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‘Billy Elliot’ Star Turns to TV

Jamie Bell plays the reluctant spy in AMC's new series about the first spy ring in America which took place during the Revolutionary War. The gripping series premieres on Sunday. (Frank Ockenfels 3/Courtesy AMC/MCT)

Jamie Bell plays the reluctant spy in AMC's new series about the first spy ring in America which took place during the Revolutionary War. The gripping series premieres on Sunday. (Frank Ockenfels 3/Courtesy AMC/MCT)

Pasadena, Calif. — Child actors often grow up conflicted by the experience. But that’s not so with British actor Jamie Bell. Bell was at the peak of adolescent angst when, at 14, he was a smash hit in the film, Billy Elliot, about a little boy who becomes a celebrated dancer.

He himself hails from a long line of dancers and had been dancing since he was 5.

“I had the regular pitfalls of being a teenager,” he says in a busy lounge of a hotel here.

“I was very moody and angry and grumpy. It was actually around that time I didn’t really take work seriously. I turned up and did my best as always, but I didn’t really love the craft of it as much as I do now,” he says.

“Also remember, I wasn’t a Disney kid. I didn’t have a set of eyes just waiting for me to fail, quite fortunately. I met Billy Elliot — which did incredibly well — but then there wasn’t really anything expected of me. There wasn’t this great expectation that I should go on and play these amazing parts and continue to be a child star. I made that film, and then I just went off and kept making films kind of under the radar.”

Now, at 28, Bell is sailing above the radar with his latest role as an innocent farmer who is coerced into becoming one of the nation’s first spies during the Revolutionary War in AMC’s series, Turn, premiering Sunday.

“It must be horrible to be a child and have that much attention, because you do do stupid things,” he continues.

One of the stupid things he did was sneak a pack of cigarettes into class when he was 12. “I was desperately trying to fit into school ... I didn’t really feel cool, sneaking in the cigarettes, I just felt dangerous — I don’t even know what I was thinking. Anyway, some girl saw them in my bag and told the teacher.”

That teacher reported it to his homeroom teacher. “The discipline they were going to take, they were going to send home a report card. It was really bad because always the troubled kids at school had report cards — it was really bad,” he recalls.

“I knew my mum would be devastated. It would beak her heart because I was a pretty good kid. I was disciplined with the dance. I was pretty good at school. I didn’t cause any problems. So this would’ve broken her heart.”

But instead of snitching to his mom, the teacher ripped up the card in front of him. “And she said, ‘I know this isn’t you. And I’m not going to send it home.’ I started weeping because I was amazed that someone believed in me. Someone saw through the actual act of a kid lost, trying to fit in and being stupid. I have no idea what would’ve happened.”

Though his father wasn’t in his life, Bell thinks that the rigors of dance helped him throughout his life. “That discipline kind of makes you — I don’t know — there is a respect for authority for whatever it is that you do, you do it with due diligence,” he says.

“Also the trauma of that is perfection, the pursuit of perfection. It’s complicated, but I think a lot of it has to do with a kind of rigid sense of discipline and rehearsal ... structure of performing was quite rigid early on. It wasn’t just a hobby. It was like something I really did.”

His classmates taunted him about being a dancer, and by the time he was 13 he decided he didn’t want to do it anymore.

“Being a kid regardless is just difficult enough; navigating high school is a battleground. At that point I’d always seen the benefit of not fitting in. It happened to me so early at 14 it was obviously very apparent to me — whatever I did got me here. So I can’t look at that negatively anymore. I have to look at that as something that is good and great and to be proud of and to protect.”

A few years later he realized he’d gained a maturity that others didn’t have. “By that time, by 16 or 17, a lot of people have difficulties: ‘What am I going to do with my life? The world doesn’t revolve around me.’ And all these things you’ve got to learn. By that point I’d already figured it out. I was kind of a step ahead.”

Dave Clark, Ed Sullivan

When the Beatles were striking it big in the U.S., so was another group of lads from England known as the Dave Clark Five. PBS will celebrate their conquest of the West when Great Performances offers Glad All Over: the Dave Clark Five, premiering April 8. The group appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show 18 times, but when Sullivan first came calling, Dave Clark had never heard of him and turned him down.

Finally, when the money grew greener, Clark relented. “We went down so well on the live performance, he called us back on,” recalls Clark. Sullivan wanted the group for another appearance, but they were already booked in England. So Sullivan summoned Clark.

“He said, “Dave, I thought you’d be thrilled; there’s 70 million people watching the show.’ And I said, ‘I am thrilled, but if you would have asked me first, I wouldn’t have put you in the embarrassing position.’ So he said, ‘Well, look, I’ll buy out the show in England,’ and I said ‘Wow, what can I say?’ And at that stage we were really huge in the U.K., and we were exhausted.

“So I said, ‘Well, I couldn’t stay in New York for a week.’ He said, ‘Well, where do you want to go?’ So on the way from the airport there was this billboard ... and it had this name Montego Bay, Island Paradise. Well, coming from London, it could have been anywhere. It could have been the South Pole, for what I knew. So he said, ‘Where do you want to go?’ I said, ‘Montego Bay.’ So he flew us all there. And it was amazing, we’d never been to anywhere like that. And we came back to Kennedy Airport. There were 30,000 people there, and they had to fly us out in a helicopter to get us into New York. And that’s how we hit America.”

And it was amazing.”

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Tori Spelling will star in one of three new comedies recently added to the ABC Family slate. “Mystery Girls” is about a TV starlet and her former costar on a TV mystery drama, who finds herself embroiled in the task of real crime solving when a witness refuses to speak to anyone except the two “Mystery Girls.”

The show is executive produced by Spelling and Maggie Malina; the pilot written by Shepard Boucher. In spite of her personal tribulations, Spelling has always been straight-arrow in person. “I think it comes from years and years of reading stuff people write about you and how false it can be and how hurtful it can be and it gave me a humor about myself, I’ll laugh at myself first - beat them at their game,” she says.

“So that was the attitude I took on. It made me strong. I turned into a very strong woman, I think. Celebrities - people think are fair game anyway, they can say whatever they want about their lives, so I feel like it’s best to be as honest as you can with people.”

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PBS introduces a three-part series, “Inside Animal Minds” on April 9 with its “Nova” special on birds. In this particular episode corvids (crows and ravens) execute the most spectacular feats. They even outdo the dog in certain tests. Julia Cort, executive producer of “Nova,” remarks, “They are one of the few animals that actually make tools. And you don’t think of birds so much as tool users, but these crows are tool users. They actually have evolved to hold sticks in their beaks, and they can do remarkable things with them.

“In the wild, they use them to poke into trees and spear grubs ... They set up an eight-stage problem, and the bird has to use several different tools to get to a piece of meat. And it’s really wonderful to see because you can imagine that you are seeing the bird solving the problem as it goes through all of the steps.”

Distributed by MCT Information Services

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