Fans of Herge's scrappy comic hero Tintin have had to imagine what the young journalist sounded like while saving the day over and again.
Jamie Bell not only supplies the main character's voice in "The Adventures of Tintin," Steven Spielberg’s animated adaptation of the Belgian comics hero, he also provides the movement via motion-capture technology.
Who better than the erstwhile Billy Elliot to make Tintin spring to life?
The young British actor confesses his first virtual acting assignment caught him flat footed.
“I thought that it would be genuinely challenging and difficult, and I’d have to change my approach … even how I would work within that medium,” the classically trained dancer tells Big Hollywood. “It turns out that it’s exactly the same.”
It helped that he had the premier motion capture actor by his side during the shoot.
Andy Serkis, the man who gave life to Gollum as well as Caesar from this year’s “Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” co-stars as Captain Haddock, the drunken seaman who teams with Tintin to find a hidden treasure.
“When you work with the masters of something, and I consider Andy to be one of those people, you don’t ask questions. You sit back, watch, listen and learn,” he says of the experience.
Elliot is no slouch in the motion department himself. He went from obscurity to stardom by playing the dance-obsessed lad in “Billy Elliot.” And he’s been working steadily ever since, including high profile projects like “King Kong,” “Flags of Our Fathers” and “Defiance.”
Being a dancer made the motion-capture demands feel like second nature at times.
“It means that you don’t need to think twice about what you’re doing with your body,” he says. “It became second nature to me. It’s hardwired into my acting brain.”
For “Tintin,” Bell was asked to bring to life an inscrutable character beloved by generations of comic readers. That meant his research could only reveal so much.
“I had a lot of questions about this character … he was very undefined,” he says. “There’s a mystery that surrounds him, he’s a bit of an enigma. It’s alluring to people … they can access him on a universal level. So many varied cultures can access him.”
The 25-year-old Bell has the kind of deep resume that belies his age, but he’s not taking his good fortunes for granted. He’s worked with some of the biggest directors in Hollywood, like Spielberg, Peter Jackson and Clint Eastwood, and he makes sure not to let the experiences fade over time.
“I’m always taking mental notes,” he says. He particularly recalls the “maverick” approach Eastwood took on the set of “Flags of Our Fathers.” Bell played one of the soldiers who iconically raised the American flag at Iwo Jima.
Bell emerged from the making of “Tintin” “loving” the motion-capture process. And that’s a good thing, since Spielberg is on record saying a second “Tintin” installment is already being planned with producer Peter Jackson assuming the director’s seat for round 2.
You won’t hear Bell complaining.
“As soon as I made my first movie I had the bug, I wanted to keep on working,” he says. “I love acting, the energy. I had a real sense of family on a movie shoot. I like the traveling circus idea that was attractive to me,” he says.