Back in 2000, an 11-year-old boy named Jamie Bell danced his way into show business by playing the titular character of the smash British hit Billy Elliot. These days, Bell has a strong career in both TV and film, having just wrapped the final season of the Revolutionary War series Turn and the acclaimed movie Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, a biopic of Hollywood Golden Age star Gloria Grahame (Annette Bening) and her relationship with the much younger Peter Turner (Bell). But there's one major role that Bell has yet to take on — that of a certain famous spy. There've been rumors for years that Bell could play the next James Bond, and many fans support the idea — but would Bell want to take on the job?
“I would certainly give it some serious consideration,” he says, when we chat on the phone recently. The actor acknowledges that in any future Bond movie, some changes to the franchise would be needed in order to make it more progressive and less filled with its traditional inherent misogyny. "There are a lot of scenes in those movies with a lot of nurturing and sensitivity and tenderness. But they're gonna have to address all of that stuff. They have to," says Bell.
The 31-yea-old credits Bond (and Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool) producer Barbara Broccoli with bringing new touches to the series. "She is a very strong, opinionated, powerful woman and she will make sure that the character is brought up to speed in this climate and the 21st century," Bell says.
Playing Bond is a big commitment, but Bell has dipped his toes into franchise territory before, having played Thing in the most recent iteration of Fantastic Four. The movie earned exceedingly poor reviews, which Bell absolutely accepts. “It was a disaster!" he says of the failed superhero romp. "It’s fair to say it was a disaster.” But the box office bomb and bad experience hasn't turned Bell off of the comic book genre altogether. "Of course I would never say no [to another superhero movie]," he says. "It was a very bruising experience for all of us involved. You set out with the best of intentions. Everybody does. And for a plethora of reasons it sometimes doesn’t go the way you want it to go. But you sort of lick your wounds for a bit and get on with it."
For now, though, Bell is sticking with the indie scene, and his performance as Peter Turner in Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool, based on a true story, is some of his most intimate work yet. "I felt more duty and felt a lot more responsibility to the material," Bell says. "Playing a real person, is obviously tricky, but the good thing about Peter Turner is that he isn’t widely known." Although Turner was also an actor, he never became a household name. "He’s not in the public consciousness, he doesn’t have some affectation that we’re all aware of that I’d somehow have to mimic. So I actually had a lot of freedom and was given a lot of space to make the Peter character my own," Bell explains.
While telling the story of Graham and Turner's scandalous relationship, Film Stars Don't Die in Liverpool also digs into the Hollywood's history of ageism and sexism, especially when it comes to getting older women's stories told on-screen. "They are not included in the narrative, when it comes to romantic love stories. They’re just written out," Bell says. "Romance on camera is purely designed for women in their early 20s, under 30. And if I feel that way as a young man, I can’t only imagine what those actors feel, and the lack of opportunity they get to play these roles."
Obsessions with beauty and age are just one aspect of Hollywood's mistreatment of women; it's all hit a boiling point these past few months, with the explosion of sexual misconduct allegations bringing down some of the most powerful men in the industry. "It’s incredibly brave," Bell says of the people who have come forward to claim their accusers and tell their stories. "I can’t imagine what they have been wracked with, all of those feelings they’ve endured alone before getting to this place of going public with something or making that announcement."
And with no doubt more to come, having male allies like Bell is essential. "I’m glad that all of those people who have suffered in silence now have the opportunity to get better, feel whole, feel respected, and feel good about themselves," he says. Important words from an actor clearly aware of all that Hollywood needs to do to change, on-screen and off.