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Important Conversations: Jamie Bell speaks out about role in ‘Skin’

Jamie Bell attends a special screening of “Skin,” hosted by A24 and Allusionist Picture House with The Cinema Society, at The Roxy Cinema on Wednesday, July 24, 2019, in New York. (Jason Mendez/Invision/AP)

As an actor, it’s Jamie Bell’s job to transform into character and bring it to life.

For his latest role in “Skin,” Bell had a little bit of trepidation.

“It was more than just a job or a performance,” Bell said in an interview. “I felt like we did have an obligation or duty to tell the story properly.”

“Skin” tells the story of Bryon Widner, who is a destitute young man raised by racist skinheads and notorious among white supremacists.

When he turns his back on hatred and violence to transform his life – with the help of a black activist and the woman he loves – the group’s hold on him is harder to break than he thinks.

The film is playing at Albuquerque’s Guild Cinema from Friday, Aug. 9, through Monday, Aug. 12. It is also available via video-on-demand services.

Less than a week after mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton, Ohio, Bell is speaking out about the film’s importance.

“If you asked me a week ago, I would have still said the film is important,” he explains. “Today, the idea of white nationalists is so front and center. It’s the bonfire of this country. It’s headline news for the worst reasons. When we started filming the project, the shootings in Charlottesville, Virginia, had just happened. If you thought it was a subculture and existed in the shadows, you’re wrong. This is flourishing on a level that we can’t comprehend.”

Jumping into the life of Widner took a lot of research on Bell’s part.

Actor Jamie Bell portrays former white supremacist Bryon Widner in the film “Skin.” (Courtesy of A24 )

Because he wanted to portray him as authentically as he could, he read books on white supremacy and watched documentaries. Bell also spent time with Widner to get an up-close look at his life.

Bell also transformed physically.

“I gained weight and used prosthetics,” he says. “Contacts were put (in) and, of course, my entire face and body were covered up with tattoos. All of this was to make sure that I didn’t see myself.”

Bell also had to create a level of detachment of feelings, empathy, love and kindness.

“I was walking around with this real sense of aggression and intimidation,” he says. “Underneath all of the tattoos and exterior was the mind-numbing violence and abuse of alcohol. He is a frightened child and insecure person. That was always the place that I needed to understand.”

During the process, Bell was always trying to fully understand how a person falls into this type of life.

“I was trying to understand him and trying not to judge him,” he says. “This is someone who finds forgiveness difficult. The bottom line is the people are intolerant, and racist and morally bankrupt.”

Production for the film began in 2017, though getting the money to finance the film was a struggle.

“When I first read the script, I questioned if it was something that I wanted to be involved in,” Bell says. “There were so many questions. Is this the right time? What are people going to think? I had to wrestle with the decision.”

Bell says “Skin” is a wake-up call to society.

He knows the film won’t be for everyone, but it’s something that society can’t ignore.

“This behavior isn’t normal. We need to bring the darkness into the light,” he says. “My problem is that acts like these are becoming radically normalized and we’re becoming so desensitized to these words like white nationalist, Nazi and fascist. I want the film to shake people and make them start to understand there needs to be a change.”