Spoiler Alert: Don’t read if you haven’t seen Unbroken.
The climax of the Angelina Jolie-directed hit Unbroken is memorably miraculous: After enduring months of suffering in Japanese prison camps, World War II hero Louis Zamperini (played by Jack O’Connell) defies his captors (and the logical limits of his frail, beaten-down condition) by defiantly lifting a gigantic wooden plank above his head, and then holding it for minutes on end in a Christlike posture.
It’s a triumphant moment in the movie, one that’s captured in the film’s poster. But filming the scene was anything but uplifting.
“If I was feeling good at any point, I wasn’t where I needed to be,” O’Connell told Yahoo Movies. “I fainted twice underneath the plank. I blacked out.”
Of course, it’s easy to understand why O’Connell might crumple from the stress and strain of the plank scene: Not only was the moment shot during a brutally hot spell in Australia, but O’Connell, who’d lost a drastic amount of weight for Unbroken, opted not to have a stunt man help execute his most physical tasks.
O’Connell’s antagonist in the scene — a brutal Japanese militant, played by Asian pop star Miyavi — also struggled under the pressure of the scene, which was shot on a set that had come to a “complete halt” and gone completely silent.
“I actually threw up,” Miyavi admitted. “It’s not from brutality —it’s from responsibility. I had to express the confusion, fear, depression, madness at the same time. And a lot of pressure and expectation and responsibility. But Angie came up to me and she said, ‘Just accept yourself.’”
Jolie, as a mother of six, admitted that it was hard to watch those two young men push themselves to the brink.
“The mother in me really wanted to stop it a few times,” she said, “but the director in me couldn’t.”