Steven Spielberg‘s Bridge Of Spies takes a look back at a very significant event during the Cold War. At the time, Russia had captured U.S. pilot Francis Gary Powers (Austin Stowell) after shooting down his U-2 spy plane. Sentenced to 10 years in prison, Powers’ only hope was for New York insurance lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks), who was recruited by the CIA, to successfully negotiate the terms of his release by exchanging Powers for Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), the convicted spy who Donovan defended in court.
We were given an exclusive interview by Disney to talk to Stowell (Whiplash, Dolphin Tale) about Bridge of Spies, what it was like to be in a Spielberg movie, the people who inspired the film, the U-2 Spy plane, the intense prison scenes, and more. Check out our one-on-one interview with the actor here below.
Geeks of Doom: What is like to hear that you’ll be in a Steven Spielberg film such as Bridge of Spies?
Austin Stowell: It is a little bit hard to fathom. I don’t think I really comprehended the entire situation until I was at the premiere at the New York Film Festival. To see your face come up on the screen right after Tom Hanks’, it’s like, “Whoa, that just happened, that is a reality now.” And to have it be a Steven Spielberg film, it is a dream of an actor’s, you can’t get asked for much more. I’m internally grateful to the man. I don’t know how it all happened, but I am not going to second guess it, just let it be.
Geeks of Doom: Some of the roles you’ve played in the past required some real hands-on experience. You had to be a dolphin trainer twice in the Dolphin Tale films, and you had to compete for a spot in Fletcher’s band, and now you have to be near some legendary planes, so did you actually get to be near them, see the spy cameras? Did you get to even fly in the plane?
Austin Stowell: With the plane that you see in the film, it is an actual working U-2, but it is also about 40 percent larger than the plane that Powers was in. We still have the U-2s today, and that’s because there is nothing else like them, and that’s because there is nothing else like them. They fly so incredibly high, and are able to do so with not as much fuel. Of course the unmanned drones are taking over more and more, but the U2s are still in operation. But no, I did not get to go up in any planes, or go with any boot camp.
Geeks of Doom: So the cameras were props then?
Austin Stowell: They are props. The lenses are real. But the actual majority of that camera box is just props.
Geeks of Doom: So were you familiar with the story at all?
Austin Stowell: I wasn’t familiar with Powers at all. I called my Nana afterwards, and she knew all about it. For a lady who is 97 years old, the way she recounted the story, it was like it happened yesterday. She was so proud that I was going to play Francis Gary Powers. It’s funny, people keep talking about how he was a hated guy, and she didn’t feel that way at all. Maybe because you let go of that things like that, but she did not hold any kind of ill feelings towards him, and was not aware that he won the Silver Star, and the CIA Intelligence Award, and of course this was all posthumously. No, I didn’t know about it, but it was fun to talk to my older relatives, and have them be so familiar with it.
Geeks of Doom: With your character going to some intense interrogations, was there a point where you said it was “too much?”
Austin Stowell: No. No. It was really cold. We were shooting that in January in the basement of an actual Stasi prison. And I had asked for cold water. We couldn’t use warm water because you would see the steam rising because it was so cold down in that basement already. I mean, it was freezing in Berlin, my god, it was cold. That scene out on the bridge man, I was watching that man, and all I could remember was how cold it was. There we were, we were all in dress shoes, I was not prepared for the elements at all in terms of wardrobe, and when I had to take that hat off when they identified me, I could not put it back on in between takes because of continuity. They were like, “No, you can’t. Sorry. You can’t put your hat back on.” I was freezing, and in between takes I would hold my ears. But no, I never asked to stop. I would do it all again in a heartbeat. Nowhere close to the breaking point.
Geeks of Doom: Given how much screen time you got, you only got to be with Tom Hanks at a very critical point in the film, so what goes through your mind during that shoot?
Austin Stowell: Well, that is the first thing I shot. That was the very thing. So I had to step up to plate. The Cy Young of actors so to speak. It’s a thrill. I’d look at it the same way I look at baseball. You always wanted to face guys like that. And that is the beautiful thing about acting, you are not facing off, you are collaborating. To get to collaborate with a man like that is incredible. It’s is really fantastic.
Geeks of Doom: So what are some of your next projects that we should be looking out for?
Austin Stowell: I just did a movie over the summer called Stratton with Dominic Cooper, and Simon West directed that. It is a team-up with the Navy Seals, the British SAS (Special Air Service). Going after terrorists with a chemical weapon. It was great fun. I got to go explore Italy and London. Boat chases, car chases, explosions, everything that Simon West is known for. Dominic is a great actor, great scene partner, great guy to be around. So hopefully we do another one.
Bridge Of Spies opens in theaters this Friday, October 16, 2015.