Stephan James Interview: ‘#FreeRayshawn’
“The source material is ample, to say the least, unfortunately,” says actor Stephan James about how he prepared for “#FreeRayshawn” on the new Quibi streaming app. He continues in his exclusive interview with Gold Derby (watch the video above), “Even though these characters are fictitious characters, they’re representative of real people and very real circumstances. We’re seeing that all too often in the headlines.” James likens his eponymous character to Jacob Blake, Philando Castile, George Floyd and Laquan McDonald — real-life Black victims of police shootings and racially-charged brutality.
“I don’t think that we could have anticipated the timeliness of this piece, but again, as an artist, this is what you do it for — you do art that really speaks to life and speaks to society and you hope that it raises awareness and sparks discussion and challenges perspectives,” explains James about how the short-form drama reflects the Black Lives Matter movement.
James is nominated at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards for Best Short Form Actor opposite co-star Laurence Fishburne as inadvertent crisis negotiator Steven Poincy; they have both submitted the episode titled “Face to Face” for academy consideration. James says about Rayshawn’s run-in with an undercover cop that spurs the standoff that the miniseries predominantly depicts over its 15 episodes, “Unfortunately, he had to do something, which a lot of young Black men in this country have to do, attaining money by sometimes illegal means.”
He elaborates, “Rayshawn was a marine — an ex-marine who had served for his country, gave his life for his country and came back to America and couldn’t get a job and so, in turn, he’s ending having to deal these drugs and that’s telling all in itself.” This is news to Rayshawn’s wife Tyisha, played by Jasmine Cephas Jones, who is nominated in the Best Short Form Actress category. James explains, “It’s very, very telling that you have this young man in a situation where he had to do something that he’s even having to hide from his wife and his kid, out of pride — for their survival.”
James also starred this past season as another military veteran, on “Homecoming” as Walter Cruz, a performance for which he was previously nominated at the Golden Globes for Best Drama Actor. “I haven’t heard anything yet,” says James about the possibility of a third season on Amazon. He muses about this part, “Walter’s one of the most intricate, layered characters I’ve ever been able to play, so when I first heard that they wanted me to come back for this second season, I was elated to come back and tie up some loose ends. There’s still so much we’re figuring out about Walter and certainly conceivably, there is a way to continue his story.”