James Duval Talks Independence Day, Donnie Darko, And More

May 28, 2022

Written by Kelli Marchman McNeely

Kelli Marchman McNeely - Horror Fuel CEO & Executive Producer Email: [email protected]

James Duval’s face is one you’ll recognize; after all, he’s appeared in over 150 series and movies. We watched his heartbreak in Independence Day and saw him in the iconic costume in Donnie Darko. James has a ton of films coming out soon, one of them being the horror anthology Tales from the Other Side. I sat down with the talented and super friendly actor to talk about some of his projects. Check it out.


Kelli: “What have you been up to?”


James: “I’ve been working a little bit here and there, and I have new projects are coming out, one of which is Tales from the Other Side, which I’m really excited about.”


Kelli: “I recently did a write-up about it.”


James: “Yeah. Thank you, by the way, because I think we just did this in August; we shot our little segment.”



Kelli: “First, I have to talk to you about Independence Day.”


James: “I would love to.”


Kelli: “I love that movie, but who doesn’t.”


James: “Oh, thank you. I do too. That has a special place in my heart.”


Kelli: “That scene where you’re looking through that clear map right when your dad is about to sacrifice himself. Oh my god.”


James: “That comes completely unexpected to my character, who before that, he was just kind of ashamed of his father for being a drunk. And we thought he was pretending to be kidnapped by space aliens, but it turns out he really was.”


Kelli: “That look on your face is just priceless. It’s heartbreaking.”



James: “Oh, thank you. It was such an opportunity of a lifetime to play that character in that movie with those actors, with Will and Bill Pullman; it was still one of the high points for me.”


Kelli: “I can only imagine. What was it like on the set?”


James: “It was insane. It was my first big studio film. So before this, I had been shooting little tiny movies. I think I did my first couple of movies for about $20,000 on 16 millimeters. You couldn’t edit on a computer back then, so it took quite a while to edit the films. I was actually shooting another movie while I was shooting Independence Day. So I was shooting two movies at once. I was shooting a movie in Los Angeles directed by Gregg Araki called Nowhere. It was about this kind of disenfranchised youth. I would take my earrings out and change my part, jump on a plane, and go shoot for a week in Utah on Independence Day.


It was like stepping into the movie because its size was so gigantic. It was such a massive undertaking, and it was certainly beyond anything that I’ve ever experienced before, so much so that I know when we came back to film the stuff in Los Angeles after we finished all this stuff on location, they had built these stages where they produced this. They’d shot a few movies there before, but that entire Area 51 agency with the labs and the hallway and the big ship that crashed that we’d been saving that Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum fly up, that’s all practical. That was all built on a set.”


Kelli: “Wow! It looks so good.”


James: “Yeah, it would take maybe 25 or 30 minutes to walk through that set.”


Kelli: “That’s incredible!”


James: “It was unbelievable. It really was. It was mind-blowing. Now that I’m telling you about it, I’m like, “Oh yeah, that was incredible.” Even to this day, I’ve worked on others, but this was a pretty big movie. Still, I think we’re so reliant now on digital technology that instead of building a base like that, they would put a green screen and whatnot, but I think it was sort of the last of the practical effects.”


Kelli: “I think that’s what makes it so special. And it still looks so good. Back then, it was mind-blowing, and it still holds up today.”


James: “It really was. They do use CGI and digital effects, but it was a combination of the two so that they blended in with the practical effects and real-sized… Like the cars, they did use the cars in the green screen and dropped cars on each other, and then added the city behind that later on, but they still had this huge stage where they lined all these cars and people with these wind fans and had cars hanging on cranes that they would drop into the scene. It was incredible.”


Kelli: “Oh, I would have loved to see that. Did you ever expect Donnie Darko to do what it did when you slipped on that iconic bunny costume?”


James: “I did not. I have to be honest and say that I fell in love with the script when I saw it and read it. I loved the character, and I loved Donnie… I was reading for Frank, but I loved the character Donnie Darko especially, and the relationship between him and all his parents and Jena Malone’s character is Gretchen, and my character, Frank. So what happened when I finished reading, I didn’t think there was a shot, and to heck, I was going to get it, because it was really for someone with a big frame, six feet tall and blonde, and I’m about 5’9”, and you’ve seen me, I have dark hair and dark eyes. So I’m thinking, “Well, this could be really good for me, and I love this so much, I’m just going to go with it.”


I fell in love with the script because, to me, it read like a modern-day Twilight Zone, but it achieved something in a way I don’t think that up to that point, as much as I love the newer Twilight Zone, hadn’t tapped into something that the early ones with Rod Serling had that seemed to be missing. It just had something that caught you inside, and when I read Donnie Darko, I saw that particular piece of me inside. It hooked me.



Kelli: “I can understand. It’s a great film.”


James: “Then it was quite a disappointment when it came out. In all honesty, the movie came out a month after 9/11, compounded with other things. I don’t think they knew how to make the movie because it wasn’t your regular kind of horror form or psycho… It was this new kind of thing. It kind of stood out on its own as a psychological thriller, but it has horror elements, sci-fi elements, and this love story in there. It’s kind of interesting.


The biggest compliment in the world was to see that as you sort of roll-on three, four, five years after the movie came out, a following had started to build. The following had made not because, “Oh, it’s cool to like this movie,” or, “You need to see this because this studio is saying this. This is number one in the charts.” It simply came from someone going, “I don’t know what this is, but you need to watch this movie. I love it.” And really, word of mouth is tough to do then and now unless it goes viral. I think it’s a big compliment for the movie in a big way, but I certainly didn’t expect it to be a cult hit.”


Kelli: “It did, and you were great in it. It’s so different from the movies released at the time.”


James: “I couldn’t agree more. It’s refreshing is what it is, because it’s like diving into a pool of cold water when all you had… It’s nice to be in warm water, but you want to take a cool dip every once in a while. That movie is taking a cool dip.”


Kelli: “I love the way that you just explained that. That’s great. Okay, so tell me about your character in this new movie, Tales from the Side.”


James: “It’s interesting because I’ll tell you, to be honest, the segment’s called Either / Or, so I didn’t know it was going to be part of an anthology until the interviews came up because they were sort of like, “We have this interview for you, Tales from the Other Side.” I was like, “All right, what is that?” I’ve been quite busy through the pandemic, but I don’t remember making something called Tales from the Other Side. Then when I heard from the writer’s son, that’s when I realized, “Oh, this is what I [inaudible 00:08:45]. Oh, this is incredible,” because I thought I was just doing a short, but the fact that it’s got picked up to be part of this anthology movie of other shorts I believe is a big boost for me. It makes me very excited because I like those horror anthologies. I’ve done a few myself. I always think they’re a fun treat to work on and entertaining to watch.


I was really intrigued. I don’t know if you’ve seen this movie, but I was intrigued by the idea of challenging who’s crazy in a mental institution? Is it the people inside, or is it the doctors?”


Kelli: “That’s an interesting thought. That’s always intrigued me.”


James: “Mm-hmm. Sort of like a One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. It’s a bit of not a horror, maybe a bit of a horror, psychological thriller element. Certainly a psychological thriller. Is my character crazy, or is he the same one?”


Kelli: “I have to see it.”


James: “Yeah, so this is the question that arises. What also arises is maybe the locked up people maybe not as crazy as they appear to be or seem to be, or perhaps there’s a reason that everyone’s a little crazy. It’s an interesting, I think, examination of what sanity can entail.”


Kelli: “That sounds really good. That happened a lot back in the day; some people would be sent to asylums that weren’t really crazy. That had to be terrifying for them.”


James: “Yeah, me too. Hopefully, we keep you guessing until the end.”


Kelli: “Hopefully so. It won’t be long until we find out; Tales from the Side comes out in June, so that it won’t belong.”


James: “I’m excited about this.”


Kelli: “It’ll be on digital and DVD on June 7th.”


Kelli, What else can you tell us about your character?”


James: “I can tell you that without spoiling it. I mean, I could spoil it, but I won’t. It’s much more interesting if you… I think it keeps the audience guessing, and I think the idea of the character is that when you first meet the character, it becomes the question of whether he is crazy? Because he seems to have his wits about him, a good hold on his wits, and perhaps a good hold on how he might be manipulated by the doctor. He’s maybe manipulating him to get a reaction for this sort of treatment that they expect to culminate due to his time in therapy with them, and it begins to take some twists and turns that I think are very, very interesting.”


Kelli: “That happened a lot back in the day.”


James: “Oh, it certainly did. One thing it’s not, it’s similar to it, but it’s completely different, but I keep coming back to it, and I kept coming back to it while we were filming it was One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.”


Kelli: “Yeah. Well, that’s, of course, a classic.”


James: “Yeah, yeah. So kind of that was a little horror element to it.”


Kelli: “Oh, that’s fantastic. When I was looking at your IMDB, I noticed you have a lot of stuff coming up.”


James: “Yeah, I’ve been fortunate. I haven’t made some of them yet, but they call me up when they’re ready to make them; as long as it abides by all the rules, I’ll be there. But I’ve been fortunate even during the pandemic, we locked down for about 100 days here, and it’s been a month after that lockdown; I started going back to work in Either / Or; Tales of Halloween is one of the projects I had done. They are working on another movie called The First Circle, being directed by a first-time director, Mark Chapman, with Michael Madsen and Chris Browning, Natasha Henstridge, and Mike Starr. It’s a fascinating story, sort of like Dante’s Inferno. All these characters are going through the first circle of hell, and they don’t know they’re in hell. They still think they’re alive. So that’s kind of the journey that the audience goes on with them as they describe it.


“As time goes on and the story progresses, they’re not exactly where they think they are, and the horror begins to set in. So I’m very excited about this. We go back to finish that. I shot a piece of that, but then the omicron put that back, put us on hold. So I’m going to go back and finish that in July. I’m also looking to the Horror Inn or Murder Inn. I’ve attached myself to these projects I’m shooting in July that I’m very excited about and have a great cast. Since then as well, I’ve been fortunate. Thank you for speaking with me, Kelli, because I guess I have three movies out right now.


Kelli: “You’ve been a busy man.”


James: “Yeah. Directly right now, the first one is a movie I’m very proud of that we just won the Film Threat Award for best What the F is this Movie Even? Along with Best Director, a very coveted award, we’re very proud to have won that. That’s the WTF movie of the year. It’s called I, Challenger. It’s sort of a stoner comedy, and my character’s some kind of a video gamer in his 40s and feels like he’s been down on his luck in his life, and he wants to find fortune. So he gets this crazy idea from watching videos on YouTube that he’s going to bury himself underground for 24 hours and Livestream it. That’s how he’ll find his luck. Even if he doesn’t see his chance, live streaming it, you get a bunch of people to tune in, and he gets followers, and it goes viral, and he’ll make a lot of money. So, as he progresses to do this, he does succeed in getting himself underground, but it does not quite go the way he planned.


Kelli: “So is it considered a comedy?”


James: “It’s a comedy. Yeah, it’s definitely a comedy. It’s like a stoner comedy.”


Kelli: “Okay. I like those.”


James: “Then the next one’s a sci-fi, dark comedy, drama, a romance called Without Ward. It’s one of Martin Landau’s last films.”


Kelli: “Oh, okay.”


James: “It was before he passed away. We shot this in 2012, believe it or not. Then I talked to the director during the lockdown because, believe it or not; the entire film takes place when half the world is under house arrest and lockdown.”


Kelli: “Wow, how fitting.”


James: “Yeah, right? That’s what I told him. I’m like, “You should try to put this movie out. You should finish it. It’s sitting on the shelf.” If they didn’t understand the lockdown concept, I think now, yeah, people have a better understanding of what it’s like to be cooped up, perhaps cooped up with someone you don’t want to be cooped up with you’re forced to. You’re not given a timeline of when you’ll get out. That’s Without Ward. Those movies are available on Amazon and Hulu and regular streaming channels.


Then I have a short movie based on a music album by this band Boy Archer. It’s called The Runner, and it’s playing on Shudder. I’m very, very proud of it. I wrote this little horror, short psychological thriller around their album, The Runner, and it follows this character, someone who’s running. I guess that kind of tells you the whole story right there. What she experiences and what she goes through is really… And when coupled with the music is really what makes it kind of cool and unique, I think edgy. I’m really proud of it. Proud to be part of it.”


Kelli: “That’s interesting. Which is something I genuinely mean when I say it. I love things that are interesting and different.”


James: “I have a very tiny part, but I’m proud of it.”


Kelli: “You should be.”


James: “I just finished shooting a children’s movie called The Legend of Catclaws Mountain.”


Kelli: “I love children’s movies; it can’t be horror all the time.”


James: “With Robert Davi, who played in Die Hard and one of the brothers in the Goonies, you know the singing opera one like (singing). So really just a joy because I like to work in all sorts of genres. So I consider myself very lucky to have filmed that. I’m working on a documentary about this legendary stuntman Kim Kahana. He’s been around and been a stuntman since The Wild Ones with Lee Marvin, Paul Newman, and Richard Donner, the director, all the way up through. So many of the safety rules and the safety harnesses and all those exist come from him. So that’s been a fascinating documentary.


Yeah, I was immersing myself because I’ve been lucky what all this lockdown did for me, in a way, because, like everybody, I was aching to get out again. Any opportunity to do something, whether it was a feature film or a television pilot, which I didn’t do through the lockdown, but in the last few years since the pandemic. So it’s been quite an exciting experience.”


Kelli: “I love seeing behind the scenes of movies, how they got made and how they used to get made. I love classics, and I have quite the collection of children’s movies [laughter].”


James: “Children’s movies, like The Legend of Catclaws Mountains, are great. They brought up another movie as a joke, and I thought about The Cats from Outer Space, and I go, “I forgot about that movie. How come we don’t do something like…” Some of these children’s classic movies were incredible. They do all these horrible remakes.


I’ll tell you, the kids I work with are so much more professional, no offense to many of my co-stars than more than half of the adult actors I work with.”


Kelli: “I’ve been very impressed by many child actors lately, like Siiri Solalinna in Hatching.”


James: “These kids, they were wonderful. I shouldn’t say well-mannered, well-behaved because they’re incredible actors, but they’re also very vibrant imaginations, but they were very respectful of each other. There wasn’t this thing of ego so much as it was trying to create and collaborate. I found that to be quite inspirational. That made my experience in the movie that much more special. So I’m looking forward to seeing it because I had one of the most fun experiences doing this. I can’t wait to do this movie if it’s like this. It seems magical.”


Kelli: “That’s fantastic!”


James: “The Legend of Catclaws Mountain, check it out.


Kelli: “I will! Now tell me about The Inn?”


James: “The Inn is interesting. I’ve just recently become attached to it. It revolves around this murderer who’s been going around the country murdering, going, and wiping out everybody in different inns and hotels. I play a reporter who’s chasing him down. I come across the inn when we may or may not have encountered this killer. Then the only thing is, as we try to save the world and rid ourselves of the killer, it becomes a game of cat and mouse. Are we hunting him, or has he been hunting us?”


Kelli: “Oh, I love killer movies.”


James: “I got to tell you, there’s some great bait and switches. These were some twists and turns and big surprises, which I think we always love watching good horror movies. Those twists and turns that catch you.”


Kelli: “Oh yeah. I’ll keep an eye out for that. Definitely.”


James: “Yeah. I don’t want to give a timetable when it is out, but we go into production in August, so hopefully, some time beginning of next year or sometime next year, I’ll be out.”


Kelli: “When I was looking through your IMDb, I saw the poster for it, and it looked familiar. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I think it’s crossed my desk somehow before.”


James: “Yeah, they’ve culminated the cast together. We gave a perfect shot at making the movie interesting and cool, and hopefully a little horrific.”


Kelli: “Well, hopefully, it is a horror genre.”


James: “Yes. I think it’s the twists and turns when the script came in; that really kind of hooked me. Like, “Oh, this is kind of… It’s a fun movie.”


Kelli: “Well, I’m going to put it on my watch list.”


James: “Thank you, Kelli. Thank you for all your support and all your time.”


Kelli: “Oh, it’s my pleasure. I love talking to people from all walks of like in the film industry, but it’s even better when they are as nice as you are.”


James: “I forget I’m an actor if I don’t talk about it, to be honest [laughter].


Kelli: “Well, this is one of my favorite parts of my job, meeting people.”


James: “Oh yeah, one of the things I love most about the business is all the different people I get to meet and know and talk to from all the different walks and departments. Then I travel to all these different parts of the world that I’ve had the luck and the fortune to go to in South America, Europe, Canada, and Africa. It’s been quite a journey.”


Kelli: “I can only imagine. And I truly hope that you continue your adventure for a long, long time.”


James: “Oh, thank you.”


Kelli: “What else have you been working on? Any horror films?”


James: “Yeah, there are other movies. There is one on Shudder, which it’s a kind of horror and psychological thriller, but the other two are not. They’re a stoner comedy and then a sci-fi dystopia movie.”


To stay up to date on James Duval’s projects and appearances, please follow him on Twitter and Instagram, and keep an eye out for updates on Tales from the Other Side, out on Digital and DVD on June 7, 2022.


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