“Imagine me at 14”, Jamie Bell says, he had just made his debut in 2000 to great acclaim in Billy Elliot, a coming-of-age story about a ballet dancer. Now, he is nearly 25 and is starring in The Eagle, but he can’t get that teenager out of his head.
“I’d just done the (Golden) Globes and was looking forward to the Oscars and hanging out with all these people and being told I was so great,” he remembers. “I didn’t go off the rails and start doing a bunch of drugs. But definitely I lost touch with who I was. A few days later, I was back in math class (in his tiny hometown of Billingham, England), and I thought to myself, ‘Hold on a second. I did this film to get me out of this place, and now I’m right back here. Imagine the guy next to you in math class has just been to the Academy Awards, and Russell Crowe mentioned him in his (Oscar acceptance) speech (for Gladiator). That’s a bit weird.”
At the behest of his mother, Eileen, Bell stayed in school for two more years, did well in his exams and then returned to acting. “If I’d actually been nominated for an Oscar, my life would have been ruined,” he says. “Where do you go from there? Down, down, down. When I see these young people getting nominated, it’s great, of course. But I hope that they always have that person who goes, ‘Check yourself. Be careful.’ ”
Since Billy Elliot launched him as an actor, Bell has spent recent years traveling around the world making such films as King Kong, Flags of Our Fathers, Jumper and Defiance.
Filming the The Eagle, which is set in second-century Britain, Bell spent time galloping across the Scottish Highlands, swimming in icy streams and protecting his master, a Roman soldier (Channing Tatum) on a quest, all the while searching for the golden emblem of Rome’s Ninth Legion, along with knowledge about what happened to the missing 5,000 soldiers.
“When you read a script and it takes you on a journey, you completely forget that it all takes place outside and it’s freezing cold, and there’s lots of water and lots of horses.”
The Eagle is a buddy picture of sorts, about honor, friendship and trust. “These two people are on a journey together, and they’re the complete antithesis of one another. By the end, they learn something about themselves and in fact, your best mate is your enemy. There’s something very old-fashioned about that.”
In Jane Eyre, opening in March, Bell takes on the role of St. John Rivers, Jane’s clergyman cousin. The Charlotte Bronte story has been filmed several dozen times, but Bell says, “Ours is a much darker take on the story.”
In the upcoming psychological thriller Retreat, Bell plays a soldier with a big secret, and in the upcoming Man on a Ledge, Bell plays the brother in a “high-stakes, well-crafted story about this guy (Sam Worthington) who appears to be about to commit suicide.” But, perhaps Bell’s biggest role is the title character in Steven Spielberg‘s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, due in December.
Bell has worked hard to get out from under Billy Elliott‘s shadow, but he admits, “Without Billy Elliot, there would be no Jamie Bell. It’s wrong to disregard it. It’s also taken on its own life (on stage). It’s given the opportunity to so many young people to play this great role and have their moment of real self expression. ”
To read the complete interview, go to: usatoday.com