Movie goers are seeing a new, grown up Jamie Bell in “Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool” — and we like it.
The world first met Bell as the breakout star of “Billy Elliot,” playing a kid from the industrial northeast of England similar to his real-life upbringing. Over the past 17 years, the British actor has played everything from superheroes to art house darlings to move on from the ballet-dancing boy wonder.
“It’s taken basically until this movie for that to happen. It’s taken 17 years,” Bell told TheWrap’s Sharon Waxman at a screening of his latest film. “It’s tough-going to convince people that you are changing and you are growing and you are not this thing. You have to try and remove the idea that you’re something more than this kid, this thing they remember so intensely.”
Now Bell is returning to his northern roots for “Liverpool,” but this time with a classic Hollywood twist.
Speaking at the Landmark Theatres in Los Angeles Monday night, Bell recalled being 14 years old after “Billy Elliot” was completed and telling his manager he wanted to be an actor. Her advice made him realize just how much growing he still had to do.
“She said, ‘Well, you know nothing. About acting, about films. So go watch this movie, this director, go watch these actors,” Bell said. “I was at the Oscars on Sunday, back in math class in Wednesday.”
“Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool” could be the first mature role for the 31-year-old actor. He stars opposite Annette Bening as classic Hollywood film star and sex icon Gloria Grahame, in which the two spark a romance during Grahame’s twilight years. It’s a sobering performance by Bell portraying Peter Turner, another struggling actor trying to be more than just Grahame’s handsome boy toy.
The film is based on Turner’s own memoir, drifting between summer flings in Hollywood and Turner caring for Grahame at his home in Liverpool, with director Paul McGuigan staging lush, colorful transitions that seamlessly whisk you between time and place.
“What I love about this film more than anything is how it depicts memory,” Bell said. “It’s so fluid and so untrustworthy, and the triggers of it are so surreal, sensory, and you can be doing something so abstract and taken to another place in your mind.”
But fittingly, “Film Stars” is a movie about feeling young at heart and never giving up on your passion. It even has a quick moment of Bell reliving his glory days and dancing on screen for the first time in years.
“Gloria Grahame was so in love with acting that she was willing to chase it down a rabbit hole,” Bell said. “She wouldn’t give it up. She couldn’t give it up. She had nothing else. I empathize with her. I’ve never done any other job other than this job my entire life. I’d be screwed totally if I didn’t have this.”