Stephan James on ‘crazy year’ as both ‘If Beale Street Could Talk’ and ‘Homecoming’ earn Golden Globes nominations

Stephan James can’t believe that he is part of the casts of two Golden Globe nominees: the film drama “If Beale Street Could Talk” and the TV thriller “Homecoming.” He reaped a nomination as Best TV Drama Actor for his role in the latter as a soldier adjusting to civilian life with the help of a therapist played by Oscar winner Julia Roberts.

“Surreal” is the word James uses to describe going to the Globes with not one but two teams of nominated artists. “I did the projects back to back and they really couldn’t be any more different. I looked at ‘Beale Street’ even before I was cast and I knew it was going to be special, just the idea of Barry Jenkins and James Baldwin. That, to me, meant that I knew we were going to be in for a ride. And then with ‘Homecoming,’ I don’t remember the last time I had that much fun working on anything. It was something new and exciting and fresh every day so I was really grateful for both of them.

In “Beale Street,” Jenkins’ follow-up to his Oscar-winning “Moonlight,” James plays the idealistic Fonny who is imprisoned after being falsely accused of a crime in 1970’s New York City. Kiki Layne is Tish, Fonny’s pregnant girlfriend who fights to free him from prison, while three-time Emmy winner Regina King plays Tish’s mother Sharon, who is just as determined to prove Fonny’s innocence.

James credits Jenkins for his performance. “He’s a very patient director. Sometimes, as an actor, you get caught up in beats. When we’re performing a scene we think ‘emotionally I need to carry these feelings’ and with Barry, he allows you to forget about that stuff and be present and be in real time and forget what you practised and rehearsed. This is what it is now: you’re in front of Kiki Layne, I’m leaving the camera on you guys, I’m not cutting for five whole minutes, and this is how you’re going to do this, so I think if anything, he just taught me a different level of patience that I haven’t been used to.”

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James compares his approach to that of Ava Duvernay with whom he worked on “Selma,” in which he portrayed civil rights leader John Lewis“They are similar in the way that they are both true auteurs. They have their stamp on every aspect of their film. They both are able to create a familial environment on the set, between hair and makeup people, the wardrobe people, the set-dec people, the cast. That’s a special quality for a filmmaker to have.”

However, he continues, “they are very, very different. Ava loves rehearsals, Barry doesn’t do any rehearsals. So, really different but both very poignant and very purposeful with everything that they do. Everything has a reason, even when their characters aren’t necessarily speaking, they are always emitting some sort of emotion that is telling you something. Even if there is no dialogue involved. Two very different filmmakers but special in their own way.”

James says working with Duvernay and Jenkins so early on in his career has been inspirational. “I would love to move into directing and producing. To be able to pick up gems from them and sit behind the monitor sometimes and see what they are thinking has been something that I’ve been profoundly grateful for and it’s something I totally plan to use to my advantage one day.”

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