Jamie Bell: The 'Billy Elliot' star talks Fred Astaire, orphans and cocaine-fuelled 'Filth'
My role in 'Billy Elliot' wasn't really acting To me it was my life: I didn't have a concept of acting, so when the character puts his ballet shoes down his pants, I was like, "Oh yeah, I know what that was like – I used to do that walking to the bus stop so people couldn't see I was going dance class." It was why I was chosen for the role as they were like, "This kid is that character."
Dancing was inevitable Growing up, my sister was a good dancer and as I was around it all the time, I started doing it too. As a kid I liked the idea of music and movement, and tap dance became my favourite style. It was a more aggressive, masculine style and somehow it was more palatable, as a young boy, if I could see Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly doing it.
I lost touch with my normal self after 'Billy Elliot' The guy that used to wear tracksuit bottoms and an Arsenal shirt, kicking a ball down the street went when the machine – the entertainment industry – took over. That responsibility you take on your shoulders is beyond any 14-year-old; give a kid that many accolades and attention and that kid will eventually go insane. I see it today, too, how successful, talented youngsters, through no fault of their own, get lost, because after a while there's not many hard truths being told to them.
Shows such as 'Britain's Got Talent' have encouraged people to show off their abilities I think if I went back to Billingham [County Durham, where Bell grew up] now, things will have changed and people would be more understanding of a boy doing dance. Now that your next-door neighbour could be a pop star on The X Factor, it lends itself to parents encouraging their kids in a different way.
I never watch anything I've done It's because of my upbringing. I was thrown into this environment of competitive dancing, where it's difficult to watch anything I do, because if I do, I'm always thinking, "I could have done that so much better." If I ever am totally happy with my work, I'll worry that I've reached a plateau and it will all go downhill from there.
All my characters are orphans Every character I play is either parentless or there is a parental issue. It makes sense, as it's something I bring to the roles. I'm not saying I'm an orphan, but my own background and experiences [Bell's father walked out on the family before he was born] are good for those kind of parts.
I've no idea how America will deal with 'Filth' The subject matter [in the new Irvine Welsh film] is so intense. I play a cocaine-fuelled rookie cop who's the right-hand man to this sick antihero detective.
You have to look people in the eye When I was an awkward teen in the limelight, the make-up artist on Billy Elliot was fantastic. We'd have lots of dinners together and she said, "You've got to know that it's rude if you don't look people in the eye, otherwise, how can you connect?" Even now – well I don't go round just blatantly staring, but I do still lift my chin up and look people in the eyes: that's everything about being an actor and everything about being a person.
I love playing with seasoned guitarists I have a couple of guitars and I can play five or six songs, such as tracks by the Black Keys and Radiohead – ones with easy chords. So I play with these guys who are ridiculously well trained, and they do all the complicated stuff and I can join in with the basic stuff.
Jamie Bell, 27, is an actor best known for films including 'Billy Elliot' and 'The Adventures of Tintin'. 'Filth' (18) is out on Friday
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