James Scully: On immersing himself in his passion and working to make his dream a reality

PHOTOS: Meg Young
STYLING: Holly Copeland at The Rex Agency
GROOMING: Simone for Exclusive Artists using Dr. Barbara Sturm and Kevin Murphy
WORDS: Parker Schug

San Antonio native James Scully always knew of his love for theatrics. As a young child, he would dance around his living room and perform for his family. But it wasn’t until high school that James even considered turning this passion into a career. Through years of hard work, he has found his place in several on and off-screen roles, most recently in season two of the Netflix series, You. 

James’ career started right after he attended Otterbein University where he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Musical Theater. There, he met his friend Dolan Bloom, who produced the series, Sublets, in which James had his acting debut. Despite the fact that this was a small role, James describes it to be an exciting experience. “It was a fun day on set. It was just me and all of my friends pretending to be at a party, but since we were all friends, it was just like if we actually drank and actually smoked and actually partied.” Later on, James got the role of J.D. in the 2018 TV series, Heathers. In this series, James’s character, J.D., helps Veronica Sawyer get revenge on her former friends, by sometimes very violent means. Due to the fact that this series was set to release right around the time of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting, its United States premiere was delayed until October of 2018. According to James, despite his character’s role as someone on the side of the vengeance throughout the show, he expressed concern for the terrible things occurring towards the end of his arc. “In the tenth episode which was not released in the United States, J.D.’s whole sort of thesis is that gun violence in America is a huge problem and no one is doing anything to solve it, and so you know, young people are going to die,” says James. He also mentions that J.D.’s emotions at the end of the show reflected how he was feeling while playing the character, making it easier for him to connect with the character. “That feeling of rage and frustration at the people in power, and that feeling of helplessness, were very accessible.”

Another role that James took on more recently was that of Ryder in the film Straight Up. For this character, he did a lot of research regarding queer identities. “I just read a lot of queer theory books, I finally got around to reading, The Velvet Rage, which I recommend to everyone, queer or not. I had long and very intentional conversations with my queer friends about like, ‘How do you feel about your sexuality? How do you feel about the way it’s popularly presented in culture? How did that differ from your experience?’”. The plot of the film had a lot to do with Todd questioning his sexuality, which was a challenging topic for James’s character. “Ryder is hypercritical of Todd’s whole sexual journey, he is someone I had experienced, and also someone I had been,” says James. As someone who works in a creative environment, James states that he is grateful to have grown up in the culturally rich, San Antonio, Texas. Specifically, the actor references the many diverse, interesting, art-based experiences that he had access to, “I think I was afforded the comfort of living in the suburbs, but also having access to really good theater, really good music, really good food.” Additionally, the city provided him with opportunities that he wouldn’t have had otherwise “That’s one of the only cities in Texas that I can think of that has a performing arts charter high school available to anyone who wants to audition for it.”

It’s hard to exist in the world, be healthy, grounded, and emotionally available. But I think, once you have all of those things, then you’re at a place where you’re prepared to achieve your dreams

After auditioning at the end of his freshman year and getting an offer, James studied performing arts at LEE High School’s North East School of the Arts and started to consider a career in the acting field. Ultimately, this arts school taught him lessons that he looks back on to this day, one of which being that there is no time for selfishness in acting. “As an actor at any given moment, you’re part of a crew and a cast of hundreds, maybe thousands of other people that are all working just as hard as you are to make this thing happen,” says James. Especially in stressful moments, he tries to remember that everyone around him is also putting in a great deal of effort. “All of these other people are here trying hard too, like you need to respect that and acknowledge it by bringing your A-game all the time.”

Outside of his career as an actor James reads, writes and exercises. Additionally, his love for the screen is not simply linked to what he does for a living. He loves to watch television as well. “We’re in a golden age of TV and there’s a lot of good stuff out there.” One thing James is focusing on recently is figuring out who he is outside of his work. “I’ve relaxed a little bit about ‘actor’ needing to be my identity. It’s happening now, I’m doing it, and it’s sort of become my work and now that I have some free time to sort of think like, ‘What kind of person do you want to be?’” As for who he surrounds himself with, James says  his agent and manager are some of his dearest friends. “I’m in a fortunate position where I can go to them for friend support but also in the context of my career, which can be stressful sometimes,” he confesses. He also makes mention of his co-star, Carmela Zumbado, who has become a major part of his support system. “Her and her two sisters live with their mom, and they’re my safety net when I feel like I’m going insane.”

James’s most recent project is his role as Forty Quinn in the second season of the Netflix series, You which premiered on December 26. As for how James has changed since playing Forty, he says that it bolstered his confidence. “On a big show like that, as much as we want them to, no one is going to like come behind the camera in between each take and tell you that you’ve done a good job.” Forty’s identity is that of a Los Angeles storeowner, working through a 12-step recovery program. Throughout the process of portraying Forty, James became more comfortable and found that acting for this role became even more rewarding. “It’s hard and it’s so wonderful. It’s a lot of pressure sometimes, but also just stunningly beautiful.”

As for what advice James would give to aspiring actors and others looking to pursue a dream of their own, he says, “It’s really important to have a solid support system, I think especially in acting, but I think this happens in a lot of career paths. People get fixated on that vision of themselves at the peak or the apex of that industry, at the end of what their journey would be, but it’s like, you’ve got to lay that groundwork first.” From that strong foundation, James believes that anything is possible, because that is how he got to where he is today. “It’s hard to exist in the world, be healthy, grounded, and emotionally available. But I think, once you have all of those things, then you’re at a place where you’re prepared to achieve your dreams.”


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