Films

10-year journey: Jamie Bell on breaking out beyond ballet

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Chris Mandle
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10-year journey: Jamie Bell on breaking out beyond ballet

His first role was his biggest, and in the years since, Jamie Bell has thrown himself into the world of indie flicks and cult favourites. But he has never stopped working

I’ve had the same team surrounding me for 17 years. That’s as long as I’ve lived in LA. A lot of the time they’re forcing me into a role, or I’m telling them why I won’t do a project. But I appreciate that back and forth. More than anything, I’m loyal. I think it’s the northerner in me.

The English lot stick together in LA. Meeting up to watch and play football at the weekend. There is a desperation for things you miss. I still pick up Newcastle Brown Ale and Terry’s Chocolate Oranges from the store, even though the prices are outrageous.

I don’t know how my accent has stayed intact. I grew up in Billingham, Stockton-on-Tees. Now there’s the odd American sound that’s found its way in. Americans think I’m Scottish, Irish, Australian. They really have no idea.

My four-year-old son has made me a better actor. He taught me that I have a vast capacity for feeling. I dropped him off for his first day of school last week, and I hung around, thinking of reasons to stay. But he marched right off to start school and that was that.

I’m not tight, I’m frugal. Always have been. I bought a PlayStation with my Billy Elliot money – that seemed sensible to splurge on. I don’t necessarily know that there’ll be money coming in.

My career, and my life, will always be uncertain. I’m trying to buy a house at the moment, but I find it hard to commit, because who knows what’s going to happen next? I’ll always proceed with caution.

If I didn’t act, I don’t know what I’d do. One thing I’m proudest of over the past decade is to still be f*cking working. I’m not entitled to it, after all.

After Billy Elliot, I thought I’d act for a few more years, tops. It felt like a flash-in-the-pan moment. I didn’t know how to act, for a start. I’ve always been tightly aligned with Billy; he and I became the same, and his story was similar. It’s taken some time to convince people I’m not him.

The lowest point in my career? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s coming soon! There was never a time I got addicted to Toblerone and drove to Dundee in my bare feet, put it that way.

10-year journey: Jamie Bell on breaking out beyond ballet 1

Bell with his actress wife, Kate Mara

Seeing the negative reviews for Fantastic Four sucked. All the cast and crew were gutted. We embarked on something we thought was an exciting, fun movie. And for a plethora of reasons, the film didn’t work. It’s tough. You set out with the best intentions, but there’s not a lot that you, the individual, can do when it doesn’t come together.

The truth is, on a human level, you want your work to be good. You want people to like it. I’m not opposed to reading nice things about myself, because I need to hear it occasionally. I’m hard on myself.

I’m grateful for my career, but acting is a love-hate thing. I had a torrid time of it. There are times when I’ve been super-excited about parts of the job, and times I’ve thought, “I f*cking hate this.”

I’m often consumed by a feeling that I’m totally sh*t at my job. I’ve developed stupidly high standards. I drive home at the end of the day telling myself, “Don’t worry, you’ll get it tomorrow.” It’s like an addiction, but you never quite get the hit, so you’re constantly trying to find it. I think that’s what keeps people going.

Nymphomaniac was the most fucked-up character I’ve played. A sadist who gets off on violently abusing women? ‘Challenging’ is an understatement.

But I did it in the same year I filmed Tintin. So thankfully I’ve avoided getting typecast. I don’t think there’s a Venn diagram where those two films intersect.

It often feels like I’ve been on the periphery of the industry, and that’s fine. After Billy Elliot, I’ve been able to dip in and do whatever I wanted. I’ve worked with directors I like, and done all kinds of films. I’m lucky in that I’ve never felt typecast. But if a director needs a working-class lad, maybe they’ll think of me.

Christian Bale once said he refuses to discuss ‘getting into character’. He’d been talking to director Adam Mckay. He said it’s because it’s boring, and that how he gets into the mindset to play his roles is complicated and hard to express. I find it fascinating that someone that seasoned doesn’t want to discuss it, or finds it awkward, but not everyone wants to tell you how the sausage gets made.

There’s something devastating about watching a completed movie. It’s impossible to improve, and that frustrates me. I see why so many actors love theatre, and the opportunity to constantly tweak a performance every day.

When the creative process is done, there’s nothing you can do. I hate that.

I always tell journalists the best advice I was given was ‘don’t fuck your publicist’. But the second is to completely, unashamedly be yourself. It sounds ‘Hollywood’, but uniqueness is valuable. Besides, with social media it’s a lot harder to be someone you’re not. People see through it.

Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool is at cinemas from 22 November

Photography: Will Bremridge

All other pictures: Allstarpl