Jamie Bell recalls driving to the Hollywood home of producer Barbara Broccoli to meet Annette Bening, to see if he and the four-time Oscar nominated actress shared that elusive thing: chemistry.

Bening was already signed to portray Gloria Grahame, a one-time Silver Screen femme fatale. And Bell was being summoned, to see what he could do with the part of Peter Turner: a young actor from Merseyside who had a romance with the much older Grahame.

Later, Turner would write an affectionate memoir about their time together called Film Stars Don’t Die In Liverpool.

Jamie Bell recalls driving to the Hollywood home of producer Barbara Broccoli to meet Annette Bening, to see if he and the four-time Oscar nominated actress shared that elusive thing: chemistry

Jamie Bell recalls driving to the Hollywood home of producer Barbara Broccoli to meet Annette Bening, to see if he and the four-time Oscar nominated actress shared that elusive thing: chemistry

Jamie Bell recalls driving to the Hollywood home of producer Barbara Broccoli to meet Annette Bening, to see if he and the four-time Oscar nominated actress shared that elusive thing: chemistry

‘When I got there, I found out that Barbara had known Peter and Gloria when they were dating. We basically did a couple of scenes together, and by this time Barbara was already crying. And that was that,’ Bell said.

He got the part.

And it’s the best performance he has given since he boogied and pirouetted into our lives as Billy Elliot in the now classic film, released in 2000, that told of a young lad in a mining village who was born to dance, and who achieved his dream against extraordinary odds.

Bell and Bening do indeed have remarkable chemistry in Paul McGuigan’s bittersweet movie, which shows how Turner met Grahame, and took her home to meet his family in Liverpool.

Bening was already signed to portray Gloria Grahame, a one-time Silver Screen femme fatale. And Bell was being summoned, to see what he could do with the part of Peter Turner: a young actor from Merseyside who had a romance with the much older Grahame. Above, Bening and Bell in Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool

Bening was already signed to portray Gloria Grahame, a one-time Silver Screen femme fatale. And Bell was being summoned, to see what he could do with the part of Peter Turner: a young actor from Merseyside who had a romance with the much older Grahame. Above, Bening and Bell in Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool

Bening was already signed to portray Gloria Grahame, a one-time Silver Screen femme fatale. And Bell was being summoned, to see what he could do with the part of Peter Turner: a young actor from Merseyside who had a romance with the much older Grahame. Above, Bening and Bell in Film Stars Don't Die In Liverpool

When Grahame falls ill, Turner tucks her up in bed, and Turner’s mother (played by Julie Walters) cares for her.

Bell said that early on he, Bening and the director had a conversation about what the love scenes would entail.

‘There are intimate moments, and we each discussed “What are you comfortable with?” We talked, and there was never a version where we’d disagree. There had to be a solidarity between us, otherwise it becomes uncomfortable. And I was already intimidated — and very daunted — before filming started. So I’m glad that side of it was sorted.’

Daunted? ‘This is Annette Bening! She’s a titan when it comes to acting.’

Romance and nerves aside, there were other challenges, too. ‘People say that getting Peter’s Liverpool accent must have been easy for me, because “you’re both from the North”,’ the Teessider told me. ‘Firstly, the accents sound nothing alike at all! And we’re separated by many miles.

‘But I get it. He’s a working kid from a working class family — a small family in a small terraced house — and all of those things are incredibly familiar to me. It’s very easy to bring all of that stuff to this role. I’ve lived it.

He laughs. ‘I mean, I haven’t lived it for a while. But it’s part of my DNA.’

Later, Turner would write an affectionate memoir about his time with Grahame (above)

Later, Turner would write an affectionate memoir about his time with Grahame (above)

Later, Turner would write an affectionate memoir about his time with Grahame (above)

Bell has lived in LA since he was 17. ‘There was no guarantee that after Billy Elliot I would make it. Just because you do something people liked 17 years ago doesn’t mean you’re given a free pass to do anything at all.’

He has worked with Peter Jackson, and Steven Spielberg, and Clint Eastwood. ‘If I didn’t have acting I don’t know what I would do. I was 13 when I made Billy Elliot; and 14 when it came out. I left school at 16. I got two As in English, which counts for nothing. There’s not a piece of paper that says that I can do anything, really.’

Except, perhaps, survive — and prosper — in the most notoriously fickle of industries. I remember Eileen, his mother, telling me once that Jamie came from a line of hard workers, and it’s true that he’s rarely idle.

When he’s not in front of a camera, he’s behind one. He just produced his first film, with Max Minghella directing.

But he keeps his most special time for the four-year-old son he had with first wife Evan Rachel Wood, and with the woman who now shares his life: his second wife, actress Kate Mara.

I interviewed Bell in Cannes back in 2000; and spoken to him, on and off, in the intervening years and it’s a pleasure to see him thrive, without taking any short cuts.

‘Sometimes I pinch myself,’ says Bell of his chosen profession. ‘I still get starstruck when I meet, say, Julie Andrews. I still remember travelling to dance classes above a laundrette in Middlesbrough. It seems a long time ago; but I haven’t forgotten.’

 

I keep thinking about Simon Stephens’s Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle at the Wyndham’s Theatre, which stars the electrifying Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham as a seemingly odd couple who fall for each other. 

Andrew Lloyd Webber noted that love never goes out of date.

And with the world falling apart, love may be all that holds us together.

Simon Stephens¿s Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle at the Wyndham¿s Theatre stars the electrifying Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham

Simon Stephens¿s Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle at the Wyndham¿s Theatre stars the electrifying Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham

Simon Stephens’s Heisenberg: The Uncertainty Principle at the Wyndham’s Theatre stars the electrifying Anne-Marie Duff and Kenneth Cranham

 
Shirley Henderson is like a rolling stone ¿ one that¿s heading right back to Conor McPherson¿s great play, Girl From The North Country, which is itself rolling into the West End next month

Shirley Henderson is like a rolling stone ¿ one that¿s heading right back to Conor McPherson¿s great play, Girl From The North Country, which is itself rolling into the West End next month

Shirley Henderson is like a rolling stone — one that’s heading right back to Conor McPherson’s great play, Girl From The North Country, which is itself rolling into the West End next month

Shirley's rolling back to Dylan 

Shirley Henderson is like a rolling stone — one that’s heading right back to Conor McPherson’s great play, Girl From The North Country, which is itself rolling into the West End next month.

It’s a story set in 1934 — during the heart of the Great Depression — in Duluth, Minnesota; and McPherson has fused 20 of Bob Dylan’s songs to his narrative, which revolves around the inhabitants of a ramshackle guest house.

The show, which features new versions of Dylan’s Tight Connection To My Heart (Has Anyone Seen My Love), I Want You and the title tune, enjoyed a spectacularly successful run at the Old Vic this summer.

When I saw it, I was particularly knocked out by Henderson’s sublime performance as a woman struggling to cling to reality while her husband the innkeeper (Ciaran Hinds) cheats on her.

Girl From The North Country transfers to the Noel Coward Theatre from December 29 for a 12-week run.

Karl Johnson, David Ganly and Hannah Azuonye will be joining the cast. Other actors, such as Ron Cook, Sheila Atim and Sam Reid are staying with the show — which some have called one of the year’s best.

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