Hometown: Spring Hill, Florida
Currently: Grunting around as the dutifully deranged butler Lurch in Broadway’s newest hit, The Addams Family
Marching in the Band: The son of a professional jazz guitarist, James played percussion and served as drum major in his high school marching band. Though his first goal was to become a band director, he harbored a longing for musical theater, as well. “We did Grease every two years because it sold tickets,” he jokes. “We did The Nutcracker, which was funny because nobody knew how to dance.” (Nevertheless, James played the Rat King.) For two summers, the budding performer attended theater camps in Key West that allowed him to hone his craft—and have what sounds like a little too much fun. “Key West has no laws, it’s like its own country," James says with a laugh. "As a teenager, I was by myself getting into trouble!”
Good Old Reliable Nathan: James entered Florida State with the aim of majoring in music, but thanks to a certain current co-star, he was inspired to follow his musical dreams. While home for winter break, James caught a telecast of the Kennedy Center Honors and watched Addams Family star Nathan Lane honor Angela Lansbury by singing “The Worst Pies in London” from Sweeney Todd. “I was so inspired and almost moved to tears,” he says of Lane’s performance. “It was at a moment in my life when I was deciding what I wanted to do. On the commercial break, I turned to my dad and told him, 'I want to be an actor and am going to change my major.'” James then transferred to Ithaca College to study musical theater.
Broadway Boy: After brief venture in grad school, James moved to New York City, where he spent his first few months at a temp job. He began calling in sick to go on auditions, which quickly paid off as he landed a role as a choir member in his first Broadway show, 2007's Coram Boy. “Originally they wouldn’t see me because I wasn’t Equity, so I left this crazy letter in 72-point font saying, ‘I know you need a bass for this choir’ and they called me!” The run lasted only a month, but James describes it as a “crash course in ‘What is Broadway, and how do you do it for a living?’” He also became enthralled by his co-star, four-time Tony nominee Jan Maxwell. “I learned more watching her in that month than I did in school. To see [acting] in action is different than reading about it in a textbook, and she’s incredible.”
A Wonderful Guy: Now armed with his Equity card James enrolled as a sailor in Lincoln Center Theater’s Tony-winning revival of South Pacific after eight auditions. Like any good military man, James earned some battle scars during the show. While performing his bass solo in “There Is Nothing Like a Dame,” James fell off the wing of the onstage plane. “Half of the audience gasped and all the guys on stage were like ‘holy shit.’ It was painful, but we kept going.” James soldiered on…and even performed later that night at the Tony Awards. “I wouldn’t have missed that!” he exclaims.
Joining The Family: Through his South Pacific connections, the 6’ 6’’ actor received a phone call in May 2008 asking if he’d like to participate in the first reading of The Addams Family alongside Nathan Lane and Bebe Neuwirth as their butler, Lurch. “That was probably the coolest phone call I’ve ever gotten,” he says. At the time, the show’s music had not been written and Lurch had only one line, but James was ecstatic to meet the man who inspired him to follow his dream. “Nathan walked in, and in my mind he was 20 feet tall.” After being cast, James spent rehearsal time creating a back story for the silent but loyal butler. “I started out by making Lurch my own age,” he says, “and decided he has had a really hard life and never sleeps so he looks awful, and fleshed it out from there. I decided to make Morticia and Gomez basically Lurch’s foster parents, so he’s decided to care for them now because of their willingness to take him in.”
Tosca, Carmen and Lurch?: Outside of his Addams home, James is one of the founders of the Metropolis Opera Project, a group hoping to promote new work and make the art form more accessible. In its initial season, he played Oberon in Il Sogno, an operatic version of A Midsummer Night's Dream. “We perform in an intimate 100-seat house so you don’t have to do the big 'opera acting' that turns people off,” he explains, noting that Ragtime's Christiane Noll and Addams co-stars Krysta Rodriguez and Wes Taylor have performed with the group. “It's a lot of work, but it's really rewarding. We're trying to create a new generation of operagoers."