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James Kyson | “If it’s something you truly love, then work hard on your gift, and be willing to share it for a greater good.”

Author // TheOtherAsians
Posted in // Blog

When we first approached James for an interview, we really didn’t know what to expect. Here was a man that has created a successful acting career for himself playing key roles in a number of hit shows and movies (notably Ando Masahashi from Heroes). Because of this, we expected to keep our level of professionalism at its highest during his interview. We were pleasantly surprised when James invited us to spend the day with him at the LA County Fair to hold his interview. The next few hours were made up of fun rides, watching live Chinese acrobatics, and eating fattening carnival foods! Who would have known James would be such a fun guy to hang out with?  Read on as James shares stories of his career as a rapper, going from the corporate world to entertainment, and his development as an actor.

Fun Facts

  • What takes up most of your time right now? Probably the several workshops that I am facilitating. I have a screenwriting group that meets three times week, a singing group that meets once a week, and we just finished a creative spiritual group called ‘The War of Art’. I’ve also been part of a play-reading series this year, and just had my 100th reading. It’s given me a whole new perspective on my craft. Also just started Boxing, prepping for a project in December.
  • What are your guilty pleasures? Desserts – gelatos, shaved ice & frozen yogurt are my favorites. The NBA is my other guilty pleasure – I’m a Lakers fan now, but when I grew up watching the Bulls with Jordan, Pippen & Phil Jackson. I also went to College in Boston so i have love for the Celtics.
  • What is currently your favorite documentary? I try to watch one almost every week – but the latest one is called ‘Being Elmo’, about the puppeteer Kevin Clash who is the voice behind Elmo. It’s about his journey and how he came to be part of The Muppets & the Jim Henson company – it was fascinating & very endearing.
  • What’s your relationship status? Currently dating a lovely girl.
  • What are your pet peeves? People who like to complain, and people who don’t know how to relax.
  • What is your go-to food? French, Japanese, and Korean. I love fusion, and tapas style. I prefer to graze throughout the day rather than have big meals.
  • We know you have tattoos. Where are they and what do they mean? One’s on my left arm – it’s a Chinese inscription that says “Justice, Righteousness, Courage, and Love.” It was inspired by the bible, although when I went to church, they were like, “You got a tattoo?”  The other one is a crouching tiger on my right shoulder.
  • What do you look for in a girl? Sense of humor, intelligence, great energy, athleticism, spontaneity & sense of adventure, ambition, talent. And if they’re a good chef, that’s a major plus..
  • Give us a fun fact about yourself. I once bungee jumped eight times in one day in Australia – about a 380 feet drop. It was inside of a rain forest overlooking a lake, and after each jump, you got to climb up the jumping tower – the view was spectacular. I did eight jumps, and they made each one different from the last
  • Give us a funner fact? Hmm… believe it or not, I used to be in an amateur rap group in college, called School of Thought. It first started with just four college guys who met at a church in Boston. Later we added a DJ, couple of more rappers, and two girls singing vocal. It was just for fun – performing mostly local. But two of the guys in the group ended up going into music full time – one returned to Japan and became very successful with a group called M-Flo. The other went to Korea and joined a group called Uptown, before they disbanded. And I came out to LA & became an actor – so life has led us to some interesting paths
  • Do you have a funnest fact? It seems like you have so many fun facts! My fantasy is to record a jazz album.

OA: You studied communications and broadcasting at Boston University as well as the New England Institute of the Arts. In a previous article you mentioned that after graduation you decided to move to Los Angeles to pursue acting. What was the transition like from student to working actor?

JK: It was very hard at first – i gave away most of my stuff in Boston, sold my used car, bought a one-way ticket, and flew out with a single suitcase. I didn’t know anyone in LA, so my first night I slept in my rental car.

On my first Saturday here, I was walking on Hollywood blvd to check out the stars on the Walk of Fame. Then I suddenly realized that if something happened to me right now, no one would be able to contact my family since I didn’t know a single person in LA. And that was a bit of a rude awakening – having to start your life over after college.

Because I grew up in the East Coast my whole life, I wanted to further explore my identity in a new environment. I felt that I needed to shock my system a bit and throw myself in an unfamiliar setting. If I had stayed in Boston or went back to New York, I felt I knew how my life would play out, and I didn’t want that. There was so much more to life that I’ve yet to discover.

OA: You’ve trained with The Groundlings and the Upright Citizens Brigade. What differentiates playing comedic roles as opposed to dramatic roles for you?

JK: Comedy can be more fun, but it can also be harder because you know right away when it’s not working. But when it is working, it’s so worth it.

For me it’s really about the story telling and the particular world that the story takes place in.
My thinking isn’t so much about whether I want to do drama or comedy per se, because there can be really funny moments in very sad stories, and a lot of heart in comedic stories as well. So my approach, is really more from the character’s point of view.

OA: You have quite a history with charity work from playing basketball on Hollywood Knights and competing in a poker tournament in France to raise money for Darfur to promote powerful PSAs. Tell us a little more about your involvement in these projects. Have you always had passion for doing charity work?

JK: I feel it’s what keeps me sane. It’s probably the aspect of this business that I enjoy the most, because there are so many elements of it that are not pleasant.

Hollywood Knights has been great – we go on USO tours visiting the American troops & play in exhibition games. I’ve done tours in Italy as well as Hawaii, and it’s a great opportunity to see the world, meet our troops, and broaden your perspective.


OA: You’ve attended events that promotes green issues such as ReThink Green and The Global Green USA Millennium Awards. What’s your take on living green and what are the issues you advocate for?

JK: I feel pretty strongly about being aware of what’s happening to our planet and the environment. It can be about doing the little things – for me, riding the bicycle or the metro is one way to contribute.

I was doing a campaign with Chevy where I drove a car that ran purely on hydrogen – the only thing that came out of the exhaust was water vapor. It didn’t use any gasoline. It had a computer inside that collected data as I was driving for research and development purposes. I believe that we have the technology to be gasoline-free, but re-building our transportation infrastructure is what’s going to take some time.

OA: We know your fun facts about you being in a rap group. Since being an emcee in a hip hop group during college you’ve gone on to do jazz, musical theater, and improv. Will we be seeing you work on projects such as hip hop and musical theater in the future?

JK: I would love to be able to do a musical again. One of the reasons I started the singing group was to invite music back in my life. Last musical I did in LA was a production of Hair – and it was a blast. An episode of Glee would be fun to do at some point.
If there was ever a project where hip hop was involved, i would love to do it.

OA: In an interview before, you had mentioned that your dad lived in Japan as an electrical engineer. Did he and your family want you to follow a similar career path or were they always supportive of your career in entertainment?

JK: I grew up in a very academic upbringing. I’m the oldest in my family and I went to a very academic high school, so naturally, there were a lot of expectations.

When I first moved to LA I didn’t really talk to them about what I was doing – probably because I didn’t really know it myself. I was really coming out here to try to figure out my life. The first time I called them about acting was when I booked my first job on J.A.G., a TV show on CBS.  I called them out of the blue and said, “Hi – watch this show on channel 2 on this night.” And they were like, “… What’re you talking about?” Then they saw it and became curious. Because when I was growing up in NYC, we didn’t know anyone in the entertainment field – so none of us really had a context of what that entailed. It was hard for them to understand at first, but they are very supportive now.

OA: Referring to another interview you did before, you mentioned that you used to work in a corporate job in marketing. At what point did you realize that this was not the career path you wanted? Was your transition to the entertainment industry a spur of the moment decision or was this something that you have been contemplating during your time working at a corporate office?

JK: I think I knew in the first week actually – the second or third day. The monotony of knowing how each day was going play out – I realized very quickly that this was not my path.


OA: You’ve played a variety of roles where you take on extensive research such as the role of Ando in Heroes where you had to learn Japanese.  What’s the method process like for you and how do you become inspired by your roles?

JK: I try to really study the script and understand the world that the script lives in, and also where the character is coming from. This is possibly my favorite part of acting – the research.

For a movie I did called White on Rice, which we filmed in Utah, my character Tim was based on a real person named Tim Koides, who was a musician. So when I arrived in Salt Lake City,  we all went to a local music store and I bought my first acoustic guitar. And I started spending time with Tim, learning guitar from him as well as some of his songs. A week later, we were on set playing with his band for a scene in the movie. Tim actually played the second guitarist in the band. So that was a lot of fun – when I get to learn a new skill or take on a different persona, it brings a new level of excitement for me.

OA: We’ve seen you take on many roles throughout your acting career from playing Ando, to taking on the role of a space smuggler in the sci-fi film Star Runners. Throughout the many characters and roles you’ve played in, is there a particular role you relate to the most? If so, who and why?

JK: I’d say there is a little bit of myself in all of the roles – even when you’re in very unusual circumstances. I was in a horror movie once where my character goes delusional. It was about a group of friends who go up to a cabin & get snowed in, and they start seeing apparitions from the Donner Party, a tragedy that took place in the 1840s. But even in a role where you end up losing your mind, there needs to be humanistic elements that you can relate to. I’m not sure which character is most like me – it’s probably some combination of the role on Heroes, Star Runners & White on Rice.

OA: Speaking of the variety roles you’ve played, are there particular things you look for when you’re reading scripts and accepting roles? How about genres? Are there certain film genres that you gravitate towards?

JK: I’m kind of in a drama phase right now. Two years ago I was in a comedy phase where I was
reading a lot of comedic scripts, doing improv – so I was kind of in that element. But it’s always about the quality of the script, regardless of the genre. If you find yourself turning the pages, drawn in as a reader & wondering what’s going to happen next – that’s a great sign. If you’re ten pages in and feel like you don’t really care where this is going – that’s probably a sign that it’s not gonna get better.

OA: You snagged your own TV Guide special speaking of fitness and health. How did this TV guide special come about and what are some activities you like to do on your own time?

JK: Well – it’s a little awkward talking about this, but they contacted my publicist about being listed in Hollywood’s Top 25 Sexiest Bodies and said, “Do you guys want to do a fitness special where we talk about diets and some of the workout regimes that you do?” We ended up going to the Body Factory and filmed the special at 24 Hour Fitness.

My favorite sport right now is Ultimate Frisbee – i try to play about once a week. I also enjoy yoga, basketball, hiking, softball and scuba diving.


OA: You recently parlayed your acting skills into screen writing. Can you give us a sneak peek in something you’re working on?

JK: I can’t really discuss it but I will say it has elements of spirituality and exotic dancing. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

OA: You’ve completed podcasts such as Inside the Crafts: Speakeasy with JKL. How do you believe that technology and new media has influenced and impacted the acting profession?

JK: It’s changing a lot of things. You have to learn how to adapt to technology because the industry is changing so rapidly. At the end of the day, it should always be about good stories, interesting characters, and powerful acting. I think at the end, that will always prevail. There’re so many things coming out of the online platform, Youtube, etc. I personally don’t care for most of it, but I think you do have to adapt with the advance of technology. Hollywood is all about perceived value, and right now, a big part of that is your influence in social media. People are now accounting that into what your perceived value is.

OA: What advice do you have for aspiring actors and actresses?

JK: Work on developing a life-intelligence. Work on your character. It is important to grow as a person, because I feel that acting is an art that is so closely related to who you are as a human being. I think that it has to happen at the same time. As you grow as a person you need to grow as an actor.

You have to be willing to devote serious time to the craft. People who become lawyers, doctors, or any craftsmen spend a good ten years in education, residency, internships and work before they can carve out a career. But because we are in the business of portraying real life, many think that it’s a profession that is easily achievable, until you try it – and discover how difficult this business can be. So if it’s something you truly love, then work hard on your gift, and be willing to share it for a greater good.

OA: How to stalk James Kyson:
Website: http://jameskysonlee.com/
IMDB: http://www.imdb.com/name/nm1645304/

Interview by Benny Luo
Photography by Melly Lee
Transcribed by Andrea Chiong

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  • http://twitter.com/themomopan Moses Pan

    Great interview!! :D Thank you for letting me be there!

    • http://MELLYLEE.com Melly Lee

      Thanks for the support Moses!

  • http://www.peachies.net Grace Su

    Good stuff, guys! :]

    • http://MELLYLEE.com Melly Lee

      Thanks Peachies :)

  • Julie Zhan

    Inspiring… yay OA! :)

    • http://MELLYLEE.com Melly Lee

      Thanks Julie!  You are missed :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/chrisshon Christopher Shon

    GO JAMES!

  • Chigou

    Oh ! I love this pictures, especially the one with Pikachu =)

  • Manly Peril

    Great interview questions. Saw Kyson on Heroes first, then White on Rice. Good to him representing the community well. Keep it up, guys! 

    http://www.manlyperil.com

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