Canadian actor makes a stand in ‘Selma’


Wendell Pierce (far left) and Stephan James (white jacket, middle) play Reverend Hosea Williams and John Lewis, respectively, in “Selma,” which came out on DVD this month. (Paramount Pictures)

Story by Rod Charles Deputy Editor

TORONTO, ONTARIO — Toronto actor Stephan James has been making some big waves in Hollywood, with significant supporting roles in the CBC mini-series “The Book of Negroes,” and a starring role in the Jesse Owens’ biopic “Race” (set for a 2016 release).

His most recent work comes with the Oscar-nominated civil-rights drama “Selma.” James plays John Lewis, currently the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district who was a member of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee). Lewis was one of the leaders on the front lines of those Alabama marches with Dr. Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery back in the 1960s.

Director Ava DuVernay’s powerful drama was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture and won the Oscar for Best Original Song for John Legend and Common’s compelling tribute “Glory.” King led the epic march depicted in the film to secure equal voting rights in an event that forever altered history. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the legendary march.

James took time to meet with to discuss his career and his hometown, his love for Berlin and Vancouver, and why he can’t wait to get out to Prince Edward Island. So where do you call home?

Stephan James: Toronto is definitely home, obviously nowadays I’m in Los Angeles more but Toronto is home.


Canadian actor Stephan James attends the New York premiere of “Selma” in 2014. (IMDB photo) Tell us about Selma.

James: Selma came out on DVD on May 5. It’s a civil rights story about Martin Luther King Jr. and the marches he led from Selma to Montgomery for voting rights, so I play John Lewis who’s a member of SNCC, and he’s one of the leaders who was on the front lines of those marches. What was it like to film this movie?

James: It was incredible for me, it was an incredible experience for me to be able to learn about my history that way. And I just really walked into the footsteps of John Lewis and to be able to connect with him in that way, while also having a history lesson, is something that I was very happy to be a part of. What influence did Toronto have on your career path?

James: Well, I think coming from Toronto, it’s such a diverse place, there was a bunch of avenues available for me to explore, whether it was arts, sports, science, whatever I wanted to do I know I had the resources to be able to go and do it, being in a city like this. Basically for me, my journey started in high school drama classes, being part of the theatre productions in my school, and then getting representation and seeing how far I could take it. I think Toronto certainly encourages diversity and supports artists and anything that it is they want to do. Have you had a chance to travel in Canada much?

James: Yeah, yeah I have actually gotten around to a lot of places in Canada. My favourite place — other than Toronto of course—– is Vancouver. I love Vancouver, I have actually now worked there twice. First time I was there I did a mini-series called “Clue” for Hasbro. And last month I was filming a pilot for NBC called “Unveiled.” Vancouver is just a beautiful, beautiful town, British Columbia is a beautiful province. Yeah, that’s a place I always love going back to. Is there a place in Canada you haven’t visited you, that is high on your list?

James: I’ve heard a lot of really good things about Prince Edward Island! Well, that will make our friends at Tourism Prince Edward Island very happy.

James: Yes, I was shooting in Nova Scotia — PEI and Nova Scotia are very close of course being in the Maritimes. I’ve heard a lot of really, really nice things about PEI. So that’s somewhere I think I would like to get to eventually. What were you doing in Nova Scotia?

SELMA Feature

Stephan James filmed a pilot for NBC in Vancouver called “Unveiled,” about flawed guardian angels who intervene in the lives of those who find themselves facing crisis. (Stephan James photo)

James: I was shooting an indie film called “Undone,” directed by Director X and produced by Floyd Kane. It’s about an aspiring hockey player who faces some adversity on his way to stardom. Does your career take you into any exotic international places to film?

James: Yes, it’s so funny a few years ago I had a chance to make a film called “Home Again,” we got to film it in Trinidad, which was amazing. Beautiful, you can imagine. Three months in Trinidad, you can’t go wrong. We also just shot in Berlin last summer, which was beautiful. That’s a beautiful city, isn’t it?

Germany is gorgeous, and Berlin is just beautiful. So much history there, beautiful people and culture, that’s certainly a place I could see myself spending a lot of time in, just outside of work, hanging out. Where do you go from here?

James: Well, hopefully an NBC show in a couple of months, a series would be nice. And I just continue doing what I do. Thank you so much for your time. All the best, and safe travels.

James: Thanks! It was a pleasure.


Rod has previously worked for and is currently freelancing for Huffington Post Travel. He’s also written travel articles for the Toronto Star and Up! Magazine. Living in Toronto but raised in the small central Ontario village of Holstein, Rod is a country boy at heart who has never met a farmer’s market he didn’t like.

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