Jamie Bell
Photo courtesy of Apple TV+

Jamie Bell: “I get what I want out of it”

Short Profile

Name: Andrew James Matfin Bell
DOB: 14 March 1986
Place of birth: Billingham, England, United Kingdom
Occupation: Actor

Jamie Bell stars in Shining Girls, premiering globally on Friday 29 April 2022 with the first three episodes of the series, and followed by one new episode dropping each week on Apple TV+.

Mr. Bell, is it part of your job as an actor to push your own limits?

One hundred percent, yeah! I think if it's not interesting to me, then it's definitely not going to be interesting for you watch it, you know? That's the give and take of this whole experience. If I find it interesting, and it's a niche that I want to do, I'm going to be really invested in it, and I’ll hopefully feel challenged and lose myself in it and discover something new that I haven't done before.

Do you think the audience can tell when you’re in that state?

I don't think they care at all! (Laughs) I don’t think they can sense in the slightest what I'm doing — maybe five people do, and they’re going like, “Wow, this is different for him.” But I’m not sure that's of any interest to most, I think they're just looking for something to watch. Maybe I'm wrong, but I just think that's the case for me. I think there’s an audience collective at play. If there’s that sense of continuity, if the audience has an understanding of you as an actor, you know, if you are one of those three actors where people have that understanding of their career, it’s different.

Like who?

Well, like Leo [DiCaprio], for example, right? When he does Django, they go like, “Whoa, this is different.” And that's good, because we have that continuity, we understand. I don't think people think like that for what I’m doing; it’s totally different. But I get what I want out of it. And that's all that matters, really.

Which of your roles has pushed your limits the most, or given you the most challenge in that way?

Oh, in the film Skin, I was playing a neo-Nazi, holding these really bigoted beliefs, you know, “us and them” beliefs. Shouting some of the stuff I had to shout in those scenes, in front of some of the people that were there at the time felt very uncomfortable. I mean, I've done so many things that feel uncomfortable at the time, you're like, “Why the hell am I doing this?” Human beings are very bizarre creatures. And I think there's a lot about the psyche that we just still don't really fully understand the wiring of brains, and how lives are affected by certain things, and what's the result of those traumas. I think as a culture, we have a morbid fascination with that stuff because it's so far away from who we are.

What kind of practices help you to get into the mindset of those darker or more difficult characters?

I listen to a lot of kind of firsthand accounts, a lot of confessions… I mean, I don't use this for inspiration, I actually find this kind of distasteful. I find looking for “inspiration” in real people who did something like that to be genuinely distasteful. It’s more about trying to find a level of understanding something that we as human beings cannot comprehend. It's trying to find a comfort within your own body about how you disassociate from those kinds of things and how you lose any feeling from those relationships and see those things as objects. Unfortunately, I'm an empathetic person, so getting comfortable with the idea of that stuff was hard.

“You want to have these big, larger than life characters so that you can remove your ordinary self and get into the different mindset.”

You once said that that challenge of discomfort is something that really gets your adrenaline going as an actor.

For example, with my new series Shining Girls, my character Harper Curtis is a serial killer, and he’s someone that's so far away from who I am as a human being… I had to find some complexity within the character, like, what's the most interesting version of him that I can explore? How can we make these scenes more interesting so that he's more than just the Boogeyman? The challenge of discomfort for him was also of course the violence. And someone asked me recently, “If you know you’re going to be uncomfortable with it, why would you do it?” That was an interesting question! I think it’s because I also am a dancer, because I've been in other movies and shows and things where you do physical things, you don't approach it emotionally when you read it. You kind of disassociate from the behavior and the violent mindset.

So does an emotionally demanding role pose more of a challenge to you than a physically demanding one?

It’s funny; I never separate them. Weirdly, it's all just kind of part of the same thing. The mental informs the physical, you know, if a person's opinion of themselves mentally is, “I am nothing, I am worthless, I am shit,” then obviously that affects the physical nature of the character. I find them all connected.

The actor Tahar Rahim says that the hardest roles for him to play are actually the average, normal guys who live a happy, simple life. He says that it feels too common, like he’s not actually creating anything.

I do understand what he means! And the acting that I'm most impressed by is exactly what you’re referring to: when he's just an ordinary person. Because I'm like, “How do you do that though?” (Laughs) As an actor, you are looking for things to hang on to. You're looking for some difference from yourself, or you're looking for some difference from society. You want to have these big, larger than life characters so that you can remove your ordinary self and get into the different mindset.

Is that the magic of acting for you? The fantasy element of becoming a character who is so different to you?

Yeah, but I mean, the caveat is that your role is only going to be as interesting as the writing allows it to be. So as much as I want to explore the behavior of someone else, there might not be enough real estate for that. I’m lucky that all the roles I've been very fortunate to play have been fulfilling enough to kind of feel like I did get to scratch that itch. For me, the dream is that your work sticks with people — whether that's successful or not, we have no control over that, unfortunately. But I know that the work that resonates with me from other actors, the things that I refer to even subconsciously, are these tiny little moments of connection. The things that just stay with you forever. If I have even one of those characters, I'll be happy.