Photograph commissioned by National Portrait Gallery challenges image of star renowned for being angry and naked


Detail from the Jack O’Connell portrait, which will go on display at the gallery in 2018. Photograph: Tereza Cervenova/National Portra/PA
Detail from the Jack O’Connell portrait, which will go on display at the gallery in 2018. Photograph: Tereza Cervenova/National Portra/PA

He has gained a reputation as an angry young man, both in character and real life, and is this week making headlines for spending a large chunk of his current West End play naked.

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But a newly commissioned photograph of the actor Jack O’Connell shows a different side: calm, reflective, vulnerable – and dressed.

The National Portrait Gallery (NPG) announced it had commissioned the London-based Slovakian photographer Tereza Červeňová to make a portrait of O’Connell for the national collection.

It was taken at O’Connell’s family home in Derby and deliberately challenges the “angry youth” image associated with him, both in his own life and in many of his early acting roles, including as skinhead Pukey in the 2006 film This Is England and drug addict Cook in the TV series Skins.

Červeňová said: “In portraiture my aim is always to manage to unveil what lies beneath the surface and meet the real person behind it and thanks to Jack’s openness, seeing through the ‘actor’s shield’ was both natural as well as effortless.”

O’Connell, 26, has for some time been regarded as one of Britain’s most exciting young acting talents. His movies include Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, for which he received the Bafta rising star award, and the Jodie Foster-directed Money Monster, as an ordinary joe who takes George Clooney’s TV presenter character hostage.


Jack O’Connell is currently starring with Sienna Miller in the play Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Photograph: Charlie Gray/PR handoutAs a youth O’Connell was in and out of court and has talked about the day he was starting the play Scarborough at the Royal Court in London – a day when he was in a criminal court hearing if he was to get a custodial sentence, which he did not.

He is currently playing Brick opposite Sienna Miller’s Maggie in the Young Vic production of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in the West End, a performance described as a “revelation” by the Guardian’s Michael Billington and “unflinching” by Matt Trueman in Variety. It is unquestionably brave since he is naked for much of the play. If not naked then trying to keep his towel fixed as he hobbles on a crutch to get another glass of whisky.

Later this year O’Connell will be seen as the star of Netflix’s six-part TV western Godless.

Červeňová’s photograph was taken in March through a window looking out to the garden of O’Connell’s family home.

She said the final portrait showed the “juxtaposition of strength and vulnerability in a setting where the boundaries between the interior and the exterior are blurred and Jack emerges interlaced in both.”

Červeňová was commissioned by the NPG after winning the John Kobal new work award given annually to a photographer under 35. Previous winners have been asked to photograph the actors Andrea Riseborough, Olivia Colman and Felicity Jones.

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Simon Crocker, the chair of the John Kobal Foundation, said: “Jack O’Connell, one of the most talented actors to have emerged in the UK in the past few years, is a fitting subject for Tereza’s painterly eye and she delivers a terrific portrait to mark the fifth year of our award.”

The portrait will go on display at the NPG in 2018.

This article was corrected on 31 July 2017. It originally stated that Laura Pannack was one of several actors to have been photographed by previous prize winners. Pannack is a previous winner of the prize.