May Spotlight: James Healy

Posted on April 28, 2021 in Spotlight
James with his family, age 2
James with his family, age 2

1. What was it like growing up in Texas? How has the culture you were surrounded by impacted you throughout your life?
Yes, I know how to ride a horse and no, we didn’t live on a farm. We had friends who had a farm. A short 20-to-30-minute drive and you were in the country. As for culture, I grew up in the Dallas/Ft Worth area. We had a lot of culture including museums and live Theatre. For some reason the perception is we all live on 100 acres and drive Cadillac’s. Obviously being in a large metropolitan area helped. Because there are parts of the state that are exactly like that. Flat, dry open ranges where Friday Night Football and the Dairy Queen are a big deal. We also had a huge influx of people from Michigan, NY and CA with several industries moving their home offices to TX. I think the biggest issue for me was my first year in Theatre I had to learn to say JUST and GET and not JEST and GIT. My Drama Director made me write those words 500 times each. Now, I have to “put on” my TX accent to make it that thick. I still have an accent, but I can get rid of it or use other dialects when necessary.

James with best friend, Craig, in 1979
James with best friend, Craig, in 1979

2. What was the film community like in Texas during these years?
In the 80’s and 90’s TX was much like NM or GA is now. We had several episodics filming in TX as well a ton of Movie of the Week, made for Television. But by the mid 90’s production discovered Canada and a lot of production moved north. Obviously, there is still a lot there. Wishing I had a Canadian Visa right now. So, TX created the tax rebate program and brought work back home, but by that time I was living in LA.

3. Your father was the owner of a Sales-Rep company. Was there anything from growing up around sales culture that inspired you to want to get into acting?
No, in fact if it were up to my father, I would have been a professional Soccer player or even a Pro Bowler. I played sports and was pretty good. By the age of 13 I carried a 185 average. And I was one of the few players who could kick left footed.

Rookie cop in 1983

4. You started performing in plays at 15. Do you remember any performances specifically?
My first play was “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail.” I played the Farmer and a few other small characters. I had one line in the dream sequence that I recall to this day. “Why doesn’t this man have a gun?” I loved the entire process. Rehearsals, blocking, building a character and back story, etc. My theatre director was a man named Don Blankenship. We lost Don just a month ago. I am fortunate that I stayed in contact with him over the years. I loved this man for believing in me and showing me what true passion for your craft really meant. By the end of my first year, I was performing really great roles and had several wonderful years of performances with him and my theatre friends. Don would take us to see films and theatre as a group and exposed me to a world I knew very little about. I remember going to see the film FAME and knew I wanted to be those kids. Then a Touring Company of A Chorus Line was performing at the Dallas Summer Musicals. I sat mesmerized at what I was seeing and thought I would spend the rest of my life doing what I love.

James’ wife, Claire, performing in Nunsense

5. Tell us about booking “Crisis at Central High” with Joanne Woodward
Not much to tell, I was 17 or 18 and went in to read for this role, set in the 50’s. I slicked back my hair and rolled up my jeans. I read the one line and was called back a week later. Now, I would feel stupid driving all the way to Dallas to read one line due to self-taping, but back then I was thrilled. By the time the film came out, there was so much noise going on in the hallway of the school with lockers being slammed shut, you couldn’t even hear my one line. I learned then and again from the “who shot Jr” episode of Dallas that even though you booked a job, you may not be seen or heard. I was embarrassed that I had told my friends. Basically end up looking like I was an extra. Lesson Learned!

6. You starting working for the police force in 1984. What made you want to become a cop?
The short answer is “a woman.” I fell in love my with College Sweetheart. Claire, my wife now 37 years, was a music major and I was a Theatre major, and the two groups got together to do Fiddler on the Roof. I played Perchik, she was Golde. The next show came around and she read for it. I didn’t know she liked me; I am pretty clueless that way. But she was cast as an understudy and actually showed up, which no one ever does in college. That was Death Trap. Claire even signed up for an acting class and by the time we were doing The Man from La Mancha, we were dating and then engaged during Taming of the Shrew. The joke I tell is “we both said those three magic words; I said I LOVE YOU and she said, GET A JOB!” Two of my best friends were cops, so I thought what the heck, I can do this for a few years. Little did I know that I would do about 31.

James' photoshoot in 1995
James’ photoshoot in 1995

7. You worked as a Detective and on the SWAT Team. How has this incredible experience stuck with you as you ventured further into acting?
Basically, it helped me be a better actor when it came to playing cop roles. I knew how they would act and instead of acting like a cop, I would just “BE.” This helped me in my acting for all my auditions after that. I learned that acting was not acting, it was being and being in the moment. That less is truly more. I read for shows in my early years as a cop and would not be cast because the producers didn’t think I looked like a cop. What the hell did that mean? Once they found out I was the real thing I started booking more work. I even took some of my SWAT team to set to work on a film. They hired me to deliver the lines and I brought a team with the manpower and equipment. Saved them money in the end.

James with Guy Pearce
James with Guy Pearce

8. What was the decision-making process behind moving to LA in 1998?
We actually moved in December of 1995. I had come out to LA for a few weeks and did very well meeting with CDs, Producers and Agents. I landed a local agent by lying and telling them I had moved already. Based on the response from others, I just felt it was time to make the move. We moved into our first Apartment in December of 1995 just off of Laurel and Ventura in Studio City. Within two months I landed my first job. It was one of those after school specials and I played the father of the family that was getting divorced. Joey Paul was casting and Sean McNamara directing. This led to a lifelong friendship with Joey and Sean and his BME production partner David Brookwell. We moved back home in September of 1997 because I was afraid that I was going to miss my chance to go back to work at my Police Dept. (you could be gone up to two years and still come back without going thru a lengthy process). It was a mistake to go back, when I left, I was a patrol Sgt. Having been through patrol, Detective and SWAT then a supervisor. It was hard to go back to being a rookie patrol officer with no seniority. And I wasn’t happy I was working, I was booking jobs and so many people told me, that the ones who make it, Stick it out! So, I left the PD a second time and we went back to LA where we lived until 2002. Claire wasn’t happy living back in LA, so we once again moved home to TX and I went back to work but for a different agency this time.

James in Afghanistan
James in Afghanistan

9. You got some great roles including Guest Roles on Will & Grace, Judging Amy, and a Recurring on Evan Stevens with Shia LeBeouf. Can you talk about a fond memory from one of these sets?
The recurring role on Even Stevens came from Joey, David and Sean. But my favorite role came on Will and Grace. I had a couple of scenes, one with Megan Mullally and the other with Eric McCormack. I played an FBI agent who arrested Megan’s husband for tax fraud. I had this long paragraph and Eric was tickling me because he thought I was an actor that Karen Walker sent to bother him. I had an idea to get a laugh and told Eric. He loved the idea but told me to just do it, not to tell anyone during the rehearsal. I was a bit nervous since the writer/creator Max and David were there along with the legendary Jim Burrows directing. I laughed while he was tickling me, and I let out this high-pitched squeal, then took control of myself again…they loved the idea and it made it into the show. It was really cool that a star of the show was open to the idea and allowed me to get a laugh on his hit show. I will always remember Eric fondling for that.

James as Police Academy Director
James as Police Academy Director

10. Did you enjoy living in LA?
Yes and no, when we first moved there it was after the Northridge earthquake, so rent was very reasonable. Now it is just so expensive. Claire wasn’t happy there although we both loved walking the hills and going up Fryman. But now that I am retired, we have a house in TX, (so I can keep my wife and kid somewhere they love to live and great schools) and I have places that I rent in Burbank, Atlanta and NY (Brooklyn). This allows me to travel and be where I need to be (pre covid). Basically, I can go where I need to go for work. I then can stay there and self-tape my auditions while I work on set and then I stay there until I book the next job. If I go a long time without a booking or there is a holiday. At that point I go home and inflect as much torture on my family by them having to put up with me.

11. In 2006 you went to Afghanistan and were hired to train Afghan police for after the war. That sounds like a real-life movie you were experiencing. How did this experience change you?
I don’t know that it did. I had already been a cop for a long time. I had seen things and been involved in situation that most people will never experience. I was hired by the Dept of State to go over and help set up and train Afghan Police Officers and Command staff after the war. Although my first time in college was a theatre major, I went back and got my degree in Criminal Justice and then a master’s degree. I learned a lot about what makes the Afghan people the way they are and my perception of them as a culture changed for the better. I trained command staff who had no idea what life was like without corruption and privilege, and I watched as the police officers went through training, knowing that many of them would either flee from their posts or be killed by overwhelming forces. Mainly because they were understaffed and poorly equipped to do the job properly. I came home after my first year and I was supposed to go back for 6 more months, but just couldn’t bring myself to do it. It was a very sad situation. It makes me appreciate more than you can imagine being in the U.S. and having a life, as hard as it may be sometimes, that offers you a chance to make something of yourself.

James on set with Mariska Hargitay in Law and Order: SVU
James on set with Mariska Hargitay in Law and Order: SVU

12. Since retiring in 2015 as the Chief of Police for the Godley Tx. Police Department you’ve been focusing on acting full time. How much easier is it to focus on your craft without having an additional job responsibility.
I have been acting since I was 15 doing theatre, film, commercials, Industrials and of course TV. I worked the midnight shift most of my career so I could go to auditions in the day after I took a nap and theatre in the evening after taking another nap as needed. It was only during my time overseas or as the chief of police that I had to basically quit acting. Since retiring the biggest difference for me is it has allowed me to travel and stay in one of my apartments as needed. This of course means my wife gets to have some quality alone time, which she enjoys.

13. You’ve been getting some great Episodics such as Dynasty, Law & Order: SVU, and Manhunt. Does it feel good to be working steadily again?
Ha, it is never enough. I have been fortunate over the last three years booking approximately 29 jobs. But when you are only working a day or two or the occasional week, it isn’t enough to pay the bills alone. I am lucky that I have a pension and a wife that still works and supports this choice 100%. In fact, it was her idea that I get back into acting full time after I retired. I love it but I had been away so long that I didn’t miss it at the time. Only after getting back into acting and booking work did I realize how much I really love and missed acting. I just looked at my Health and Pension plan through SAG today, I seriously would not be able to do this if it were not for the love and support of my wife and our daughter, Jenny. Acting is an expensive career choice.

James on set with Bill Forsythe
James on set with Bill Forsythe

14. What kind of projects are particularly interesting to you now?
I take them as they come. Being a character actor, I am not in a position to pick my projects, but I will reject them. I have no interest in playing the racist cop. I spent my whole life working against that stereotype, so I will turn down those auditions. If it were up to me, I would spend the next 10 to 12 years as a series regular on a sitcom (I think I’m funny, I used to do stand up in LA, so there’s that). But ultimately not being a lead actor, I would probably choose, if it were up to me, to be a series regular on a cop drama. Playing the supervisor over the two leads. I would be in every episode, with steady work, doing something I love and can relate to and at the same time, I don’t have to carry the success of the show on my shoulders

James with Ed Zwick

15. You bounce around between Los Angeles, New York, Texas, Atlanta, and anywhere else duty calls. Do you enjoy being on the road?
LOL, I have a lot of conversations with myself and even answer myself sometimes. I will call friends and catch up as well. But there are some long periods where it just gets a lonely and boring. I can relate to my dad being a travelling salesman when I was younger, I know he spent a lot of time on the road and in rooms by himself. But if I have to choose to fly or drive, I choose to drive so I have my car. That is everywhere but NY. I love not having to have a car and worry about traffic.

James on set with Noah Wylie

16. What’s been the most memorable director to work with in the past few years?
I have been very lucky to work with some great directors over the years. The standout of course is James Burrows. But working several times with my friend Sean McNamara or having Ed Zwick (Glory, Courage Under Fire, etc.) come up to me and ask my opinion on a police scene. He knew about my past because of our mutual friend, (name drop) Lou Diamond Phillips. But he actually asked, listened and we did the scene the way I suggested. But recently I worked on a new episode for Leverage starring Noah Wylie and Christian Kane. Kane was very nice, and Noah and I had met before and had a great time on set. But the director was Jonathan Frakes, who played Will Ryker or Number 1 on Star Trek Next Generation. He came up to introduce himself to me. He commented about how much he liked my audition and as time went on, he would talk about my police background and how it really helps the scene, “doing it like a real cop.” But the best moment was when I was wrapped, he came over and from behind his Covid mask you could see a big smile and he said to me., “I am so glad I hired you.” That one little statement made me feel so appreciate, I am sure I blushed.

James with wife and Lou Diamond Phillips
James with wife and Lou Diamond Phillips

17. Tell us a bit about what is up next for you.
Audition, Audition, Audition. I am lucky to have great representation. I just had a great call back in NY and I just wrapped a film in Atlanta. I have agents in multiple markets and my Manager, Chris Roe submits me across the country for roles since he knows I can and will travel. And that I have places to live just about everywhere. I am supposed to film in Oklahoma this May or June, but we are waiting on final word that the project is a go. It is with the same people that I just worked with in February. They have asked me (if all goes as planned) to come back and do another role in their next big budget project. I think it depends on if they can get the big star name in the lead they are in negotiations with. Fingers Crossed!

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