EVOLVER MAGAZINE (AUSTRALIA) APRIL 7, 2003
American actor Jerry O'Connell found a second home in Australia while he was here shooting the comedy Down & Under. The movie is now called Kangaroo Jack and it's been a surprise smash in the states.
"To be frank, Jerry Bruckheimer approached me," says Jerry O'Connell, smartly dressed in black pants and shirt while sipping coffee in one of the suites of a high-style Sydney hotel overlooking Hyde Park. The young actor - known for playing the "fat kid" in Stand By Me; the amiable hero of the sci fi series Sliders; and Tom Cruise's disloyal client in Jerry Maguire - has just finished filming the mob comedy Down & Under (which will eventually be renamed Kangaroo Jack) for Hollywood super producer Jerry Bruckheimer, the man behind the likes of Top Gun and Black Hawk Down. The meeting was one of the most pivotal in his career.
"We met and then hung out for the weekend," O'Connell explains. "I got a call the following Saturday from my agent: 'Jerry Bruckheimer would like to see you in is office'. In terms of offices...it's like the Oval Office! I get in there and sit across this HUGE desk, which was bigger than the house I grew up in! We talked for a couple of hours. Then he said, 'Listen, I have this script. An actor just backed out and I'm looking for another in a Hurry.' It was very exiting for me. When Jerry Bruckheimer asks you to be a star in his movie, it's a pretty big call from upstairs."
According to O'Connell's biggest co-star, this is the call all young actors dream about. "When I worked with Tom Cruise on Jerry Maguire, he was like, 'Top Gun is what did it for me'. Tom and I were briefly at the same agency last year. We were at a party and Tom said, 'Hey congratulations on the Bruckheimer project! This is it! This is the call! You're going to get the personal trainer! This is it!' I sort of realized the seriousness of what I was doing. It was a real privilege and I would definitely work for Jerry Bruckheimer again."
In Kangaroo Jack, O'Connell plays the son of a mobster sent to Australia to deliver $50,000 to another crook. But in big budget Hollywood flicks, things never go that smoothly, and the loot is improbably stolen by a kangaroo, which leaves O'Connell's character sweating...probably because his mobster father is played by the singularly scary Christopher Walken.
"I definitely picked up a lot of tricks from him," O'Connell says of the acting legend. "I'm supposed to be very frightened of him. And then by the end of the movie I get over it. He was supposed to really scare me. There's this big 10-minute scene where he's threatening my life and I'm supposed to be jolted by a lot of the stuff he does. Swear to god, this is a true story - he had a farting machine on set! We were doing my close up. And he would say a line and then I'd be about to say my line and I was supposed to be scared... and he hit the farting machine! I swear to god, I'm not lying. And I saw the take and it worked! And he said to me that night at dinner that it was a trick he does to freak out other actors. I was like, 'Her Mr. Walken, whatever you say goes!'"
For Jerry O'Connell, the experience of working in Sydney was a rich one: he soaked up the city, saw the sights and famously partied hard once shooting had finished for the day.
"I love it here. It will be very difficult to go back. There's a way of making films here. In LA, when I make a movie, I go to work at 6am, and I finish at 8pm. Then I go home. But in Australia, I made some of my best friends. It wasn't just 'See you later', it was like 'Where are we going tonight? What bar are we meeting at?' It was a real bonding experience. It was totally Aussie, and I'll really miss it. But, I'm sure I'll be doing another film here. The industry is way too powerful, and too exciting. I'll definitely be doing another film here."