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TV's Paul James: Rush, rush
by Andrew Davis
2009-10-01

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On the ABC Family show Greek, which centers on the fraternity and sorority-related goings-on at fictional Cyprus-Rhodes University, Paul James portrays Calvin, a pledge who happens to be Black and gay. Windy City Times talked with James about the show, his character and CSI:Miami.

Windy City Times: What attracted you to the script and this character?

Paul James: It was funny; I was waiting tables and I was pretty open to anything that came along. [ Interviewer laughs. ] No, really, it was different in the pilot than it was in the show—it seemed like Calvin didn't really care what anyone else thought of him, and he did what he wanted to do; he seemed like a real free spirit. He was a jokester who happened to be gay—it seemed to be a twist on something we hadn't seen before.

It's funny how things work out. With every script, you have to roll with it. It's definitely a different process than what I'm used to. The first half of the first season, we're still being fleshed out; we [ the characters ] are in such a different place now. We've changed and the show's changed.

WCT: I really like the show's writing and the acting.

PAUL JAMES: I do, too. The casting process was actually long and grueling for them, and I think, in one respect, [ creator ] Sean [ Smith ] didn't want to have a show like One Tree Hill, which is a good show; [ Smith ] wanted diversity in the cast. I don't think he wanted to do it for the sake of having diversity; I think he wanted to find good actors that really could [ do a lot ] with the actors. Between the first season and now, it's like night and day.

WCT: I do love that the characters are not one-dimensional. Let me ask you this: What would like to see happen with Calvin?

PAUL JAMES: You know what? I have learned ... well, it's not up to me. It doesn't help me to have expectations because, if I do, things could end up being disappointing. I will say that I like it when Calvin can have a little fun. He tends to hold the dramatic storyline down or he tends to be the giver of advice. It's nice when he can be a 19-year-old kid and not a wise 30-year-old man. [ Laughs ] I like it when he reacts with other characters on the show, like in the casino episode, when all the characters are together but have different plot lines.

WCT: I can tell you're young because you said 30 is a wise age. [ Laughs ]

PAUL JAMES: It's hard for people to remember sometimes that we're young. We're in college, and we're going to make mistakes. My character tends to be wise beyond his years, but he's still a kid, you know?

WCT: Yes. It's cool that there's a character such as Calvin—who also plays hockey—on this show. How often do you see that?

PAUL JAMES: Yeah; you don't see many Black people playing hockey at all, which is funny.

WCT: I saw a recent episode that featured "The Undie Run."

PAUL JAMES: That's a good one, actually. I think that's one of my favorites; it's when Jacob [ Zachar, who portrays Rusty, another pledge ] goes crazy with the Nerf gun.

WCT: Did you all feel a need to get in shape for that scene? [ Note: All the cast members strip down to their underwear. ]

PAUL JAMES: I have my shirt off for about half of the show—maybe there was a memo that came down that Calvin has to have his shirt off in every other episode—so I'm used to it. I know that most of the other guys were going to the gym a lot and most of the girls were on cleanses. It was a funny atmosphere. The guys were all tired, and the girls were all angry because they were hungry. [ Interviewer laughs. ] I remember Amber [ Stevens, who plays Ashleigh ] saying, "This is ridiculous! I'm ordering Chinese food. I have to eat!"

WCT: It seems like [ the cast ] has really good chemistry—like you would go out for a drink at a local bar after shooting.

PAUL JAMES: We do, often. There are different groups and different pairs who hang out.

WCT: Was there any part of you that was initially concerned about your acting roles being pigeonholed? I ask that because the guy who currently plays your boyfriend, Gregory Michael, was a lead character on the [ LGBT ] show Dante's Cove.

PAUL JAMES: No, I wasn't concerned about that. It just didn't cross my mind. I think every actor is wary of playing the same role over and over again, but that doesn't mean that even every gay character is going to be the same. I've played characters who were not gay, so it's not like it's the first dip in the pool.

WCT: I'm looking at what you've been in. You were on CSI:Miami?

PAUL JAMES: Yeah. Some of the actors on that show were some of the sweetest people I'd ever met, including Emily Procter [ who plays Calleigh ] . She bought my co-star a bottle of wine when he mentioned he and his girlfriend liked a particular wine.

WCT: You've also been in a [ project ] called The Architect.

PAUL JAMES: It was a really good script. I'm not sure that it quite came together as a movie, but I had fun and I learned a lot. It's a bunch of different stories, like a family in the projects of Chicago. There are a lot of great actors in it [ such as Viola Davis and Isabella Rossellini ] . I actually played a gay character in that, with my buddy, Sebastian Stan.

WCT: Do you have an ideal role or co-star?

PAUL JAMES: I loved The West Wing. I grew up in Washington, D.C., and always loved politics—and I went to Syracuse University, where [ executive producer ] Aaron Sorkin went as well, so I feel like I was predestined to like that show. But working with any of those actors would be a dream come true—Allison Janney, Richard Schiff, Bradley Whitford. I like the style of the show; it had comedy and drama, which Greek also has. But what I really liked about [ The West Wing ] is that they always seemed to cast these really great actors, like theater actors. There, they didn't have to really be concerned about what the actors looked like; here, there's a different demographic so looks are sort of important.

Also, I love Don Cheadle, and Chiwetel Ejiofor is one of my favorite actors.

WCT: I love [ Ejiofor ] in [ the movies ] Inside Man and Kinky Boots.

PAUL JAMES: Yes! And there's this one Shakespeare DVD where he does this great monologue; I had never seen it done the way he did it. I said, "This guy is an actor." I'd love to work with him.

Find out more about Greek at abcfamily.go.com . The fall portion of season three ( divided like college semesters ) is currently airing on Mondays and ends Nov. 2. Seasons one and two are out on DVD.


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