“Historically, African Americans have been written very one-dimensional,” Homecoming star Stephan James told The Hollywood Reporter‘s Drama Actor Roundtable. “Perhaps they live one certain type of life. Maybe they are not educated. Maybe they are some sort of criminal.”
“I had this character in Homecoming that didn’t say ‘African American’ on the breakdown. It could have very well said ‘Caucasian,'” James said of his latest role and how powerful he felt in a “colorless” character. “I’m acting opposite this little actress, Julia Roberts, who I’ve grown up my whole life watching. Anyone could have had this role, and here it is. It’s mine. The power that we have with that is such an incredible sort of feeling,” James continued. “I don’t think it mattered so much that Walter was black, for the story, but it matters in life that he is.”
The Golden Globe nominee (If Beale Street Could Talk) also found power in the contemporary setting for the Amazon original series, saying, “I’ve played Jesse Owens (Race) and John Lewis (Selma). There’s a lot of pride that comes with playing those types of people, but at the same time, you get this feeling that people in Hollywood think you only exist in the 1940s and ’50s.”
“It’s the power we have as artists to say no to those things to try and change, maneuver and craft the kind of career that you see for yourself.”
James was joined by Hugh Grant, Richard Madden, Billy Porter, Sam Rockwell and Diego Luna for the Drama Actor Roundtable. The full roundtable airs July 14 on SundanceTV. Follow all the Emmy season roundtables at THR.com/Roundtables.