There’s been much hype about Kenneth Branagh’s new film, Belfast, since it won the Audience Award at the 2021 Toronto Film Festival. I recently had the chance to speak with the film’s 11-year-old star, Jude Hill, about his first movie role…
Matt: I believe this is your first ever movie. How did you find out about it and get the chance to audition?
Jude: I do speech and drama lessons on Wednesdays and my teacher saw it somewhere and decided to put me forward for it. I sent through the initial self-tape and then did about 6-7 call backs after that. The casting process was quite intense at times but I’m glad I waited.
Matt: Do you have an acting coach you work with as part of the movie?
Jude: No, I didn’t. I think my acting coach was my mum because every night, she’d go over the lines with me and that really helped me learn them.
Matt: What was the hardest part of making the movie? Was it memorising the lines or was there other stuff which was difficult too?
Jude: I think the hardest part of the movie was saying so many good things about Tottenham Hotspur. It was very hard saying those lines.
Matt: (laughs) So who do you support then?
Jude: I’m a massive Liverpool supporter.
Matt: The film is set in 1969 – a major part of Ireland’s history in the early years of The Troubles. Was it something you needed to learn about as part of the movie?
Jude: I decided to go onto YouTube and search up documentaries about the time. I wanted to get in the head of someone during The Troubles. I also watched TV shows. It was a very hard time for Ireland but the film Belfast gives The Troubles the justice it deserves.
Matt: You’re working alongside some great actors and I particularly loved the scenes you shared with Judi Dench and Ciaran Hinds. Did they each you a few things?
Jude: Oh, definitely. Every single day I’d ask them questions and they always gave the answers. The thing about Ciaran and Judi… as soon as they walk into the room, the entire room starts smiling. They’re like a beacon of happiness and I’m glad I got to work with them.
Matt: And you get to work with Kenneth Branagh as well who is a terrific director. What was he like?
Jude: Kenneth Branagh was probably the nicest man you’ll ever meet. He sat me down during the audition process and talked about his childhood and what he would have done in all of those scenes and what happened to him as a child. Belfast is seen through Kenneth Branagh’s 9-year-old self’s eyes and I think it’s portrayed beautifully and the script writing is on point.
Matt: Did you go off the script the whole time or did you get to do a little bit of improv and have a little bit of fun with what you might have wanted to say?
Jude: With a lot of the bigger scenes, there was more room for improv. Ken loved it when we all did improv because it was quite funny at times. One of the funniest lines that wasn’t in the script was done by Judi Dench when Buddy and Granny are watching A Christmas Carol play and she says “who wears jeans that size” and we had to do a couple of takes because we all couldn’t stop laughing.
Matt: The film was shot over a year ago. What’s it like looking back and watching yourself on screen?
Jude: Every time I see the trailer, I remember seeing it through my own eyes when filming each scene. I find that really cool but it’s also kind of weird seeing myself on the TV and on posters. I’m just going with the flow and taking it all in my strides.
Matt: What was it like when you got to show the film to your family and friends?
Jude: My friends are going to see it tonight with each other. My family saw it at the Belfast International Film Festival and wow, that night… there were no words to describe it. Everyone was just happy and it was so heartfelt and emotional. I think we needed that little bit of reassurance from all the Belfast people that we were doing it right.
Matt: Awards season is coming up in the United States with Belfast already nominated at the Screen Actors Guild Awards. Will you be travelling there for some of the awards?
Jude: Hopefully but as I’m a kid, I can’t be vaccinated yet. It’s very iffy but I really do hope I get to go over.
Matt: How are you finding the PR side of things? Do you enjoy doing interviews and talking about the film?
Jude: I love it. I love talking to people like you and spreading the story of Belfast around. I just enjoy talking. Full stop. I like making people smile.
Matt: What’s the plan going forward? More acting?
Jude: Definitely. No doubt about it.
Matt: Any projects you’re looking at?
Jude: I’m done two projects since Belfast actually. One was a film called Mandrake and I was playing the main character’s son. The second was Magpie Murders where I play a murder victim.
Matt: (laughs) Well you’ve got a lot of experience already with a wide variety of roles from the sounds of it. For the moment, we can enjoy your wonderful performance in Belfast. Jude, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Jude: Thank you very much.