Jason Clarke Describes Undergoing a Simulated Waterboarding Experience for 'Zero Dark Thirty' (Video)

The Australian actor talks to THR about starring as a CIA investigator in Kathryn Bigelow’s film.

Jason Clarke, who plays a CIA operative in Kathryn Bigelow’s Zero Dark Thirty, says he had a good amount of both work and life experience that helped him prepare for the role.

Clarke, 43, has traveled the world and was even backpacking in Afghanistan when 9/11 occurred. He’s also done research on investigation techniques, which he used while starring on Fox’s TV crime drama The Chicago Code.

PHOTOS: Todd McCarthy's 10 Best Movies of 2012

“I watched a lot of homicide investigations and interrogations, and so I had some idea of what a good interrogator means,” he tells The Hollywood Reporter, adding that he understands it’s about keeping the conversation going and being able to see the truth in someone’s eyes.

But Clarke took his research one step further for Zero Dark Thirty: he underwent a simulated waterboarding experience.

“It’s very different to the real thing, because there’s a stop point,” he tells THR.

In some of the most harrowing scenes of the film, Clarke’s character Dan interrogates a terrorist in a series of sessions that involve physical and mental torture, including waterboarding.

PHOTOS: The 8 Studio Picks for Best Picture Oscar

Clarke describes his simulated experience as “very similar to surfing and getting dumped by a big wave.”

“It’s very scary, there’s a lot of water coming in, and it’s just filling you up,” he says.

The torture scenes, which can be hard to watch, have already been the topic of media conversation after U.S. senators assailed the film for alleged factual inaccuracies regarding the torture.

Sens. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Carl Levin, D-Mich., and John McCain, R-Ariz., have criticized the film because they believe it suggests that information obtained by torturing Al Qaeda detainees aided in the search for the terrorist leader.

THR asked how the film will play to international audiences.

“I think they’re going to be very relieved that Kathryn and Mark have shown 360 degrees,” says Clarke. “Yes, there are moments that you can pick in a two-and-a-half hour film in this 10-year journey, but it’s followed the linear story.”

“There’s no corners cut or sugarcoating or hyperbole, because it is not required. Here it is, watch the whole lot, go through the experience, and you are still left with something very extraordinary and very personal,” he says.

Zero Dark Thirty, now in limited release, opens wide on Jan. 11. Watch THR's interview with Clarke above.

Email: Rebecca.Ford@thr.com; Twitter: @Beccamford