I recently convinced versatile young actor Jesse James (The Butterfly Effect, Blow, The Amityville Horror, As Good As It Gets, Mad Men, plus much more) to answer 31 random questions about his life. Enjoy Jesse’s take on getting paid to set a dog on fire (The Butterfly Effect) and what Ryan Reynold’s abs really look like. As well as normal things like what his perfect Sunday is…
AF: What is your real name?
JJ: Tony Stark. No, wait…Bruce Wayne. Shit, let me try again. Jesse James is my first and middle name. My last name is Unterthiner (sound it out, it’s pronounced just like it’s spelled), which comes from my family in South Tyrol, a region of northern Italy near the Austrian Alps.
AF: When did you start acting, how and why?
JJ: I started acting when I was 5, almost 6 years old, and it was pretty much a total fluke. My dad was trying to be an actor at the time and I was tagging along while he was getting headshots taken by his manager. The manager ended up liking the cut of my jib and offered to take me on as a client too, if i was willing to try acting. It seemed like fun, so I started going on auditions, and it sort of snowballed from there. 20 years later, he still represents me.
AF: You’ve been in some big movies over the past 15 years including Blow (played a young Johnny Depp), Jumper, The Butterfly Effect, The Amityville Horror, The Fly Boys, Walker Texas Ranger, Mad Men and As Good As It Gets, just to name a few (please see his IMDB for much more). Pretend you’re not in any of the movies or TV shows you were in, which one are you the biggest fan of and why?
JJ: As Good As It Gets and Blow. It was also exciting to have a small part on Mad Men, since I was a big fan of the show.
AF: Favorite sport to watch?
JJ: Ice hockey (Go Kings! Go Habs!).
AF: Favorite sport/activity to take part in yourself?
JJ: Power-napping, advanced reclining, sandwich-making…But seriously folks…I ride my bike a fair amount, and hike. I dig riding horses, but I don’t get to do it very often. Lately I’ve been wanting to get back into surfing, which I used to do with my dad a lot.
AF: Better Jesse James: You, Sandra Bullock’s ex-husband/gear head, Brad Pitt (who played Jesse James in The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford) or me (who played Jesse James in Hotel Secrets & Legends on the Travel Channel)? Please be honest, don’t say the obvious answer (ahem, ahem).
JJ: Clearly there’s only one way to solve this… a four-way knife fight to the death in the streets of Northfield, Minnesota.
AF: Story behind your first crush?
JJ: Like any red-blooded American young lad, I used to love watching Saturday morning cartoons, but I ‘d get up way too early and have to sit through an hour of infomercials before the cartoons would start, including an ad for some Time-Life boxed music set or something, you know the ones where they scroll down the list of song titles, but the titles in yellow are the ones playing as a video in the background? Anyway, (right after ‘Benny and The Jets’) it would always play ‘Heart of Glass’ by Blondie, and Debbie Harry in that video is the first girl I can remember having a crush on. The first non-celebrity was probably some little Montessori-school vixen…
AF: Favorite sports team?
JJ: The Montreal Canadiens and the L.A Kings.
AF: Did you do your laundry on Ryan Reynolds’s abs (from The Amytville Horror)?
JJ: Yes, at first, but I had to stop after being given a stern warning. (He was allergic to my fabric softener).
AF: In The Butterfly Effect you played “Young Tommy” a complete psycho. When reading the script at age 13 or so, did you happen to notice that the character you were going to play beats the shit out of adults in a movie theater with a metal pole, sets dogs on fire, and is also so messed up that he actually gets pissed off that he’s not the child about to be molested by Eric Stoltz (opting to rip the head off of a doll’s head instead)? Or were just like, “hey cool, another big movie I’m going to be in?”
JJ: After I was offered the Tommy role, I remember my parents having to do a bit of soul-searching before they agreed to let me do it. It’s heavy subject matter, but the script was solid. I was 13 or so and just excited to have an excuse to be a bad kid. “I get to fight, curse, and smoke? And I’ll get paid for it? Right on!” Incidentally,working on this film was an important turning point for me as an actor because it was one of the first times I had a complex character that I could get invested in. I had to get inside his head and figure out all the reasons why he was so angry and violent, or it wouldn’t have felt real to me. P.S Tommy (the even younger version, played by Cameron Bright) isn’t pissed that he’s not the child being molested, he’s pissed because he can’t do anything to stop his sister and friend from being molested. Fun fact!
AF: Now that you’re an adult who’s the one co-star that you’ve worked with that would be the best to grab a drink with and why?
JJ: Jack Nicholson, for obvious reasons.
AF: Who would be the best to play truth or dare with and why?
JJ: Jack Nicholson, for obvious reasons.
AF: Who be the best to initiate into a gang and why?
JJ: Jack Nicholson, for obvious reasons. This Liebowitz picture says it all:
AF: How old were you when you did your first paid acting gig?
JJ: Once I started going on auditions, I was sick of it after the first few weeks. We lived out in the desert by Indio at the time, so every appointment meant a 2-3 hour drive, followed by another hour or so in a hot, crowded cattle call for one line in an English muffin commercial, surrounded by screaming kids and their obnoxious parents, followed by another 2-3 hour drive home (if I didn’t have another appointment after), all usually after a full day of school. It sucked. After a particularly unpleasant appointment, I told my dad I was ready to quit, so he called my manager, who said “That’s fine, he can quit, but will he go on this one last appointment, it’s for a James L. Brooks movie” That audition was for Helen Hunt’s sick son in As Good As It Gets. The role called for an “overweight, 12 year old red-head”. I was skinny, almost 6 years old, and blonde. They ended up bringing me back in for 3 or 4 callbacks, I got the part, and I haven’t gone out for a commercial since. Suck it, Thomas’ English muffins…
AF: Because you were in movies and what not as a child, what was school like for you?
JJ: School was a relatively normal experience. For one thing, my family and I never lived in Los Angeles. After leaving the desert, we moved to Carpinteria, near Santa Barbara, so unless I had an audition or was on location somewhere, I was never around a lot of “industry” people growing up. I went to regular school, had regular friends, did regular stuff. I’d always try to keep my career under my hat for as long as possible when entering a new school, so that I wasn’t just “the actor kid”. When I had to leave to go shoot something, my parents and I would sit down with my teachers beforehand and arrange for me to do my assignments with the studio teacher on set (which nearly every production with children is required to have, even during the summer, as a welfare worker to ensure the kids’ safety.)
AF: Favorite “non-Hollywood” activity to do?
JJ: Going to my grandparents’ island farm in British Columbia and enjoying some peace, quiet, and solitude.
AF: Do you think you’ll have a mustache for the rest of your life (Jesse currently has a mustache)?
JJ: Well, to be fair, I’ve never had JUST a mustache, the goatee makes it a “Van Dyke”, as Walter White would tell you. I mostly keep it out of laziness, so I only have to shave my cheeks and my neck. It comes and goes as auditions for younger or older characters come in.
AF: If you had to watch one movie for the rest of your life what would it be?
JJ: Anything by the Coen brothers or Stanley Kubrick (The Big Lebowski, Raising Arizona, The Shining, A Clockwork Orange…)
AF: If you had to read one book for the rest of your life what would it be?
JJ: Water Music by T.C Boyle (anything by T.C Boyle, really), or The Grapes of Wrath. As a kid, it would have been anything by Roald Dahl.
AF: Comedy Idol?
JJ: Steve Martin, every SCTV cast member (E. Levy, J. Candy, J. Flaherty, C. O’Hara, etc.), John Belushi, Gene Wilder and Gilda Radner, Bill Hicks, Mitch Hedberg, David Cross, Mel Brooks, Mike Judge, Richard Pryor, Eddie Murphy, Dave Chappelle, the list goes on…
AF: Hollywood Crush?
JJ: I’ve always liked Elizabeth Banks. Lupita Nyong’o put the whammy on me when she danced with Pharell at the Oscars, I liked her moves…I’d better stop, or my girlfriend will have me sleeping on the couch.
AF: Describe a perfect Sunday for yourself?
JJ: Sitting with my parents in the front yard of their house in Carpinteria, cracking jokes in the sunshine after a day at the beach, drinking beer, eating sandwiches, and watching my younger siblings play. Lucky for me, this perfect Sunday occurs fairly frequently.
AF: You have a paragraph to shamelessly plug any upcoming projects or work, twitter names, professional websites, etc. How do you word that?
JJ: Well, anyone that wants to can follow me on Twitter: @jessejamesactor I also have an official Facebook page that could use some like-age. I’m in an independent horror film that was shot in Seattle last October called “The Darker Path” that will hopefully be coming out late 2014/early 2015. Also, a film that we shot over 10 years ago called “The Flyboys” is currently being worked into a potential TV series, which is very exciting, sort of an edgy, modern-day Hardy Boys, co-starring Reiley McClendon (who was the young Hartnett to my young Affleck in Pearl Harbor).
AF: Favorite Bar & why?
JJ: I like Barney’s Beanery in West Hollywood, for the good company, the cheap drinks, and the rock and roll history. The Rainbow on Sunset is another standard, for pretty much the same reasons. And of course, Boardners, on post-TMI* Sunday nights, can’t be beat.
*Jesse performs weekly at Second City, Hollywood in the TMI: Hollywood show.
AF: Favorite Restaurant & Why?
JJ: *cough*Popeye’s Chicken*cough* My friends and I go to Gyu-Kaku on La Cienega at least once every week or so. Killer happy hour, and really good food (that you cook yourself on a little grill in the middle of the table!)
AF: Favorite Drink?
JJ: Vitamin B + C (Bourbon and Coke). I also like a greyhound (vodka/grapefruit juice) if it’s a hot day, or I’m feeling fat.
AF: What is the worst betting debt you’ve ever had to do (ie shave an eyebrow because you couldn’t eat 6 saltines without water or something)
JJ: Unlike Kenny Rogers, I’m not much of a gambler, so I honestly can’t think of anything outlandish I’ve done due to a bet, or a dare. Sorry to be so boring.
AF: How many siblings – What are their age ranges?
JJ: I’m the oldest of four. My little sister, Lily, will be 20 this summer. My brother, Atticus Jack, just turned 9, and my other sister, Sofia, just turned 4. My parents are young and basically hit the reset button 15 years after having Lily and I…Built-in babysitters!
AF: Favorite Holiday and why?
JJ: I’m a Jehovah’s Witness, so…none. Kidding. I’ve always liked Halloween. Probably because, as an actor, it’s the only day where everyone else dresses up and pretends to be a character too.
AF: How many tattoos do you have?
JJ: Only one, of Calvin and Hobbes. They taught me how to read, among many other things…
AF: What would be you dream role (be as specific as possible)
JJ: I’d kill for a chance to play Johnny Rotten, from the Sex Pistols. I love what an uncompromising asshole he is. I used to really want to play Kurt Cobain. I’m a huge comic book guy (not THAT Comic Book Guy), so being in a superhero movie would make my inner 10-year old self’s dream come true, specifically Nightcrawler, from the X-Men (a teleporting, furry blue demon from Germany? Yes, please.) I love Westerns, so of course, I’ve always wanted to play Jesse James, the outlaw.
AF: What are you currently up to, literally this exact moment?
JJ: I’m currently up to about 36,000 feet, typing this final answer as I fly home to L.A from Orlando, Florida, where I was at a special screening of The Flyboys they brought us out for, as the potential TV series starts to hopefully get rolling.
Don’t let Jesse’s badass on screen persona sway you from believing that he is also very funny. He performs weekly at Second City, Hollywood in the TMI: Hollywood show. For more information on Jesse and all of his upcoming projects, feel free to check out his IMDB page, follow him on Twitter and like his Facebook Page. For all booking inquiries, please contact his management team at: Dino@dinomaymanagement.com
Post by Anthony F. – firstname.lastname@example.org – follow him on Twitter
Anthony Fanelli is an actor, writer, producer and comedian whose credits include NCIS: Los Angeles (CBS), How Superman Defeated the KKK (Discovery), My Haunted House (A&E), Black Water Vampire (feature film), Kidney & Apple (feature film), Spare Change (feature film), Little Knockers (funny or die exclusive), The Next Steps (funny or die), United Airlines, Chase Bank, Philips Norelco, Huffington Post/AOL, among much more. He has written and/or starred in over 150 live comedy shows (one-man shows, news parodies, improv, sketch). For more information, please visit his links: Professional Site, Funny or Die Page, IMDB, YouTube, FULL RESUME