By Travis Johnson


Joel Jackson was just out of NIDA – “drama school” as he calls it – and working on his first major role in Deadline Gallipoli when he first came across Yossi Ghinsberg’s incredible survival memoir, Jungle. Knowing he needed to make his mark on the industry quickly, he was keen to get a look at any decent scripts that were doing the rounds, but was coming up dry.

“I asked my agent to send through some books that were floating around,” he recalls. “Just so I could have an idea of structure and good writing, the difference between prose in print and dialogue, because in plays everything that is there for a reason, but with the language itself, the writer runs with it and then what ends up on the page is also so vastly different. So I read it three years ago and instantly was drawn to the story.”

Ghinsberg’s book, which details the incredibly harrowing adventure he and two friends, Marcus Stamm (Jackson in the eventual film) and Kevin Gale (Alex Russell) undertook when they followed an unreliable guide, Karl Ruprechter (Thomas Kretschmann) into the Amazonian rainforest, forced to try and make their own way back to safety. Reminded of classic adventures such as Papillon and The Treasure of Sierra Madre, Jackson inquired about the project, but was told it was already underway, with the cast filled. Nonetheless, he persisted.

“Justin Monjo, who had written the script, wrote an episode of Peter Allen,” he tells us, referencing the TV miniseries in which he played the flamboyant song and dance man. “So I kind of wiled my way into his consciousness and talked to him whenever I could when he came to visit the set; ask about the script, what was happening and what did he think about me as Marcus.”

Eventually, Jackson won through. “I got an e-mail saying ‘Send us a selfie or a headshot, we can get you a Colombian visa and you’re on your way,’ and four days later I was in Bogota.”

Production itself was a hard slog, with filming taking place in Colombia and Queensland, and Jackson and his co-stars – including Daniel Radcliffe as Ghinsberg – enduring conditions that, while not comparable to the hardships visted on the real life adventurers, were still fraught with peril. One sequence in particular, where the men try to get back to civilisation by building a makeshift raft and traveling by river, stands out.

“Colombia hadn’t had rain for a fair while so they had initially set the river sequences to be shot in Queensland and then all of a sudden it got two weeks of non-stop rain,” he says. “We rehearsed a couple of times with the stunt guys and then it was, ‘OK, jump on it, boys.’ We had the camera kayak and the camera boat follow us and we just went for it. There’s a moment when you see Thomas Kretschmann kicking a rock away, and all that stuff was for real. We did that for about two days and it was hard work.”

The effort paid off, though, he insists. “All that blood and sweat and tears, and the rashes that we got, and getting stuck under water, and getting infections and not being able to eat for three days – it was worth it because it just really shows in the film.”

Jackson was also acutely aware of the responsibility towards the actual events portrayed, and the people who experienced them, noting that, including Deadline Gallipoli, this was his third project where he played a real world figure. However, at the end of the day, he says their chief duty was to the film itself. “You have to draw a line in the sand where it is no longer a documentary but a drama, and you have to give licence to the director and the writer and the producers to tell their story. The book Jungle is one thing, and the film Jungle is one thing, and everyone’s account who was there is a completely different thing. So you just try to pick up gold wherever you could find it and then put it in the melting pot with everybody else’s gold and information and try to make one big beautiful jewel.

“But you definitely feel responsibility for the memory of Marcus,” he continues. “And you’re sensitive to the fact that family members might watch this. You just do your best to really dig into the story and put yourself in his shoes, but also do your best to understand who he was as a person and read everything you can. So I just dug into the script and got as much insider info as I could, in order to do right by the memory of that.”

Joel Jackson will be introducing a special screening of Jungle tonight, Wednesday, November 8, at The Ritz Randwick from 8pm. To book tickets, click through here or at the box office. Jungle is in cinemas from November 9, 2017.


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