When husband and wife filmmakers, Sudz Sutherland and Jennifer Holness, couldn’t agree on who should play the lead role of Everton in their feature Home Again, they devised a plan to settle the outcome.
“It was down to two young men who Sudz thought were really strong when they auditioned,” said Holness. “However, my preference was Stephan James because I thought he embodied a bunch of the vulnerabilities and sensibilities that the character needed to have. He simply brought everything to the role that we were looking for.
“Sudz was not quite sure, so we asked every female member of our staff who saw the auditions who they would choose and they all came back saying Stephan.”
Screened at last year’s Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), the dramatic feature film is about three young men deported to the lands of their birth after spending significant time in foreign countries.
James, 19, played the role of a spoiled British teenager deported for possession of a small quantity of drugs.
“He knocked it out of the park,” Holness said of James’ role in the film. “Playing the part of a British teen meant that Stephan, who was born in Toronto, was required to have a British accent for his role. A friend of our family visiting from England attended the TIFF screening and actually thought that Stephan was British. That was how well the young man fitted into his role.”
In addition to Toronto, the feature film was shot in Trinidad & Tobago and Jamaica.
James spent almost two months with the cast shooting in the twin-island republic early last year.
“We were in Trinidad during the Carnival season when there are many distractions, especially for a teenager visiting the country for the first time,” said Holness. “Stephan was not carried away by what was going on around him. He obviously knew why he was there and remained focused throughout. I was so impressed with this young man. His feet are firmly rooted to the ground and he’s going to go places.”
James has been nominated for an Academy of Canadian Cinema & Television Award that recognizes film, television and digital media productions. The two-hour gala will be broadcast live on Sunday night on CBC.
“I pride myself on hard work and putting my best foot forward,” said James, who is nominated in the Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role category. “So it feels good to be recognized for what I am doing. I am still young and I know I am yet to reach my full potential. But to be nominated for such a prestigious honour alongside others who have been in this business before I was born is quite satisfying.”
Best known for portraying Julian on Degrassi: The Next Generation, James has made guest appearances on How to be Indie and My Babysitter’s a Vampire and appeared in a lead role in 12 Dates of Christmas, which premiered in December, 2011.
“Getting cast in Degrassi was amazing,” said James, who appeared in the series for two seasons. “I grew up watching the Canadian teen drama series. When I got the call for that, I was really excited because that was my first big gig on a national TV show.”
Last fall, James spent six weeks in Sault Ste. Marie shooting A Pride of Lions, starring Oscar-award winning actor, Lou Gossett Jr., who plays one of five ex-military officers who embark on a daring rescue to save a group of young American soldiers captured in northern Afghanistan.
James, who plays the role of Gossett’s grandson in the movie, flies out to Los Angeles next week to audition for a role in When the Game Stands Tall. Directed by Thomas Carter, the film is based on the true story of high school coach, Bob Ladouceur, who led the De La Salle Spartans of Concord, California to 12 consecutive undefeated seasons.
While the Scarborough-born teen enjoys his ride as an emerging actor, he made it clear that music is still his number one passion. The rapper recently dropped a mix tape – The Rap Party – and shot a music video in New York City.
Raised by a single parent, James and his two siblings have made their mother proud.
Older brother Shamier Anderson graduated from Wexford School for the Arts as an Ontario Scholar and has made guest appearances in Degrassi, Rookie Blue and Saving Hope while the youngest – 17-year-old Sheldon James – has a pilot’s license and intends to pursue aeronautical engineering.
“As you can imagine, raising three Black boys is not easy,” said James, who graduated from Jarvis Collegiate Institute. “It was quite a challenge with all the stereotypes out there. We knew what we wanted to do and where we wanted to go and nothing was going to hold us back.”