As three-time Tony nominee Brian d’Arcy James says, he likes to “limit the times in between when you’re not working,” and he’s been particularly successful lately. Having played a three-month stint as King George in Broadway’s Hamilton—the role he originated Off-Broadway at The Public Theater—James spoke to ABC News about his appearances on TV series and in feature films, including Manhunt: Unabomber, which premieres on the Discovery Channel August 29.
James appears in the sixth episode of the eight-episode miniseries about Unabomber Ted Kaczynski. “It’s an interesting standalone episode in that I play a professor named Henry Murray, who was a real man and a renowned psychologist at Harvard University,” explained James. “In this case his actions are questionable, if not completely immoral, in that he was responsible for a series of tests, including [those on] 22 young students, Ted Kaczynski being one of them, to basically stress test to test to figure out how far the human condition could allow extreme stress.”
In the full video interview above, the actor delves into the motivations of his character and playing the villain. “It’s always a mistake to hold on tightly to the things that make them bad. It's always more interesting to figure out what makes this person get out of bed and make them believe that what they’re doing is acceptable,” he said.
Over the next year, we’ll also see James in movies like Civil, 1922, Song of Back and Neck, All These Small Moments, Molly’s Game (written and directed by Aaron Sorkin and starring Jessica Chastain), and as an FBI agent in Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down the White House, about the man known as Deep Throat during the Nixon administration.
Worlds collided when former FBI Director James Comey attended a performance of Hamilton during James’ run with the show. “He made himself very available to everybody,” said James of Comey. “It was really interesting to be able to shake his hand and say, ‘I’m in this movie about Mark Felt.’”
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James credits his big career to his musical theatre days. “I always sang, so musicals were always the thing that got me in the door and got me jobs,” he said of his career. (Fun fact: His first-ever musical role was in high school as Randolph MacAfee in Bye Bye Birdie.) Still, James used those connections in the musical world and proved his talent in those jobs so he could continue to try new things and work in all sectors of entertainment.
He and fellow theatre man, Pulitzer Prize winner Brian Yorkey, work together on the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. James plays the grieving father of a young girl who dies by suicide. “It’s a topic that needs to be discussed,” he said. “What I hope for is, I’m not a health expert, but what I’m hoping the series can do is elicit a conversation that is helpful and takes away the taboo of even talking about it.”
The series has sparked conversations between James and his own 15-year-old daughter. “Brian Yorkey, our showrunner, has this uncanny ability to create young people and get their voice right”—a truth that also applied to Yorkey’s Next to Normal, in which James originated the role of the father Off-Broadway.