The Wilder Side Interview with James Wilder
Originally published to Examiner/ACX (site(s) no longer available) Entertainment January 29, 2015
By Michele E. Gwynn
There are actors who act for the gig, and then there are actors who act because they love the art of interpreting and bringing to life a character born in the mind of a writer. These character actors become our favorites because we as an audience can’t wait to see what they do next. A few names on that list for me are Johnny Depp, Rudolf Martin, Denzel Washington, Jessica Lange, Helen Mirren, Gary Oldman, and John Malkovich. Sure, there are many more, but there’s another name on that list; James Wilder.
Many fans will remember Wilder from the hit series, Melrose Place, as the charming but dangerous drug dealer, Reed Carter. The good looks and seductive smile hid a deeper persona than the one we saw on the surface. It was true then, and it’s true once again in the dark Indie drama, Three Holes and a Smoking Gun. The character of Bobby Blue Day attracted Wilder to once again delve deep inside himself and manifest the uglier side of human nature: greed and deceit. (The name of the film was shortened from Three Holes, Two Brads, and a Smoking Gun)
Winner of the Best Lead Actor Award for Three Holes at the Red Dirt International Film Festival, James Wilder has landed squarely on the radar of film fest critics in the best possible way. The pace of the film is a build-up, almost a type of cinematic foreplay that suddenly explodes in an unexpected frenzy in a semi-climactic scene on a rooftop. Says Wilder, “A lot of it was oriented in trying to get the New York skyline in. So here’s a really pivotal scene in the movie and you’re trying to negotiate with the DP, you know, make sure you keep that skyline in there and not accidentally throw your actor off the building.” That actor in the compromising position is new kid on the block, Zuher Khan, who plays Jack Ariamehr, (also listed as producer).
“The sets, whether it was a choice of the writer or the budget, were very claustrophobic - it gives that compression like a pressure cooker so when there’s so much pressure, the lid blows, and that was kind of that scene. Now we’re to this large exterior, and as you so profoundly pick up, it goes from this tiny, claustrophobic space to this large panoramic shot. Now, cinematically, it’s changed so much and you have to really ramp it up as an actor to make that play, otherwise what you’ve been used to shooting across the series of the film isn’t going to play in its own subtle quietude… The fire in the belly of the actor finally gets to turn into a raging fury.”
Wilder’s character’s interplay with that of Khan’s Jack was one of a younger college student against that of the teacher. "He (Khan) was kind of pushing buttons within the character in a sort of passive-aggressive manner, and then my character having quite an age differentiation is able to metabolize that and realize that, and not let that get under my skin, so to speak. So I have to make my choices (as Bobby Blue Day) – if we were the same age, it would be a different thing, but since we aren’t, I have to play the character with a degree of maturity so that, you know, a kid that’s kind of pushing buttons, you’re not going to let that get under your skin or you’re going to look immature.”
And that’s the bi-play in this dark tale of a student looking to cut corners and capitalize on a bad situation, and a teacher who is, himself, a washed up script writer, vying for rights to a movie script that the student submitted as his own work - but it wasn’t. The script is so good, both realize its extraordinary potential, and from there on out it becomes a chess match as to who will ultimately gain rights to it; a script so compelling, it was worth the price of murder. Wilder further explains, “Yeah, my character has a moment of lunacy, loses it, and then in an offbeat way, apologizes for his failures.”
Wilder is surrounded and supported by an all-star cast of outstanding character actors. Mentioned above, international actor Rudolf Martin (NCIS, 24, Swordfish), Joachim de Almeida (Desperado, Behind Enemy Lines, Fast Five), and Richard Edson (Good Morning Vietnam, Platoon, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off). Why do such big names decide to do smaller Indie roles? Because it’s rare anymore for actors to have the opportunity to do lengthy scenes with great dialogue. Every actor wants that moment where they can get inside the audience’s head by getting inside their own and revealing profound characters integral to the story. And when the story is penned by a veteran of stage and screen writing as well as authoring great satirical books like Scott Fivelson, then that is simply one more reason for these actors to say yes. (Winner for Best Screenwriter at the Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles)
Adding this role to his repertoire is another feather in his acting cap. Wilder began as a performer at the tender age of fourteen in Paris at the Moulin Rouge living at the time with his Parisian mother (Yes, he speaks French), and later in Vienna. He actually built his own props for his show which led later to his designing an artists’ retreat of living spaces featured on HGTV. “So when I came to Los Angeles, I was literally street performing at Venice Beach, and then the owners of the Roxie and Whiskey a Go Go, you know, said hey, we want you to perform on the inside. So pretty soon, I was at the Roxie, the Whiskey, and the Greek Theater, and doing my one-man show all over Los Angeles and outside Los Angeles. At that time, people were urging me to be an actor and I had no interest to be an actor. I’d never met any actors that I personally liked. I found it to be kind of challenging.”
It was the starting point for James Wilder who then went on to play a guy on death row in Murder One, a Miramax film that received a great review from the New York Times. Bitten by the acting bug after that, he studied at the acclaimed Actors Studio where he became a lifetime member. From there, he’s chosen roles that piqued his interest, creating memorable characters along the way. In between, he has designed couture, homes, traveled extensively, and successfully pursued whatever grabbed his attention. A self-proclaimed ‘gypsy’, Wilder describes himself as a happy loner. With an abundance of great qualities and a winning smile, we hope to continue seeing more of this versatile actor in the future.
Three Holes and a Smoking Gun was featured as an official selection in two film festivals, The Atlantic City Garden State Film Festival and at the Winter Indie Film Festival in Manhattan. The film arrived in theatrical release for VOD in March, 2015. For Indie film lovers, this movie is one to add to your queue.
Special thanks to Lori DeWaal and James Wilder. Read more about this film in my interview with screenwriter Scott Fivelson, supporting cast of Rudolf Martin, Joachim de Almeida, and Richard Edson, and the SXSW debut article.