Actor Jack O’Connell is known for going to physical extremes to show the vulnerability of violent men. But what does masculinity really mean to him?

Are you here to see man?” asks a Spanish waiter as I walk through the café garden, and points towards the table just beyond the loos where Jack O’Connell stands, his hand raised in a solemn hello. Yes I say. Yes I am.

To sit in the dark and watch Jack O’Connell’s work, from the very earliest characters he played (a boy accused of rape in The Bill, Pukey the skinhead in This Is England) through to self-destructive lad Cook in teen drama Skins and the boy incarcerated with his dad in prison drama Starred Up, followed by a squaddie in Northern Ireland in the Troubles film ’71, is to watch a slow portrait of contemporary masculinity. What O’Connell does, with his eyes and voice, and careful violence, is show the vulnerability beneath his characters’ cracked shells, and I’m keen now to find out how much of them is him, and how much of him is them, and what he’s learned about masculinity.

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