James Wilder is impressing with his starring role in the independent film Three Holes and a Smoking Gun; he was recently announced as the winner of the Independent Spirit Award at the upcoming Garden State Film Festival for his work. But who is James Wilder? He’s an actor, performer and even an architect – and we sat down with him recently to learn a little bit more.
Best known for his TV roles on shows like Melrose Place and Models, Inc., James’s journey has taken him all over the world, from his native Sausalito to performing at the world-renowned Moulin Rouge in Paris to studying at New York’s Actors Studio. Nowadays, acting is just one part of what he does, carefully selecting the parts that speak to him – like that of a former Hollywood screenwriter in Three Holes and a Smoking Gun.
“It was really good writing,” he explained. “The writer, Scott Fivelson, he actually won at the Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival here; he won Best Screenplay. There was lots of great interplay between basically two characters.”
James himself won Best Lead Actor at the Red Dirt International Film Festival, the same place where Three Holes and a Smoking Gun won the Grand Jury Award. But making the film wasn’t without its challenges.
“It was hard. It was shooting in New York City in the wintertime, on small sets that were part of what kind of added to or took away from the film, [with] the compression of the set size,” he recalled. “It was a tough shoot…with sometimes seven to ten pages of two-character scenes, which is almost unheard of now, and you had to be completely off book for the whole day. I think I had 75 pages to memorize. It was like doing a play of sorts.”
But having tried his hand at so many different forms of entertainment, and also having significant interests outside of the business, he doesn’t feel nearly as much pressure on his shoulders as the typical working actor. He’s not having to book that next role to keep his career going.
“I think starting as a street performer up in Northern California in the Bay Area, and putting this one man show together that I had – which was fire-breathing and escapes and tightrope and mixing it with street comedy – I had a really good sensibility about money,” he told us. “Your performance was reflected by how much money people put in your hat. It was just that simple. I started to learn a really good sensibility of performer-audience relationship [and] that kind of kept progressing.
“People started trying to urge me to be an actor. It’s only in the last fifty years that actors have made real money. The money is so delineated to the chosen few that you’re in poverty or in you’re in absolute royalty. It’s always been that way in the salary bases of actors, so it’s always been really hard to relate. There’s sort of no grey area. But I’ve always kept my art form profitable in other areas.”
Namely, he’s found a whole second career as a successful architect; you can check out several of the houses that James has designed by visiting The Modern Villas on YouTube. He’s appreciated the ability “to be able to live in your own sculpture,” he said. “I get to enjoy that architectural experience by living in it. What’s really interesting is that this has been able to facilitate income streaming as an artist…to not have to do things if I don’t want to do them.”
Which occupation is harder: pulling off a successful acting role or designing the perfect house? “It’s oil and vinegar,” James reflected. “They’re both very difficult to make it come off well, but they’re both doable. I never built anything to sell. I built them for my own kind of artistry.”
Now enjoying the success of Three Holes and a Smoking Gun, while also contemplating resurrecting his live show, he’s a versatile man but also the simplest form of artist: someone who just wants to do something memorable and different, no matter which direction that desire and opportunity might take him in. We’re just getting to know and appreciate his own intriguing story.