Did you know that Jamie Bell is really, really funny? He plays lots of dark, deep, often weird character, but unlike other ‘intense’ young actors, he’s got a great sense of humor and a terrific laugh. I was sort of taken aback by just how funny Bell was, and how light his demeanor was – when I sat in a press conference with him for King Kong he seemed to have much lower energy.
Mister Foe (known in the UK as Hallam Foe) is a fairly twisted coming of age tale from Young Adam director David Mackenzie. Bell stars as Foe, a troubled young man who runs away from his rich family’s estate to be a peeping tom and lovesick hotel employee. The object of his affection: the gorgeous Sophie Myles, also present at this roundtable interview.
Without further ado, the interview:
Jamie can you talk about your character’s great sense of makeup, and of costume?
Bell: Yeah. Apparently girls like guys in in eyeliner um, so, yeah.
Is it the script, or did you create it?
Bell: No, it was all the script. I mean I think it was–it’s his rebellious nature, I think. Especially when we first meet him, he’s someone who’s dealt with loss, the loss of his mother. He’s become a recluse; he’s introverted himself; he’s removed himself from his family life. I feel like it’s an extension of this rebellious, feral warrior, which I think he believes himself to be. That this young person, who’s dealt with loss, has found a way of dealing with it, which is, to become this strange feral creature. So I think that stuff is an extension of that feeling. Also, he’s just weird. He’s just a weird guy. [All Laugh] So if anything, the intelligent answer I think, is it’s an extension of that feeling of loss, and anger, and guilt and everything else, and it’s kind of tribal, the way he puts it on is very defiant. So I think it’s that.
He is weird, and he’s a little creepy sometimes too. So how as an actor, do you get that weirdness, and that creepiness across while also making it so that we’re willing to sit there and go on the journey.
Bell: Right, yeah, it’s tough. I mean ’cause I remember reading over the script, which I was sent because my agent was a massive fan of Dave Mackenzie. (He actually put another one of his clients in one of his early films.) And I remember when I got the script, and I got to, like, page 13, and I was like, “What? He’s called in some other prostitute; he’s angry; he’s looking at mother’s breasts feeding their babies; he’s making notes about it? He’s like interrupting people having sex, and it’s like, why do we like this person again? And I think, ultimately, what David managed to do, is inject this level of–as soon as you realize he’s lost something, as soon as you realize he’s lost his parents, I think you can’t help but sympathize for this person. I feel like for any young person, I think especially a male, losing their mother at that age, I think it’s probably quite heart-breaking. And at that age, you hold a lot in here, and it all builds and builds and builds and as I said he holds so much anger, and so much guilt, such remorse about it that I feel like you can’t help sympathizing when you see that and when that’s explained to you. You kind of accept everything else as part of the extension of that.
Well, it’s kind of lucky that he makes the connection with your character, who’s also damaged, and also has a lot of baggage going into this. I think it kind of helps bring his character along, almost in his maturity, to find someone who’s willing to even put in the time to work on him I guess you can say. Can you talk about what it was like doing a role like this which was very personal and very roller coaster.
Myles: Yeah. I think what’s great is that these characters–I think they find in each other a kind of life raft. And then, Katie confesses that she likes creepy guys, so he’s perfect. [SM and JB Laugh] I was really interested when I read the script and saw a girl my age, or my then age, who worked a 9:00-5:00 office job in the city, and I thought it was very truthfully written. And I like the fact that she’s interesting because on the surface she’s able to project an air of complete confidence, professionalism, calm, poise, but in fact we see through Hallam’s eyes, when he’s…stalking her, that actually there’s a very damaged soul behind closed doors. And I think I like that because I think as human beings we– especially us actors–this is what we do for a living. We put masks on and pretend to be other people. And I thought it was interesting to play somebody that had elements of both light and dark that were explored. And also in film, I haven’t seen for a long time the relationship of an older girl with a younger guy explored in movies, it’s usually the other way around. And as soon as I heard that he was the lead in this film, I wanted to do it.
Bell: Thanks love. [Laugh]
Myles: Yeah. [More Laughing]
That’s an interesting point. you two have some really really great scenes in this film—really edgy, really cool, and I’m just wondering—I mean, you seem close here, but how did you get along…?
Bell: Fucking hated each other.
Myles: Fucking nightmare love. [Laugh]
Bell: No I mean, it’s definitely not easy to work–
Myles: I took your film virginity didn’t I?
Bell: You did, you did. Manhood… Um, it’s tough making these small films it’s so ambitious what we want to achieve on [Whisper] “no money,” in terms of just getting it all done. I think it really takes focused actors, determined and committed actors, to do this, and Shopia was nothing but that the whole way through. We were actually staying in the hotel where our characters meet and where my character gets a job and where her character works, which is kind of weird, to see the back rooms of the hotel that your staying at. When your room service comes to your room you know where it comes from, which is always kind of weird. [All Laugh] But that element of it, it felt like we were living it, almost, these two people. We were just…we just had a laugh didn’t we? It was just kind of fun.
Myles: Yeah, yeah we did. I was thinking actually, on the way here, about what to say if asked about working with him. I’m not just saying this, but you are the best I’ve ever had. [All Laugh] No, but the thing is about working with Jamie, is, he’s so good (and I’m not just doing a press junk here, giving it all this about my leading man) but I’m telling you the god honest truth. He’s so good that there was very little acting involved when I was with him; it was all just reacting. Because, it’s such a pleasure, really. Can we do it again please?
Bell: Yeah, we will, we will. [Laugh]
Well five years later, you come back for the sequel. [Laugh]
Bell: Right, there you go, he’s still stalking girls; that’s the sequel. [Laugh]
Who do you think is more damaged, Hallam or Kate?
Myles: I think both of them have equal amounts of demons perched on their shoulders. I think Hallam is probably…I don’t know, who do you think is going to sort themselves out?
Bell: I don’t know, because I think Hallem has the element of youth to him. Also, his problem, his dilemma, is a very childish dilemma. Someone is gone; they’re not coming back–get over it. Your situation is different. You’ve gotten yourself into this problem.
Myles: Yeah, she’s an adult. I think Kate needs to probably…I’m glad that they don’t…I like that there’s no happy ever after in this movie. Because that’s how life is. And I think if these two characters, they love each other, but they are strong enough to let each other go. I think that they are both sensible and intelligent enough to realize that if they were to have a relationship at the end of this film, if they were to embark on a relationship, it would be utterly co-dependent, and completely unhealthy.
Bell: Yeah, they’d be feeding on each others…
Myles: So I think, hats of to them for actually being able to walk away. But I think Kate probably needs to go to see a good therapist, maybe read a couple really good self-help books. But I like the fact that with this movie you’re left as an audience /Oh I wonder what happens to them/. /Do they stay in touch/, /do they/…I like that.
We don’t know for sure how messed up your [character’s] background really is…
Myles: Oh no, I’m sure she has a lot of other issues… [Laugh]
You [JB/Hallam] really get most of the background. You’ve got, of course, that with Claire Florini; that whole scene earlier in the film that is really–there’s a lot of mommy and daddy…
Bell: The thing with Claire which was interesting, is that we tried to work in this flirtatious aspect to their relationship, as much as it was vengeful, aggressive and spiteful–always. That actually, he was obsessed with her to the level that he physically was very attracted to her. Which I don’t think David went for me. I think what he went for–he just detested her to the degree where when she’s right in front of him, he can’t help but resist, to just give in to it. The hatred became so physical that the act was almost as if letting go of it for a second. But I see that scene as almost kind of like a rape scene, which is pretty dark. Because he is so messed up in his head, and he’s so innocent and pure (Like you said.) For her to go in there and do that, and expect that of him as a willing participant in the act, I feel like he’s definitely violated. Which I think haunts him later on in the film, which actually I think actually scares him later on in the film. That’s quite a horrific experience for him in the very beginning of the film.
Jamie, do you think that Hallam was a creepy guy before his mom passed away?
Bell: I don’t think so. I think he was a mummy’s boy before his mother passed away. I think he relied on his mother for many things. I think he loved his mother very much. And when that’s taken away from him, you can’t help but feel that someone is guilty for it. So I don’t think he’s creepy necessarily. I think that he…ultimately he just has to fly the nest; he just has to get out of that situation. I don’t think he was ever really that creepy before, and I don’t think he’s actually really that creepy afterwards if you know what’s wrong with him But I do think that loss was so detrimental to his growing up. And going through those adolescent years, which are so difficult for all people to deal with. Those 15, 16, 17s…
Myles: 18, 19, 20s…
Bell: 25, 27, 28… [All Laugh] Those are really difficult growing ages. I think for him, he gets stuck in that moment. It couldn’t have happened at a worse time for his mother to have passed away.
So he’s 18 in this movie?
Bell: Yeah, I think he starts at 17, and I guess his 18th birthday is in the movie.
How were the climbing scenes?
Bell: Yeah it was tough. My instinct as a kid was never to climb trees because I knew I would fall out of them.
How about climbing buildings? [All Laugh]
Bell: Climb buildings as well, but first let’s deal with trees. [Laugh] David Mackenzie sent me to rock climbing place. I was terrified, absolutely terrified. It’s actually, it’s so physically daunting. I don’t know if anyone [here] has ever done it before? Yeah but it’s exhausting. You have? Are you good at it? It’s really tough. But I think it was fun. Any kind physical aspect of a character, especially for me–I come from a dancing background, so any kind physicality with a character I think is always going to help me get in his skin.
Yeah, I was picking up slop from the kitchen counters…it was rough; it was definitely rough. But it definitely makes you grow as an actor; it challenges you. And that moment when you go, “I have to do this. I have to jump into a lock (?) in Scotland in March. I have to do this right now. I f you get past it, if you moves through, it gives you an air of confidence which, especially in a shoot like his, which is incredibly physically daunting because of that, and for every other reason, going through those milestones I think is very important to motivate you and push you onto the next…
Jamie, One of the most amazing thing about your filmography to date, is that you keep working with really interesting, really great directors. And again and again every film you make is with somebody that is unique and really interesting. Is that the Jamie Bell career plan? I’m not going to be working with the generic guys. I am working with the most interesting guys; I don’t care whether they’re the biggest movies or the littlest movies. That’s what I’m all about. ?
Bell: Yeah, my manager when I…I’ve known my manager since I was 13, she’s called Vanessa Periera. I love her. That was the thing that she always said to me. You have to work with great people; there’s no point in doing it unless you do. And I see why! I’ve seen films come out, I’ve taken meetings with directors and I see it behind their eyes. It’s kind of this, they’re not supposed to be doing it at all. I’m not intrigued by them, I’m not motivated by them. And fortunately, very fortunately (I’m very humble for this, in fact.) that I’ve gotten to work with really great visionaries who really take control and know what their doing. It is a conscious effort, for sure, and it’s tough to keep up. And then you find yourself, you work with Pete Jackson and Clint Eastwood back to back. Where the fuck do I go from here? I can only go down from here. But I do enjoy it. I’ve had some crazy experiences with people and some great ones and I’ve learned some very valuable lessons about making films and acting, and life and everything. It’s been great.
How was your transition from Billy Elliot to other projects, because that was such a high profile role when you were so young.
Bell: It’s not easy for sure. I think that the instinct is for you to be thrown into a bunch of project where you don’t really know what’s going on. And you’re expected to do that just because you’ve proven to be successful before. And I think that’s the pitfall of many young actors who have success at an early age. I feel like that their decisions are cloudy and foggy, and they’re not doing it for the right reasons. I finished that film, then went back to school, which was the best thing I did. And then I got a manager that has impeccable taste in directors (Like you said.) And I didn’t work to work. I worked to challenge and try and better myself. Like some of these smaller films I’ve done. I’ve really learned a lot about acting, because remember, I don’t come from an acting background; I come from a dancing background. All of these experiences, smaller ones as well as the bigger ones, have really pushed me forward as an actor.
It’s tough, and I feel like it could have been over years ago. But I have great people around me. My family is amazing and they’re being fantastic and protecting me from stuff.
Who would both of you like to work with next, in terms of directors and acting costars?
Myles: I would like to work with Christian Bale (I’m just giving you the ones that came straight into my head now.) and the Cohen brothers , I think. Tim Burton as well. But I mean, whoever will have me quite frankly. [All Laugh]
Bell: You know, I’m sure every actor around says S?? and Spielberg, but it’s fucking true! I fucking love Mike ?? I love Steven Spielberg. I really want Godfrey Reggio to come out of wherever he’s in. (You know Godfrey Reggio? Godfrey Reggio directed Powaqqatsi, Koyaanisqatsi) because I really respond to films that make me feel a certain way. I remember the that the first film I ever saw was, and it’s not that it’s lame, but, I saw “Jurassic Park” in the movie theater when I was 8. I’d never been to a movie theater before.
Myles: You didn’t go till you were eight! What were you doing?
Bell: I lived in the northeast of England; we didn’t have silver screens. Also I was dancing. I was very busy; I was very busy planning the future. Bit I remember seeing that film, and I went in there with –You know Winnie the Pooh? You know Tigger the tiger?–I had a Tigger doll that was about this big. I hid behind it for an hour and a fucking half because I was so terrified of the dinosaurs. I came out, I threw the Tigger away, and I was buying all kinds dinosaur memorabilia–pencil cases and books. That was my first movie experience, and the music of John Williams and Steven Spielberg’s vision. It made me be like, “Wow, what is this thing called movies?” It’s amazing. It makes me feel this thing! It transports you somewhere. So any director who’s able to make me feel like I’m eight again…
Well you’re on your way. King Kong…
Bell: Well Dude, dinosaurs in that; and I was like, “Oh my God! Living the dream.” And also, I love war movies, I love war movies. I remember a screening of this film I did called Flags of our Fathers, and I was seeing these U.S. Marines storm the beaches. I was like, “Dude, I’m a Marine storming the beaches!” I’m a sucker for that stuff. I really get into concepts of movies. I love the magic of film and of being able to relive those historic moments as well as the fantastical moments.
Myles: I think as you get older (I don’t know if you’ve found this.) but within the industries, when you start off acting, it’s kind of rather selfish motives; you are the kid who just wants to get paid to throw on the costumes and pretend to be someone else. The more experience that you have and the more films that you make, you start to realize that as a storyteller, it’s not just about you and the film’s experience for yourself. It becomes about your audience. And you realize, “Wow, I actually have the power here to make a piece… As opposed to the movies that are out there right now that just provide purely escapism for an hour and a half while you go and eat popcorn and forget about your own life…
Bell: Rising fuel prices, rising fuel prices I need some escapism… [All
Myles: Films like this which deal with such archetypal themes of self-discovery, the search for love, and the fear of death, that can really actually affect the audience and take the viewer to somewhere deeper within themselves. That’s what it becomes about.
You were talking about all the people that you’ve worked with. What’s something that you’ve have you learned from Clint Eastwood, Liev Schreiber, Daniel Craig, anyone that’s taught you something, pushed you beyond your limit?
Bell: Daniel Craig always told me to keep my head up in action sequences.
Myles: Oh, that’s good.
Bell: Which is a fucking good note. The first day of Defiance, he walked on, and I know Daniel, and I think you do as well, and I think most people in the know, know that Daniel Craig is not just James Bond. He’s a classically trained British leading theater actor of his generation. In terms of actors, a serious deal. He comes onto set, of course, and everyones like, “It’s Daniel, it’s Daniel.” And I know him so I kind of say hello. He’s rehearsing this scene where he takes this woman up a ridge on a hill, and bombs are dropping from Nazi planes in this camp that we built, and he’s in his civvies (civilian clothing) and he just grabbed this woman and he’s like [sound effects] and does everything perfectly, like a dance routine. Like he’s choreographed this, and he’s done this in his bedroom at night, or he’s done it somewhere, but he’s totally on point. And I remember going to him (This is the point where we’re now actually shooting that same sequence, which was probably like two weeks ago.) And I kind of just go up to him and I’m like, [Whisper] “How do you do this, and how do you look cool.”
But it’s really tough. Like running through mortars exploding, you’re instinct is to go like this. But of course, you have to do this.
Among other things like that, Clint taught me, “No bullshit; just do it.” Which I love. Literally, two takes, and that’s it. And he doesn’t call action or cut. After being in the industry for so long, he just got the chunk of the BS that goes with everything and just kind of throws it out; breaks it down to his bare bones.
And Liev Schreiber is a person who approaches every single scene and heightens the material to such a degree where it becomes a completely different scene entirely just because he understands language so much. I think he’s a classically trained actor…
These are all great people. They’re all very humble and I’m very honored to be working with them, and opposite them.
Daniel Craig is the nicest guy in the world; he’s the best. He’s totally unfazed by all this Bond stuff. He plays a leader in this film that we did, and he was very much a leader, leading everyone back to the trailer. He would teach me how the guns would work and stuff. He’s very handsome, but still very sweet.
Fox has been buzzing about Jumper II. I guess the film made a pretty good amount of money and they’re interested in coming back for another one. I’m assuming you’re signed for sequels; that’s usually how it works nowadays. Would you come back if they talked to you about it?
Bell: I will come back if it was Doug. For sure. I mean if Doug Liman was doing it, I love Doug Lyman. He’s crazy, but he’s great. And I think if he wasn’t a filmmaker, he’d be a scientist, because he’s kind like the crazy scientist with the film camera. I had fun with that. I had a really fun character, so I was really lucky in that respect. And of course I would love to–if it was the right people.
Well that’s funny; that’s one of the few times that I’ve seen you where you’re really funny through a lot of the film. You’re obviously a really funny guy in real life. [SM and JB Laugh] This summer we discovered that David Gordon Green was really funny. Nobody had a clue!
Bell: Oh, but he’s hilarious. When you know him–I think–when I knew he was making a stunner comedy, I was like why haven’t you been doing that all your life? But he’s hilarious. And who knew that James Franco was funny?
Myles: I did.
Bell: Oh yeah, you worked with him.
Myles: It’s funny I think that often really good looking people, people don’t assume that they can be funny, and that they’re often cast just in the romantic lead role. Yeah, he’s funny.
Bell: He’s hilarious. He’s so good.
Myles: Yeah, he’s funny I like that.
How often to people ask you to dance?
Bell: About, 3 times… every 2 hours. No, not that often anymore. Fortunately, there’s a musical of the movie now, so it’s kind of turned into a corporate money making franchise machine…which is great because for me it gives me the opportunity to hand the bat off to many other young kids, who now get the opportunity to play that role. Because it is such an iconic [role], well it’s become iconic now, I think, for many different reasons.
It’s such a great opportunity for all of these young boys, I guess, from all of these small towns to go, “Fuck, I just want to dance and get out of my home town.” It’s perfect because they turn over so many boys because the laws of child acting in theater are quite strict, so they have to have three boys at any one time so they rotate them like this. So it’s just given a whole generation this opportunity to play this amazing part. So for me it’s been great, like a weight has been lifted because of that.