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It’s not every 11-year-old who spends their days listening to dirty jokes from and making bets with Dame Judi Dench.
But not every boy is Jude Hill, who play scene-stealing Buddy in the Oscar-nominated film “Belfast,” which follows a working-class family during the Troubles in the late 1960s.
The schoolboy from a small village in County Down, Nothern Ireland, has won plaudits for his breakout role as a young version of Sir Kenneth Branagh, who directed the semi-biographical movie.
“Jude and Judi used to do riddles together and I just remember him coming to the trailer with two pounds off Judy!” said Jude’s mother, Shauneen Hill, who is also his manager.
“We had a bet one day on who could guess how many takes we’d need to do for a scene. I won and she gave me £2, which I’ll never spend,” Jude previously told the Belfast Telegraph of Dench. “She’s a trickster — she always had a joke up her sleeve that you would still be laughing about the next day. A lot of them were inappropriate.”
Jude landed the role when he was 9 — going up against more than 300 other boys — and, his mom said, from an early age he was always “really confident, always loved performing in front of friends.
“We come from a big Irish dancing family,” Shauneen said: “I was a big championship dancer and I thought, ‘We’ll get a couple of champions in the family’. My daughter still dances and Jude danced for a year before he got ‘Belfast.’ I had to pull him out [of dance] as he wanted to focus his time on acting, his love.”
Amazingly, it’s Jude’s first-ever onscreen role. “He didn’t know what to expect, but he couldn’t wait to get started. He did a lot of research about the Troubles on YouTube,” Shauneed said. “I didn’t really worry about him — he’s very hardworking and he wants to show people how good he is. I think he was a wee bit nervous to play a young Kenneth. He wanted to do him proud.”
It helped that Shauneen had taken Jude to speech festivals as a small boy. (His sister Georgia, 9, is an aspiring actress, while 6-year-old brother Jonah is taking musical theater and drama classes.)
“I’d give him monologues, and traditional Irish poems. Some of them were 10 and a half pages long, and he’d have it learned in a day,” Shauneen said of Jude. “From day one on set, they all clicked. The cast were such lovely people.”
Hill has spent the past few months winning over Hollywood A-listers while joining his castmates on the Oscars campaign trail, and last week picked up the best newcomer award at the Hollywood Critics Association honors. Jamie Dornan and Caitriona Balfe play his parents in the film, while Dench and Ciarán Hinds — both also Oscar-nominated — play his grandma and grandpa.
Born in 1982, Shauneen missed most of The Troubles, and said: “I think it’s important to the kids to learn about the history of the country … but people just want to forget and move on. I was very emotional when I first saw ‘Belfast’ — we laughed, we cried.
“It was so hard to believe that it was Jude’s face on the cinema screen … it’s still so hard to believe. I don’t believe that it’s hit us yet,” she said of herself and husband Darryl, an operations manager.
Jude is now signed with the Hollywood agency UTA, alongside Laura Berwick Productions, which made Belfast.”
Shauneen will accompany her son to the Oscars in Los Angeles on March 27, as “Belfast” is nominated for Best Picture, and said she will be “rooting” for Best Director nominee Branagh.
Although Jude hasn’t picked a new project yet, Shauneen said: “He told me ‘I can’t want to hear the word ‘Action,’ mummy!’”
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