Ring A Ding Ding

7 June 2012 | 11:34 am | Simon Eales

Simon Eales chats with one of the Jamie Bells about his latest role in Aiden Fennessey's National Interest, and the melding of music and theatre.

'James Bell' is a real actor's name. Jamie Bell pirouetted his way to fame as Billy Elliot, and James Harlee Bell made Golden Age films like I Walk With Zombies. There's also Perth-born James Bell, who cut his teeth on The Sleepover Club, landed a role in the Robert Reid's The Joy Of Text last year, and is now preparing for the Melbourne season of Aiden Fennessey's National Interest. “National Interest is a very big story – that's a line quoted from the show actually,” the 22 year-old Bell explains. “It follows the life, 32 years on, of June Stewart [played by Julia Blake], who is the mother of a guy called Tony Stewart who died in 1975 as a Channel 7 reporter on the border of Indonesia and Portugese Timor.”

Rather than being a dramatisation of the unsolved mystery surrounding the Balibo Five, the play is “more about family and grief and loss for the mother character, June. My character, Tony, comes back as himself when he died, but as a ghost, basically to coax her out of this depression and dementia that she's developed over the years.”

It is a very personal story to the playwrite, Fennessey, who is a cousin of Tony Stewart. However, they have avoided drawing extensively on this connection. “I represent Tony Stewart but I am not playing Tony Stewart because I am a figment of June's imagination,” Bell says. “They're really just name-tags in a way, to give prevalence to the prominent issues. He didn't want us to represent, or act like they would in real life because he didn't want to tell that story.”

Arriving fresh on the Melbourne theatre scene last year, Bell is relishing the opportunity to work with experienced actors like Blake. “'The Juve', they give that. 'The Juve',” he laughs. And there is definitely something juvenile (in a good way) about his exuberance.

Bell honed both his singing and acting abilities in WAAPA's musical theatre degree. “I always get asked: 'what do you want to do? Acting or singing, or...?' Like, pick one! And that really baffles me… I did musical theatre to smash them all together.” And that mix continues as Bell also builds his band, Sons Of Orbit, alongside Tame Impala drummer, Sam Davenport.

“It's good that we've got the EP already… putting it out there to people, helping to maybe jump into the smaller venues, like nightclubs, bars. Open mic nights – hopefully I'll be able to skip that!” Bell is the band's creative force, and emphasises his willingness to start at the bottom and work hard. “Obviously when jobs come up, like [National Interest], I've gotta put that to the side,” he says, “which is fine, but I am always writing songs anyway. The start of next year – that's where I am aiming for [Sons Of Orbit] to hit the stage.” If his restless energy and self-assessment as “crazy!” is anything to go by, the various faces of James Bell are worth looking out for.

“I do it because I can't do anything else. That's all my mind thinks about, acting and music.”

National Interest will run from Monday 11 June - Saturday 21 July at the Arts Centre in Fairfax Studio.