It has been a busy year for James Frain. Through, truth be told, he is one of those wonderful character actors who seems to be constantly working, dexterously moving from role to role. He has a chameleon-like ability to transform himself into whatever a role requires of him, and yet maintain the elements of an essential, and unique, core.
He plays a key supporting role in the event film of the Christmas season TRON: Legacy; did a stint as a hilariously evil vampire on the wildly popular HBO series True Blood; and will next appear on the upcoming NBC “realistic” superhero drama, The Cape. We spoke to Frain about his character in Legacy, and got a nice little tease about what we can expect from his role as the villain Peter Fleming, AKA “Chess”, on The Cape.
James Frain: Hello, hello!
Screen Rant: Hello! So, jumping right into TRON:Legacy, your character Jarvis is sort of the archetypal sycophantic assistant — who we all hate. What did you use as a template to create him?
JF: We sort of discovered who the character was as we went along because he is the kind of ultimate bureaucrat; but he’s also a comic character, so he had this slapstick element to him as well, and this sort of, rather pathetic sense of wanting to be more powerful than he is, which made him quite childlike. But it wasn’t necessarily clear when I first started who he was going to be, or how it was going to play out; that became clear when I started working and when Joe (Kosinski, the director) was giving me the feedback that he wanted. I was very pleasantly surprised by how much comedy he wanted to go for.
Jarvis did indeed add a great comedic element to the film, one which was slightly different than the other characters in the film, and yet blended in and added a nice texture. One of the best moments for his character involves the simple act of nearly knocking over a table, in the midst of what might have otherwise been a scene that was overburdened with dramatic weight.
SR: Did you make those discoveries in rehearsal?
JF: No, that’s shooting — we didn’t really have rehearsals.
SR: I feel like the look of Jarvis is sort of The Fifth Element meets City Of Lost Children.
JF: Whooooa, I like that, it’s a good pitch.
SR: Well, thank you. Michael Sheen has talked about different influences on the look and attitude of his character, Castor – Ziggy Stardust and so on – did you offer some input into the development of the look of your character?
JF: I didn’t, no. I understand that Michael had some ideas about David Bowie that he brought in. For me, I was presented with these drawings that they already had for the characters; and I just sort of thought it was fantastic — just incredibly original and imaginative and I was happy to go along with it.
SR: Are there any people you have known in life that you referenced for Jarvis? Because, I feel like we’ve all known people like him to some degree.
JF: I wasn’t thinking about it that consciously, but I’m sure that there is subconsciously, people from the past. But I don’t really work that way.
SR: How do you work?
JF: I’m just kind of more — I’m more intuitive when it comes to working on a character. Acting isn’t something that I think about very consciously, somehow that just doesn’t work for me. I just kind of feel my way into it.
SR: Was there any part of you that needed to make an adjustment with your character because you are digital programs, rather than human beings?
JF: I just didn’t think about us as being digital entities, I just though that…You know I thought of it as being like Alice In Wonderland, where no matter who we are, and what we are doing, we still have human feelings and human responses. I thought that was one of the great ideas of the original. I loved the discovery that inside a computer its just like our world, and people are just like people with the same challenges and problems that we have. I just accepted the conceit that we were programs, I didn’t really think about it.