Meet Rising Star Alex Russell, the Aussie Actor Making a Mark in Hollywood (Exclusive)

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Photo: Getty Images

Meet Alex Russell, the 29-year-old Australian actor whose breakthrough role in 2012’s inventive found-footage sci-fi superhero thriller, Chronicle, has paid off in spades. Five years after the release of the film, the not-so newcomer is preparing for the simultaneous release of three projects: real-life, big-screen adaptations Jungle, opposite Daniel Radcliffe, and Only the Brave, with Miles Teller and Josh Brolin, along with the upcoming premiere of the CBS drama, S.W.A.T., starring Shemar Moore. 

It’s been a nonstop ride for the actor ever since. Before 2017 rolled around, Russell -- whose first credited role came just seven years ago -- had a whirlwind year filming four movies back-to-back, taking him from Los Angeles to Colombia to Mexico to the Gold Coast with a quick 24-hour respite in between in Nashville to reunite with his love, Goliath star Diana Hopper, for a wedding.

The past several months, though, Russell has called Southern California home while he’s been in production on S.W.A.T., a welcomed change of pace after a jet-setting existence. “Having all of the normality, coupled with a bunch of projects coming up that I’m excited about and grateful to be a part of, it’s definitely a happy moment,” Russell tells ET. 

It was Chronicle that started it all for Russell, who has fond memories of his time on the modestly budgeted film that also starred Michael B. Jordan and Dane DeHaan, both of whom have since had career boosts. “Chronicle was a huge breakthrough for me,” Russell acknowledges, recalling the painstakingly long audition process (“close to 10 hours” worth, he remembers). “It opened so many doors. I think people really appreciated the movie. I felt like it was really cool for all of us, especially for the filmmakers, the studio and the producers, to then see in movies over the next number of years taking tropes from Chronicle. I remember seeing a fight scene in [Man of Steel], where they were smashing around the buildings [and] I thought, ‘That looks a lot like the end of Chronicle,’ so that was pretty cool.”

Russell’s performance struck a chord. After Chronicle, he landed key roles in the Carrie reboot, Stephenie Meyer’s The Host and the Angelina Jolie-directed Unbroken, but it’s his current slate that has him excited to write the next chapter of his young career. As Russell tells it, Only the Brave, Jungle and S.W.A.T. are vastly different in tone and focus, but they all share common characteristics: strong writing from a creative storyteller, a timely message and an intriguing character. 

“Getting to play real people is a huge responsibility,” Russell says of his characters in Only the Brave, in which he plays fallen firefighter Andrew Ashcraft, and Jungle, where he plays Radcliffe’s travel companion, Kevin Gale. Russell praised the Harry Potter star for setting the bar and stretching his acting muscle beyond the boy with a lightning bolt scar that made him famous. It’s clear there’s an element of reverence he feels for the British actor. “He’s been making really interesting, awesome choices A) to expand and challenge himself and B) to tell Hollywood, I’m not f**king Harry Potter,” Russell says.

In Jungle, based on the memoir by Yossi Ghinsberg, Radcliffe plays Ghinsberg, who finds himself in the ultimate fight for survival when an accident strands him for weeks in an uncharted part of the Amazon jungle. “It’s people like this. It’s real-life heroes. It’s people who commit themselves selflessly to something they believe in that’s the stuff of inspiration and [makes an] example for all of us,” Russell says. “To see what these guys went through and specifically what Yossi went through, it is unbelievable to think how much endurance one person can have and how strong the mind actually is.”

Alex Russell, Shemar Moore and Jay Harrington in CBS' "S.W.A.T."

Photo: CBS

Russell is knee-deep in CBS’ upcoming series, S.W.A.T., which centers on S.W.A.T. Sergeant Daniel “Hondo” Harrelson” (Moore), who is tasked with running a specialized tactical unit in L.A. following an officer-involved shooting. Russell plays Jim Street, a cocky, young buck who isn’t afraid to ruffle feathers. “It’s action-packed, it’s funny, it’s elegantly written and also -- this is one of the things that drew me in from the very get-go -- it deals with everyday, real-life problems and real issues we’re facing in society today,” he says, citing police-community tension and the threat of terrorism as being issues explored in the show’s storylines. “It doesn’t try too hard to do that because that’s what S.W.A.T. officers at LAPD Metro are dealing with on a day-to-day basis.”

Looking ahead, Russell has baseball tale Brampton’s Own coming, a role he took even though he wasn’t familiar with the sport, and one day hopes to sink his teeth into comedy. For now, he’s content settling into a routine and catching up on all that he’s missed; at the moment, he’s binge-watching the first season with the return of Stranger Things fast approaching. “I love it. How frustrated am I going to be to have to wait a year after finishing season two?” Russell says with a laugh.

Jungle and Only the Brave hit theaters Friday. S.W.A.T. premieres Thursday, Nov. 2 at 10 p.m. ET/PT on CBS.