Friday, December 9, 2011
Playing Tintin fulfils Jamie Bell's childhood dream. Actor brings his dance training to the movie...
By T'CHA DUNLEVY, The Gazette December 9, 2011
MONTREAL - The last time I saw Jamie Bell on screen, he was playing a violent, deadly diseaseinfected soldier in Carl Tibbets's claustrophobic thriller Retreat, which screened at the Fantasia Film Festival in July.
It's hard to believe that's the same guy as the affable actor who greeted me at the plush St. James Hotel last week to discuss his equally unrecognizable role as the good-natured, tirelessly upbeat and distinctly cartoonish title character in The Adventures of Tintin.
Stephen Spielberg and Peter Jackson's animated blockbuster hits screens Friday in Quebec, 12 days before the rest of North America, as part of a gradual release strategy aimed at building hype stateside.
Unlike American audiences, the British-born Bell needed no introduction to Tintin:
"I love this character," he said. "Since I was 8 years old, I've been following his adventures with great enthusiasm. I really loved the spirit of Tintin, his relationships with people and what he stood for. He's a beacon of excellence for young people.
"I really respected him, because I felt like (Tintin author) Hergé really respected his audience. He took (kids) places, showed them real issues and really shared things with them."
Tintin isn't the only icon of his youth that Bell reconnected with on this project. Working with Spielberg was a chance to collaborate with the man who gave the actor his earliest experience with the big screen.
"Steven was my gateway into movies," Bell said. "The first film I saw in the theatre was Jurassic Park. I was in awe and amazed and terrified - everything you want to be as a kid. It was the greatest ride of my life."
A great ride is an apt description of The Adventures of Tintin. Spielberg acquired the film rights from Hergé shortly before the artist's death in 1983, but held off on doing anything until he found a way to convey the magic of Hergé's comic books.
Enter co-producer Peter Jackson, who proposed the solution with his motioncapture technology. They recruited Bell, motion-capture veteran Andy Serkis (who suited up to play Gollum in the Lord of the Rings trilogy and King Kong in Jackson's 2005 remake) as Tintin's pal Captain Haddock, and Bond-man Daniel Craig as evil pirate Red Rackham.
All three donned special body suits and hashed it out for six weeks in a dark room in L.A.'s Culver City.
The result is an enchanting journey that - though it drags a bit in the second half - does a generally commendable job of making even grown-ups feel like kids again.
Playing Tintin was a childhood dream come true for Bell, but it provided a challenge for him as an actor.
"I jumped back into that 8-year-old (me) with great enthusiasm," he said.
"I read through all 23 (Hergé) adventures. But the problem I hit was, 'I don't know who (Tintin) is. I don't know anything about him. I know he's Tintin the great adventurer, the intrepid reporter who is curious, fearless and has great heroic instincts - but what's his last name?
"How can he afford his own apartment? Why is his only friend a dog? Why does he hang out with an alcoholic? He writes for a newspaper, but nothing ever appears in print. These are really specific questions which for an actor will define how you approach the role."
In the end, Bell realized that there were no answers to his questions, and perhaps that's the point. The fact that Tintin is a blank slate is central to his appeal.
"The reason he's so successful is because he's a mystery," Bell said. "The more he's a mystery, the more you can project what you want him to be, or what you want to be. For me as an actor researching this, you can't answer those questions. It's not my responsibility."
So he left all the good lines to his boisterous (and frequently inebriated) pal Captain Haddock and concentrated on the simplicity of his role as humble hero. Along the way, he was drawn to what Tintin most obviously is - a man of action.
"Tintin is a very physical character," he said. "The way Hergé drew him, he is always very much on the move. When he thinks about something, he strikes a pose; and when he's down talking to (his dog) Snowy, he's in a very specific position.
"For me, it was about creating that sense of dynamics through a physicality that was explosive. Being a dancer for so long definitely helped."
Bell has danced since the age of 6, getting his acting start as a boy ballerina in the 2000 film Billy Elliot. He used that experience on the set, which Spielberg had plastered with Tintin images.
"We would look at panels from the comic book and go, 'Let's do that pose now,' " Bell said. "Those physical elements were crucial to the entire makeup of the character."
It was all part of the bigger picture, which was paying tribute to the man behind the original Tintin stories.
"(Spielberg) wanted it to be a Hergé adventure, nothing else," Bell said. "I think that's what he did, in his own way. I think as filmmakers - as artists, as composers of images - Hergé and Steven are not too dissimilar."
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn is playing in Montreal and opens in the rest of Canada later this month.
© Copyright (c) The Montreal Gazette
Jamie Bell, who plays Tintin in The Adventures of Tintin, read all the Tintin comic books as a youngster and says playing the intrepid boy reporter provided a challenge for him. He was in Montreal last week to promote the film, which is open now in Montreal. (Photograph by: Pierre Obendrauf, The Gazette)