Ever since I saw Independence Day in the theater with my dad when I was thirteen, I have followed James Duval’s career. I saw him in Totally F***ed Up, Doom Generation, Nowhere (all directed by cinematic genius Gregg Araki in case you didn’t know), and of course, every ’90s teen’s favorite, Donnie Darko. I somehow resisted the urge to ask him why he was wearing that stupid bunny suit, although I honestly think James is the type of person who wouldn’t hate me for saying that. He’s definitely one of the most grounded people I’ve talked to in the entertainment industry.
Duval’s turn in the new movie Beast Mode allows him to play four characters at once, and for someone who has worked for as long and as much as James has, it’s not surprising he’s able to pull it off successfully. I really enjoyed talking with him, it was one of the most meaningful discussions I’ve had while writing for Film Threat, and I hope you find some meaning and joy in what follows as well.
How did you originally meet filmmakers Spain Willingham, Chris W. Freeman, and Drew Fortune?
James Duval: I met Spain, Chris, and Drew, through a mutual friend, Tyler Jackson. He’s a really good friend of both of ours, and also a writer and producer. He’s directed quite a few things himself. He had been talking to them, and they were looking for an actor. Tyler brought me up, and they loved the idea. He set up a lunch meeting, and we kind of realized we had exactly pretty much the same sensibilities. Beast Mode is the kind of movie that’s we’d all been wanting to make.
“…I was lucky enough that they chose me…”
That’s rare, so that’s really cool.
Sometimes, you’ll hear about actors saying how they chose roles, but with this, I was lucky enough that they chose me, to be quite honest. I should be humble about it. They really did. They were the ones that were like, “Yeah, you’d be great,” and it was more of me trying to pinch myself, saying, “Oh, I think I can do this! It’s right up my alley.”
You play essentially about four people, or creatures, or whatever in this film, so how was that? How does that feel as an actor?
Well, that was a lot of fun. To be honest, it wasn’t as difficult as I thought. I started off years ago when I was doing two movies simultaneously. So I’m not playing the same character in the film, but I’m playing two different characters simultaneously.
When I was filming Nowhere, I got the film Independence Day. So I would film a week in Los Angeles, then I would take my earrings out, change my part, and fly to Utah. Then do Independence Day for a week in Utah. Then fly back, literally, sometimes without sleep, like a double shift. Finish shooting, go pack, get back on a plane, fly out. They’d pick me up and take me straight to set and start shooting Nowhere. I did for two weeks at a time. A week in L.A., a week in Utah, a week in L.A. Wrap the second week in Utah. Finish Nowhere in L.A. and then finish Independence Day.
Further down the line in my career, especially a lot more lately, I tend to do two movies simultaneously if the schedule permits it. It’s not challenging for me on any level. With that, what I discovered was being around on a completely different set with a different script, and a different wardrobe lent itself to these characters. So, it was very easy for me to drift from one character and set to another. Because I literally went from one world into another. To be able to play them in the same field as this was something I had been looking forward to.
So then it was the two main characters, Michael and Huckle Saxton. It was knowing who Huckle Saxton was and who Michael was. Michael is this antithesis to Huckle. Then you have Michael that pretends to be Huckle as a third character. You definitely have pieces of the Huckle; you know what I mean? Now it’s played to where it’s more of a cover than something I’m just being. Then the monster in and of itself was another separate character.