Jamie Bell Interview: Tintin, Tap Dancing And Telling Steven Spielberg He'd 'Think About It'
"He heard me complaining, and he said, 'It can't be that hard, what's wrong with you?'"
Jamie Bell - child prodigy, A-List actor, star of Steven Spielberg's latest blockbuster - has got a longtime Teeside friend in tow for this international junket circuit, and is evidently enjoying proving him wrong about the apparently easy life of an international film star.
"We had to do an interview first thing this morning, so I purposely stayed up really late night - just so he knows that getting up really early sucks," Bell gleefully reports. "They always give me the early ones straight after premieres too - why should he miss out?"
There must have been harder press tours than this. Bell is in the fortunate position of the title role in Spielberg's long-awaited adaptation of The Adventures of Tintin, a part he was first mooted for a decade ago on the back of teenage stardom in Billy Eliot. So why does Bell think he stayed in the frame for so long?
"There are very specific properties about myself, which make me an ideal candidate," explains Bell, with no false modesty. "I was a dancer, which is huge with a performance-capture film, as you need to be able to express yourself physically. I have a European sensibility and, most importantly, I am a big Tintin fan."
Genuinely, or is that something he feels he has to say?
"Really," he emphasises. "When I saw the TV series, I realised this wasn't just a cat chasing a mouse, but this amazing political cartoon. I went to the library, got the books and then from the safety of my bedroom, went on amazing adventures with this guy.
"Steven (Mr Spielberg to us) didn't want the scriptwriters just to read up on Tintin books, he wanted them to come with the universe of Tintin, which I had as well."
Bell may be a confident veteran of the screen at the ripe age of 25, but even he admits to quaking when he first sat down with his revered director:
"I wanted to be fine and comfortable, but I'm sure I wasn't. He was straight to business, telling me, 'If you want to be Tintin, it will be five years of your life - are you fine with that?' I remember thinking if I said 'Yes' that, he would think I was an idiot, so I said I'd think about it. I wasn't trying to be cool, I just thought it sounded a little scary, but I remember respecting that he was very honest with me. Nobody had been that honest with me before."
Spielberg first spotted Bell, like the rest of us, in his sprightly and soulful turn as miner's son turned ballet star in the heartwarming Billy Eliot. Since then, he's built a catalogue of chunky adult work - Defiance, King Kong, Jane Eyre - so would he still call himself a dancer, or an actor? He surprises me by remarking on limitations, both of himself and the film industry:
"I'd have to say tap dancer, because 'dancer' is too broad - I really can't do all of that. But I love to tap-dance, so I consider myself a tap dancer and actor, but I don't know where the market is for that on film. So instead, I just tap dance every time I find a hardwood floor."
Bell, who now lives in LA but returns to his native Teeside in northern England at least twice a year, has seemingly made a seamless transition from child star to respected adult actor - how has he avoided the pitfalls generally associated with prodigious talent?
"I hate the stereotype of the pitfalls of the child actor," he retorts stoutly. "There are so many amazing examples - Natalie Portman, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Jodie Foster, Drew Barrymore - of people who have made it through.
"But, really, there are no tactics or strategy. You just have to surround yourself with people who are going to support and love you before trying to sell you as a product, or push you into something you don't want to do."
Next on the horizon is an adaptation of Irvine Welsh's bestseller Filth, alongside James McAvoy, and Bell shows no sign of tiring after a decade in the business.
"I've got a lot of stuff left to do," he muses. "Although I won't be directing any time soon. I've seen how hard it is... Not as hard as a junket, mind you."
At which, his weary friend from Teeside finally nods in agreement.
The Adventures of Tintin is in UK cinemas from today. See the trailer below: