Spencer Lofranco Talks About 'Jamesy Boy'

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Spencer Lofranco makes his feature film acting debut with the dramatic film, Jamesy Boy, based on a true story. Lofranco plays James Burns, a young man who gets caught up in gang life and sent to prison where he finds a mentor (played by Ving Rhames) who helps him turn his life around.  Writer/director Trevor White knew the real James whose story unfolds in Jamesy Boy, and the real James was actively involved in helping to bring his story to the screen.

During his break in filming Angelina Jolie's Unbroken in Australia, I had the opportunity to chat with the up-and-coming Lofranco about tackling such a difficult role as his first project and how he could relate to this particular story.

Spencer Lofranco Exclusive Interview

How difficult was it to play a character based on a real person who was actually on the set and could watch you perform? Did it put extra pressure on you knowing that he was there?

"No, to be honest with you.  James and I had developed a relationship prior to shooting and we had become almost best friends. That gave me a lot of ease and I really felt comfortable. And I think he did as well because we just got to know each other for who we both were, and accepted the fact that I was going to be playing him and that I wasn't trying to play 'him', you know what I mean? I understood him. I understood him and we had similar experiences and similar pasts that I just wasn't playing him, I was playing the emotional breakthroughs of someone that would go through experiences such as James and I."

You said that you have a similar background to him. How so?

"Well, we were both institutionalized at a young age."

How did you overcome that?

"I guess I overcame it by overcoming myself and overcoming the things that I didn't think I could overcome. And then once I overcame those things, then everything felt possible."

Did having the ability to act and use that as an outlet help you? Was that something you knew was going to be in your future, even while you were going through that experience?

"I think so, yeah."

Did you think that you were absolutely prepared to play this role because you have experienced something like this? Did that really help you or did it take you back emotionally to a place that was really difficult?

"Well, yes, it did, absolutely. But I think that's the job, right? You've just got to go there."

Was it hard for you at the end of the day, and at the end of the shoot, to kind of put that aside and know that both you and the real James have progressed from that point?

"Yeah, it was a very emotional day, the last day. It was just very emotional because it was such a passion project for everyone that was involved. The story of Jamesy Boy didn't just come out of the blue. Trevor's mother had done a 60-minute documentary on James' mother and James was included in that. So Jamesy Boy was like an ongoing process of trying to help this family out and I was just happy to be a part of something so special."

What was it like working with Trevor as the writer and director, and as a guy who did know the subjects so intimately?

"You know what? I've got to say that Trevor is one of the nicest, most respectful people I could have asked to have chosen me and brought me into this business because there are so many shady people out there. Trevor is just a one-of-a-kind person. He helped me so much and has so much faith in me, and really put his time and effort into spending time with me and developing a relationship that will be lifelong."

Do you still talk to the real James?

"Yeah, we communicate weekly."

Can you picture that at some point in your future you'll want to, like the real James, speak to kids about how to overcome adversity?

"Of course. I have had dreams of going back to my military school and talking to the kids there. I want to."

If you could talk to them now, what would you tell them? What's the most important thing you can say to kids who are going through that?

"I think it's just to find something you love. You've just got to find something you love to do and not let anybody hold you back and not let anyone drag you down. Everyone is confused. I feel like just all it takes is one person to be like, 'All right, I'm going to do my thing because I know it's good for me,' and not be influenced by other people that are not on the same direction. I feel like what's important is just finding out who you are first and accepting that, and then seeking out people that are similar to you, and then forcing that energy together to find happiness and love."

In the movie James had Ving Rhames' Conrad character as his mentor. Did you have somebody like that?

"Yeah, I'd say my Dad. James didn't have that.  James' father actually abandoned him, like took off and I feel James and Conrad sort of had a father-son relationship.  But they also had a man-to-man relationship too, and a no bullshit relationship. I feel like that that's sort of the relationship I had with my father too."

 What was it like working with Ving Rhames?

"Well, it was awesome. Besides our relationship as character to character, he was also a great mentor to me, just his advice. He was a no bullshit type guy, you know what I mean? He wasn't there to small-talk, he wasn't there to joke around. He was there to do his job, and if he would need to talk to someone, he would want to share his knowledge, share his wisdom, and that's exactly what he did with me."

Is there anything in particular he told you that really helped you and that you're going to take forward as a lesson?

"Yeah, he talked a lot about how you represent yourself and he talked a lot about first impressions and being that professional and knowing that Hollywood is a small world and that you have got to be smart and you have got to be sharp and you have got to act appropriately because if you don't, he said that could f**k up your whole career. So just being on time, being a real professional is what I think Ving is all about.

It's great to hear that from someone so passionate and so experienced. He went to Juilliard and he's an inspiration to the black community and I think, on-set, people looked up to him really, and so did I."

Do your future plans involve something a bit lighter? Maybe a comedy?

"Yeah, of course. I definitely have a comedy in me, but I feel like... I don't know, I guess I just need to figure out the best angles to take to really [show off] my strengths with my comedy because sometimes I think I'm being funny, but I come off as like an a**hole or something [<i>laughing</i>]. You know what I mean? So I've got to find that balance and that quirkiness, I feel. But that all takes time.

If that opportunity does come, I want to be wise about it and achieve that role according to how I feel, and if I feel like it will come across properly."

After starring in Jamesy Boy, you landed a role in At Middleton and Unbroken. How's it feel to have your career starting to take off?

"I didn't expect to get Jamesy Boy and I think after I got Jamesy Boy and worked with the incredible people that I have got a chance to work with in that movie, I really felt like things would get rolling after this."

And right now you have a day off from working with Angelina Jolie on Unbroken so you're hanging out in Australia. Sounds like fun.

"Yeah, it is. It's a lot of fun. It's like a paid vacation and at the same time, I get to work with Angelina Jolie so it's the coolest thing ever."

What is it that she brings as a director that helps you out as an actor?

"Just because she's been an actor, she understands what the actors are going through. She really carries a sense of ease and lets the actor know that he's safe and puts the actor in a good place and a safe place to take risks and perform."

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Jamesy Boy opens in theaters on January 17, 2014.