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The Eagle - Jamie Bell interview

The Eagle

Interview by Rob Carnevale

JAMIE Bell talks about coping with the harsh, wintery Scottish Highland conditions while filming Roman epic The Eagle, bonding with co-star Channing Tatum and how doing it for real varies from acting in motion capture for the forthcoming Tintin movie.

Q. Do you think you sometimes went above and beyond the call of duty as an actor on The Eagle, given the physically demanding nature of the shoot in such extreme environments?
Jamie Bell: I think Kevin [Macdonald, director] and Duncan [Kenworthy, producer] got very lucky having me and Channing do it! We’re very good physically. We both have physical backgrounds… obviously predominantly in dance of course [Billy Elliot and Step Up]. So, when you apply that to things like sword-fighting or even horse-riding… I’d never ridden a horse before, which was a big gamble for them. I was very honest about that going in… a lot of actors lie about it. They say: “Oh yeah, I’m totally fine on a horse!”

But I had to learn from scratch. I really felt like the physical nature of it, the arduous nature of it, was part of the struggle of the characters in this story and it’s their endurance and stamina that gets them through it. I don’t think we had the same endurance and stamina, really. There were moments when we had to keep each other going and press on.

Q. This is a film that prides itself on authenticity… but what were the rats that you’re seen eating really like to eat?
Jamie Bell: I don’t know what it was that they gave us to eat. I still don’t really know, in fact. They said it was kind of like the gelatine that holds together the Haribo treats… but it wasn’t. Actually that scene came together on a day when it was just like sheet rain. It literally just didn’t stop and you were just in water on that moor. It was unbelievable. It was the end of the day, so they decided to do it then.

Q. You’re obviously naturally very slim anyway, but did you lose any more weight to play a slave?
Jamie Bell: No, I’m just a small guy so if I’d dropped any more weight it would have been a bit ridiculous. I tried to bulk up a little bit. We wanted these guys to feel like they could definitely take care of themselves. Channing’s character, for instance, is a very trained fighter and part of the military, so we wanted to be able to differentiate. Esca is a very feral, wiry, instinctual fighter. So, we did that in rehearsal.

Q. How did the process of shooting this film, where it’s all done for real, compare with motion-capture on Tintin?
Jamie Bell: They are two completely opposite things: one is technology and one is nature. They’re literally that different. You’d think that one would be more freeing than the other – being in nature and having the physical environment to interact with would be incredibly helpful and inform the performance. But I find that with motion capture it allows you to fill in the blanks and it becomes a really inventive space. So, it’s actually much more creative than you could imagine. But it was very strange to go from one grey room to the Highlands of Scotland and actually interact with real animals, and real people and real situations and landscapes and all. But it’s funny, it works against the way you think.

Q. Did you do all your own stunts? And did you pick up any injuries?
Jamie Bell: I think when you have fellow actors who are incredibly game for doing this stuff, and incredibly competent at doing it because they’ve done it before, it requires you to really step up because you can’t really pussy out on them. You have to step up to the plate, which is great. But we were both really competitive with each other. We’re really competitive individuals and we really pushed each other through some of the harder scenes and the harder parts of the schedule. It was like: “Who has the fastest horse? Who has the best fight scene? Who can stay in the river for longer?” All stuff like that. So, it was challenging stuff. We were going around throwing swords and spears on horse-back, chasing stuff, but it was really good fun.

Q. Had you been aware of Rosemary Sutcliff’s source novel, The Eagle of the Ninth?
Jamie Bell: It came to me as a screenplay, so I was completely unaware of this collection of novels. So, it was Jeremy [Brock]’s first screenplay that I read a long, long time ago and the story, its sensibilities and themes, and the journey of the character. But having met Kevin Macdonald, I then went and read the novel, which obviously features a fantastic set of characters. But I also realised what a genius Jeremy was at taking a great story and adapting it into a really cinematical piece. I liked the way he kept the mistrust and the role-reversal that happens in the latter part of the film. So, I really had a great appreciation for Jeremy’s work.

Read our review of The Eagle

Read our interview with director Kevin Macdonald