Jamie Bell Exclusive Interview – MISTER FOE

     August 31, 2008

Written by Charlie Mihelich

David Mackenzie’s “Hallam Foe” was released last year in the UK to widespread critical acclaim. Because of the positive buzz surrounding the film, Magnolia Pictures is gearing up to release the film stateside under a new, more-palatable-for-North-America title in the hopes of garnering the same kind of acclaim and in the hopes that it can bring people to the theaters. Having seen the film, I must say I think it has a shot.

Hallam Foe (Jamie Bell) is a deeply troubled youth with a dark past who has withdrawn from the world. He spends most of his time in exile in a treehouse behind his family’s Scottish manor, spying on his father (Ciaran Hinds), sister and his stepmother (Claire Forlani). Initially Hallam comes off as extremely creepy, but as the film develops it is clear that whatever happened to him is not his fault, and it definitely gives some method to his madness. After an encounter with his stepmother, Hallam runs away from home to Edinburgh, where he spends his time climbing buildings and spying from rooftops. He sets his sights on a beautiful hotel clerk (Sophia Myles), and his voyeuristic relationship with her suddenly becomes very personal.

It sounds strange, and it is, but the film works because it is multi-layered. Hallam is one messed up kid, but he just needs someone to nurture him back to health. The film explores loss, sexuality, psychological complexes and relationships from an intimate perspective, and is never exploitative or glossy about the real life consequences of the character’s actions.

I was lucky to have the opportunity to interview David and Jamie individually. Jamie talked to me about how he got involved in the film, what it was like returning to UK cinema, how he managed to keep his career growing after “Billy Elliot”, and about the possibility of seeing him in Jumper 2. David talked about how he got the idea for the project, how he cast his Jamie and his supporting cast, what he hopes the film will accomplish, and he talks a little about “Spread”, his next feature starring Ashton Kutcher and Anne Heche.

Collider: So this is a pretty different character for you.

Jamie Bell: Yeah, it is a little crazy.

Collider: Was it fun?

JB: Yeah, it was definitely fun. Risky, challenging, but definitely fun. I think it’s these projects that make you want to do it, but you know, it’s tough. It’s a tiny film. A tiny little British independent film, with a very ambitious schedule with a real visionary director behind the helm, tough but fun.

Collider: It’s always great when you get a tested director behind the wheel of an Independent film because then you know it’s got a chance.

JB: Right, right, absolutely, and you know it’s, in terms of the British film industry we’ve had some great talents come out recently, as far as Paul Greengrass, Chris Nolan, like really storming ahead, but this other realm of British filmmakers that are really into this independent world, smaller independent films, I think David is going to be at the forefront of that world, and it was a pleasure to work with him.

Collider: This is kind of a return to British cinema for you, because you were doing mostly American stuff, was that something you did on purpose, you know work on almost exclusively American films?

JB: You know, I’d been waiting to do a British film since “Billy Elliot”, unfortunately the production levels over there are not storming, I mean maybe there is but you know, not for me, and then this came along, and it all just kind of seemed to work. I was dying to do another British film because it’s where my roots are, it’s where I started, and it felt good to go back and do something on the British Isles.

Collider: Well, I think the smartest thing you did was go back to school after Billy Elliot and all of a sudden when you do get back into acting, you’ve got Peter Jackson, Clint Eastwood, and all that kind of stuff, so that’s great.

JB: For sure, definitely.

Collider: For this film you had to do a lot of physical stuff. Running, jumping, climbing, was that different because I know there was a lot of physical action in “Jumper”, but this must have been more intimate.

JB: I think so because in “Jumper”, to a degree there’s doubles and wires and you’re kind of taken care of, but here it’s like “OK, Jamie, scale the drainpipe!” and it’s definitely daunting and tough, but anything I can bring physically to a character is really going to help me because I come from a dancing background, so the use of my body as an extension of character really helps, but I have a fear of heights which I didn’t tell them, but it was essential for the character so we had to have it.

Collider: How do you feel about the name change for the stateside release, from “Hallam Foe” to “Mr. Foe”?

JB: It’s strange, I don’t know why they’ve done that. I don’t know if it’s because it sounds like camel toe?

Collider: Maybe cause there’s no one named Hallam over here, some people would recognize it as a name.

JB: Right, right, that makes sense.

Collider: But at the same time, I like “Hallam Foe” better.

JB: No, I like “Hallam Foe” because it seems like a riddle or an enigma and it is kind of exactly what he is, but that’s alright.

Collider: So, when you first read the script did you have any reservations about doing the film?

JB: Absolutely, I had every reservation. You know, working on the Clint Eastwood movie and portraying these kind of heroic marines who did this amazing thing and then there’s a script on my desk “a guy who draws lipstick in circles around his nipples, what?” but as the script continued and as the character evolved, that I really connected with.

Collider: Later this year, you’ve got defiance coming out with Daniel Craig and Liev Schrieber, which I think looks great. I really think it’s great that you’re kind of “back”, you know staring with “King Kong.”

JB: Yeah, that was my first big film. I worked on smaller films, and I went back and really trained with these small filmmakers. Since I was a kid, I’ve managed to work with people like Lars Von Treer and David Gordon Green, which was a completely different world, and now he’s in a completely different realm, you know, with “Pineapple Express”, which is great, I saw the film and it’s hilarious. But I’ve been able to put that experience to work with these big directors, and it’s a progression, and I wouldn’t really want to do it any other way. It scares me leaping to something unattainable, and this way I’ve been able to work with great people and learning and respecting the trade and the business.

Collider: Are you being kind of picky with the projects you’re doing?

JB: Absolutely, which is a real problem. You work with these kind of people and you set yourself a bar, and it’s hard. “King Kong” doesn’t come around the corner every year, and “Defiance” doesn’t come around every five minutes. You know, I like to stagger these projects, working with Doug Liman and then Ed Zwick, so it’s been great.

Collider: I think it works out in your favor, too, because it’s easy for actors to get a reputation for doing, schlock, basically.

JB: Absolutely. Every interview I do, it’s basically “how did he do it”, and I owe it all to my representation, and my manager is basically like my mother, she’s so picky.

Collider: Plus you can be Jamie Bell and not Billy Elliot

JB: Right right right, yeah, I mean there’s the sort of romantic element of me saying I never want to let go of that, because it was such a launchpad.

Collider: But you don’t want to do dancing films for the rest of your life.

JB: Who does? Have you seen any good dancing films lately?

Collider: Real quick, I just want to ask, any prospects for Jumper 2?

JB: Possibly, you know, there was always talks to do it from the beginning. I think the first one did reasonably well.

Collider: Fox was really happy with it.

JB: I think it did well worldwide, which was kind of surprising. They were like, “Holy shit! Didn’t expect that”, which is interesting to me. I would like to because it was a character I feel I have total ownership over, and no one can do it but me. Plus, I’d do it if Doug Liman was involved, because it would be another opportunity to go back into the war zone with him.

Look for my exclusive interview with Director David McKenzie very soon.

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