own production company, Five Lip Films, with four colleagues who graduated from film schools around the same time. After making several shorts including Ande Cunningham’s Oranges Don’t Grow on Trees (which co-starred Sarah Snook, Russell and Josh McConville), the company is preparing to shoot its first feature, Sons of Salt.
Russell will play an ex-con who is trying to get his life together but is reluctantly drawn into a dangerous scenario by his pro-surfer brother. The project has secured a high profile director in Jonathan Teplitzky, whose credits include The Railway Man and episodes of British series Indian Summers and Broadchurch.
He’s attached to two other indie Australian features. Nick Pollack’s Any Girl Who Loves The Beatles Is Bound To Break Your Heart is a 24-hour hour love story set in Sydney which follows a struggling travel writer who, burnt by love, is determined to leave his hometown. But when he gets bumped off his flight he winds up having to play tour guide to a visiting musician to be played by English actress Tamsin Egerton (Love, Rosie, The Brothers Grimsby, Queen & Country).
First-time director Luke Shanahan’s Rabbit is a psychological thriller about a secret society that investigates the telepathic and other connections between identical twin sisters, one of whom goes missing, and will co-star Russell and Mad Max: Fury Road’s Abbey Lee.