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Starring in Billy Elliot is English newcomer, 13 year old Jamie Bell, a hot new actor/dancer with a cool head – and Australia’s Dein Perry (Bootmen) as his hero, he tells Jenny Cooney Carillo.

Jamie Bell is only thirteen, but his life is about to change forever. After beating 2,000 other boys in the northeast of England for the title role in the heartwarming film Billy Elliot - being hailed as this year’s The Full Monty – Jamie is now also being hailed as the year’s big acting find. In Billy Elliot, he plays a young boy who finds a passion for ballet but hides it from his family and friends in a small working-class town out of fear of being ridiculed. Eventually his secret gets out and Billy must convince his family to let him audition for a place in the Royal Ballet School.

Director Stephen Daldry says he was beginning to despair that he would not find an actor for the role before Jamie came along. "We started to think the film was uncastable until we met Jamie," he says. "It was a tall order to find a child who could dance as well as act, who came from the North East and had the right accent, and was also the right age. But eventually we found Jamie, who completely understood all the elements of the story and had that elusive thing that allows you to fall in love with a child and be terribly concerned about what happens to him."

Looking like the press veteran that he is after hitting both the Cannes and Toronto Film Festivals, Jamie proves to be as charming and unaffected as his lovable title character in the film, as he nonchalantly shares his views on life after Billy Elliot.

When did you first decide to act?
I was nine and I’d done a lot of pantomimes and things and I saw the ‘dames’, the people who dress up in women’s clothes. I’d go in the dressing-room ten minutes before they actually went on and they were all fat and had this fag, and they were drinking and it was horrible; then they came out ten minutes later and were all prim with these big boobs and big hair and stuff like that. I thought that was pretty cool, how they became a different person in ten minutes and I thought, ‘well, I don’t really want to be me all my life’ so I thought I’ll be someone else!

You started dancing when you were six. What got you started there?
I got into it because dancers had been in my family for ages. My sister, my mum, my nana and my auntie all danced and before I did any dancing I was into ice hockey until I saw a game and got put off by all the violence. But I used to get dragged to all my sister’s dance competitions and rehearsals and lessons and they’d leave the door open and I’d try to copy what the girls did standing outside and the mums of the peoples (sic) who were at the school would see me and they’d go up to my mum and say, ‘why doesn’t he join the class’ and my mum would say, ‘well, he doesn’t want to’ but I always wanted to but was just too scared! I thought that someone might say it was the wrong thing to do but I started when I was six anyway and when I had about two years of training at eight, some of the lads at school heard about it and I got a bit of hassle, with them saying, ‘poof, ballerina boy’ and all the rest of that stuff but them saying that just gave me more determination to do it because I thought I’m just going to prove to them that it’s not just for girls.

Which dancers inspire you?
I like Gene Kelly and Fred Astaire but I really do prefer this Australian guy, Dein Perry who is bringing out a film called Bootmen and he was in Tap Dogs and stuff like that. He’s just got fantastic feet and an upper half like Gene Kelly/Fred Astaire but he’s got magnificent feet, so I like him.

So how has your life changed since you appeared in the movie?
Well I’d never been away from home before so I get to travel a lot more and get to meet nice people and go to a lot of parties and lots of film festivals and stuff. And now I’m more concerned about my appearance and I’ve changed my wardrobe and I get up about half-an-hour early to do my hair and make-up and stuff like that! But it hasn’t really changed anything with my friends. They just think I’m the same and I’m equal and when I came back from Cannes they just asked me how much money I made and then walked off.

Are you going to pursue dancing or acting professionally in the future?
When I finish this tour of publicity I’m straight back to school. I start my GCSEs which are very important examinations, so I’ll be in school for two years not doing anything else, except maybe during my summer holidays. Then between school and college I might be free to do something for a year and then I’ll go to college. The plan is after college to move down to London and then go to university, but I’ll keep the dancing and acting up as well because it’s a good thing to have, don’t you think?

Do you get more money now that you’re a movie star or have your parents put you on an allowance?
I really don’t have to do any chores but if my mum asks me to do the dishes I do it, but I don’t get paid. I don’t get a daily allowance and I prefer it if I just say to my mum, ‘can I have some money to go to the shop, please?’ I prefer to do that instead of, ‘oh, I’ve run out of my daily allowance so I can’t get anything else!’

Published 2/11/2000

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Jamie Bell




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