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‘Homecoming’ Star Stephan James on His ‘Casual’ Chemistry Read With Julia Roberts

Stephan James, who appeared in “Selma” and “Race,” admits he’s been a “little bit busy” balancing Barry Jenkins’ “If Beale Street Could Talk” with a starring role in Amazon’s podcast-to-TV adaptation “Homecoming,” opposite Julia Roberts.

How did you get cast? 

I got a script I thought was pretty phenomenal. So I listened to the “Homecoming” podcast, which is the first podcast I had ever listened to. I didn’t know what a podcast even was. But it was incredible! I put my audition on tape for Sam Esmail, the director, and he loved it — and the next thing you know, I was in a chemistry read with Julia Roberts.

How did that chemistry read go? 

Everyone asked me if I was nervous. I don’t even know if I really took in what I was getting myself into. You get so caught up in memorizing your lines, you forget who you have to read opposite. And so I didn’t realize that I was reading opposite Julia Roberts until I got there and she was just in my face. It was really casual, honestly. There’s a bunch of producers sitting in the back, a bunch of lights, and you feel like it’s a high-pressure situation. But she was very, very nice. We had a little chat before we did the scene.

How did you want to make your Walter Cruz on-screen different from the podcast?

I saw this as a real actor’s piece; there are a lot of monologues, and my character has to go through a lot of long sessions with Julia’s character, Heidi. The podcast had Walter as an innocent, borderline-ignorant sort of a guy, and the scripts allowed me to add colors and layers to him that I hadn’t felt in the podcast — where he came from, his relationship with his mother, the type of pressure he had in joining the military and what that meant for his whole family. Making him more than just a voice, if you will.

Why do you think the show is relevant? 

When is not a good time to speak up for our vets and support them in any way that we can? I think it gets people thinking about the way we treat our vets when they come back from such traumatic experiences.

What You Didn’t Know About Stephan James

Age: 24 Hometown: Toronto On his nightstand: Iyanla Vanzant’s “One Day My Soul Just Opened Up” On his DVR: Season 2 of “Fargo” and “Ozark” Secret talent: Painting (“I’m obsessed with Jean-Michel Basquiat. That’s my whole vibe”)

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