Canada’s Stephan James Talks Rise To Fame, Representation In Hollywood: ‘I’m Living Out My Dreams’

Scarborough’s own Stephan James is representing Canada as one of the faces of Hollywood’s young and powerful in the new issue of Variety.

Acting since the age of 14 in his native country, the 25-year-old actor is coming off a massively successful year with international breakout roles in Amazon’s “Homecoming” opposite Julia Roberts and Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk”.

The sudden rise to Hollywood’s A-list, while straddling the line between online heartthrob and character actor, means James is learning to live in the present and be grateful for the ride.

“I think I’m learning to be more present,” he tells Variety over tea in Los Angeles. “Often times when there’s so much happening around you, you got to remember to acknowledge the space you’re in.”

It’s a realization James says came to him while he was travelling last year.

“I just remember being in a hotel room in Paris or London or somewhere, taking a deep breath and being like, ‘Wow. What a ride!’ I’m living out my dreams. Literally manifesting these things, and people are seeing it and appreciating it,” he says.

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His newfound Internet celebrity status means there’s plenty to Google about himself. “I’m pretty reclusive, so I don’t put my personal life out there,” he says after admitting he’s done the occasional online search about himself.

James credits his acting success to his brother, Shamier Anderson, whom James also appeared opposite of in the 2016 biopic “Race”.

“Seeing my brother do what he did, going to his shows, it sort of opened me up a little bit to take baby steps and then diving into what that would feel like,” he explains. “I went from performing a monologue in front of 20 people in class to being in my school play in front of 500 kids. Then I got a manager.”

The actor is also part of a new wave of a more inclusive and diverse Hollywood that includes leading man roles for his fellow actors like Michael B. Jordan and Chadwick Boseman, his co-star of the upcoming “21 Bridges”. Still, James admits, there’s plenty more work to be done when it comes to representation in Hollywood.

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“To say that we’ve made progress would be true,” he says. “To say that we’re completely there would probably be a lie. Certainly, there’s been a lot of strides in the elevation of diversity, and that’s not only with people of colour but with women too.” Admitting he finds television the more progressive medium when it comes to representation, James is frustrated by the labels movies featuring predominantly non-white casts receive.

“People will look at things like a black comedy and think, ‘This is going to be a great black film,’ but why can’t it just be a great project that has black actors in it?” he says, revealing his real dream is to be behind the camera as a producer so he can “prove that there are a variety of stories that we’re capable of telling.”

Not bad for someone who once thought about a career as a forensic psychologist after studying at Toronto’s Jarvis Collegiate Institute.

“I’ve always been into why criminals do what they do. Now with my career, maybe one day I’ll just be able to play a forensic psychologist,” he says, adding, “Any casting directors out there?”

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