Interview : Jamie Bell Talks About Staring In Tin Tin : The Secret of The Unicorn.
Director Steven Spielberg
Producer Peter Jackson
Staring Jamie Bell,, Andy Serkis, Daniel Greig.
Release Date October 24th
BAFTA winning actor Jamie Bell takes on one of the most challenging roles of his career in Steven Spielberg’s much anticipated adventure story that will bring Tintin to life on the big screen.
Spielberg and Peter Jackson – two power houses of modern cinema – forged a unique alliance to create The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, based on the late, great Belgian artist Herge’s iconic character. Bell plays Tintin and is joined by an all-star cast including Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock and Daniel Craig as the pirate Red Rackham.
Filmed using state of the art performance capture techniques and in 3D, Spielberg directs with Jackson producing. The Secret of the Unicorn is the first in a series of films and on the next instalment Jackson will take over as director.
Bell, 25, was born in Stockton on Tees in England and was just 14 when he delivered a stunning BAFTA winning performance as a working class schoolboy who dreams of becoming a ballet dancer in Billy Elliot. The film was nominated for three Academy Awards, including Best Director for Stephen Daldry.
From that break out role Bell has gone on to establish himself as one of the best young actors working today with films including Nicholas Nickleby, King Kong (directed by Jackson), Flags of Our Fathers, Defiance, The Eagle and Jane Eyre.
Q: Was it a challenge stepping into Tintin’s shoes?
A: You know as a child I wanted to be excellent, I wanted to shoot bad guys all the time, I wanted to hang out with a drunken sea captain but in terms of when you find out you are going to play the role it’s a huge responsibility because like a lot of Tintin fans I have this in my soul. I have great admiration for Herge and I started by finding out about his early life, to the early stages of Tintin and finding out what that is about, where it came from and discovering that Tintin is the biggest riddle in the whole universe of Herge. Also the physical side of things was very important as well. Tintin is a very physical person, he’s strong, and having a dance background for me was very useful. We took panels from all the different books and we blew them up so we were literally lifting off the page and that was a big help.
Q: Did you use Herge’s books to build up the character or was it all in the script?
A: For me the leap off point of getting into this is when you first think about it you think, ‘yeah I know who Tintin is..’ and then you dig a little deeper and you think ‘actually I know nothing about this person..’ Who is Tintin? Where are his parents? Why isn’t he at school? Why is he a journalist and nothing ever appears in a newspaper?’ Why? Questions, questions. And I feel like Herge specifically did this on purpose. I feel like he held so much back and it allowed me as an 8 year old to fill in all the blanks with everything I wanted him to be and everything I wanted to be. And as actors and filmmakers it’s not our duty to fill in those blanks – those blanks are there for a reason. So we took all the best parts of what Tintin is – the driven, ambitious, courageous, heroic, loyal person that he is as the basis of the character. He’s a guy who will get to the bottom of a riddle, he will find the treasure, and he will right wrongs and look for truth and justice.
Q: You’ve worked with Andy Serkis a few times now. Did that help when it came to making Tintin?
A: Yes, I have and he’s the nicest guy and so good and so inspiring. I love that guy.
Q: What was it like when you were in the room with Steven making Tintin? Did performance capture feel unusual at first or did you get used to it very quickly?
A: Actually, it’s not really unusual, it’s just technology but the truth is you just get used to the technology and essentially it’s still acting and essentially there’s no difference between live action and performance capture. The way the world is represented around you is different, obviously, and that takes a few seconds to adjust to but what I do in the movie – and all the actors in the movie had the same job – is to represent these characters and how they feel within the context of the narrative, so that never changes, that’s just acting. But in terms of doing your job whilst Steven Spielberg is there and you are playing Tintin and you know, Kathleen Kennedy (producer) and Peter Jackson are there, that stuff is wild and more mind blowing than any technology could be just because you never thought you would ever be there, you never thought that would happen to you and so that’s kind of extraordinary.
Q: Andy Serkis has become an expert at performance capture. Did you ask him for advice?
A: It’s interesting because I put a lot of trust in Andy and let him guide me but really, with the masters of things, you never ask them questions, you just observe and watch. And the great pleasure of working with Andy was getting to see him in his element and watching what he does so well, which is total 100 per cent immersive acting. And that’s a joy to watch. But I also think he saw me and realised that I’d got it and he was like ‘oh you’re fine..’ Steven would sometimes tell some of the other actors to really give something to the animators so that they could work with it. He would say ‘you have to articulate your fears and you have to break through the technology and give them something they can use..’ So I think a few people had to be reminded of that but other than that everyone was just doing their own thing, really, and just embodying the characters and bringing the universe to life.
Q: Is it very different to working on a live action set?
A: Well, the job is the same – as I said, it’s still acting and you have to concentrate on your performance. But the environment is different. You know, there are no sets, there is no pressure of the light going down, there’s no pressure of ‘we’ve only got this set until tomorrow so we have to get it done and move on..’ There are things that represent certain things in the physical world but other than that the re-set time for doing another take or another shot is literally the click of a mouse so the space and time you have to create a new thing, to find new things or to make a fool of yourself knowing that you can try again and find something different, is great. When you have time to rehearse, which we did, you can try different things, make mistakes, and that’s very liberating for an actor. In a way, working with performance capture is like working in the theatre, it’s like rehearsing for a play that you will never put on stage.
Q: You have to rely on your imagination more?
A: Yes, and I think most actors have a great sense of that. I think you have to be able to embody other people’s lives. And especially with the world of Tintin because we know what those images are, we know what Herge conjures in our minds, so you can just really go with that.
Q: The friendship between Tintin and Haddock is at the heart of the story. What makes that friendship tick?
A: It’s funny because Tintin is the guy who wants to right the wrongs, he’s an achiever and Haddock is the under achiever (laughs). He gets everything wrong and he destroys everything that Tintin sets up and I think there’s something about the idea that opposites attract. There’s obviously something in their friendship because they need each other. Maybe Tintin needs a friend. And I think Tintin thinks he can help Haddock and he needs him. Because I think Tintin doesn’t have any friends. Tintin’s life is filled with adventure – he’s trying to find buried treasure or there’s some political corruption to solve but he doesn’t have any family, he doesn’t go to school and so Haddock is the friend that he never had before. They repel each other sometimes but they kind of need each other, too.
Q: It’s a very male world that he inhabits…
A: There’s definitely a serious lack of women in the Herge universe and I think that’s probably because Herge didn’t have a particularly good experience with women, which is a personal thing for him. With Tintin and Haddock it’s like a like a brotherly love, it’s father-son relationship or maybe Haddock is like his favourite uncle. I think it’s a case of opposites attract, at the same time they draw each other they also repel each other. I mean, it’s a fascinating friendship that isn’t clearly defined.
Q: You said earlier that we don’t know much about Tintin’s background. So did you invent a back-story for him?
A: Well, I have a crazy back-story for Tintin, which I would love to make into a movie but I don’t think that would ever happen (laughs). Like, I think there was some war going somewhere and his parents were trying to get him out and basically his parents were killed in the war and so he’s an orphan and he is evacuated somewhere else. I’ve got lots of back-story for Tintin (laughs). But really, he feels like an orphan to me.
Q: We don’t even really know his age. How old do you think he is?
A: I think he’s between 15 and 17. And he’s a journalist who doesn’t write any stories (laughs). There were versions of the script where he was in and out of the editor’s office looking for stories but I don’t think that’s going to make the final version. He needs to have the innocence of a young child, a purity of life and un-knowing of the consequences of danger. His youthful energy makes him unafraid. If you experience life enough you think ‘oh I’m not going to do that because I might get hurt..’ He doesn’t do that. So I think he’s in his teens.
Q: Could the film have been made as live action?
A: You can’t control the environment in the same way if you do it as live action. Part of the reason Tintin is so great is because of the way it looks and if you can’t control that then I see that as a completely pointless exercise and the characters would be hard to pull off with live action. The way they look is very stylised, very heightened and that’s why this technology is so great because you can do that and it looks like it’s been lifted off the page. I think Steven has done such a great job and you could even take the images from the film and put them back into the comic and that’s what we were looking for.
Q: Did you reference any other classic adventure stories in Tintin?
A: TIntin isn’t necessarily a Sherlock Holmes kind of guy because there’s a lot of happenstance in Tintin’s life. He kind of stumbles upon lots of stuff, like great stories basically smack him in the face. Tintin is very reactive and also, I guess, proactive at the same time. For me, I went straight to the art-work, the books, and I went to a Xerox place and made copies of everything and put them up in my trailer on set and at home. And I started drawing Tintin a lot while we were getting ready to do scenes. And just having the art work around, the panels, was really important because you get a sense of everything – from the facial expressions to the world in which he lives. We were in this grey room (when we were filming) so the more I could be surrounded by those panels the better because then I could bring that mindset to the physical space.
Q: How do you think that American audiences will receive the film because Tintin isn’t as well known there as he is in Europe?
A: It’s unheard of in America. They think he’s a dog (laughs). But that’s part of the fun because we’re really going to introduce this to a new set of people who don’t know who he is and I think that’s really exciting. If we can get kids in North Dakota to have the same experience I had when I was a kid, and let them know that there’s a whole universe out there, that’s great. They’ve seen the genre before but they’ve never seen it look like this. So that’s a big mission for us.
Q: How important were the Tintin stories to you when you were a kid?
A: Hugely important. They took me out of my bedroom and into these fantastic adventures that were happening in exotic faraway places like the Sahara Desert or Tibet. They were hugely important and for me as a kid, they expanded my horizons. It made me think about what you could achieve if you really wanted to. I wanted to do all of that stuff, I wanted to go to all of those places, I wanted to travel around the world. I wanted to be a good person, I wanted to be a loyal companion and there’s very little that Tintin does wrong. I loved it.
Q: How did you first discover Tintin? Did somebody buy the books for you?
A: I stumbled across Tintin playing on Channel Four on a Sunday morning. I was like ‘oh my God what is this?’ I’d never seen anything like it before – you know, here was a cartoon that was dealing with all sorts of things, like political corruption. It really felt like I was watching something very grown up and it made me feel like it was educating me, it made me feel like I was learning something. I went from watching the TV show to reading the books and I would get them from the library. And these days the idea of a library is like a joke to most children. It’s like ‘what do you mean, the I-tunes library?’ And the books I’d borrow from the library would be trashed, there were pages missing, because everyone used to love them and they were very well read. And I only read maybe three or four of them as a kid. It’s only recently, when we started making the movie, that I sat down and read all of them.
Q: Did you know much about Herge before you started your research?
A: Zero. I remembered the name ‘Herge’ as a kid. Actually in the same way that I remembered what Steven Spielberg looked like on the screen after I saw Jurassic Park for the first time. But when I started my research I totally got into Herge and I read as much about him as I could.
Q: What did you think of him?
A: I think he was a really interesting guy. In a way I wish he had more of a voice just in the sense that I think he wanted to do more with his life, more with his work. I think maybe he wanted to be considered as a serious modern, contemporary artist and he wasn’t because he made comics. And that sucks. But he did so much – have you seen any of the advertisements he did? Oh my God they are so beautiful. God, I wanted all of that stuff. As a man, I think Herge suffered, like any other human being, and had some inner battles. He suffered in love and he found himself, too.
Q: In Belgium there has been some debate about what he did or didn’t do during the war. What did you make of that?
A: I don’t know where I stand on that. When I talk about Herge and Tintin there’s still part of me that’s an eight-year-old boy and an eight year old is not really concerned with stuff like that and frankly, that’s probably better because it doesn’t interfere with the adventure. Am I saying that Herge was a collaborator and that was a good thing? No way am I saying that.
Q: Is it frustrating waiting for two years for the film to be released?
A: Yes but we’ve seen things along the way. And it looks crazy, just crazy. I mean, it blew my mind. And I’m quite a sceptical person and I can be negative about things but what I’ve seen is outrageously good. They really figured out how to do it and, you know, I didn’t expect anything less from Steven and Peter but it’s even better than I imagined. This is animation at a new level and it’s outrageous.
Q: Did you have much to do with Daniel Craig?
A: Yes and it was great. We had just done Defiance together and then suddenly we were both doing Tintin. We always have a great time together; he’s a great guy.