One might think that the significance of playing the role of the legendary director and actor Sir Kenneth Branagh as a child might be lost on an 11-year-old. But Jude Hill, who stars as Buddy in Branagh’s latest film, Belfast, gets it. Alongside Jamie Dornan, Caitriona Balfe, Ciarán Hinds, and Judi Dench, Hill shines as a kid who is forced to confront the violence that shook the Northern Irish capital in the late 1960s. For W’s annual Best Performances issue, Hill chats with Editor at Large Lynn Hirschberg about the films he loves, a highlight from his first trip to Los Angeles, and why watching Belfast made him cry.
You play the young Sir Kenneth Branagh in Belfast, a semi-autobiographical film about the actor and filmmaker’s early life. Did you know anything about him?
I was a big fan! I had to pinch myself every day just to make sure I wasn’t dreaming.
How did they tell you that you got the part?
One morning I woke up, and it was a normal school day, and nothing really special was happening. And my mom got an email, and I read the first two words, and I ran around my house screaming, because I couldn't believe I got the part.
And you live near Belfast, right?
I live about 40 minutes from Belfast. Almost every single weekend we go down there. But we filmed in London across two different locations, and the set design was amazing: In two days they had built an entire replica of 1969 Belfast.
Have you always wanted to act?
I remember when I was 5 or 6, watching Marvel films, and I just had a passion for acting the entire time. I love Harry Potter as much as Marvel, and as soon as I saw Kenneth Branagh’s face, I was like, He’s in Harry Potter!
This is your first trip to Los Angeles. What’s your favorite thing that you’ve done?
The Jurassic World ride at Universal Studios! We got wet, but it was really, really fun.
Is there a movie that has made you cry?
The first time I watched Belfast, I cried. I cried for the first half hour. Even the uncut version made me start crying, because it was my first time seeing my face on the massive screen, and it was just amazing to see that.
Hair by Ali Pirzadeh for Dyson Hair at CLM; makeup by Daniel Sallstrom for Chanel at MA+ Group; manicure by Michelle Saunders for Nailtopia. Set Design by Gary Card at Streeters. Produced by Wes Olson and Hannah Murphy at Connect the Dots; production manager: Zack Higginbottom at Connect the Dots; photo assistants: Antonio Perricone, Jeff Gros, Morgan Pierre; digital technician: Michael Preman; lighting technician: Keith Coleman; key grip: Scott Froschauer; retouching: Graeme Bulcraig at Touch Digital; senior style editor: Allia Alliata di Montereale; senior fashion market editor: Jenna Wojciechowski; fashion assistants: Julia McClatchy, Antonio Soto, Nycole Sariol, Sage McKee, Josephine Chumley, Rosa Schorr; production assistants: Tchad Cousins, Juan Diego Calvo, Gina York, Brandon Fried, Nico Robledo, Kein Milledge; hair assistants: Tommy Stanton, Sol Rodriquez, Andi Ojeda; makeup assistants: Tami Elsombati, Bridgett O’Donnell; manicure assistant: Pilar Lafargue; set coordinator: Sarah Hein; set assistants: Olivia Giles, Seth Powsner, King Owusu; tailors: Suzi Bezik, Cardi Mooshool Alvaji; tailor assistant: Elma Click