He’s got the “bad guy” thing down pat in films like Gangster Squad, Seven Psychopaths, and the television series Agent Carter. He’s worked with renowned directors and starred alongside Hollywood’s finest actors—think Robert Duvall, Christopher Walken, and Sean Penn.
But there’s a good chance you don’t know his name. Until now, that is.
James Landry Hébert, the actor whose resume is studded with seedy supporting roles, makes his leading man debut in Two Step, the sizzling, Texas-fried thriller that scored an Audience Award nomination at last year’s SXSW. As Webb, a career criminal hungry for revenge, he sets the big screen on fire.
We had a chance to chat with the rising star about his film, his New Orleans roots, and even some voodoo. Get to know him in the interview below, then see his latest film, which hits theaters and VOD this Friday. He’ll never be “that guy in that one movie” again.
TLU: Let’s start from the beginning: Why acting? How did you get into it?
JHL: Returning to my beleaguered home state of Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina, I discovered a growing Hollywood boomtown, which I was only too eager to take part(s) in. I cut my teeth standing in for Brad Pitt in The Curious Case of Benjamin Button. Thus it became my life’s work.
TLU: Being from New Orleans, do you have any voodoo stories?
JHL: I haven’t had any firsthand experiences in New Orleans. However, … a monk tattooed a protective blessing on my back after wrapping Ghost House in Thailand. The tattoo is called Gao Yord, which includes many protective prayers including “Bong Kan Win Yan Chua Rai,” which grants the bearer protection against unwanted spirits. … I wanted to make sure I didn’t bring any ghosts home with me, literally or figuratively.
TLU: About Two Step, it’s intense. If you had to write its tagline, what would it be?
JHL: “Hey, Grams! Guess who?!”
TLU: You play Webb. Tell us a little about him.
JHL: Webb is a Texas hard case who’s been looking for love in all the wrong places and upon being released from prison wants more than anything for things to go back the way they were before he went in. Instead, he’s extorted by those closest to him, and if he can survive this betrayal, he intends to right being wronged the only way he knows how.
TLU: You always nail the role of that edgy “bad” guy supporting role. Were you always attracted to this kind of part?
JHL: Thank you! … Yes, I found a niche in the New Orleans market and later Los Angeles playing the right-hand man of the lead baddie. That said, deep-set eyes and a mustache tend to help! Muhaha!
TLU: Any fear of type-casting?
JHL: Someone once told me that type-casting is the tip of the spear to break through and later find opportunities to play roles I might not otherwise play.
TLU: So, Two Step marks your first leading role, right? How was that?
JHL: It was everything I ever dreamed of at the worst possible time imaginable. However, in hindsight, the adversity I was overcoming was the greatest gift I could ever carry with me into this performance.
TLU: Critics are calling Two Step “volatile,” “taut,” “thrilling,” “horrifying”—in a good way, of course. But you call it a love story in your chat with Interview magazine. Tell us more about that.
JHL: The movie is propelled by a grandparent scam via Western Union, so the foundation of my character is an orphan looking for a home through money that he equates with love. When his freedom is taken, the love of his life robs him and his mentor extorts him. Volatile feelings arise fueling this character drama into a taut and even horrifying thriller.
Using the adversity I was simultaneously experiencing in my own life, I was able to create some connective tissue between art and life to play Webb’s intention so strongly that I couldn’t talk about it in my talk with Interview, an interview that, coincidently, my long-lost half-sister read. Thinking I had known about her all these years and chose not to reach out, she realized, that I, in fact, didn’t know about her at all. So she called me then, and we recently met for the first time in New Orleans while I was shooting Carter & June. She’s absolutely incredible, and I sometimes like to entertain the idea that I played Webb’s intention with such high stakes that I manifested the family he and I were looking for all along. If nothing else, if I continue to strive for that depth of work, who knows what else I might find? Hell, it’s something to shoot for!
TLU: Though Webb’s done prison time and has a “temper,” what of yourself do you see in him?
JHL: I actually see the other side of him in me. However, acting on Webb’s temper was an incredible release. Most of all, I didn’t want his and my vulnerability to go unnoticed. And writer/director Alex Johnson does an incredible job of balancing the violence and humanity. I think that’s what makes Webb and this film so interesting.
TLU: Greatest on-screen influence?
JHL: I love character actors. John Cazale may not be a household name, but if you enjoyed classic films from the 1970s (like The Godfather, where he played doomed Corleone brother Fredo), chances are you’d recognize the vulnerable Italian-American character actor. He was also married to Meryl Streep.
TLU: Dream role/director/narrative?
JHL: I’d kill to do a Western and anything with the Coen brothers. The kid in me has always dreamed of bringing some authenticity to the world of Gambit, the only Cajun comic-book hero I know of in the Marvel universe.
TLU: Ever thought of writing/directing yourself?
JHL: The idea always intimidated me. I used to have an idea stuck in my head that I could only master one craft and that would be crafting memorable performances. However, after the directors of the last two pictures I’ve done posing this same question you are now, I can now say I am open to the idea and sharing my story.
TLU: Let’s get random. Favorite mystery thriller, be it film/book series/etc.?
JHL: I loved season one of True Detective and will read anything by Elmore Leonard or Raymond Chandler.
TLU: Scariest movie you’ve ever seen?
JHL: I watched The Babadook last night; ironically, this bad guy is a big chicken when it comes to scary movies. That said, Halloween is my favorite holiday and time to be in New Orleans!
TLU: Would you rather play the villain or the good guy?
JHL: The libra in me says balance is key and would like every other role to be good and bad, but we all know that the bad guys are just more fun!
TLU: Biggest fear?
JHL: I grew up swimming in the bayou with alligators, but for some reason, sharks and possibly heights are my biggest fears—both out of my element.
TLU: What’s next for you?
JHL: I’d like to see what Two Step brings while I look forward to the release of Ghost House as well as Carter & June (in addition to four other feature films), while finally carving out some time to write my story. That said, I could put my tale on hold for Gambit.
TLU: Two Step hits theaters this Friday. Convincing readers to see it will be a cinch, but what should we tell them anyway?
JHL: Just watch the trailer!
Two Step hits theaters and VOD on Friday, August 7th.
All photos courtesy of Angela Marklew
All photos courtesy of Angela Marklew