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Photos by Ben McDade
Photos by Ben McDade
“I HAVE such an affinity for comedic stuff,” Jamie Bell says. “But I haven’t really let people know that yet.” Film audiences who have watched Bell suffer in such films as Billy Elliot (2000) and Defiance (2008) are in for a surprise when they see him in Man on a Ledge a heist caper which co-stars Edward Burns, Ed Harris and Sam Worthington.
Directed by Asger Leth, it’s scheduled to open on January 27.
“My part wasn’t overly complicated,” says the 25- year-old Bell, who plays Joey, who breaks into a high security building with his girlfriend (Genesis Rodriguez) to steal a diamond. It’s only one part of a plot to help his escaped-convict brother (Worthington) – the man actually out on the ledge – clear his name.
Bell considers Man on a Ledge a poor man’s Mission: Impossible. “I had to do a lot of climbing, dropping down holes and rappelling down shafts,” he says. “The director didn’t say, ‘You need to go to rappelling school so you can look like Tom Cruise.’ He said, ‘I want you to look like Joey from New Jersey.’ “I think it was crucial to him that these people were executing an extraordinary feat but were actually very ill-equipped to do it,” Bell says. “That worked for us quite well.” Bell had no scenes on the actual ledge, which was on an upper floor of New York’s Roosevelt Hotel, but couldn’t resist a taste of Worthington’s experience.
“I stood on it once to see what it felt like,” he says.
“It was testicle-clenching. Your heart starts racing a lot faster when people look like ants. I can’t imagine having to deliver a performance, and I can’t really imagine getting used to that sensation.
“You feel the cable in your back,” he says. “When you’re relaxing and there’s no tension on it, you literally feel like, if you make the wrong move, you’ll fall off.” Bell has made physically challenging movies before. For Billy Elliot, the film that made him famous virtually overnight, he trained vigorously in order to be believable when his character auditioned for the Royal Ballet. In The Eagle (2011), set in 2nd-century Britain, he rode horses and trudged over mountains.
For Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin, Bell faced a different kind of ordeal: He spent months in a motion-capture suit running around an empty sound stage. His job was to provide movement and facial expressions for Tintin, the intrepid boy reporter.
His physical fitness is not the result of self-denial or personal discipline, the young actor admits.
“Today I’ve had a horrendous diet,” Bell says. “I must have drunk 12 cups of coffee and had three Red Bulls, plus I had a hamburger for lunch. I haven’t had any water, and that bag of cookies is mine. I’ve abused my body so much, and it’s been so good to me, that I should pay it some respect.” He looks contrite, albeit briefly.
“Tomorrow I’ll probably go back to skipping breakfast,” he says. “I’ll sleep in and have a late lunch.
“My general outlook is not, ‘Must take care of myself,”’ Bell says. “Nor is it the opposite, ‘Must destroy myself.’ It’s ‘Must live conveniently,’ which isn’t usually the healthiest.” Although Bell has worked professionally for more than half his life and now has a home in Los Angeles, he has managed to avoid most of the bad behaviour that has undermined some of his contemporaries.
“You learn from other people’s mistakes,” he says, “and you don’t put your hand in the fire twice. “I’m quite an anxious person,” Bell admits, “and all that (celebrity) stuff raises my anxiety. I’d much rather stay at home in my pajamas.” Bell’s only real gossip-page coverage has come from his romance with Evan Rachel Wood. The two met in 2005 while filming Green Day’s music video for Wake Me Up When September End. They dated for about a year, got tattoos for each other and then parted, only to reunite recently.
Rumours of a wedding in the offing are exactly that – nothing but Rumours.
“I believe in marriage,” Bell says, “but we’re 25.
Commitment seems completely unreasonable at this point. Maybe this is my generation speaking, but is it OK for young people to commit to each other in such a way? It’s something I don’t often consider, because it’s so far off my radar.
“I don’t know many people my age who would do that,” he adds.
“We’ve got way too much to be doing.” Bell considers himself typical of 20-somethings, at least in this regard.
“Everything is momentary,” he says.
“I think our generation comes from a bunch of broken marriages. I don’t know many who have parents who are still together.” That’s certainly true of Bell, whose parents split before he was born. He and his older sister were raised by his mother, who made sure that acting was not the be-all and end-all of her talented son’s life. He was 14 when he made his film debut in Billy Elliot and, though its success brought him numerous offers, he decided – with the encouragement of his mother – to finish school before resuming work.
It was two years before he made another film, but since then he has barely stopped. He played a solder in Deathwatch (2002) and the crippled schoolboy Smike in Nicholas Nickleby (2002). Peter Jackson hired him for King Kong (2005) and Clint Eastwood cast him as World War II hero Ralph Ignatowski in Flags of Our Fathers (2006).
Flags of Our Fathers was the most demanding film Bell had made since Billy Elliot, and he admits that he found it scary to work with Eastwood.
“Clint’s methods are very specific,” Bell explains, “because he was an actor for a very long time. He cuts out all the crap in terms of the way a director would approach an actor. It’s Point A to Point B
Someone seasoned, like Sean Penn, doesn’t need all the oohs and aahs of a director blowing smoke.” That doesn’t n e c e s s a r i l y apply, of course, to teenage Brits with only a handful of film credits.
“At the time I was 19 and so afraid,” Bell recalls. “Clint trusted us to do it, but at the same time I felt, ‘Oh Lord, I might need a little shove in this direction or that direction.”’ Today those worries are gone. Instead Bell is trying to figure out how far he can stretch himself.
“I’d love to do more funny roles,” he says. “I don’t know if I can do romance. In Jane Eyre (2011) my character proposed to Jane, but that wasn’t very romantic.” His next project is unlikely to be either funny or romantic: Filth is based on a novel by Irvine Welsh, who also wrote the novel on which Trainspotting (1996) was based.
“James McAvoy plays a cop going through a bit of a dark time,” Bell says. “I’m also a cop. There’s a promotion, and James is trying to sabotage my chances for it.” A sequel to The Adventures of Tintin is already in the works.
“Steven has gone on record as saying that Peter Jackson is doing the next one,” Bell says.
Although he is a skilled tap dancer, Bell has made a point of avoiding dance movies. He has no problem with having starred in Billy Elliot, but that was some time ago now, and he wants to be seen as what he is, not what he was then.
“Even if that will never be entirely possible.
Billy Elliot is going to follow me the rest of my life,” Bell says. “It was such a massive deal and such a great point of reference. To a lot of people, that’s still who I am.”
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