The Geordie actor on thieving kids, Daniel Craig and crap dancing
It’s nine years since Billy Elliott. Are you getting £1 million a movie yet?
Maybe. But I can’t discuss my salary with you!
We’re writing down ‘yes’. What’s the biggest paycheque you’ve ever had?
They’re all different. And let me tell you, playing a perverted kid who wants to have sex with his mother in Hallam Foe doesn’t pay.
You should have said you get £5 million per film to set a marker for future work.
Like I’m Shia LaBeouf? I’m afraid he’s in a league of his own.
But isn’t he only doing so well because he’s mates with Steven Spielberg?
Well, that is useful. But one can’t deny he’s good at commanding audiences in big movies.
Okay. Your new film, Defiance, is about some real life Jewish brothers who hid from the Nazis in some Eastern European woods. No ‘surfing in Hawaii’ scripts knocking around?
I know what you mean. We shot it in Lithuania so it was tough, really hard. Eventually the cold bites through and those period-style shoes don’t isolate you from the freezing ground-frost. But it was felt that anyone who went back to their trailer… well, nobody did that.
So no weather-induced Hollywood strops, not even from Daniel Craig and Liev Schreiber, who play two of your brothers?
The conditions were ripe for a bout of, “I’m not fucking doing this!” but the closest we got was Daniel standing up for me one day in the rain at the end of October, it was absolutely freezing. My body started to lose control, going into hypothermic shock, I think. He said, “We have to stop, he’s starting to freak out and he’s going to die.” He used his Hollywood power for good.
So you didn’t try to man-up and impress James Bond?
Well, it’s daft, because you do have to be butch in the presence of Bond, but Daniel has a really good heart and said, “You need to take a second and then come back.” He’s very much the leader that he portrays in this film. And I give him a lot of credit for going training every night after being in the forest for 10 hours, freezing his arse off.
As a Geordie, did you ever make reference to his breakout role as the drunk Geordie character in Our Friends In The North?
Of course! That’s what I know Daniel from, the first thing I think of. They have no idea what you’re talking about in America, though. I’ve been doing interviews and people say (puts on whiny American accent), “Oh my God, you’ve totally worked with James Bond. That’s, like, totally cool.” But for me it’s, like, “No, I worked with a fantastic actor who has done this, this and this.” And they’ll reply, “Okay, whatever, he’s totally James Bond.”
Incidentally, did you know that in real life the youngest Bielski brother was recently fined for embezzling money from an old granny in Florida?
We heard about that while still filming. We tried to convince little George, who plays Aron, to discreetly start stealing things in his scenes.
Good work. Does your Geordie accent ever become a problem?
My accent is still pretty thick and people have a hard time understanding what I’m saying. When I was in Flags Of Our Fathers I tried to stay with the American accent as much as possible, so I wouldn’t slip up in the movie and reveal I’m just a boy from Billingham. But one time Clint [Eastwood] was there and I started using my own accent, because I thought, “If there’s anyone I have to be real with, it’s this guy.” His son started freaking out and I had to explain.
That must have felt good, impressing Clint Eastwood’s son while the old man looked on.
Yeah, I felt really good. But he has this thing of… not putting you down, but… he really doesn’t have time for inflated egos at all. So he just growled, “Your shoes are untied.”
Do you go back to Billingham much now you’re a big star?
I visit occasionally and I still like it, it’s still a part of me. The people of the north east of England are some of the strongest I’ve ever seen, in a place that has kind of been forgotten. My mother is a prime example. She can make two coins last forever.
Have they ever asked you to turn the Christmas lights on?
I did that! Well, in nearby Stockton. We got to go into the Town Hall on the high street, having always wanted to know what was inside.
What was inside?
Absolutely nothing. But it was cool to hang out with the mayor.
They must be quite a set of lights, with Stockton laying claim to the widest high street in Britain.
Absolutely. I watched old newsreel footage of Stockton from the ’20s or ’30s recently and it was exactly the same.
Can you still dance?
Absolutely. Dancing is like riding a bike, you never forget it.
So you’re impressing the girls in New York clubs?
Absolutely not! I’m terrible at that kind of dancing.
Not even a tap dance down Broadway?
Sometimes you do it subconsciously, such as anytime there’s a hardwood floor, which gets irritating for everyone when you’re filming – “Roll sound,” and all they can hear is my feet.
Any plans for a sequel to underrated action movie Jumper?
That is a very good question. I haven’t actually spoken to the director, Doug Liman [Swingers, The Bourne Identity], for a while. I think he’s making a film about the moon, which is a really good subject for him, because if he wasn’t a filmmaker he’d be a scientist. I had a lot of fun with Jumper, but I never felt like the stakes were that high for any of the characters, so adding venom would be good.
Weren’t you supposed to be doing Equus, the play in which Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe gets his pink wand out?
The rumours about Equus and I aren’t true, that’s Daniel’s play. I have been naked in a movie, though, and it’s rather uncomfortable. I can’t imagine how much more uncomfortable it is doing it in front of people who have actually paid to see you.
And finally, back to the cash. Do you travel everywhere in a private jet?
Absolutely not. Peter Jackson [who directed Jamie in King Kong] does for sure, but not me. I have had a small airplane chartered for me before, but only because I had to get to a place really quickly. I certainly don’t call up the jet every time I travel. Maybe I will by Jumper 3.