Emmett James spent his childhood in Croydon, South London and finished his schooling in Cambridge, England. Studying acting at Strasberg Actors Studio in London he began working in theatre, eventually moving to Los Angeles in the early nineties to pursue his acting career in film. For over a decade he has worked extensively as a professional actor, winning a prestigious ADA as well as appearing in Emmy, Golden Globe, SAG and Academy Award winning work. In addition to acting he has produced, taught and directed film, stage and television productions in Hollywood. From a family of authors including J.B. Priestley, he continues to live and work in Hollywood, to this day.
About the book:
CD: Is it true?
EJ: Yes, absolutely. People’s reaction to my book always starts with “You’ve lead a strange life”, or “Is it really true?” It’s not been a strange life to me it’s just been life. I vividly remember sitting watching the opening scene of Oliver Stone’s The Doors in a cinema in London. As the lights dimmed a voice was heard from the darkness “Did you have a good life when you died? Enough to base a movie on?” That quote really resonated with me and became a mantra. I promised myself I couldn’t lead an ordinary life. I would do everything in my power to make it extraordinary.
CD: Have any of your relatives or early friends read the book? What did they think? Have any of them become involved in the movie industry?
E.J: I had to put aside the fears about my family reading it as that could have been creatively crippling. Of course no matter how strained relationships may be with family members it was never my intention to publicly humiliate anyone. There was a nagging fear that my brother might be destroyed by what I had to say but in actual fact he has probably bought more copies than anyone! He loves the notoriety it seems to have brought him.
CD: Were you at all worried about confessing to the revelations in this book?
E.J: I worried only for legal reasons and ramifications, but wanted to show myself in a true light so I absolutely had to do it —-shady warts and all. Having said that, if any lawyers are reading this…anything you are thinking of suing me over is OBVIOUSLY a complete fabrication!…allegedly.
CD: From your resume you have also been an actor on the stage in Hollywood, and your performances have received a lot of praise – is that what you mean by being an 'actor' at the end of your book? What do you prefer?
E.J: My dream was to be a successful working actor. The medium in which I achieved this was always secondary. As someone who felt he didn’t have much of a voice as a child and what little I had to say wasn’t important, there is no greater feeling in the world then to step on stage. The moment of hushed silence as people wait with anticipation for the first syllables to leave your mouth is a moment I relish every time. I know people that won’t even get out of bed for three quarters of a million. I will still get out of bed to act for a cup of tea. I’m happy living my life that way. It’s healthy. People seem to look down upon those struggling to get by trying to live as an actor which has always seemed strange to me. It’s actually very noble, being a storyteller is a worthy way of spending ones life. Art is fundamentally important in the world. In the Greek court the King would have a soldier, a philosopher, an astrologer, a doctor and an actor. As actors we are storytellers, and that’s worthy.
CD: I know this is a bit of a cliché - but I do really think this book would make an excellent film - that must have crossed your mind. Has there ever been any interest?
E.J: Funny you should say that because Working Title Pictures (Bridget Jones, High Fidelity, Four Weddings & A Funeral) has just enquired about the book but nothing is signed as of yet. I think they could make an excellent film out of the piece. I really would love to place it with an English film company if possible, but if the Americans would love to throw some money at me I have VERY big hands to catch with! I would love to think Jude Law would play me as a cheeky chappy in the film…but in reality it would probably be Ricky Gervais as the flabby chappy. I did actually for a moment consider calling the book ‘Carry On Croydon’ maybe Barbara Windsor would still consider playing my mother?
CD: At the end of the book you seem happy with the way things have turned out - but are there any things (that you could have controlled) that you would have done differently?
E.J: I have never regretted any choice I have made in my life, some may not have been thoroughly thought out but all have molded me into who I am today. At a certain point you have to except people’s perception of you––right or wrong. For a while after the release of The Wizard Of Oz, Margaret Hamilton tried to fight against people only seeing her as the Wicked Witch of the West. By the time she died she stopped signing her real name when autographing and was only signing WWW in green pen. That’s commitment. You have to commit to the choices you make in life. Having said that I’m still bugged by The Wizard of Oz. When they all went to this wonderful land of OZ the Tin Man got polished up…helpful, the scarecrow’s gut’s get re-stuffed…makes sense. Dorothy gets a massage to relieve the stress of travel. But the Lion goes there for a dose of manly courage and winds up getting his hair put in curlers with a ribbon? What’s that all about? How wise could that Wizard of Oz really have been?
CD: At the end of the book you are eloquent about the importance of the movie - in your life and in the life of people in general. Could you recommend movies, like RUNNING ON EMPTY (that you mention in your book, and I am now dying to see) that you think deserve more recognition?
E.J: Going to the cinema is one of my earliest memories and is still something I happily want to do as a middle aged man. Cinema transcends age. It truly is a rare medium. My film recommendations…That is a very loaded question…I recently discovered Judy Holiday in Born Yesterday an amazingly good film. Charlie Chaplin (a fellow South London native) in Modern Times and Leonardo DiCaprio who gives a performance which still gives me chills in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape. He will always be associated with his performance in Titanic but this is the role that shows him as one of the finest actors of our generation.
CD: Do you have any connection with snails?
E.J: I always associate snails with hard core drugs after years of watching Brian the snail from the Magic Roundabout growing up. Never trust snails or any spring-loaded creature that marks his arrival with a “boing”
CD: What is your proudest moment?
E.J: Stepping onto the set of Titanic and getting the chance to play around with an Academy Award winning actress.
CD: Have you ever had a life-changing event - if so what was it?
E.J: Seeing Star Wars with my dad in 1977
CD: What is the saddest thing you’ve ever heard of or seen?
E.J: Steven Seagal
CD: What is happiness?
E.J: Being able to throw your rubbish on a cinema floor without guilt. In fact it’s expected!
CD: What is the first thing you do when you get up?
E.J: Make a cup of tea for me and the missus.
ADMIT ONE is about the realisation of a dream. It reminded me in some regards of Martin Amis's MONEY; but whereas Amis's character John Self is a fiction, Emmett James's book is a memoir. James was, and is, an Englishman obsessed with the movies. Appropriately then, he uses the neat ploy of taking a series of twenty-two favourite films as the context for various episodes in his life - from his early introduction to the cinema when he was too young to stay awake (THE JUNGLE BOOK) to the fulfillment of his ambition to become an actor in Hollywood (IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE). According to James, film is capable of many things; it transforms his mother from her usual incarnation as witch (WIZARD OF OZ) to dancer in the aisle (GREASE), it encourages a foray into petty crime (THE KARATE KID) and of course it forms the backdrop of his first adolescent fumblings (GHOST BUSTERS). I particularly liked this description of his secret signal to his friend who lived a couple of doors away in Croydon (a town just south of London):
Our signal was an odd sort of high-pitched cockerel crowing noise that abruptly became obsolete when puberty came knocking. Then it evolved into more of a battered-fog-horn-on-its-last-legs kind of sound. But it was still our secret sign, something unique to us. The sweet sound of a desperate cockerel being strangled would come, seemingly from the heavens; an invite for me to come over and participate in some tom-foolery (as of course, I always did).
Intent on a career in the movies James allows nothing to stop him; he pursues famous producers and casting directors until he finds himself in Hollywood - and then his adventures begin in earnest. They are outrageous, funny and yet totally believable. Although the book contains a little too much swearing for my taste, his writing is fluent and witty, and his life has been both unusual and inspiring. At the end I felt I had come to 'know' Hollywood for what it really is for the majority of people. The book ends retrospectively with thoughtfulness and depth; and, as in Amis's MONEY, James acknowledges that the idea of success , at least in Hollywood, is not quite what the rest of us think it might be.