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Interview with Theo James

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With starring roles in two major franchises already to his name, a contract as the face of Hugo Boss and an upcoming part alongside a couple of silver-screen legends, Theo James’ career could finally be about to reach the big time. He talks to Culture Calling about his break-out role in Divergent, vampires and Hugo Boss.

Not every Hollywood star is destined to grab their first role in those youthful days of innocence, before achieving twenty-something super-stardom and a graceful ascent to legendary status in their twilight years. It just doesn’t happen that way, believe it or not. For every actor who is blessed with a career that leaps into life as soon as they emerge from the womb, there are stars who have to bide their time. When we encounter the rarity of someone emerging in the middle of their life, we often embrace them all the more.

Take Theo James for instance - all 32 years of him. The Oxford-born actor and now London resident has proved himself as the personification of patience. His is film career kicked off with minor roles in teenage vacation flick The Inbetweeners and period drama Downton Abbey. Now James gears up to star alongside Tinseltown heavyweights Billy Bob Thornton and Ben Kingsley in London Fields and Backstabbing for Beginners respectively. His acting stock, clearly, has risen substantially.

“I’m still learning with every movie I’m making,” he admits. “I got a relatively late start in this business and I’m anxious to use every opportunity I get to understand more about the process, to take more chances and, I guess, to scare myself. Early on I kept taking these incremental steps and I’ve been building on that.”

Theo James in Divergent

A major part of James’ silver screen education came in the form of a starring role in the Divergent franchise opposite the then relatively unknown Shailene Woodley. Later he had his turn as vampire David in the fourth film in the Underworld series, 2012’s Awakening. James returns to the supernatural battlefield in this year’s Underworld: Blood Wars, hinting he may have that most essential quality in one’s Hollywood survival kit: staying power.

“I was always interested in returning to the character and it’s been kind of surreal,” says James of his decision to revisit the handsome bloodsucker. “I thought the script was very good and that David still had another story left to tell.

“Audiences should expect a lot of teeth, blue eyes, blood, and a return to some of the themes in the original films. This film takes audiences into the vampire world much more than the others. You see how they interact; you learn more about them as opposed to seeing them simply in the context of big action sequences. I think you get more of everything with the new film.”

Only a handful of sci-fi franchises have managed to take hold as the Underworld series has. James commented on how lucky he is to have landed a role alongside series staple Kate Beckinsale, who also returns to the action-packed fold in style - a move that James says is indicative of how “we’re currently living in a world where there’s lots of great female-led movies and TV series”.

Indeed, his character’s deference to a strong-willed woman runs almost parallel with his three-film stint in the Divergent series. James plays ‘Four’ the accomplice and love interest to Woodley’s Tris. Off-screen, the pair’s close bond has prompted rumours of a relationship beyond the camera’s fiction.

Theo James in Underworld

“Shai and I had good chemistry from the first moment we met,” he remarks. “I've also had the opportunity to see her evolve as a person in a very wonderful way. Our friendship has grown in the same way, and that’s been a good thing since you’re not just spending time on a set together but you’re also spending months promoting the films all over the world together.”

It’s not just the two blockbuster franchises that signal James’ growing reputation. Earlier this year the actor was selected as the new face of the world-renowned men’s fragrance Hugo Boss. Here he follows in the footsteps of notable Hollywood powerhouses Gerard Butler and Ryan Reynolds. The Darren Aronofsky-directed advert displays a suave brooding side to James, an image he connects to some of his acting heroes - Paul Newman, Marlon Brandon, Sean Connery and Steve McQueen. “They had a sense of their own masculinity and their own distinct style”.

Despite these tentative steps towards Hollywood stardom, James’ keen to stay grounded. “I try not to take myself too seriously or become too self-involved,” he smiles. “I take my work seriously and I would like to make my mark as an actor. But I also want to lead an interesting life, enjoy London, be able to travel, and explore other facets of life apart from this business.

“It’s important to lead a normal life so that when you go home you’re able to separate yourself from all the attention and the superficial side of this business. I’ve always tried to focus on the work and not pay much attention to what goes on around me. It’s important to draw a clear line between that. As long as you can do that, you don’t have to worry about losing your perspective.”