Having grown up in both Chicago and New York City, it’s no surprise that James DuMont credits his career success to his theater background. This year alone, DuMont appears in two critically-acclaimed films, “Lee Daniels’ The Butler” and “Dallas Buyers Club,” cementing his status as a bonafide supporting actor in the industry.
DuMont plays President Eisenhower’s (Robin Williams) Chief of Staff in “The Butler,” a role he says he got by preparing well for director Daniels after auditioning for “The Paperboy” previously. “I’d come prepared and did research and worked on my homework before the audition. I spend so much time prepping my actual performance for the audition that it opens up the opportunity to really wow them. So for “The Butler,” I was asked to improv with Robin Williams, which was crazy!”
The year also brought DuMont another prolific role—this time playing Jared Leto’s father in the much buzzed about “Dallas Buyers Club.” While shooting with director Jean-Marc Vallée, the two actors utilized their real life relationship to play the estranged father and son. “I didn’t know Jared Leto other than his work, so he was coming out of his trailer and I wanted to go introduce myself like usual but then I thought ‘you know this is about an estranged relationship between father and son so I won’t do that, I’ll take that to my advantage.’ So I never spoke to him until that first scene in the bank.”
DuMont says that the touching scenes between his character and Leto’s AIDS patient Rayon came together due to both actors’ commitment. “I appreciate the fact that he’s been so gracious and generous in helping me move into the supporting role in the future.”
DuMont offers some great tips for actors who are starting out and trying to launch successful careers.
Get training and seize every opportunity.
Despite the fast pace of today’s industry, the stage, film, and television actor insists success comes to those who put in the work. “People used to say ‘it’s who you know,’ now it’s ‘who knows you.’ My biggest advice for younger actors is to never allow any experience go unchecked. Go after all of it. It’s also important to reinvent yourself and go back and train again.”
Embrace a smaller marketplace.
DuMont says it’s perfectly fine if you’re not ready for a huge marketplace like Hollywood or New York. There’s still plenty you can accomplish in your career. “The reality is that talent is not enough—particularly in Hollywood—cause everyone has talent. The idea is that you really have to develop yourself and have a lot of experience—you can do that in places like Atlanta or Chicago or Boston before going to L.A. and New York. Don’t leave that smaller marketplace until you’ve maximized it with experience. At a certain time when I was hitting a brick wall, I decided to go back to Louisiana and open up that market. Sometimes in a smaller market you can really hone your skill.”
Ace your auditions.
Being great at acting isn’t always enough, and DuMont says it can make or break you at times. “If you get in front of a casting director prematurely—and I can tell you I’ve made that mistake too early in my career—there are certain times when it may be five or 10 years before you get in front of them. So always remember when that door does open, make sure you’re ready to capitalize on it. There’s an importance to being a great auditioner, not just a great actor. Fifty percent of auditions are political and physical, so there’s not much you can do about them. The other 50 percent, you can control with your craft and skills and preparation. It’s about really showing up and bringing everything you have.”
Remember that awards aren’t everything.
With awards season upon us, the actor stresses that appearing in acclaimed films is rewarding to begin with. “Awards are never really a benchmark for me. In some cases, they’re giving Oscars for the body of work, and sometimes it could be a curse also, so I never focus on those things. The best way to go about it for a young actor is to get back to the basics and say ‘Who do I get a chance to be?’”