Christopher Abbott on playing ‘complicated’ title character in ‘James White’ (Exclusive Video)

In Josh Mond's intense character study “James White,” Christopher Abbott plays the title role, a self-destructive New Yorker whose life is further complicated by his mother’s (Cynthia Nixon) terminal illness. This rising star recently received a Gotham nomination for his role, having contended previously as apart of the ensemble cast of “Martha Marcy May Marlene” (2011) which was produced by Mond.

During a recent webcam chat (watch below), Abbott takes us through the arc his character: "In the beginning, you catch him in the throws of somewhat of a downward spiral in his life. He’s complicated, kind of confused, lost in his life a bit. And then these other, much bigger circumstances in his life are thrown on him in the duration of the movie, the main one being his mother becoming terminally ill.” 

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He continues: “He’s kind of facing a lot of his own demons, and a lot of those demons are self-induced,” the actor said in our video chat. “He tries to alleviate them through distractions and substances. Then, through the situation with his mother and her illness, he starts to — for lack of a better phrase — grow up a little bit.”

The film debuted to rave reviews at Sundance, winning the NEXT Audience Award. It currently holds a 91% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes (which grades on a pass/fail basis) and 86 at Metacritic (which uses a sliding scale.

Much of the praise from critics centered on Abbott’s performance.

Tricia Olszewski (The Wrap): “Abbott is a revelation creating a multidimensional character whose battling, sometimes uncontrollable emotions are clear in his warm and expressive eyes. James’s temper is obvious, as is his tenderness.”

Peter Travers (Rolling Stone): “Abbott is dynamite as the title character, a twentysomething Manhattan slacker with aspirations to be a journalist. Party, booze, drugs, sex, and his volatile temper get in the way.”

Joshua Rothkopf (Time Out): “It’s Abbott who really dominates ‘James White,’ ping-ponging through hospital wards and a spectacularly botched job interview with natural magnetism. He also delivers a heartbreaking monologue about about the life they could have led, one with grandkids and satisfactions, spoken in an insistent tone of reassurance that doesn’t quite fool anyone. It’s the smallest of gifts in a film that’s refreshingly unconcerned with happy endings.”

“The interesting thing about the movie,” says Abbott, “and what I like about the arc of it, is that by the end, he’s not necessarily a fully formed adult who has learned all of his lessons. It’s kind of left at a moment where there is a sparkle of hope, but still there’s a feeling that there’s going to be a lot to deal with.”

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Watch our full interview below for more on the making of “James White.”

Photo: The Film Arcade

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