Overlord is the latest genre film released by J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions. The film was directed by Julius Avery (an Australian filmmaker best known for his films Son of a Gun and short Jerrycan) and stars Jovan Adepo, Wyatt Russell and Mathilde Ollivier.
On the eve of D-Day (in June 1944), a team of American paratroopers are dropped into Nazi-occupied France to complete a mission that is crucial to the invasion’s success. They are tasked with destroying a radio transmitter located in a church that the Third Reich uses for communication between Berlin and Normandy. To increase their chances of success, the soldiers team up with a young French villager, Chloe (Mathilde). After discovering a mysterious lab beneath the Church, the team soon learn that the Nazis aren’t the only monsters they need to face.
Overlord provides a unique mix of revisionist history, action, thrills and zombie gore. This genre mash-up is a large part of what attracted Jovan to the role. “I thought it was really refreshing. When audiences see the film, they really don’t know what they’re getting themselves into. It’s original – there’s no preconceived outline of how the film should go, and I think that’s a great way to experience it.”
In the film, Jovan plays Boyce, a young and inexperienced American soldier. “My character, Boyce, is like the moral compass of the film. He’s probably the least experienced out of all the soldiers in the film, and he’s kind of the eyes and ears of the audience, as he goes through everything in the story. I think he’s just looking at everything with wide eyes and just trying to survive the war.”
Although the film is set in France, it was filmed entirely in England. “The production designers were really creative with how they found the locations. We shot all over England, and they found some really cool settings to tell the story. When we were shooting in Watford, I had terrible hay fever. We were all running around the woods, standing out in the elements. We had heaps of fight scenes, and heaps of practical effects like explosions, so we didn’t have the luxury – the safety net – of CGI creating the environments. The practical effects were great for the film though – you definitely get much more honest and sincere reactions from the actors.”
It also made for a challenging shoot. “A lot of guys got sick. Especially when we were shooting outdoors in England.” Despite the tough conditions, Jovan did as many of his own stunts as possible. “I wanted to make sure that it was my face on screen, so I did a reasonable amount of the stunts – after my stunt double showed me that they were doable [laughs].”
To prepare himself for the action, Jovan took it upon himself to get in shape. “No one specifically told me that I had to get in shape, but I started going to the gym [laughs]. I was lucky to have been cast early enough to have a couple weeks to get into the gym and really prepare myself. And before we started principal photography, we did a boot camp with a military advisor. It was really interesting to learn about the equipment and terminology in the military. Gaining knowledge of the military back then versus now was really interesting too.”
Jovan likes to research every role he plays, especially historical films, where knowledge of the time period is essential for telling the story. “The realities of life in the 1940s were so different from what we have now. Thankfully, there’s a lot of information about that period in time, so I could do lots of research. I also had to learn some French for the film. I was really lucky, because I had a French tutor, and then also had Mathilde, who plays Chloe, to teach me as well. I’d work with the tutor during the day, and then when Mathilde and I would hang out on weekends she’d help me out – make sure I had the accent right – so that was awesome.”
As well as hanging out with his castmates, Jovan got to spend some one-on-one time with J.J. Abrams, which he admits was a dream come true. “I’ve always been a fan of J.J.’s work. He’s well known for developing interesting stories with unique characters going through extreme circumstances. So, I was just psyched to be part of the project. Midway through filming, he flew to England and hung out with the cast and crew on set. It was really cool and refreshing to hang out with him once I got the part. I got to sit down with him, and he told me that he thought I was doing a good job of playing Boyce. He encouraged me and said he liked what I was doing with the character, so that was really cool to hear.”
As far as playing his character was concerned, Jovan’s top priority was to translate the director’s wishes onto the screen as best as he could. “Julius is very specific,” Jovan remarks. “He knows what he wants to feel, how he wants the characters to interact. So, I just did my best to give him what he wanted.”
Jovan had a great time working with Julius, and thinks he did a fantastic job of managing the stresses that come with making studio films. “Julian had a lot of pressure on him – especially since he’s still a relatively new director. This was his first studio film, and that’s always quite stressful because you have the pressure of translating the script onto the screen in an efficient way. In a way that pleases not just the audience, but also the studio. And he had an incredible amount of confidence, and that really trickled down through the cast and crew. He was a fearless leader in that way, and I’m really proud of him and I know that he has a long successful career ahead of him.”
Jovan is also at the helm of a long and promising career. Despite his success as an actor though, he started out wanting to be a writer. “When I moved to Los Angeles, my original plan was to become a writer. When I was in college on the East Coast, I took creative writing courses and wrote for the school newspapers and a couple of magazines. I always had a love for movies though – I got that from my father, and my mother was a big fan of theatre. So yeah, I was considering acting, and then by chance, I met Viola Davis’ sister at the church my family goes to. She put me in touch with Viola, who sort of became my mentor. She felt that I had something that could translate to a career in the arts, so I took her advice and started researching acting, taking courses, and then fell in love with it. There’s nothing I’d like to do more.”
Although Jovan has made the switch to acting, he is still interested in writing for film – as long as he isn’t the star. “I’d love to write films. I don’t think I’ll act in them though – I have more joy writing for other people.”
Now that he has found his passion, Jovan is doing his best to stay busy and gain as much experience as possible. “This year, I’ve got the second season of Tom Clancy’s Jack Ryan coming out. I’ll also be playing in Ava DuVernay’s limited series on Netflix, The Central Park Five. Then there’s the second season of Sorry for Your Loss, which will be available on Facebook Watch. Other than that, I’m just looking for the next project, trying my best to stay busy!”
Overlord is out on 4K Ultra HD, Blu Ray, DVD and digital from March 13, 2019.