Interview With James Wilder – Recipient of the 2015 Garden State Film Festival’s Independent Spirit Award

by Donald Hanson • March 19, 2015 • EntertainmentComments (0)2778


The Garden State Film Festival runs from today until March 22nd in Atlantic City. We had a chance to interview actor and artist James Wilder, the recipient of the Independent Spirit Award at the 13th Annual Garden State Film Festival on March 22nd.

Congratulations on winning the Independent Spirit Award at the 2015 Garden State Film Festival.

At what age and how did you get interested in acting?

I would say what got me interested in acting was people urging me to go in that direction because I started out as a street performer when I was about 11 years old in the Fisherman’s Wharf area of San Francisco. I put together a one man show and by the time I was 14 I got booked at the Moulin Rouge in Paris so I had always been into entertainment and after I completed high school and what not I came down south here to Southern California and I was performing at Venice beach juggling running chainsaws. They booked me at the Whimsy a go go and the Greek Theatre so people in the entertainment area said – Hey, you should consider being an actor. I had no interest in it because I had never met any actors that I really liked other than the performance obviously and then of course I became one.

Are there any actors that influenced you or your acting style?

Later yes, but prior to that I was influenced as a kid with Houdini, W. C. Fields, you know more of these Vaudeville one man show people. You know P. T. Barnum because I was doing a live street show that was really spectacular but as soon as I got into acting, actors that real influenced me, actually Eric Roberts is one of my favorite actors for sure from the generation at that time. I’d say from prior periods when I was watching the films of Montgomery Clift, Marlon Brando and James Dean, I think sort of the quintessential method actors of that period. Those are my influences prior to contemporaries.


I saw that you only take roles if they inspire you which is the way I always feel art should be. I was wondering if that ever created any difficulty in terms of feeling pressure to take something or turning someone down, that sort of thing.

Absolutely, the thing that I started is more of what I’d call a tactile artist which means dealing with having an alternate income stream other than an actor with this one man show. It enabled me to not have to just pay my bills through acting. Because in acting the roles are very similar to whatever role you just finished. People want to hire you for that exact same role which as an actor isn’t really showing much diversity. So of course it’s an uphill battle trying to do something completely different than the last role you did. I was always able to not have to take roles just based on needing to pay the bills.


I see that you got into architecture with The Modern Villas which look absolutely amazing by the way. What got your interest in architecture going?

When I started building props for my shows as a kid, I then as I got older started building kind of custom motorcycles and custom cars only to realize later that there’s really no money to made building custom motorcycles or cars unless you’re a genius like Jesse James so I started to do living spaces designed for an artist for artists. I was trying to do art spaces that are live and work spaces for artists. And I felt that it was also a good way to hedge my income into a slow growing asset. And I found if you can build things creatively whatever they are it probably would lend into the next area. If you can have an imagination to build a custom motorcycle or car, you can probably do the same thing with architecture too. Its all about flow, design and space relation and so that’s what I got into and I found that it was much more fun and long lasting than cars and motorcycles of which I still own but never sold any.


Did you want to talk about the movie ‘3 Holes and a Smoking Gun’? Can you give us a brief description?

I was at a bar lounge named after Hemingway, the famous writer, when somebody tapped me on the shoulder, a stranger, I turned around and said ‘Can I help you’. They said “Hi, Im a writer. I want to present you with a script that I wrote’. I said ‘What is it about?’. He said ‘It’s about a writer’. I said ‘A writer approaching me with a script about a writer in a bar named after a writer’. I thought I was going to get punked by Ashton Kutcher. Needless to say that didn’t happen and I read the script. It was really dynamic an extremely challenging and so I took on the project.

Based on whatever you know about New Jersey, what do you like or dislike about New Jersey?

Well I played in New Jersey about 20 years ago with my one man show at one of the hotels, I can’t remember which one of the casino hotels it was, it was so long ago but it was like the east coast version of Las Vegas. It was very dynamic, of course the seaside was beautiful, the boardwalk, those things all resonate so much to me about a time past in America that was very romantic, inventive, artistic and utilizing nature, structure and architecture into an all-encompassing experience.

Thanks a lot, it was great talking with you.

James Wilder’s Biography below:



Neil Young wrote that it’s better to burn out than fade away. But for actor/architect/designer James Wilder neither option is acceptable. Juggling artistic mediums like the three running chainsaws that earned him notoriety on the streets of New York and Los Angeles — and later on stages throughout Europe — Wilder is that rare breed of artist that is not drawn to the flame of fame and fortune but rather the exhilaration of a new challenge.

Committing only to that which truly inspires him — be it a film, TV or stage role, designing award-winning Hollywood Hills homes or an exclusive line of leather jackets and jewelry — Wilder has been successfully merging creative spirit with entrepreneurial instincts since his early teens. It was then that he first discovered he could earn more money as a fire-eating/knife-throwing street performer than bagging groceries. And it was far more fun.

Almost always judicious in his career decisions, it’s been a while since Wilder found a project compelling enough to distract him from his other ventures. But the opportunity to play a duplicitous washed up screenwriter in the soon-to-be- released indie psychological thriller “Three Holes And a Smoking Gun” (formerly titled “Three Holes, Two Brads, And a Smoking Gun”) was just too juicy a role to pass up.

Co-starring Joaquim de Almeida, Rudolf Martin, and Richard Edson, “Three Holes And A Smoking Gun” has since accrued a slew awards — including the “Grand Jury Prize” and “Best Lead Actor” (Wilder) at the 2014 Red Dirt International Film Festival, “Best U.S. Narrative Feature Film” at the 2014 Laughlin International Film Festival, and “Best Screenwriter” (Scott Fivelson) at a 2014 Downtown Film Festival Los Angeles. The film will also screen at the high profile Winter Film Awards in NYC (Feb 26, 2015) and the Garden State Film Festival (March 19-22) in Atlantic City prior to its early spring theatrical release.

Similarly graced with nearly universal critical praise for its incisive script and powerful acting, “Three Holes…” has even earned comparison to Robert Altman’s award-winning anti-Hollywood classic “The Player”: Writes Film Threat Magazine” “Three Holes and a Smoking Gun managed to make a film about struggling screenwriters alluring and engaging… The level of moral bankruptcy that reveals itself reminded me of The Player and if you’re going to find comparisons to a film, that’s not a bad one to have.”

Of his searing portrayal of Bobby Blue Day, the London Film Review decrees that Wilder delivers: “an excellent performance… burning up the screen… and never less than believable… It’s a great role and Wilder more than does it justice… In Bobby Blue Day, Wilder and writer Scott Fivelson have given us a highly memorable screen creation.”

Concurs online site “Despite being a low-budget film, (“Three Holes And A Smoking Gun”) provides big-budget drama. Where most films go for flash and computer graphics this film honors past “Who Dunnits” in the style of Agatha Christie by being driven purely by dialogue. And how that dialogue is translated can only come from good acting. Wilder… creates a character who is dangerously unpredictable, disturbing, and desperate beneath a veneer of charm; charm that is deceiving.” observes that “(It is) a dark, and occasionally comedic (in an understated and visceral sense) sleuth film in the vein of a good Agatha Christie novel… (this is) intelligent writing at its best,” while Film Industry Network definitively states that for those who have ever “wondered what happened to smart, well-written movies”… Three Holes And A Smoking Gun is the answer.”

Raised in the bohemian enclave of Sausalito (outside San Francisco) where he attended an all-boys advanced learning institute, Wilder’s paradoxically liberal upbringing allowed for the kind of creative freedom from which his maverick tendencies were born. At the age of 14 Wilder was living in his mother’s native Paris, regaling audiences with his one man show at such legendary venues as the Moulin Rouge and Lido and later on Broadway. While there, he performed with the Nouveau Cirque De Paris, the precursor to Cirque du Soleil, before making his way to LA where he lived for several years in his customized van.

As his legend grew so too did his opportunities, his charisma and movie star good looks soon propelling him into the world of acting. “I never set out to be an actor,” he admits. “But with so many people urging me to give it a shot, I succumbed to the temptation.”

It wasn’t long before Wilder nabbed a role in the Broadway hit “Sugar Babies” while studying at the famed NY Actors Studio, at which he was later inducted as a member. Upon returning to LA his impressive range and determination quickly earned him a reputation as a fearless and committed actor. TV and film roles rolled in. Some were great, highlighting his scope, others not so much. But the one thing that remained constant was the recognition of his talent. From his breakout role as the troubled addict son of Ed Asner in the ABC Circle Theater presentation “Cracked Up” to his heralded star turn in the Emmy-award winning one hour legal drama “Equal Justice” (with Sarah Jessica Parker) and evocative characterization of a drug-dealing seducer on “Melrose Place,” Wilder metamorphosizes with Kafka-esque ease from sleaze to tease, charming marauder to murdering psychopath… and virtually every persona in-between.

His film work included such diverse projects as “Scorchers” with icons Faye Dunaway and James Earl Jones, “Flypaper” opposite Lucy Liu, and “Nevada” alongside Angus McFadden and Gabrielle Anwar. He also appeared in (starred) “The Coriolis Effect,” which won The Grand Prize (in its category) at the Venice Film Festival. But it was his scorching depiction of serial killer Carl Isaacs in the acclaimed Miramax film “Murder One” that definitively thrust him into the limelight. Having spent an entire day with the prisoner at Atlanta’s Reedsville State Penitentiary, Wilder embodied the dark and sinister psyche of a deranged murderer with chilling acuity. Or as the New York Times wrote: “James Wilder, as Carl Isaacs, is a thoroughly malevolent character, one in whom evil rather than insanity seems to prevail.”

As his star ascended, Wilder was featured in the pages of Vanity Fair alongside Alec Baldwin, Meg Ryan, Robin Wright, and Keifer Sutherland, GQ, Detour, and many other high profile titles. Often disinterested in the mainstream roles coming his way, he began turning his attention to the more provocative world of independent films and his passion for design and architecture.

Untrained as an architect or interior designer, Wilder’s keen eye and distinct vision has transformed a dozen empty lots throughout California into panoramic living art. From gothic to baroque, sleekly modern to vintage chic, each of designs boasts a singularly unique aesthetic, one of which was recognized by HGTV as among LA’s top three most outstanding properties alongside a Frank Lloyd Wright design

Slowly the homes he built in his exclusive Hollywood Hills neighborhood have evolved into a loosely-structured artist’s retreat inspired by Elia Kazan, Wilder’s favorite renegade. Annie Leibovitz, Stanley Tucci, Blake Shelton, Tom Ford, Eddie Van Halen, Jesse James, and Stevie Wonder are just a few of the marquee names who have chosen his properties for photo shoots, exclusive events and long-term inspirational living spaces.

When not constructing homes, acting or designing, Wilder can often be seen searching for vintage treasures or working on one of his classic cars and Indian motorcycles. Boredom and routine does not suit a man who is fueled by the thrill of the unknown and the rush of a challenge. Seems he’ll always keep us guessing as to his next move.

January 2015

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