Jamie Bell is the star of one of the huge movies opening this week, but you're not going to see his face on the poster, or in the movie at all. As the motion-capture performer playing the title character in The Adventures of Tintin, Bell lent his voice, his body and his facial expressions to Tintin, the fearless boy reporter who teams up with the drunken former sea captain Haddock (Andy Serkis, a motion-capture master) to hunt down a sunken treasure. And while Tintin's round, freckled face and big swoop of hair look nothing like Bell, the actor admitted over the phone that he sees some of himself in there-- and that for his family and friends, it's a little odd to see a human being they know brought to life in an animated character.
Talking on the phone from Venice, Bell also told me about playing Tintin as kind of an enthusiastic Boy Scout, being witness to the collaboration between director Steven Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson that Spielberg compared to the one he had with George Lucas, and how he acted alongside the key character of Tintin's dog Snowy-- even though Snowy was played by a cardboard model on the set. Check out the interview below, and see Tintin finally opening in American theaters tomorrow.
When you look at the character and look at the movie, do you see yourself?
I don't see any of myself. I see the digital character and the living, breathing photorealistic version of the Tintin character. Aesthetically you don't see you at all, but you see the choices you made as the actor driving that puppet. You can recognize your own authorship of the performance because you know the decision you made on the day. Then occasionally there will be the facial expression, like the brow or something.
Do you have family or friends who see you in there?
Yeah, it's weird-- it's Jamie but it's not Jamie. I think it's kind of weird for them.
I heard when you were filming there was no Snowy, it was just a cardboard dog. How was that for you guys filming, because the dog is such a big part of the movie.
I think it's a testament to the boys down at Weta Digital, because it's the only fully animated character. But also amazing work from Steven, who's got to be able to think about something that isn't there, even in composition of shots. I think there's an amazing display of forethought and expertise at managing so many things on a movie. Just to be able to go, wow, one of the major characters of the film isn't here, and yet he will be, so I've got to be thinking about that all the time. You'd think it'd be so easy to forget about him, because he doesn't exist. So how do we keep him active in the story and in the scene? That's kind of amazing.
Was it an additional challenge for you to go back and play a teenager, or is Tintin just so distinctly Tintin that you didn't think of the teenage element?
Yeah, he doesn't have the behavioral attitudes of an adolescent, or a teen specifically. There isn't anything specific that nails him to a certain age. It's more like a youthful enthusiasm that he has, a childlike quality that makes him unafraid of consequences. That fearlessness is connected in a way to childhood, like a Boy Scout or something like that.
He's challenging as a character because he doesn't really have an emotional arc-- it's really Haddock who has the journey. How do you play this character who's nonplussed by everything that happens to him, but still make him a person?
It's the spirit. That's the thing I really connect with. He doesn't have all the baggage of all the other characters. one's a kleptomaniac, the other has an addiction problem or an anger management issue. These other two guys are kind of insane-- the Thompson Twin characters are nuts! They've all got very specific and human characteristics, but Tintin, his characteristic is being earnest, being fearless, and being so driven to find the MacGuffin of the story. The character, if you think about it-- and this is a note that we went backwards and forward on-- he's looking for the treasure, he's looking for an answer, but he finds a friend. In the history of the Tintin universe, that's such an integral meeting, and such an important moment for him as a character. They get there in the end, to the sense of friendship, but for a lot of the movie Haddock ruins a lot of stuff.
What was Peter Jackson's role on the set, as he produced this while Spielberg was directing.
Peter was very, very hands on. Steven really wanted his opinion, he wanted a collaboration like he had with Lucas. I think he is used to working well with people, and is used to communicating and collaborating with someone whose opinion is very important to him. Peter was on the set for the first week of principal capturing, then he went back to New Zealand to start writing The Hobbit. But literally every day of the shoot he would chime in on Skype. He talked to Steven, talked to the actors, looked at the takes we were dong and the way things were being made. He was always present with the production of the movie, so they actually collaborated really well.
So it will be a natural transition for him taking over as director.
For him taking on a Tintin movie is a natural progression within the series. I'll be interested to see what Peter will do with the characters and what kind of movie he would make.