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In Depth

People In Film | Jamie Bell

Jamie Bell | A Northern Homecoming

For Jamie Bell, his two 2011 releases from Focus Features, Kevin Macdonald’s Roman adventure The Eagle and Cary Fukunaga’s adaptation of Jane Eyre, represent something of a homecoming for the young actor. Both movies are principally set in the North of England – The Eagle in the areas around Hadrian’s Wall, near the Scottish border, and Jane Eyre in northern Derbyshire – which is the area where Bell himself grew up. He was born in 1986 in Billingham, near Middlesborough, and was brought up by his mother, Eileen, and older sister, Kathryn. He came from a family of dancers, and Bell started dancing himself after he caught the bug watching and imitating the movements his sister was being taught at her ballet lessons. His passion for dance and performance became a dominant part of his life, and though he was mocked by his classmates at school, his dedication was rewarded all too soon.

Jamie Bell | Billy Elliott

Bell became an international sensation after he was chosen from 2000 boys to play the eponymous lead in director Stephen Daldry’s 2000 film Billy Elliott. The movie is the story of a boy from a mining town in County Durham, Northern England, who discovers he has a unique, innate talent as a ballet dancer, but is ostracized by both his peers and family members for choosing to do such an unmanly activity. It was a role Bell was born to play, and he dazzled not only with his dancing skills but with an incredibly moving and genuine performance as a boy torn between following his heart and conforming to the expectations of those around him. The crowdpleasing movie became a hit in the US as well as its native UK, and Bell won accolades and awards galore. At the BAFTAs, the Britain’s version of the Oscars, the 13-year-old Bell took home Best Actor, beating out Russell Crowe, Michael Douglas, Tom Hanks and Geoffrey Rush to win the award.

Jamie Bell | Growing Up on Screen

Despite finding fame in his early teenage years, Bell has achieved the rare feat of both transitioning from a child star into a sought-after adult actor and keeping his feet firmly on the ground. “Inner demons? Got none of them,” he once said in an interview. “I had teen angst for a while, but I think every teenager has the angst.” While not a troubled teen himself, Bell has ironically played one on screen with great regularity. In David Gordon Green’s Undertow (2004), he played an angsty adolescent on the run from his murderous uncle and he was a Wild West gang leader in the Lars von Trier-scripted, Thomas Vinterberg-directed Dear Wendy (2005). He also appeared as a depressed teen dealing with his best friend’s suicide in Arie Posin’s The Chumscrubber, and was the titular lead in Mister Foe, about a runaway peeping tom who is obsessed with his mother’s death – and is sleeping with a woman who is her spitting image!

Jamie Bell | Battle Tested

For an actor who is still in his early 20s, Jamie Bell has been to war remarkably often – on screen, that is. In The Eagle, he plays Esca, a slave on the march with a Roman legion, but it’s just the latest in a long line of military movies for Bell. In 2002, he was Private Charlie Shakespeare, a British soldier stuck in no man’s land, in the World War I horror movie Deathwatch, after which he played Private First Class Ralph "Iggy" Ignatowski, a US Marine at the Battle of Iwo Jima, in Clint Eastwood’s World War II drama 2006 Flags of Our Father. He also appeared in another WW2 movie, Ed Zwick’s Defiance, a few years later, appearing as one of four Jewish brothers (along with Daniel Craig, Liev Schrieber and George McKay) who are resistance fighters liberating and recruiting Polish Jews in their fight against the Nazis.

Jamie Bell | Cinematic Chameleon

The fact that Jamie Bell is playing roles so radically different as Esca in The Eagle and St. John in Jane Eyre is not really surprising when one looks back over his filmography. After his breakout role, he made a conscious effort to avoid typecasting: “I can understand why everyone sees me as Billy Elliot,” he once said. “It was the first thing I did, so I was determined to take the most diverse route possible.” Bell, as a result, has become a chameleon, just as at home in period dramas like Nicholas Nickleby (in which he played the cripple, Smike) as he is in blockbusters like Jumper, a film which gave a role as a young man able to teleport anywhere in the world. He followed up the low-profile indie The Chumscrubber with Peter Jackson’s $200 million movie King Kong, and has mastered accents as diverse as Scottish and Polish-Belarussian. Ultimately, for Bell, he’s just happy to look back at the work he’s done: “I love looking down my résumé and seeing all those great people on it like David Gordon Green, and of course Peter Jackson and Stephen Daldry. When I look at it, I feel very proud for myself and the people around me who have managed to get me these roles.”

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