As a proponent of indie films and enterprising actors, there is practically nothing better than for me to have the opportunity to discover actors with whom I was previously unfamiliar. In the case of James Clayton, when I screened CANDiLAND, that was my first exposure to this amazing industry professional. Recently, James agreed to answer a few questions concerning his entrance into the profession, his notable works, and even what he believes (hopes) his future may hold for him.
RH: Why did you decide to become an actor? What kind of training have you received?
JC: I’ve acted my entire life, but didn’t conceive of it as a career until I was about sixteen. At that time, I jumped right in and started auditioning. I didn’t have any formal training and was relying purely on instinct. When I was around the age of seventeen, a good friend of mine, director Adam Smolok, gave me a book written by the great acting teacher Stella Adler (she taught Marlon Brando), and it really opened up my mind to the possibilities of the craft.
When I moved to Vancouver I studied intensely for years with Lori Triolo. She focused a lot on an acting technique called Meisner. She really is the one who taught me how to act, and I credit her for where I am today. Lori is also in CANDiLAND playing a character named Leesha. It’s pretty neat how things have come full circle.
I also went to New York and studied at Uta Hagen’s HB Studios with Ed Moorehouse and Carol Rosenfield. They were both absolutely amazing teachers. I was offered a scholarship to stay, but I was so overwhelmed by New York. I never followed up with it. I’m glad it happened that way though because now I have a great company with my friends, and we’re producing work that means something to us.
Your first film was the feature film K-19: The Widowmaker. How did that opportunity come about? What was the on-set filming experience like? Any notable stories from filming with these big “names”?
I grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba. K-19 came around when the Manitoba film boom was happening. A local casting director and actor, Rebecca Gibson, had scouted me earlier that year and played a huge part in getting me in the film.
It was the first time I’d ever been on a movie set. I was sixteen. So it was pretty overwhelming. Kathryn Bigelow and Harrison Ford were there. Very few get a chance to see living legends work first hand. I remember the whole experience as electrifying. There was an energy on set. Though, I would say the biggest thing I remember from both of them was their sense of ease. They just enjoyed what they did. That made a lasting impression on me. That same lesson was re-inforced a couple years later when I was doing some stand-in work for a film called A Bear Called Winnie. I was on the job very briefly. This young actor I was standing in for had this amazing sense of ease around him. He was extremely affable and was like a laser when they called action. He went on to become Michael Fassbender. So at a very young age, I was blessed enough to observe these great actors work. It really informed my own craft.
Please tell us about your production company Motorcycle Boy Productions. How did it come about, and how many productions have you done so far?
Motorcycle Boy Productions is an independent production company Rusty Nixon, Blaine Anderson, and myself co-founded in 2012.
We focus on our in-house content, but do service productions as well if we feel the project is right. All three of us are born storytellers. We really wanted to contribute to the growth of the film industry on not only a local scale (because Vancouver has some of the best talent in the world), but also on an international scale. It’s very gratifying to create opportunity for us to collaborate with our peers.
The company has currently produced four feature films with six more in the works and two TV shows. CANDilAND is the first of our features to be distributed, so this is really the beginning of our company. It’s exciting.
You have been on some prominent shows–Supernatural, Fringe, etc. While all your appearances are memorable for various reasons, please tell us about one or two that really stand out.
2030 CE. It was a small YTV children’s sci-fi shot in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I was seventeen. I only had one scene, but it was with this really great young actor who was one of the series regulars. She was probably only sixteen at the time. It can be hard coming onto a show as a day player and feel relaxed but she was a total pro. I remember thinking she was going to be a big star one day. She is now and deserves it. Her name is Tatiana Maslany.
I will be appearing in an upcoming episode of The 100. I can’t tell you much about my involvement, but I will say that the cast and crew are absolutely the most welcoming I’ve been around in a long time. I was lucky enough to be on set with one of the series regulars Jessica Harmon. She makes you feel like you’re truly collaborating.
Comradery is essential on set. The best sets have this in spades, which is why I love working with Rusty Nixon. I’ve heard stories about how at the end of the day when you’ve shot with Quentin Tarantino you feel like you really did something meaningful as a group. Something that’s more than just simple entertainment. I feel lucky cause Rusty’s sets feel the same way. You can’t help but feel inspired at the end of the day.
Please tell us about your upcoming film CANDiLAND . What attracted you to this project? What can you tell us about your character?
CANDiLAND is adapted to the screen by Rusty Nixon from the novel of the same name by Elizabeth Engstrom. It’s the story of two broken people who fall in love and isolate themselves from the world that hurt them. What they create in their isolation is CANDiLAND. However, what starts out with the best intentions soon degenerates into savagery. My character’s father, played by Gary Busey, is desperately trying to reach them in time to save them from themselves.
I read the script when I was twenty. The story was simple, beautifully written, and I couldn’t stop thinking about it. It was disturbing and moving all at once. So I needed to be in the movie purely based on that gut reaction. I also loved the challenge of becoming a completely different character with such a transformation from the beginning to the end. It’s important for me to play characters that go on a journey.
While we were screening the film at festivals last year, a lot of the feedback was that by the end of the film, you’re so engrossed with what has happened, you forget where the characters started from. It happens so gradually and as an audience member, you’re sucked in. It’s quite shocking when you look back. The story is very relatable. You can’t help but identify with one of the characters, and its themes are very relevant to today.
Any behind-the-scenes stories or info you can share about CANDiLAND? Why do you think audiences will like this film?
So many stories come to mind, but the overall filming experience was pretty intense for me purely because of the functionality of my character. CANDiLAND pushes the boundary between fact and fiction. I lost fifty-five pounds throughout the course of filming, so the physical and mental journey my character Peter is going through was actually being experienced by me as we filmed. It’s disturbing for me to even watch as I acted it. When you’re emaciated, you don’t sleep, you’re weak, your body can’t regulate its temperature, and you’re emotionally all over the place. It was very hard and scary at times. I don’t recommend anyone doing what I did. I’m lucky I didn’t hurt myself long-term. I look back now and I’m very proud of the film. It was worth it, but there is definitely a level of insanity that creeps in as you become more and more skinny. It’s like being in a glass house. I was 130 pounds (started at 185 pounds), and on the last day of filming, the only thing I could feel was disappointment. I had it in my head that I should have lost more weight. I definitely lost touch with reality.
I think audiences will like the film because it will take them on a truly authentic emotional ride. And for the audience members who really like disturbing films, this one is nerve-wrecking beyond belief. It delivers.
The next feature Blaine and I produced and star in is the neo-noir, action horror Residue written and directed by Rusty Nixon. The film is about a private investigator (played by me) who reads a supernatural book that unleashes demons in his apartment. The film will be released in the US in June 2017 and also stars Taylor Hickson, Matt Frewer, Elysia Rotaru, Costas Manylor, and William B. Davis. We’re really excited about the film. It’s a lot of fun to watch. I hope we get to make more of them.
As I mentioned before, I’ll be appearing in The 100, but can’t really divulge my involvement and we are planning to go into production this year on another Rusty Nixon production The Pain Doctors, which will be set in the same universe as Residue, but involve different characters.
Where do you see your career ten years from now in terms of writing/acting/producing?
If I’m lucky, I’ll still be making movies with Blaine and Rusty. I would love our company to have evolved into a full-fledged studio by that time. Also, all the in-house films we produce are part of a shared universe created by Rusty Nixon. I can see all of that fully realized on a larger scale. I would love to collaborate with some of the greats too: Christopher Nolan, Aronofsky, Tarantino, and Eastwood to name a few. That’s the Super Bowl of movie making so I’m keeping my fingers crossed.
Who has been the most influential person to you in the industry? Outside the industry? Why?
Inside the industry: Rusty, Blaine, and Lori Triolo. I’ve done and am doing great things with them.
For someone I aspire to: Hugh Jackman. He’s the nicest guy in the world, and he’s the best actor.
Outside of the industry: That’s easy. My wife. She’s my best friend and a great partner.
I find myself often awestruck by the extraordinary array of talent that exists within the entertainment industry today. I am even more thunderstruck when I realize that a majority of these people are kind, sedulous, and not covetous of fame and fortune. The desire of most of the people with whom I come in contact is to make a living doing what they love and hopefully have the opportunity to inspire, connect, and work on remarkable projects with outstanding people. In the case of James, there is no doubt that his head and heart are in the right place, and he has kept himself focused on the positive energy that reverberates throughout the film community without getting caught up with vanity, arrogance, and “names.” His memories include working with “famous” people, but he does not permit that to skew his endeavors within the business. He has been fortunate to have some phenomenal experiences, but he keeps his head about him and continues to give his utmost no matter what role or film is placed into his hands. He completely immerses himself within his roles (his response about his role in CANDiLAND is almost more haunting than the movie itself), and he is sincerely grateful for every experience whether seemingly insignificant or on a grander scale. Moreover, he has a support system, that at the helm would be his wife, and I tend to think that keeps him grounded and reminds him of his priorities in this often materialistic world. Be sure that you check out James at all the links below, and watch for his upcoming films/appearances (especially if you’re a fan of psychological thrillers–you will love CANDiLAND). With versatility, benevolence, and purposeful virtues shining from his very soul, I believe he is the kind of young men that this industry craves, and I greatly anticipate where he just might be one, two, or even ten years from now.
Interested in subscribing to all my site's updates? Subscribe below!