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Marcos James living his dream as a young actor of class

Game of Thrones star looking forward to greater things

BY JANICE JOHNSON RICHARDS
Sunday Observer writer
johnsonj@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, December 17, 2017



At an early age, Marcos James endorsed and embraced Wallace Stegner's profound quote: “Talent can't be taught, but it can be awakened”.

The multi-talented actor, model and performer credits much of his success to his Jamaican roots. “I grew up in a significantly powerful cultural space and had access to a solid foundation… I was able to grow up with, and feed off, the incredible and powerful Jamaican spirit,” he reasons.

As a result of this exposure, James has been able to tap into a section of the industry which many yearn to experience. Having been featured in Home Box Office (HBO's) highly acclaimed series, Game of Thrones, James takes us on the journey of how he was able to make the transition from island life to the big screen abroad.

A past student of Calabar High School and The University of the West Indies, James explains that while he was in Jamaica, his exposure to the Arts began with Cathy Levy's Little People, Teen Players Club, The Ashe Company, The University Dance Society and L'acadco. “Each company played a key role in my development. Through Little People and Ashe, I began to develop my technique as an actor, singer and dancer. I also did my first television commercial (for AT&T) while with Ashe. I learnt the value of professionalism, focus and drive. I was exposed to local and international performance spaces, festivals, showcases, and learnt the nuances of being a cultural representatitve. Through L'Acadco, I further solidified my technique — more in dance, but other aspects of performance were affected as well. L'acadco and Lantoinette Stines helped me to transition, in a sense, from a youth performer to a man,” he expressed.

It was these events which led to James' decision to move to the United Kingdom to pursue a master's degree in film production at the University of Bristol. “The idea was to take advantage of greater opportunities. I was not exactly sure how things would evolve, but I knew I needed to challenge myself.”

He further explains: “Upon the completion of my degree, I was in the process of organising a move back to Jamaica, when I was unexpectedly informed about a West End Audition for The Lion King.”

Though the process was a lengthy one, he was offered a role in the show which kick-started many more opportunities. After James' contract with Disney ended he managed to secure various production contracts with the English National and others which, he says, were dance and theatrical performance-based. At this stage, however, he realised he had an interest in acting and decided to channel more energy into this area.

He said though his initial attempt was to audition for a dance role in Sadler Well's production The Mahabharata, he managed to book the lead as Arjuna. “This was a significant shift as I was able to utilise this acting credit to book more roles. This, in turn, resulted in me securing my commercial agent, which then opened up jobs and opportunities for television and print commercials, stage shows, music projects and more.”

James' step to sign with an agent brought a flood of new endeavours, but his biggest break came when he booked the role of White Rat in Season 5 of the Game of Thrones series. It was for this very reason that he decided to pack up and move to Los Angeles.

“Immediately after my episode aired, I was offered opportunities and representation in the United States, and since LA is the hub of the film and television industry, it made sense to come here”.

When questioned about whether he was always intrigued with the career path he has chosen, James revealed that his “understanding of the industry and the arts was limited to what he had seen on television”, but had always had an interest in the field. He credits Cathy Levy's Little People for exposing him to a broader understanding of the arts. “I remember being intrigued by the training and just thinking that it felt right and that I needed to be present. I literally recall being in a room full of talented people and knowing that I felt at home, and that I needed to do class and turn up on time and do rehearsals and perform. I was not overthinking beyond that. I was in the moment. Everything evolved from that point and I would say [that] initial intrigue and curiosity turned into a keen desire for self-development and the maximisation of potential.”

James lists his role in The Lion King, his first contract with the English National, The Mahabharata and Game of Thrones as definite highlights of his career. However, he explains that to date he has been in several gigs, which include a shoot for Spike TV in LA, playing the character Tom Dorado; being featured in the role of The Chosen One in a run of Aida, staged at The Royal Opera House in London (2010 and 2011); playing the lead role of Simon in a film entitled Reunion, screened at the London Film Festival; as well as his numerous involvement in infomercial acts for Cadbury Chocolate, Terry's Chocolate (UK), Heineken, Nokia (Europe/Worldwide), Freddy Sports (Italy), For Goodness Shakes Protein, and Popeye's.

While the opportunities continue to pour in, James is adamant that quitting is not in the cards for him. “No,” he says, “I love what I do and it is the life I know. It is not something I have to ever think about because I grew up in the arts and by now, it is a natural aspect of who I am. This is not to say that I don't have interests outside of the arts. I have always mutitasked and I have an interest in business, which I have cultivated in tandem with my career. However, the focus is always the focus; I am invested in the process.”

He further explains that his drive to succeed is as a result of, “an appreciation of what I have done so far — the knowledge of what I can do and the desire to engage with this along with my willingness to learn — so as to aid in my development. I am also in an environment where I am constantly inspired by people around me, as well as the success coming out of Jamaica. There is a lot to take advantage of in Los Angeles career-wise. I am grateful to be in the space to do so and this in itself, is also constantly inspiring.”

James realises that this 'space' has allowed for him a level of growth which speaks to his physical, mental and emotional self. Even though he has always been athletic, being involved in sprinting and field hockey, he was influenced by a cousin to try weightlifting and gym work. He also now trains extensively in stage combat, chi kung and varying aspects of weapon based stage combat.

“The physical aspect and athleticism oftentimes get interlinked with the roles I am called in for and the characters I play, he explains. Emotionally, I understand the value of calmness. With acting, I have learnt how to feel the entire extent of emotional experiences so that I can use the information to positively affect performance delivery. Mentally, I have learned how to navigate the industry and to apply a mental filter of positivity. Much of what goes into presenting yourself as an actor and performer, or navigating life in general, is based on the mental perspective, mental attitude, optimism, and the ability to understand and adapt to situations and circumstances so that you are better able — mentally, emotionally and physically — to deliver when needed.”

He admits that even though living abroad means he has to sacrifice a lot of family time, he maintains a strong hold to his foundation and oftentimes relies on their constant support of his choices.

James describes the life of an actor with a combination of feeling. “It is rewarding, surreal (in a good way), filled with the necessity to take action, full of running around and moving and shifting, and definitely aligned with the concept of not just being alive, but living. Risk-taking is an inherent part of the experience and there is sometimes the concept of a leap of faith involved.

“You definitely not only need to develop and be mindful of your craft, as well as knowing how to navigate personal interactions, [but] how to present yourself and how to define your brand and image. People skill is a must, as is the ability to adapt to different personalities. You work with so many individuals — directors, producers, casting agents, managers, acting agents, fellow actors — and everyone has a different personality and story. So inherent to the process is the skill of knowing what to say when, where and how, and if needs be, adapt to the immediate environment. This lifestyle is a huge investment. The pictures, the gym, acting and performance classes, clothes for castings, and meetings all come at a cost. Furthermore, the long hours in rehearsals, last-minute plan changes to learn scripts and prep for auditions, and the deciding whether or not to consume junk food on a tonight before a commercial, acting casting or a photo shoot that is two days away must also be considered.

“One thing is for sure: meeting intriguing, interesting people who are creative and talented will keep you constantly motivated. You are challenged to always top your last performance and often tap into your emotional facilities on call. This teaches you to be present and in the moment.

“There is sometimes a transient feeling. This is due to the fact that job contracts are not always permanent, there are lengthy contracts sometimes, but there is usually a definite timescale to the project. Because of this, you always have to think ahead, plan and multitask. Things can also change at any moment with one message, one phone call or e-mail, so you have to be cognisant of that fact.

“For example, I worked in London for a commercial real estate company part-time. One day I got to work. An hour later I got an email that I booked a commercial shoot for that weekend. An hour later I got another phone call to inform me I had booked Game Of Thrones and that I needed to fly to Ireland within two days for a one-hour fitting.

“It is also very interesting when you have to do different accents or learn words from a new language or portray characters from different cultural backgrounds. In this respect, you learn to be socially engaged and study people and the environment around you. You are constantly learning. Sometimes for the jobs I have done I needed to act. For others, I may need to act and sing or use all three disciplines.

“Overall, it is an experience that leads to constant self-development, growth and is extremely engaging and rewarding — and definitely requires passion and dedication”.

James' love for the arts is the reason he looks to the future with optimism. Where he sees himself in the next five years is basically a continuation of this, his 'Los Angeles chapter'. “I will be happy; happy with what I am achieving, happy with what I have achieved as an actor and performer. I see myself developed, grateful, balanced and consistent, giving back to the development of the arts, immersed in career and life in a good way. All good things.”

When asked to give his best advice to individuals looking on, those who want to tap into the industry, he did not hold back. “This profession requires dedication, patience and passion. Pay attention to quality control. By this I mean train, do classes. Invest in a solid foundation as this will be the basis from which you can develop and move forward. Try to understand the varying facets of the industry, including the business aspect.

“Pay attention to your brand. You are assessed as a performer even outside of auditioning or performing. Branding is something that develops over time, but a key component of it is professionalism, which starts from the beginning. Be on time, know your lines, know the song, know your dance moves, whatever it is, practice and be prepared. Take a hold of genuine opportunities that present themselves and assess them, but don't overthink. Know why you want to do what you are doing. Enjoy it! It is ok to have diverse interests and to create diverse income streams. Be passionate, have self-belief and be nice.

“As it pertains to Jamaica, be aware that you are already in a rich cultural space with many examples of success in varying fields. Feed off of this energy and utilise it to your benefit, to develop your own strength, in whatever it is you want to do. As for the modern entertainment industry, there are many platforms. As such, depending on one's goals and vision, not everyone's journey will or has to be the same. Finally, be mindful of self-talk, keep it positive and uplifting,” James said.

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