Jude Hill was just 9 years old when he discovered he had been chosen – out of about 300 other children – to star in Belfast, Kenneth Branagh’s semi-autobiographical black-and-white eulogy for his home city in Northern Ireland in the late 1960s.
The actor first recalled the moment he found out: His mother, Shauneen, kept “very quiet” after picking him up from school in the small village of Gilford in Northern Ireland and waiting until they got home before Show him the email that changed his life. . “I just had a wide-eyed expression. … That’s crazy,” says Hill, now 11, as charming and well-spoken as his onscreen character, Buddy.
The selection followed a lengthy audition process that began with a self-recorded video (“I had to cry,” says Hill), followed by multiple Zoom calls, and finally a call with Branagh. At the time, Hill and his family knew very little about the film other than that it was “someone’s autobiography”, but soon after they were told the film was actually about the actor and his family. Famed director, Hill says he “turned straight to Google to find out where he’s from…it’s great.”
Filmed on Belfast begins in September 2020, after Hill turns 10. During filming, Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe, who play his parents, also played a bit between shots. “They make sure I have an umbrella” when it rains, says Hill. Meanwhile, Judi Dench, who plays his grandmother, “always has a joke.”
Hill’s trajectory began when his mother heard her oldest child – then 4 – read aloud a poem (“Roger Was a Razor Fish,” from Jill Bennett’s book) at school. “He was really unreal just about his delivery and his expression,” says Shauneen. She soon enrolled him in speech and drama classes, and soon he was winning competitions at local events. “Then the auditions started to be done,” he said. “I never thought I would actually land one, but Belfast Be the first.”
Hill has also filmed British TV series Murder Magpie alongside Leslie Mann, playing a boy who was “drowned in the water”, he said. He spent most of his time shooting in a cold lake.
As it happens, the Hill can herald the arrival of a new dynasty of action. His younger sister, Georgia, 9, who he jokes is a “fake type,” filmed a preschool program for the UK’s Channel 5 network, and his brother, Jonah, At 5 years old, has started filming self-records (and is practicing “Roger is a razor fish”). “If he gets hurt, he can be very dramatic,” says Jude.
The news that Focus Features would campaign to consider the lead actor for its youngest star has not been dismissed by Hill, who noted with impressive Hollywood know-how that “the last kid was nominated. [best actor] Oscar in the 1930s” was named “something Cooper. (It was Jackie Cooper in the 1931 comedy Skippy.) “Just being a kid trying to get there, it’s a far-fetched dream, but if you work hard enough, you can achieve it, and that’s what I’m working towards, ” I said. About spending a few hours with my dad walking around the shops in London trying on clothes for CHEAPof the photo session? “It was a torture,” he said.
This story first appeared in the November 3 issue of The Hollywood Reporter. Click here to subscribe.
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