By People Staff
November 20, 2000 12:00 PM

Jamie Bell had no trouble slipping into his role as a coal miner’s kid who yearns to be a ballet dancer in the movie Billy Elliot. When Bell first took ballet lessons at age 7, he recalls, his mates in Billingham, some 300 miles north of London, said, “Aw, Jamie, what are you doing? It’s all wrong. You should be playing football.”

Luckily he didn’t listen. Since opening Oct. 13, the warmhearted Elliot has made $12 million worldwide and won raves for its 14-year-old star. “I think Jamie will have a long and illustrious career as an actor,” says director Stephen Daldry. “He can transform himself.” Alas, not well enough to dodge autograph hunters. “It’s all good,” Bell says of the attention, “but it’s best when you look snazzy and all. If you’re just waking up and looking sleepy, you can feel kind of weird about it.”

Raised by mom Eileen, 43, a bookkeeper (he has no contact with his dad, John, 45, who left before Jamie was born), Bell began dancing when he accompanied his sister Kathryn, now 19, to her classes. These days the Harry Potter fan and amateur tennis player says he wants to keep acting and dancing as long as it doesn’t interrupt his schoolwork. And when he cops a teasing from his classmates? “I’ll just tell them what a laugh I’ve had,” he says.