Friends for life with movie band of brothers

Jon-Paul Bell with Luke Hardy, 3-Para, Paratrooper, who worked with the cast in Jordan to help train them in frontline operations
Jon-Paul Bell with Luke Hardy, 3-Para, Paratrooper, who worked with the cast in Jordan to help train them in frontline operations
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The term ‘band of brothers’ is often thrown around in connection with the Armed Forces.

But for actor Jon-Paul Bell his biggest role to date saw the former South Shore lad thrown into the heat of the Arabian desert to tell the real-life story of one such group.

Jon-Paul Bell, left, in Kakaji

Jon-Paul Bell, left, in Kakaji

This weekend, Brit flick Kajaki returns to cinema screens as its director and producer Paul Katis and Andrew de Lotbiniere line up as nominees at the 
BAFTAs in the outstanding 
debut by a British writer, director or producer.

And Jon-Paul could not be more proud of what the film’s cast and crew achieved in a 
remarkably short space of time.

“It was May, and during 
rehearsals for my last play at drama school, that I had my first audition,” he said.

“The script was one of the most intense things I’ve ever read and I thought I really, really want a part in this.

Jon-Paul, bare chested, in Kajaki

Jon-Paul, bare chested, in Kajaki

“I didn’t hear anything for a while after and was disappointed I’d missed out.

“Then I had a call from my agent, I had to fly to Jordan two days later to start filming.”

With the end of his acting degree studies at London’s Arts Educational School in sight, Jon-Paul had to pack up his flat and leave it to brother Jaymie to collect his belongings.

Seven weeks later, filming was complete and Kajaki was edited and ready for release in an exclusive deal to Vue cinemas, with a Leicester Square premiere on November 12, just after Remembrance Day, and in support of the troops’ withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Jon-Paul, front left of centre, with the cast of Kajaki at the Leicester Square premier

Jon-Paul, front left of centre, with the cast of Kajaki at the Leicester Square premier

The film recreates the true story from 2006 of a platoon from the Third Battalion, The Parachute Regiment setting out to disperse a Taliban roadblock in the Kajaki area of Afghanistan’s Helmand province, and finding themselves in a long-forgotten minefield – where one of their patrol detonates a land mine and loses a leg.

Another nearby platoon hears the explosion and, led by Cpl Mark Wright, they run to his side to mount a rescue attempt, despite the obvious danger to themselves.

Jon-Paul, 21, who plays Luke Mauro in the film and received training from real-life Paratrooper Luke Hardy on set, said: “We felt as a cast that it was our responsibility to do Mark Wright and the other British soldiers proud.

“I’ve also got close family friends who have served as Paratroopers, so I understand how brave these men are and how much they deserve to be credited for.

“Luke was guiding us every step of the way. He said to us ‘You have to do this right to do my brothers proud’.

“This was a big story to tell, and that made us so focussed.

“There was a huge pressure at the premier; Cpl Wright’s parents were there and survivors of the incident.

“We stood firm with the story and worked hard to achieve something brilliant, and hopefully we did that.”

Now, with a potential BAFTA on the horizon, did Jon-Paul have any idea how well received it would be?

“During the filming, you couldn’t think too much about the future of the film,” he said. “The process was so intense and the conditions were tough so all you thought about was the next day and getting through filming that.”

It’s only had limited release so far, and returns to Vue cinemas – including Cleveleys – on Sunday, although general release is planned for later in the year.

Despite the limited reach, 
Kajaki has had a largely positive response from critics.

“It did go a little under the 
radar,” Jon-Paul said. “I hope it will be like the Hurt Locker (the 2010 Oscars best picture winner, set during the Iraq war), when that was in cinemas it didn’t get much attention, then when it got DVD release it went off.”

As a newcomer to the acting profession, Jon-Paul had 
always hoped to become a drummer until he chanced upon a drama school audition, the experience on set – albeit stiflingly hot in 55-degree heat – taught him a lot.

“The other actors were brilliant, we were like best friends at the end of it; it was a real brotherhood,” he said.

“As a group of soldiers, we picked each other up, raised morale and constantly made each other laugh.

“Between scenes, we would also play random games. We’d even fall out with each other sometimes, just like real 
brothers. It took several days for my body to adapt to the conditions. It was made a lot worse by the horrendous amount of flies. They would land on me 
all the time.

“Although it was really challenging, it also really helped us to relate and experience the true extent of which the guys in Afghanistan had experienced. It really would take 
everything out of you.

“We all keep in touch and I firmly believe most of the 14 of us will be friends for life.”

With Kajaki behind him, Jon-Paul’s now back into the every-day grind of life as an actor, 
attending auditions and castings for new roles.

This week he hopes to secure a short stint on Hollyoaks, and he’s filmed an episode of BBC 1 day-time soap Doctors.

“I was wandering round for a few days when I came back from Jordan, not too sure what’s next, and I had to pick my focus back up,” the former Arnold School and Blackpool Sixth Form College student said.

“I’m so fortunate to have something I enjoy that I can pursue.”

Now back living in Manchester, Jon-Paul, who attended Scream Theatre Schools in Blackpool, which is run by his mum Tracey, is happily settled in the North – where the cost of living is lower, but there are still plenty of acting opportunities.

“There are so many talented actors out there though, and falling back on drumming isn’t exactly the easiest 
alternative – it’d be better if I’d been brilliant at business,” he laughed.

“I chose two creative things, and that makes it tough.”

But if there’s one thing he’s certainly proved in this latest role – the tough get going.