The new Fox drama Lone Star centers on Robert Allen (James Wolk), a charismatic and brilliant con artist who has meticulously constructed two lives in two different parts of Texas. As “Bob,” (Wolk) he lives in Houston and is a devoted husband to Cat (Adrianne Palicki), the beautiful daughter of the patriarch (Jon Voight) of an ultra-wealthy oil family. In the suburban town of Midland, he’s known as “Robert,” where he lives a second life with his sweet, naive girlfriend, Lindsay (Eloise Mumford). He has lived both lives successfully for years without arousing any suspicions, but he now fears that his secrets may unravel as he becomes divided by his love for two women.
During a recent interview to promote the new TV series, actor James Wolk (who can also be seen in Disney’s upcoming feature You Again starting September 24th) talked about taking on such a complex role, playing a guy torn between two loves, and the similarities between playing a con man and being an actor. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: This is a great role for any actor to take on, so there were presumably a lot of people interested in it. What was your auditioning process like? Did you have to really fight for this?
James: Yeah. It wasn’t offered to me, by any means. I read the script and I loved it, though it was originally written as a little bit older. So, it was an interesting process. I went in and read for it, and the producers, director and I, knew that the character was a little bit older than I am. I just said, “I want to read it and I want to hear the words come out of my mouth,” and they wanted to hear the words come out of my mouth. After that, we all just felt that there was something there. There were still other people reading for the role, until I got the good news that I got the part.
How do you see this guy?
James: He’s kind of like Atlas, holding up the world. He’s trying to live to the maximum, on all levels. He’s playing with fire, but he has good intentions, even though he makes the wrong decisions. For me, when I saw the character, that’s the way I approached it. That’s who Robert Allen is. He’s a good guy who’s a victim of circumstance.
So, he’s a loveable con man?
James: Yeah, he’s a loveable con man. But, I can’t think of him as loveable. I have to think of him as a guy who wants to do the right thing, but he was born into circumstances beyond him and given a life where, in order to succeed, he had to follow these rules that were set for him by his father. He’s a con man, but he doesn’t think of himself that way.
What’s it like to shoot in Texas?
James: We were there in March, so it was a lot different from the 110-degree, humid heat that we have now. But, it was great. We were so busy, but in the time we had off, we really enjoyed Dallas. It’s really nice. I haven’t been on a ton of different television shows, but it’s important to me that because the show takes place in Texas, it’s great to shoot it in Texas. You get a feel for the local people and environment, and the smell of the air. As an actor, it helps to be in touch with all of that. So, in my opinion, we get the luxury of shooting where the show takes place.
How has it been to work with both Eloise Mumford and Adrianne Palicki? What was it like to develop the relationships with each of them?
James: As a character, Robert is in love with both Lindsay (Mumford), the Midland, small-town girl, and Cat (Palicki), his Houston socialite. I believe that he’s truly in love with both of them, and that’s what I decided, when I was playing the role. When you get a script, you can interpret it any way you want, and I just thought he was in love with both of them. And then, once you meet the actresses, you’re like, “Okay, he really is in love with both of them.” But, he loves them for different reasons.
Cat offers him the lifestyle and the luxuries that he never had growing up. He was born to a small-time con man. His father did small-time cons. So, to be in this socialite family and with this woman who is just incredible and intelligent, and this intellectual stimulus, really is attractive to him. And then, with Lindsay, it is this all-American dream of this small town and the comforts of that town. As the actor, I can relate with that. Those are both really exciting dynamics. But, I think what’s going to happen is that the girls are going to grow on the show. They’re not archetypes. Cat isn’t just socialite and Lindsay isn’t just a small-town girl. They’re going to mature and have these lives that happen, and it will be interesting to see how Robert deals with both of those things.
When you watch this show, you really can feel for this guy being torn between these two women who would seemingly combine into the perfect woman. Do you think he wishes these two women were haves of the perfect woman for him?
James: That’s exactly right. He’d rather have the two haves be one person. He is obviously inherently selfish. He’s a flawed character. Anyone that leads two lives is committing a selfish act, but he really, truly loves both of these women and, hopefully, the audience feels that. You’re rooting for him, even though you don’t want to root for him, and that’s the exciting thing about the show. You’re like, “This fucking guy is living two lives, but we like him. We want him to go after both of those things.”
When you do the more intimate scenes, are there things that you do with your scene partner to make them more comfortable?
James: Honestly, it’s the luck of the draw. If you are comfortable with the actor that you’re opposite of – and I’m so lucky to have Adrianne and Eloise because they’re both such lovely girls – it just breaks down a lot of those insecurities and you can just say, “Okay, I trust this person, and I respect them and know they respect me,” and then you can just go with it. When that doesn’t exist, it’s a lot harder to let go. As an actor, that’s the most important thing. You want to be able to let go and not hold onto anything, so that you can give an honest portrayal and performance. I’m lucky. They make me feel very comfortable and, hopefully, vice versa.
As an actor, do you enjoy getting to work with different directors every week? Does that strengthen your craft?
James: Yeah, it’s great. It’s so much fun. It’s a job where you literally get to do something that’s a great experience, and then you try a new experience, and you take things from all of it. Marc Webb, who directed our pilot episode, is an awesome director. I learned a ton from him, and I think most young actors would. He’s young himself, but just a really, really wonderful director.
James: A relatively small town. I’m from the suburbs in Michigan. It was a great place to grow up. Michigan is beautiful with wide-open spaces. Inherently, Midland is a place where I would be really comfortable because of that small-town feel.
What led you to be an actor?
James: I just grew up loving acting and loving entertainment. In Michigan, if you want to act, it’s local theater, it’s high school theater and it’s going to camp and putting on plays in the summer, and I always loved doing that. There was something that just drew me to it. My dad used to put me in front of the TV screen and made me watch old Jimmy Durante and Dean Martin movies. I just always loved entertainment. And then, I went to school and studied it in college, and just knew that was what I wanted to do. I don’t know what drew me to it. My mom is an art teacher and my dad owns a women’s shoe store, so they’re not actors, by any means. Well, I guess to sell women’s shoes, you have to be an actor. But, it was just in me.
What do they think of your career now?
James: They’re really excited. They don’t know which way to walk.
What is it like for you to now take on the lead role of a television series?
James: This is an exciting time. I did a movie, Front of the Class, where I played a teacher with Tourette’s Syndrome. That was a really wonderful experience and certainly a role that, in some small respect, put me on the map. Maybe I was a small city you’ve never heard of, but on the map, and I feel very fortunate to have some continued success, in that respect. This role is a lot different from that role, but the thing that excites me so much about this project is that the role is just as rich. Front of the Class was a true story. This is not necessarily a true story, but the world is just as real. I’m really excited to sink my teeth into this, with this truly exceptional cast and everyone involved, including the writers and directors.
James: Yeah, it was in the writing. As soon as I read the script, I knew that this role had something very special in it. Originally, the role was significantly older than me, so it was a question of whether I could be honest and true in this role, and really do justice to an audience that would watch it and actually believe in it. It was a really interesting on-going conversation between myself, people that help me make decisions and the wonderful people behind the show. After a few auditions, we realized that, yes, this could work, and I was elated. I was so excited because I thought that this role is something that could really continue to challenge me, and it’s a really wonderful role. It was on the page. There was some real stuff to play here, which I think is what ignites this cast and excites us about going into a series where we’ll be challenged, every day.
Is playing a con man natural for an actor? Are there certain con man skills that are inherent in having an acting career?
James: That’s an interesting question. I think there are similarities between a con man and an actor because a con man needs to go into a situation, pursue an objective, do what he needs to do to achieve that, manipulate the situation, make people believe in him and erect trust from the people around him. In some respects, that’s not that dissimilar from acting, which is going in and playing a role. Bob, the con man, is an actor. He plays different characters. There are some interesting parallels between the two.
Personally, do you feel that it’s possible to be in love with two people at the same time?
James: I don’t know. I’ve been in love and know what that feeling is like, so for the character, I multiplied that by two. Bob has that true love for both of these girls, so as the actor playing Bob, I have to believe that that sort of love is possible, in order to do justice to the character. In my own life, I haven’t experienced that feeling, but I imagine it would be pretty interesting if I did.
LONE STAR premieres on Fox on September 20th