LOS ANGELES — While filming The Eagle, Jamie Bell learned that the tale of a Roman soldier (Channing Tatum) and native slave (Bell) hiking into the wilds of Scotland in search of a lost legion wasn’t exactly going to be a simple walk in the country. Bell spoke with Metro about tempting hypothermia, mastering Gaelic and avoiding the gym.
How much Gaelic do you actually speak?
I don’t even really remember my lines from the film, but in terms of what we had to learn it was pretty extensive. There were a fair few scenes there, a couple of pages of dialogue that you have to pretty fluent and pretty authentic and believable when you come to actually shoot it. I had to learn it phonetically, kind of similar to how I would learn an accent. It’s very obvious when it goes wrong because it does not sound like Gaelic. It sounds like gobbledygook.
The shoot for this was pretty physically demanding, wasn’t it?
Toward the end of the film, there was lots of stuff where we were flowing down these rivers and falling down into some of the coldest water you can possibly imagine. This water when you get into it, it crushes your chest and it’s really difficult to get your breath, and your heart rate goes crazy. Your brain is kind of spinning and sending you messages, going, “You know, if you don’t get out of this water, you’re going to die.”
I only managed to do that twice before the medics said I could do no more, and that was a moment where [director] Kevin [McDonald] was like, “Please, please, please go.” And I felt like I kind of let him down because, literally, I couldn’t. I’m not very strong in water anyway, and especially when I’m lugging Channing Tatum behind me.
What did you do to get into shape for the role?
I really felt the idea of going to a gym and pounding weights and drinking protein shakes was an incredibly contemporary idea that didn’t really seem to fit the second century. So for me, I just wanted to get to a place where the guy had a feral masculinity and looked like he could take care of himself if he needed to. But also he’s been a slave. He’s probably been malnourished for quite some time.
Are you spending more time in California or England these days?
I live in California right now. I love it here. I go back to England about four or five times a year. I don’t think California is necessarily a permanent place of residence. This is an industry town, similar to the town I grew up in. This is a town where the predominant industry is entertainment. The town I grew up in, it was just steel and paint. So the sensibility is still the same. It’s also a beautiful place to live.
How did you avoid the traps of the Young Hollywood lifestyle?
The fame thing, just to clarify that, I never really feel that side of things. I don’t really make big, big movies. I think there are those people, and those people probably have a very complicated, difficult life. I love going to the grocery store and just hanging out, going to the coffee shop. I think it’s a total advantage that people don’t recognize me.
That might change with The Adventures of Tintin coming out later this year.
I watched Tintin when I was seven years old. It was different from the other cartoons because it wasn’t just a simple cat chasing a mouse. There was something so much more to this. It really took me to another place. And Stephen Spielberg feels exactly the same way. For me, it was interesting to see him dealing with [motion-capture] technology. We’ve stayed very true to the aesthetic quality of the illustrations, and I think if you did this as a live action film, you would lose a lot of the quality about it.