Jamie Bell on how he packed on pounds for his role in the movie Skin

Skin is a fact-based drama about about an American skinhead who renounces violence, played by Bell, who starred in Fantastic Four, Billy Elliot and Defiance.

July 23, 2019 20:01
JAMIE BELL in ‘Skin.’ (Courtesy)

JAMIE BELL in ‘Skin.’ (Courtesy). (photo credit: Courtesy)

Jamie Bell, the star of Skin, a powerful drama by Israeli director Guy Nattiv that opens throughout the US on July 26 and is a full-length version of Nattiv’s Oscar-winning short, opened up about his struggles to gain weight for the part in an interview with Us Weekly.

Skin is a fact-based drama about about an American skinhead who renounces violence, played by Bell, who starred in Fantastic Four, Billy Elliot and Defiance. Bell is virtually unrecognizable as Bryon Widner, a skinhead covered by tattoos, who eventually sees the error of his white nationalist ways. Widner is surprised and dismayed to discover that the painful process of getting the tattoos removed from his body mirrors the difficulty of breaking away from this violent, racist group.

“This was a man who didn’t have a healthy lifestyle. This is a man who swilled beer and ate barbecue and got in fights and lifted weights, and was literally, kind of, killing himself from the inside out. So I wanted to replicate that a little bit.”

Nattiv, who helmed the award-winning Israeli films Mabul (The Flood), Strangers and Magic Men, wanted Bell to gain 50 pounds, but although he tried hard, the slender actor only gained half that.

“[Nattiv} wanted me to be full, Raging Bull at the end of this movie,” said Bell, who just had a daughter with his wife, Kate Mara, in May and has a five-year-old son with ex-wife Evan Rachel Wood. “I tried my hardest … but it’s hard. It’s very difficult. It took forever.”

Danielle Macdonald, who was recently seen in Bird Box and Dumplin’, co-stars in Skin as a young single mother who helps the hero turn his life around. She was sympathetic as she witnessed Bell’s fight to keep his weight up.

“Jamie was drinking. He was actually putting Ben & Jerry’s in a blender and drinking it because he couldn’t stomach eating at anymore. He was trying to eat like two pints of Ben & Jerry’s a day,” she said to Us Weekly. “I felt bad for him. I feel like it’s people’s dream to just eat Ben and Jerry’s everyday and it was sickening.”

But it seems that indulging in ice cream paid off. “I’m sure that people will be very shocked that the guy in ‘Skin’ was also the kid in Billy Elliot Hopefully people won’t know that it’s really me or recognize me,” Bell said in an article in The Wall Street Journal.

Skin also stars Mike Colter, who played drug kingpin Lemond Bishop on The Good Wife, portrays a black activist who encourages Bryon to break with the haters and forms a lifelong friendship with him. Vera Farmiga who starred in Martin Scorsese’s The Departed, plays Bryon’s manipulative adoptive mother.

Although Nattiv didn’t have to swill Ben and Jerry’s, it was a tough road to bring Widner’s story to the screen. He first made the short film that went on to win the Oscar when his script didn’t initially inspire enthusiasm.

“The reaction to my script was: ‘We like it but there are no real neo-Nazis in America,’ ” he told The Wall Street Journal. He said that his wife, American actress and producer Jaime Ray Newman, suggested that he direct a short film to attract investors, and it sparked the interest of Trudy Styler, an activist who is Sting’s wife, and director/producer Oren Moverman.

“We’re shining a light on something here and unflinchingly asking for people to look into that light,” Bell told The Wall Street Journal. “And it’s a horrible light to look into.”

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