James Anderson has a specific memory of when he first caught the acting bug. “I’ve got a picture of me playing Joseph in my kindergarten’s nativity pageant,” Anderson said. In middle grade, he performed in plays at church. “I knew by high school I wanted to study acting and try to become a professional.”
Anderson grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina. After attending the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, he moved to New York, working as an actor and teacher. Later, he relocated to Raleigh, North Carolina, and joined Burning Coal Theatre Company. Anderson moved to Danville in 2014. “I met Josh Lucia during a show for Little Theater of Danville. We met up later at the first Bridge Street Food Truck Rodeo and talked about forming a new theater group in the area,” Anderson said. That group became The Smokestack Theatre Company.
Philip Anglim’s portrayal of John Merrick in The Elephant Man shaped Anderson’s acting at a young age. “No specific effects. He used his contorted body and voice to convey the stunning role,” Anderson added. He has other standout performances that have stuck with him. “I tend to have favorite performances by an actor versus having a favorite actor.” Anderson cited Anthony Hopkins’ role in Silence of the Lambs and Madeline Kahn’s performance in What’s Up Doc? as favorites.
As far as acting, Anderson has few roles he holds as memorable. “My favorite roles have been Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, Jeff in Brigadoon, and Edward Teller in The Love Song of J. Robert Oppenheimer. Preparing for a role can be a complex process for Anderson. “Creating a character exists on many levels—from discovering a physicality to choosing specific details of a character’s life. Finding the character’s voice is also important, as is keeping myself ‘in shape’ to be able to perform the role,” he added.
Believability is an integral part of winning over an audience. Anderson works on two things to make his roles believable. “Foundational work like a character’s background and vocal work, memorization, etc. And then, as we begin to work the story onstage, I focus on being in that moment we are creating as that character. That’s where the magic is for me. It’s a transcendence into the reality and story that the ensemble (director, actors, designers, and technicians) is telling.”
Anderson plans to continue hone his craft in the upcoming year. “I am looking forward to working on To Kill A Mockingbird, the first show in Smokestack’s 2023 season. I am directing. And I am really looking forward to our production of Misery in October based on the book by Stephen King. It’s an absolutely thrilling stage interpretation by the screenwriter who adapted the book for the film, William Goldman,” he said.
Anderson has a few words of encouragement for those stepping on stage for the first time. “Find some kind of theater class to attend, be around like-minded people, keep your head down and learn by studying the professionals you admire.”