Jamie Bell best known for his breakthrough role as a ballet prodigy in Billy Elliot may not do any dancing in his latest film, Nicholas Nickleby, but his talent for fancy footwork once again takes center stage. Based on Charles Dickens's classic novel, the flick (opening tomorrow) finds the now-16-year-old Brit playing Smike, an abused orphan who's weighted down by a severe limp. As Bell explains, the character's disability required him to return to the dance studio.
"A choreographer worked with me for about two weeks," he tells TV Guide Online. "It was actually quite nice to get back into the flow of working my body, warming up and exercising. I wanted to get [the limp] right to make it look as fluid and natural as possible because this is something that Smike's had to deal with his whole life.
"I like to express myself in a physical way," he adds. "So, getting a chance to do it in this was brilliant."
Aside from some tricky legwork, however, Bell's Nicholas Nickleby alter ego bears little resemblance to the temperamental two-stepper he played in Billy Elliot. "That's a good thing, though," the young lad insists. "To lose that image is something that I wanted to do. It shows variety and it proves that I'm an actor as well as a dancer.
"You can't just grow up living the rest of your life as Billy Elliot," continues the 2001 British Academy Award winner, who found himself being offered a slew of "kiddish" parts following the film's success. "That movie [labeled me as] a child actor, and I had to lose it as quickly as I could because if I didn't, I was going to get typecast."
Is it safe to assume, therefore, that Bell wants no part of the upcoming Billy Elliot Broadway musical, which director Stephen Daldry is currently developing with Elton John? "I would love to help cast [the new Billy]," he says. "I feel sorry for anyone who has to go through that [rigorous audition process]. I would be there for moral support for the boys."