“I try to keep my head down and do the work -- but, yeah, it’s been awesome,” Finn Wittrock tells ETonline about his breakout year, which went from a small role in Ryan Murphy’s HBO adaptation of The Normal Heart to stealing the spotlight from Jessica Lange as the murderous Dandy Mott in American Horror Story: Freak Show. The year ended with the 30-year-old actor sharing the screen with fellow up-and-comers Jack O’Connell and Domnhall Gleeson in Unbroken, the Angelina Jolie-directed World War II biopic about Olympic champion Louis "Louie" Zamperini.
In fact, both of Wittrock’s Unbroken co-stars are enjoying breakout moments as well. Gleeson will star in the highly anticipated Star Wars sequel, The Force Awakens, while O’Connell coupled the biopic with the successful blockbuster, 300: Rise of an Empire, and the indie hit, Starred Up.
“It’s a testament to [Angelina Jolie] and the casting,” Wittrock says of his director who handpicked the actors and served as a mother figure to them as they went through extreme physical transformations required to portray men stranded at sea (and later imprisoned in internment camps). “It’s been great for us in so many ways. Artistically, it really opened me up and definitely pushed me to places I’ve never gone before.”
With Unbroken and American Horror Story -- he says Murphy has kept everyone in the dark about Hotel -- behind him, Wittrock is focused on doing more movies. This year, he’ll star in two new films, The Submarine Kid, which he also co-wrote, and My All American. The latter will see him return to the biopic world to portray Freddie Steinmark, a former University of Texas football player who helped the team win the 1969 national championship then died of bone cancer two years later.
“It’s always hard,” he says of the pressure of honoring someone’s real-life journey on screen. “You feel a sense of duty to the actual guy who went before but at some point you have to let your imaginative brain take over. You can’t have a part based solely on imitation you have to add yourself to it.”
And if everything comes together, Wittrock may find his way back to the stage, where he made his Broadway debut in the 2012 revival of Death of a Salesman opposite Andrew Garfield and the late Philip Seymour Hoffman. “I’m definitely itching to do something again,” he reveals. “There’s been talk actually with Ryan [Murphy] about this play, but it’s down the road.”
Whether or not things work out, the actor admits theater is a more fulfilling challenge -- at least in terms of the emotion toll. “For Unbroken, that death scene was really hard, but I only had to do it once,” Wittrock says. “To do it eight times a week is a different story. You have to make sure it’s something you can really get behind to be willing to go there every night.”
And don’t even joke about the idea of playing a character like Dandy on stage. “I would go totally insane,” he laughs.
Watch as Jolie gets caught in the rain while discussing the struggles of making Unbroken in an exclusive behind-the-scenes look at the film now available on Blu-ray/DVD.