James Freedson-Jackson – The Strange Ones
By: Christina Moore
Having previously been placed on the, ‘Breakout Stars to Watch,’ list for his film debut in Cop Car, 15 year-old actor James Freedson-Jackson just hit a new milestone by winning the Breakthrough Performance award at the SXSW Film Awards on March 14th for his portrayal alongside Alex Pettyfer in The Strange Ones.
Written and Directed by Lauren Wolkstein and Christopher Radcliffe, The Strange Ones tells the story of two brothers, Sam [Freedson-Jackson] and Nick [Alex Pettyfer], who make their way across a remote American landscape. On the surface it all seems normal but after a series of mysterious events, what appears to be an average vacation soon gives way to dark and complex truths.
The promising young actor took the time to discuss how he got started as an actor, working with Kevin Bacon, his role in The Strange Ones and what it was like to perform with Bruno Mars at the 2014 Super Bowl Halftime show.
Q) How did you get started in acting?
A) I actually started out by dancing hip-hop when I was seven. I was kind of obsessed with Michael Jackson. Then, I got sent out for a lot of commercials where they needed boy dancers. For a couple of them, I had to act too and I guess they thought I was pretty okay so they started sending me out for movies! But also around the same time, I started doing a bunch of musicals while working on singing and acting.
Q) What was it like working with Kevin Bacon on your first movie (Cop Car) and did he give you any advice?
A) Working with Kevin Bacon was a great experience. He was a total pro and was always totally on it. Watching him work was like taking an acting class. I can’t say that he gave me a lot of advice, but he taught me some great jokes and also taught me some great drumming techniques during breaks.
Q) You’ve done some theater work in the past, would you like to do more plays in the future?
A) I definitely would and also it would make my dad happy. He’s a musical theatre guy.
Q) What was it like working with Bruno Mars on the half time show during the Super Bowl in 2014?
A) It was such a thrill and also a total surprise. When they cast us twelve kids, they didn’t tell us that we were going to be working with Bruno Mars or that it was for the Half Time show. It was all very mysterious. For the audition, they had us sing “America the Beautiful” and that’s what we thought we were doing. On the first day of rehearsal at MetLife Stadium we were starting to work on the Bruno Mars song “Billionaire,” which was weird because it was one of my favorite songs and didn’t have anything to do with “America the Beautiful.” Then they said, “Someone wants to meet you.” We turned around and there was Bruno Mars. He said, “Hi. I’m Bruno. We’re going to be singing together.” Then, he gave each one of us a hug. I freaked out completely and I don’t remember much of what happened after that! Then, the hardest part was that this was four days before the Super Bowl and we weren’t allowed to tell anybody at school about it. So, I had the biggest thing that had ever happened to me just happen and had to completely keep it to myself. And being at the Super Bowl was fantastic.
Q) Congratulations on winning the breakthrough performance award at SXSW for The Strange Ones! Can you tell us a little about that film and what audiences can expect from your character?
A) Thank you! I’m so happy to have won that. The Strange Ones is a very dark and mysterious film. You don’t ever really know how the two main characters are related to each other or why they are in the situation they are in. The answers come out very slowly all during the film. My character, Sam, is a very complicated kid who may be on the run for a crime that he may or may not have committed. I know it sounds confusing, but when you’re watching the film it all makes sense.
Q) How did you prepare for the role of Sam (in The Strange Ones)?
A) I just tried to know the script really well so I wouldn’t have to think about lines, and could just think about the situation Sam was in. Alex Pettyfer, who plays my brother, was a great scene partner and also so fun which made it much easier.
Q) What is it like balancing your work and school?
A) It’s hard. I’m a freshman in high school. They don’t really care if you just made a film or won an award. They’re like, “Congratulations. Your Biology lab was due last Thursday.” It was definitely easier in middle school, but I’m working on it.
Q) Is there an actor in particular that you would like to work with that you haven’t yet?
A) Can I set my standards really high and say both Mahershala Ali and Meryl Streep?
Q) You have a twin sister, Anita… does she have the acting bug also?
A) Anita has a singing voice that you wouldn’t even believe. Like Ariana Grande and I’m not kidding. I mean she’s a really terrific actress too but it’s all about her voice.
Q) When you’re not acting, what do you like to do for fun?
A) I hang out with my sister a lot. I like to watch old movies and I like to shoot and edit videos as well. I’ve gotten pretty good on the editing software, Final Cut Pro.