Jamie Campbell Bower stars in “The Mortal Instruments: City of Bones,” the big-screen adaptation of the first book of Cassandra Clare’s blockbuster fantasy adventure series. The British actor plays an experienced young Shadowhunter named Jace who protects the imperiled young Clary Fray (Lily Collins) as she searches for her missing mother (Lena Headey) in a dangerous Shadow World populated by demons, warlocks, vampires, werewolves and other supernatural creatures. Directed by Harold Zwart, the film also features Jemima West, Kevin Zegers, Robert Sheehan, Kevin Durand, Aidan Turner, Godfrey Gao, CCH Pounder and Jared Harris.
At our roundtable interview, Bower talked about reading the first three books of the series in preparation for his role, how he trained for the physical demands of playing the character, what the directing process was like with Zwart, acting opposite Collins, the close friendship he developed with his fellow actors on set, how he felt when shooting ended, his tattoos, his music, plans to shoot the action thriller “Overdrive,” and returning for the sequel, The Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes that’s currently in pre-production.
Question: Did you read the books before you did the film? Were you familiar with them?
Jamie Campbell Bower: Well, when I was asked to go in for the audition, I hadn’t. I was aware of them, but I hadn’t read them. And then, I was asked back for the chemistry tests. So I read the first three, and then I got cast and I read all of them. And then, when we started shooting, I just went back and read the first one.
Q: Were you as infatuated with them as everyone else that’s read them and been absorbed into that world?
Bower: For me, it was more about utilizing it as a tool for creating a character. I didn’t come at it as a fan. I came at it on maybe a bit more of an aesthetic level rather than an emotionally connected level.
Q: How did you prepare for all of those crazy stunts?
Bower: I did four and a half months of training. I did Krav Maga. I did circuit training every day. And then, I actually called up Robert Kulzer and the producers of “Constantine” and asked them if I could go out a month before I was originally meant to go out anyway, to go and train with the stunt guys, to go and be with them, because I’d had a great chat with Harald, and we came to the conclusion that whatever I could do, I should do. So, I do 99 percent of what you see. I’m not saying there’s a hundred stunts in the movie. There might be one hundred stunts. (laughs) But there’s only one that I didn’t do. It was great to be able to go out there and create a style and put my fighting style into how Jace is fighting, but it was tough.
Q: How hard is it when you’re doing heavily choreographed action scenes like the Hotel Dumort sequence where it’s you, the director, the DP, and several other actors? Is it a challenge to perform safely and not hurt those around you?
Bower: It’s really difficult. I’ve been on sets where I broke my ankle on a television show doing a stunt playing Arthur in “Camelot.” That was because it was really rushed and it hadn’t been thought through properly. One of the great things about the way that myself, Kevin (Zegers), Jemima (West) work is the fact that we all have this spatial awareness of each other, but also we start watching each other’s backs. There were times like with the Hotel Dumort stuff, which I assume is probably what they were showing you with all the vampires, where we were shooting at 3:00 or 4:00 o’clock in the morning, which is fine, which is cool, because that’s what you do. That’s how the job is, but you get tired at that point. There was probably a point in time from my recollection where one of us, it might even have been myself, turned around and said, “I just need five minutes to make sure that we have this down” because the last thing you want to do is either hurt yourself, hurt somebody else, or have one of the valuable stunt team go down. We’re recycling those guys because you only have so many stunt guys.
Q: Did you do the forward flip on the table? Is that you?
Bower: I did. That’s me. Yeah.
Q: What’s the one you didn’t do?
Bower: It’s a table gag where Jace is smashed across the face by Madame Dorothea. It’s a wire rig, and he’s thrown backwards over the table and smashes his head, and then flies off the back of the table into a wall and then goes down.
Q: Was that guy hurt doing that?
Bower: Geoff (stunt double Geoff Meech) dinged his head a bit. He wasn’t out cold, but I remember watching on the monitor, and literally the moment it happened, everyone went, “Oh!” But he was fine. He’s a solid man.
Q: Can you recall a favorite memory from the set? You guys all seem like you’re very close.
Bower: A favorite memory? I cried at the end of shooting. I know that sounds sad, but it’s testament to the fact that I was weeping and everyone’s going, “What’s going on? What’s wrong with you?” (laughs) We shot the final scene of the movie on the last day, so it was a nice way to wrap up the whole film. That probably was my favorite moment with everyone, when we were just there together, because we didn’t know we were coming back. I had such a great time working and meeting people, and it was sad.
Q: When you rode away on the bike at the end, you were crying?
Bower: No. (laughs) Actually the bike was a re-shoot. No, it’s the scene just before the bike, in the apartment.
Q: So you didn’t know you were going to be in the sequel?
Bower: We hadn’t been green lit. We hadn’t been green lit for number two by the time we were finishing number one. I mean, there were rumors. There always are on sets floating about, and everyone is putting in their two cents. Everyone is saying, “I reckon that this is going to happen. I heard that…” but you don’t know. Until it’s confirmed, you don’t. I’m very much of the mindset that until I’m on set and until I’m saying the words, the job isn’t happening. It’s not real, because that’s how this industry is, the whole time.
Q: What was it like working opposite Lily Collins? What did you initially bond over on set and how do you guys stay so close now?
Bower: (joking) Working with Lily is terrible. No. She’s amazing. It’s great. She was incredibly instrumental in me becoming a part of this project, as was Cassie (author Cassandra Clare). So, I felt slightly indebted to both of them in a way. I feel indebted all the time, but I felt quite indebted to both of them. Lily and I, we’re both from the same part of the world in England, literally like 45 minutes away from each other, which out here sounds far, but in the middle of the English countryside effectively makes us neighbors. So, I bonded over that, and we went out for dinner before we started shooting. She can recite the entire train line from London-Waterloo to Portsmouth Harbour, which is the train line that I take to go see my mum. I was like anyone that knows that in my book is pretty cool. And then, how do we stay so close? It’s because we are. That’s a difficult question to answer, I suppose, because that’s like trying to ask me to analyze a friendship. It happened with all of us. We’re all so incredibly tight and it’s like a family. We all look after each other.
Q: How’s it going to be working together again with this big family?
Bower: Again, yeah. I said this in an interview last week. I’m really stoked that I get to go back and work on a film set. I find it bizarre that I get paid to dress up and say words anyway, which is something I wanted to do forever. Let alone the fact that now I get to do that with my best friends. You hear this a lot. You hear people go, “Oh, we bonded so well.” And half the time, and Zegers has said this, too, half the time it’s bullshit. Half the time it’s not true and they’re just there selling the movie or whatever. But, for this, we genuinely mean it. Kevin had a big day a couple of weeks ago and we were there. Those things don’t happen if you’re not friends.
Q: Can you tell when you’re doing the show or the production if you’re going to stay in touch with these people, or is it just a job and you’re going to go home and never think about it again?
Bower: You can’t really tell. Of course, on a job, you have a shared common interest in the fact that you’re there making a movie or making a TV show, and that creates unification within a group. There has to be something more than just the work for that to continue on, for that friendship to continue on. Do you know at the time? I don’t want to be so analytical of my own life, because if I start to be analytical of my own life, maybe I’ll choose not to believe anything that’s going on. But, the fact of the matter is, I’ve experienced both sides of it now. Sides where you have a great time with people on set, and then you do just step away. And it’s not malicious. It’s just that people go back and live their lives and do whatever. I’m very much of the mindset that this is my job, and my friends back home are my friends back home, and they don’t do this. They don’t care about this. I’m also very aware of the fact that if I fall on my face tomorrow morning and break my nose or completely screw my face up, that’s it. I’m done. So, it’s hard. It’s a job, and yes, it’s great fun, but I’m making really good friends whilst I’m at work, and that’s bizarre. (laughs) I find that very strange.
Q: Who’s the jokester on set and who’s the ‘get back to work’ person?
Bower: We all make jokes. I’m a big one for fluffing lines and making them sound rude.
Q: Will that be like a B-reel on the DVD?
Bower: Oh yes, exactly. It’s R-rated now. I swear. I’m a terrible swearer. I curse the whole time. So there’s a lot of cursing that goes on, on my behalf. Kevin does some pretty hilarious voices. Collins is a big giggler. And Robbie (Robert Sheehan), for being how he is in life, on set he’s pretty chill actually. As I think about it, that’s quite funny. I mean, you have to have fun whilst you’re working and it has to be nice.
Q: How was the directing process with Harald?
Bower: With Harald, it’s collaborative, which is really important for me. He’s a joker, too. He’s all about kicking the script about. If there were things that I felt were sticky, like sticky moments, and I’d hate saying the word “bwark” and I hate asking questions on scripts. It’s like I don’t want to go there. So I’d always go up to him and ask, “Can I change this? Can I do that?” and he’s be like, “Absolutely.” It was really cool that he put his trust in us as well. It’s always the end of shooting that I was a bit, myself and Lily, we were like, “The ending is not how we think it should be. Let’s formulate something and make it different. And let’s change it up a bit.” Because I know, and we all knew, like myself, Lily and Cassie knew that if it had stayed the way that it was, there would probably be a lot of really upset fans. I’m not going to tell you what it was, so don’t ask, but it was great that he was able to sit there and listen to us. As a director, you have a thousand things going on in your head, and of course, that’s going to be difficult. That’s going to mean that some things get overlooked. And so, for us as performers, being the selfish pricks that we are, we’re sitting there being concerned about ourselves all the time and our character’s through-line. So it was great to be able to work with somebody who was open to my madness.
Q: Are you based here now?
Bower: I’m based here at the SLS Hotel. No. Seriously, I’m actually living out of a bag at the moment. I have an apartment back home in London. England will be home for me. It always has been and always will be. It’s where my friends are. I went to school with the same people from when I was 8 years old until when I was 17, so those people are my family as well. But, at the moment, I’m living out of a bag until March of next year.
Q: But you’ll be traveling during production?
Bower: Yes. We go back and do movie 2 (“The Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes”) so we do. We go to Europe, and then Mexico, Hong Kong, back to London for two days, out here for five days, Toronto, back to England for Christmas, and then France for a movie in January. The one in January is a different movie. It’s a film called “Overdrive” with (producer) Pierre Morel’s team. He did “Taken.”
Q: You have some tattoos and in this movie your character has tattoos. Can you talk about the story behind the tattoos?
Bower: My tattoos or his tattoos?
Q: You had to have your character’s tattoos painted on every day three hours prior to shooting. Did you get any real tattoos based on those? Are you going to get a rune?
Bower: I haven’t got a real rune yet. I was contemplating getting a rune, but they’re very dark and very heavy, and the imagery on my body is like I quite like light, lighter imagery or lighter work. The imagery for the skull was very dark, but it’s done very finely, so anything like that I like. And then, the flowers are a beautiful image but it’s very heavy. I like it when there’s that sort of juxtaposition. I used to spend three hours, I think it was, in make-up every day getting my own tattoos covered, and those ones being put on. So when I had a 5:00 am call and we’ve got unit call at 6:00 am, I would leave them on. I’d leave the tattoos on overnight. I’d sleep in them. I wouldn’t shower. Jo-Ann (MacNeil), our make-up artist, was really cool about it. Poor girl, she had to go through so much with just us sitting there. She has to work at 4:00 in the morning. We can just sit there and be asleep, but she has to be there actually focused. So it was about three hours, but it’s going to be longer this time. It’s going to be about four. I wanted to develop actually a … you know how you have the transfers, the tatt transfer tattoos? I think that there should be this thing for cover-ups on tattoos. I want to develop it. It’s like a skin-toned transfer, and then all the make-up artist has to do is airbrush over it to blend it into the skin. There’s nothing like that. At the moment, you literally have to go red and get it to skin color which takes forever. Anyway, that’s just a little bit of business that I’m trying. (laughs) That’s me just trying to get my business out there. I’m not entirely sure what it’s called yet. We’ll find out.
Q: Are you into supernatural kinds of stories or horror science fiction? Did you read them as a kid?
Bower: I was into horror. I loved horror. Horror was huge. I was always into horror. Goosebumps for me was massive growing up. Novel-wise, I read “The Lives of Christopher Chant” (a children’s fantasy novel by British author Diana Wynne Jones), which is a series of books that has been a point of contention for a few people. You can do your research about that if you need to regarding other novels. Yeah. Horror for me was always a big thing.
Q: Did you like Dracula or Boogeyman under the bed stuff?
Bower: No, like old school, like Exorcist and stuff. I always loved scaring myself and I don’t know at all what that’s about. (laughs) I have no idea what that’s all about. Actually, I remember with “The Exorcist,” she (Linda Blair’s character) ruined stairs for me, you know, in the dark, when she comes down backwards. I couldn’t go upstairs without running, without feeling that something was chasing me because of that movie. And it’s only like in the past five years that it’s stopped. (laughs)
Q: You said you bonded with everyone on this set. Did you keep in touch with people from “Twilight”?
Bower: Yeah, absolutely.
Q: What’s your relationship like with everyone?
Bower: It’s amazing. What’s great about the friends that I made on that set and where we’re at now, where I’m at particularly, is that I can go to those people and I can be like, “This is crazy” and they’re like, “Yeah. It is. It’s nuts.” And it’s great to have that support and it’s great to have those friendships. On the last two “Twilight” movies, there were 72 of us.
Q: Is there anyone specific though that you bonded with the most?
Bower: Yeah, of course, you make friends more so than you make friends with other people. That’s how life is sometimes.
Q: You mentioned you’ll be filming “The Mortal Instruments: City of Ashes” and “Overdrive,” is there anything else that you’re working on?
Bower: Yes. My music. I’m working on my music a lot, like folk singing, guitar. It’s sort of rocky, folky, alty, angsty. I’m putting a lot of energy into that. I write pretty much all the time. I wrote a song yesterday actually. So my music is a big thing. There’s a couple of projects that I really want to be a part of, but I’m not going to be that guy and sit here and name drop in the hope that maybe they’ll read it. So yeah, we’ll see. I mean, it’s a very exciting and interesting time for me right now personally and career-wise. I’m stoked to be here.