There are many perks to being an actor, especially with one with an international platform, but you can’t say that it isn’t a rough journey. An actor’s life is a constant dance between contentment and discontentment, always searching for the thing that will bring happiness. James Kyson is a renowned veteran actor who is best known for playing Ando Masahashi on the popular television series, Heroes. James converses with Jason Wrobel and Whitney Lauritsen about his journey as an actor – from his beginnings in New York City to the big break that brought him into the eye of Hollywood. James’ story is an inspiring one, especially if you’re working towards your big breakthrough.
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The Hero’s Journey: Working Towards The Big Breakthrough With James Kyson
One thing that we talk a lot about in the episodes of the show is the changing tides of what it is to be a professional, mainly in the entertainment world, which all of us are in some way or another. I do a lot of social media. For a lot of people, that’s entertainment. Jason is doing social media, plus TV shows, commercials and music. James, you’re doing all of this acting work and you do something beyond that. What else do you do in your life?
In terms of how I express myself, spoken word and slam poetry has been a passion of mine. It’s because I grew up in New York City and so hip hop was my first love. Music was the way that I felt I got to express myself in a way that was new for me and also felt at home. When I was growing up, even though we’re in the mecca of culture, being part of a working-class immigrant family, we weren’t exposed to a lot of the artistic life that New York offered. Hip hop for me, it resonates. I feel I have a voice. There’s an energy that I can express that feels a little bit suppressed by the culture around me. As I’ve gotten older, that’s evolved to this love of poetry and spoken word.
I’m curious about your attraction to hip hop, the energy and the cultural elements of it because growing up in Detroit, I was attracted to not only hip hop there but also punk rock. I remember when I was sitting and asking myself why these two particular musical genres resonated much with me, still do, but especially in my teens and twenties when I was playing in bands was they felt in certain ways there was a thread through of these disenfranchised young people from segments of the population that were throwaways or that were lower-income or people weren’t giving them as much as social value or value as humans in general in the societal context. The rise of hip hop and the rise of punk rock of saying, “We do have value. We’re not going to do things the way you’ve done them.” It was this uprising using as Fela Kuti said music as a weapon. We’re using music as social consciousness. We’re using music as a way to demonstrate our value as a movement. I’m curious if those aspects for you as a kid were part and parcel of what resonated with you about that?
I felt an outsider in many different levels. Our family got to live in South Korea in my first few years of life. When we landed in New York, first of all, it was a culture shock. It was the end of February and New York, in the ‘90s, was a completely different city. It was raw. It was grimy, smelly. There was a lot of clashing of different cultures and neighborhoods. It also produced a lot of art and creativity because of that melting pot environment. For me, it was a huge adjustment of not speaking the language. Probably the first 7, 8 years, I remember going to seven different schools in eleven years including my childhood.
Our family moved a bit in South Korea. In New York, we moved quite a bit because when you are immigrants from another country and your family is figuring stuff out. I’ve lived in households of 12 people, 8 people and 4 people. There was one time where we were living with our Uncle Charles’s family and our aunt. My youngest aunt, Grace, grew up with me because she’s my mom’s youngest sister, so in some ways, she was my older sister. We grew up in the same household until she got married. It’s families trying to figure out different economic situations and also how do we coexist in these kinds of numbers. Every 1.5 years, I was changing schools and always feeling the outside person, the newcomer and that comes with different dynamics too because sometimes when you’re the newcomer, there’s a tension. They’re like “Who’s this new guy?” I always felt I had to observe and try to figure out the dynamic of each place, the social dynamic.
There were places where I felt bullied and unwelcome. There were places where I felt people like that I’m a new person and bring new energy. I would think about acting later. Some of that came from having to almost adapt to new environments. I read an article that Thomas Jane was talking about and he talked about how he would go to new environments and almost adopt different personas that gave him a social advantage depending on the environment. When I read that, I was like, “I was doing that subconsciously. Even knowing what that was like.” I would normally track who the alphas were and subconsciously, I’ll be embodying their characteristics to put myself in a socially advantageous place. It was social survival at the time for me, a survival mechanism. I didn’t even realize how that later became acting tools.
When did you start officially acting? When did you start auditioning, doing plays in school?
My last year in Boston, I was finishing up a school there. I was invited to play in an improv group.
What were you studying in college?
It’s Communication and Broadcast Journalism. My passion for growing up was sports. I was a huge NBA head. I loved basketball. I thought that I was going to maybe work for the NBA or ESPN. My fantasies were one day maybe I could be an analyst or work with a team. I would fantasize about owning a team and what moves and transactions that I will do though. I would daydream about that. My last year in Boston, I got to try out improvisational comedy. I didn’t even know such a thing existed.
Was this part of BU?
This was at New England Art Institute in Brookline. It was an informal team. They invited me. We will go and do all these games and exercises. I was like, “What is this? I didn’t know this existed.” It gave me permission to play in a completely new way. I fell in love with it. I felt my life arc in the East Coast was arching out at that point because a lot of people after finishing school was going back to New York City. All of my family was on the East Coast. I knew that I wasn’t going to stay in Boston. I felt life was calling me towards the West Coast. I did a cultural exchange program in Vietnam where we taught English. The training for the team was in the Catalina Islands. They had us fly to LA. They took us to Catalina for a week where we got to train as a team.
Maybe because they had the facility there. It was like nature. It was during the summer. Maybe they wanted to make sure the team was in a good environment before. When we got to Vietnam, it was hard. It was during the summer. The conditions weren’t easy. I remember falling in love. I grew up on the East Coast my whole life. You come here and you’re like, “What have I been doing?” As soon as I was done with school, I bought a one-way ticket. I had one suitcase with me and came out to LA. This was in 2001. A couple of years later, it was when I started acting professionally.
I know there’s much more to learn about your life, James. I’m already learning much more about you. The interesting thread through though to me is you being thrown into all of these new social environments repeatedly as a young person over and over again. Getting to not only adopt this chameleon part of your persona, which has fed your acting career, your ability to try on different personas and move your energy in and use your voice and your energy in different ways to adjust to these social situations. The other aspect, what comes up for me is the possibility of being rejected or cast out by a new group of social people. How you go to a new school or you go to a new group of friends or any new social group. The rampant fear can exist. Will they accept me? Will I fit in? Will they say yes to me? The point in bringing this up is, as an actor, I am curious that the experience of your youth, those new social situations and new school experiences. Did that train you to be more resilient in the face of no and not landing roles in your acting career? In general, how the hell do you deal with that on an emotional, mental, spiritual level?
To your first question, yes. Having gone through that experience in some ways trained me for the reality of being an actor. I would say growing up that was a fear that I constantly dealt with being an outcast and not feeling accepted. It gave me a lot of social anxiety that continued throughout my twenties because it taught me adaptability and also growing up in New York City, in general, it teaches you how to survey the environment and make quick assessments about people, energy. Is this a safe place or not a safe place? It trained me, so it did come in handy when I moved to LA. I don’t necessarily recommend that childhood, growing up in New York and us raising ourselves in the streets and in the subways. It was a different city back then. No one has cell phones and some people have pagers, if lucky. If I didn’t come home, my family would have known what happened to me. It taught me toughness. It gave me a different layer of skin that I think translated to resilience.
Being in acting and being an actor, that’s something that you constantly have to deal with in a different context. Subconsciously, it did help me. There’s part of me that like I grew up in New York City, this can’t stop me. I’m going on for many years in this profession. I definitely had times where I was like, “Do I need to walk away? Maybe vibrationally I’m meant for something else now or maybe I’m moving on to a different chapter.” There were times where I did have to walk away energetically, mentally for a couple of years or whatever. It allowed me to come back to the industry in completely fresh energy and to fall in love with my craft again. I feel the last couple of years that’s what it’s been because there have been times in my life where I wasn’t in love with the craft. I wasn’t in love with the industry. I needed to spatially, energetically walk away. I’m not renouncing it, but I need to reconnect with other parts of my life. This is not the priority. I feel I have a great relationship with it again.
I don’t know if you remember this super clearly, but we met in 2005 on a short film called Disarmed.
I forgot about that. You were the onset photographer.
What I realized the tripod we’re using now, I bought for that film.
When we met in Studio City and that interior kitchen set.
I looked it up. It was 2005. We did that short film. I had this tiny little camera. I got the job on Craigslist. I was paid for it almost positively wise. I had this tiny point and shoot camera. I’d only been out in LA. I came out end of 2004. That was one of my first jobs back then. I wanted to be in film sets because I was pursuing a film career at the time and doing photography as a side hustle/networking opportunity. I was hoping I could pull up the pictures quickly. I know I have them somewhere. Maybe they’re on a hard drive. I know I have them. I have photos of you from 2005. The crazy thing is you invited me to a party you had in Little Tokyo. It was a birthday party. I went by myself. I’m super introverted, but I was like, “I should go to keep in touch.” I remember you coming up to me and be like, “You’re the photographer.” Over time people go on with their lives, but I saw you on that show, Heroes. I remember watching an episode or two and be like, “He looks familiar.” All of a sudden, it occurred to me. I ran to my computer and looked it up. I’m like, “That’s James.”
The show started the year after I met you.
Was that your first big show? Would you consider that a big break? How did that show impact you? How did that happen?
I started acting professionally in 2003. The 2.5 years before Heroes started, I was living that life of the working actor in making a living, doing commercials and short films, whatever I could get my hands on.
Were you working as a waiter or anything?
I bartended before I came to LA. I try serving tables for a week in LA, and it was my first time. After a week, I was like, “This is not for me.” Behind a bar, I’m great at, but I’m glad I had that experience. For some reason, it didn’t translate for me. I love being a bartender because behind the bar it was still connective. When I was working at a bar in Boston, many people sat down and they wanted to converse especially during happy hour.
Where in Boston was that?
This was in Copley Square. They had a big food place called Marche. Marche was cool because they have twenty different stations where you could go around and try different cuisines. On the lower level of Marche was a French wine bar called The Cavo, which means the cave. That’s where I worked mostly. Sometimes, I’ll go upstairs at Marche and bounce back and forth.
Marche was one of those I don’t know if they had that in other cities or if it was a Boston thing, but I was in college when Marche was up. I couldn’t spend the money to go, but I went there with my parents or I would splurge every once in a while. Walking around there was cool. I was such a food lover, but I never thought it was going to be my career. I was in film school and going to a place that had this cool experience.
That part of my life I remember clearly because bartending at The Cavo and Marche was 1 of 5 jobs that I had during that time at the same time. I was going to New England Art Institute at the time and you know how it is when you’re in your early twenties, you’re trying to hack life and trying to survive. How I got through was I was a resident coordinator for the school. They gave me a free apartment. I worked at Boston Fitness Club, that big gym that was in downtown. It’s their version of Equinox. I worked there twice a week, which gave me a free gym membership. I was both a tutor and I worked at the information technology office at the school. I bartended in Marche and at The Cavo because the employees got to eat there.Walking away from your industry for a while allows you the opportunity to come back fresh. Click To Tweet
Did you plan that? Were you like, “Where do I need to eat, workout?”
I was trying Tim Ferris’ life before The 4-hour Workweek. I was like, “How can I survive? This is the amount of money that I need to make.” I was completely on my own at that point. I had decided that I was not going to accept any money from my family. It was my first threshold of claiming that I’m a man. I’m going to be completely independent and autonomous because at that point, I felt it was me saying, “I’m not going to be influenced or dictated by my family wants. I’m making my own decisions,” which also means financially, I have to be on my own. It was incredibly hard.
I remember even I had to apply for an EBT card in Boston, which is a food assistance program. That was part of surviving and having those five jobs. The reason I remember specifically because I had to close Marche or The Cavo on Saturday nights. I had to open the Boston Fitness Club on Sunday because that’s the only shift that they gave me. The last call in Boston is 2:00 AM and it takes a good 45 minutes to close up, clean up, set up and everything. The earliest I’ll get out is at 2:45 and this is after the tee, which is the Metro system in Boston stops running.
I had to walk from Copley Square all the way into the apartment that was near Fenway at the time. At 3:00 AM, I was walking home and that took about a good 45 minutes to an hour. Boston is cold at night. I don’t know the heater in our apartment sometimes will not go. It will make that clog noise. If you grew up in New York or Boston, you know that piping noise. I will put on seven layers of clothes, including a freaking coat, an overcoat and go to bed. I’d have to wake up at 6:00 or 6:30 to go open the club. I don’t know if it would open at 8:00 AM or 9:00 AM, whatever it was on Sunday.
Meanwhile, you have all these wealthy people that are members because that’s a high-end gym place. There’s that feeling of now you’re serving all of these people that are privileged for the most part and they don’t even know what you’ve gone through to get into work that day.
I always even trying to stay awake because I’m going on maybe four hours of sleep. We open. I’m in the front and there was also the smoothie bar. I love making smoothies, so I was doing that. At the counter, I would feel myself falling asleep. I had to pinch myself. This was in 2000, 2001. It was crazy. I don’t know how I did it back then. It trained me for maybe sixteen-hour days on set.
Let’s fast forward back. You’re in LA. You do Disarmed. Were you doing a bunch of short films?
I was doing whatever I can again, whatever paid and sometimes unpaid.
Was Disarmed paid?
Disarmed paid me a little bit of money, maybe $100 or something. I was doing print modeling. I was doing commercials. I was doing TV shows and films. My car was a walking closet. I will go to four different auditions and change on the street. At that point, you don’t even care who looks at you. There’s no time to go into a bathroom. My trunk had all the headshots and resumes. It was a little office. In the back seat are all my clothes and different outfits. I’ve got to be a college student here and wear a suit for Microsoft here. It was that life and grabbing lunch on the go. Heroes came about. It was the first network pilot that I ever read for. I’ve never even heard of this thing called policies and I didn’t know what it was. Do you play pilots? I don’t. It was like the first network pilot I ever read for. That translated into five different auditions, testing for this show, going to Universal then NBC. I got cast and it became a five-year run of my graduate school and television. It was where I got educated on how TV shows get made.
You were thrown into the fire. That’s for a young actor at the beginning of their career and we hear stories of people whatever quote plucked from obscurity. That’s like, “Throw in the deep end. I hope you can swim.” Was it a mixture of terror, excitement, jubilation? What was the emotional experience for that?
It’s all of the above. I remember filming the pilot. We’re filming in the month of March or something.
Did you ever watch it, Jason?
Yeah, I did.
At any point in the season, they had 250 people working on this show. Everybody from literally on set to the writers to production coordinators to people who are doing visual effects and special effects. That taught me, “We’re one small cog in this gigantic wheel,” takes everybody’s showing up and doing their job in the best way that they can to create something together. That was a good education for me. I didn’t even know what I was in at the time. I was going episode by episode. In the first couple of seasons, I was a recurring character, but my character started coming in almost every episode. I started becoming an integral part of the storylines. At first, I was booked for the first five episodes and they said, “You’re going to be in the whole season.”
All the different characters went through different close calls in terms of dying and some of the characters that get killed off. There were a couple of times where I was like, “Is this it for me? Maybe I’m getting killed off?” It’s Game of Thrones. It’s a lot of emotional roller coasters. I also had to speak a foreign language in this show. I was working with a translator, a coach and spending a lot of time with that. It was a lot of stress that I experienced, both emotional and physical like long days. We started airing while we were filming. There was a spotlight, what came with the show and that was all new for me. There was a completely new experience of people start recognizing you on the street and they want to whatever.
What was that like? How did your ego respond to that?
It was everything. It was a lot of jubilation of being recognized for your work and that feels good. People coming up to you like, “We love the show. We love your character.” There was that. With that also came a lot of social anxiety maybe because it’s not much that I changed, but my relationship to the world changes a little bit. That was a hard transition for me because now when you go through shows, there are consultants and coaches to help you emotionally calibrate. If you’re new to fame or doing publicity for the first time, what do you do when you’re on a red carpet? People are asking you these questions. The industry has evolved. There are more people to talk about with that. For me, I didn’t have those resources.
Were you friends with the other actors on the show?
In the beginning, you’re with some people that had already been working for a long time.
This theme of being the new guy, I felt that again because everybody had come from other TV shows and having a film career. I felt like the new guy, the rookie. I was like, “I’m on a team of all-stars.” There was that extra pressure I felt of needing to prove myself.
Was it cliquey at all? When you’re on a show, does it get like a school where people are buddy-buddy?
It can be, especially our show had a big cast. At some point, we had 12 to 14 regulars. Any group with that size too, people are going to gravitate towards different people. For me, I was trying to get my bearings of the work and a new sense of reality.
Financially, it’s a big change too when you’re regularly working.
That part was a big blessing like growing up in New York City in an immigrant family, we were never starving but we certainly weren’t considered wealthy. That was completely new too, like flying first-class everywhere. As an actor, when you’re working, they treat you amazingly on set. Everything is taken care of. There is nothing to ever complain about when you’re on set as an actor. They feed you, clothe you. I know that some of the days can be long. Even worst day on set is there’s much to be grateful for. I remember definitely going through a transition and also psychologically, it was tough. At some point, I felt lost because I didn’t know who I was.
Do you think that has to do with your age or this abrupt transition in your life?
It was both. I was going into my 30s. You’re entering a different chapter of your life. This idea of starting to be someone that’s public. What does that mean? It probably had some triggers that I experienced when I was growing up in New York City like the social anxiety aspect. I could go to a place and I’m like, “I’m not completely anonymous anymore.” People see and hear what you do and say. There’s a certain expectation or pressure that comes with that. I felt at the moment I don’t know who I was. I feel I’ve come to a great place with that, where that doesn’t matter now. I am who I am now. At the time, it was definitely a change. I didn’t know how to quite adapt to that change because it was almost a new type of transition for me.
Have different psychic explorations played a role in this for you? Let me get more specific about what I’m asking. We can get lost in the idea of who we are supposed to be or who others expect us to be, especially when there are money, fame and success tied to it in any industry. Specifically, we’re talking about Hollywood, which is certainly the most visible industry in that of you get a little bit of success, you get a series regular, you get more money than you’ve ever had to come in. It’s easy for people to believe that’s who they are. That as soon as that series ends or that opportunity gets taken away, we see this happen with many celebrities taking their lives, perhaps getting into drug addiction, hopelessness or losing themselves. For you, James, being in this industry and being a working actor with these wonderful credits in your artistic career, how have you managed identity, ego and the spiritual psychic mental part of all that? How have you stayed balanced, sane and centered in yourself through all that? What practices do you do and have done to do that?
That journey began around 2012, 2013 where I was invited by a couple of friends of mine and they were hosting this thing called Spiritual Talk in their house. This was Justin Baldoni and Travis Van Winkle. Justin was on Jane The Virgin. He’s now a director. I believe his roommate at the time was Andy Grammer. They were living in a house in West Hollywood. There was a third guy there named Adam. I’ve known Travis because we met playing on the same basketball team for USO called the Hollywood Nights where we would go on these basketball tours and play the teams from the Navy, Army, Air Force and raise money for charities. We’ve got to do a tour in Italy. I met Justin through Travis. They invited me like, “We’re doing the Cinco, the Spiritual Talk, you should check it out.” I was curious, so I went and checked it out.
You went to watch, observe.
This time I was observing from the outside because I wasn’t sure what it was.There's a lot of jubilation about being recognized for your work, and that feels good. Click To Tweet
A lot of people have different definitions of spirituality.
In this town, there are many iterations of that for sure.
This was cool because even the discussion was inspired by the Baha’i Faith that Justin, Travis and Andy were all part of, which is a beautiful, amazing faith. The talk itself and the community wasn’t exclusive to one type of religion or walks of life. It was about coming together. Rainn Wilson is also part of the community. Asking life’s big questions and having a space for conversation about those things. For me, it was enlightening because up until then, I’ve had no spiritual practice. I certainly wasn’t part of a spiritual community, which is also part of why I was having such a hard time during my Heroes days because there wasn’t something that was anchoring or grounding me such thing as a faith or a practice or a family. Now I’m married and have a child. It’s grounding to have that home base.
I didn’t have any of that. You start partying in the Hollywood scene a bit. It’s easy to go sideways and start believing all this nonsense about yourself and the world. I feel coming out of that place and entering into this community in that environment was so healthy for me. I started reading a book called The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman. That cracked my heart open because it was a story of an athlete that had a huge life turn and started experiencing a spiritual path. I was able to relate a lot because I have a very athletic mentality in how I approach life and the craft. That led the way to discover Deepak and all these different authors. Hearing more about the Baha’i faith and that writing and being part of a spiritual community. That began a journey for me to ask the different types of questions and seeing myself with the sobriety of where I was. I’m like, “My heart and my character need a lot of work. I need a lot of growing.” That was the turn.
Whitney and I talk about this because we’re personal development junkies. We’re always looking to expand, grow and transform. We love learning. You know this from athletic students of the game. You always want to know more, learn more, and study. Many people feel terrified with the prospect of looking at themselves because it’s not looking at perhaps some of the unanswered questions or the questions that they haven’t even asked themselves of, why am I here? What is my purpose? What does my heart want? Where am I on this journey? What’s the journey even about? Perhaps some of the traumas or the pain of the things that are so deeply buried.
I’ve talked to people about working on ourselves and some people are scared as hell to do it. It’s a question for all of us because there are layers to this. We work on ourselves. There’s another layer, more layers. It seems there’s an infinite number of layers to healing and growth. I’m looking at something, Whitney and I talked about it of this avoidant behavior that I sometimes engage in romantic relationships, getting to look at that. Once you say yes to checking the growth box, there’s no end to the opportunities of sometimes facing these scary, terrifying or surprising elements of our psyche and our being that we didn’t even know we are there.
I don’t know if I have a question about this per se, but it’s what is it within us perhaps that other people have not cultivated or they see the fear and they turn around and don’t face it. What is it about the cultivation of courage in the face of fear? There’s something about that practice of, “I’m terrified of this, but I’m going to face it anyway,” and go deep into, as Joseph Campbell said, the dark cave where the monster is. The treasure is in the cave too. The monster is there, but the treasure is in the cave. If we want the treasure, which is in this case, I think self-awareness, we’ve got to be willing to face our, “Monsters.” Some people can’t do it.
It sounds like for your story, James, you were talking about being independent. It’s almost as if you had to learn your strengths and tap into your strengths in order to get that independence. It was almost a survival thing for yourself. It comes down to survival at the end of the day. Jason and I often talk about the core things that we want, which is to survive and to love. Survival is probably at the root of everything even love because love makes us feel happier and at peace. Love also can mean that we’re progressing the species forward if we’re going to have children or that we feel comforted so that makes it easier to get by. We come down to these basic human needs. Some people are unaware that in order to get those needs, it’s more of a practice of going inwards versus outwards. That comes back to, for you, the struggle that you were having, James, when you suddenly have this fame, money, success and fulfillment, but it also in a way led you to feel lost.
We talk a lot about this on the show, that a lot of us are striving to get to the next level. Was it conflicting to you when you got to this big level? Did you feel like, “Here I am, this is what I’d been working for?” You struggled with money and now you have money. It’s regular, security for years. A lot of people don’t experience that much. Some people go through constant feelings of insecurity financially. Now you have an amount of money maybe you hadn’t seen before or however, it was manifesting. You have fame, which a lot of us want so badly. A lot of people are on this quest for fame, wanting to be validated by other people, wanting to be seen, wanting to be recognized. You receive that. Was there a part of you that felt now I have all these big things that I want and not many people get? What does that feel like? I don’t think that I’ve experienced that to that level. What was that like for you on a positive or maybe even challenging side?
I’m glad I got to experience both sides because it showed me that’s not where the answers are, the exterior conditions because I learned that you normalize to whatever the standard becomes. When I didn’t have money, that was normal and when I did have money, that was normal.
I’m glad that you said that about normalizing because I feel that’s something anybody can relate to is you want something. You get it and you get used to having it. I think about that all the time. Jason got a new computer. It’s like, “He’s experiencing what it’s like to have this brand-new computer that he saved up his money for.” It’s on the other side of a struggle because he had this old computer that wasn’t working well, but in a month, you’re going to be used to that computer and that’s the new norm. Something that you wanted, you finally get, and suddenly it’s a normal thing.
It’s this idea that we build something up in our minds to be this life-defining experience per se. When I get this big role, a series regular, leading man in a movie, make my first seven-figure salary or buy a Tesla or name a billion different things, there are things as humans that we build up in our mind. These penultimate experiences that as soon as I get that, my life will be worth it. The struggle will have been worth it. We get the thing and somehow our life isn’t magically transformed the way we thought it would be. It’s not like, “I never have to work again or I never have to audition again. I never have to struggle again. I’m never going to experience pain again.” There’s a strange cultural narrative that we can somehow by achieving certain material things or status or fame or wealth that will inoculate ourselves against struggle, pain and suffering. That’s a big part of our cultural narrative. Do that, get that, be that and you’ll never feel pain again. You’ll never struggle again. It’s clearly a lie.
Where does that messaging even come from? It’s odd because I’ve had that mentality. I don’t know where that came from. I remember the first thing that comes to mind as we’re discussing this is meeting people from social media that have been successful and thinking, “They don’t seem as happy as I thought they would be or, “They don’t seem as secure with themselves as they come across on camera as.” I would find that strange. This person is not who I thought they were going to be. Over time, I’ve realized it was because I was projecting what I thought a person would be like when they got to that level of success. We hear both things. Somehow, we have this cultural narrative of celebrity. We put people up on this pedestal. We also hear over and over again, they’re people like us. They’re normal people, but somehow, mentally, our society still thinks of people at a certain status as being different or better than or something. It’s the separation. It’s interesting for you. You’ve been on both sides of it. It sounds like you’re saying you’re the same person on either side.
That was one of the biggest lessons that I learned is getting there brings you in the same place. When Heroes ended, my life was in a great place on paper. I was making good money. I was traveling the world, doing these publicity things and having all kinds of first-class experiences. I remember feeling my soul was in a crisis and not knowing what to deal with that emptiness. One of the reasons that acting called me was a connective thing. It was a platform and a craft that allowed me to know myself better and connect with others through storytelling, through collaborating. You’re putting yourself in another character’s shoes. You’re learning about humanity, empathy and all the dynamic range that exists.
For some reason, I felt disconnected from myself, from the world. Going through a new spiritual path allowed me to come back to a place. We all have this innate desire to want to be known. It’s the thing that we want the most and it’s the thing that we are scared of the most. I went through that journey. Through the craft of acting, when I’m doing my job, I’m exposing myself to be known through the character. Yet through the industry, I was almost distancing myself from the world. I was using it as a cover. I was like, “I’m not letting myself be truly shown and known.” It is having a spiritual practice, exploring, embodying vulnerability and authenticity, which allowed for me to meet my wife.
A partnership is a whole level of that where you’re allowing yourself to be known and it’s also the most amazing and scariest thing in the world and being in a relationship through that aspect. I’m glad that I went through that lesson. I’m in a place where it’s symbiotic. My spiritual practice is something that is continuing. It will evolve and continue to learn new things. There is no there. Yes, give everything that I can through my craft and enjoy that. The most important thing for me is my family, my wife, my baby and the family that we’re going to keep creating. They’re all important in different ways. It’s nice to have that foundation of my anchor of home life and I feel now I can give into the craft as a way of servicing and also expressing myself.
Where do you go from here then?
Keep doing what I’ve been doing. My new commitment is I want to be the best actor that I can be. That is an unending journey because that’s a personal journey. I do believe that for me, this is a lifelong craft. I’m many years in, I feel like I’m beginning. The bigger picture is how I truly serve a greater purpose through storytelling. Playing these types of different characters that maybe speak a story that people haven’t heard or giving a voice to a story that people do need to hear. Also, maybe creating my own content. I’ve always had this dream of creating a production company, where we could create empowering stories. It gives voice to stories that hadn’t had a voice yet, especially for communities and people that are underrepresented or under-voiced.
I love creating teams like the Justice League or the Avengers, where people with different superpowers come together and able to collaborate, coexist, and alchemize to create something we’re not able to on our own. This is why I think that’s probably what I love so much about or working on a TV show or a film set is people with these, “Different superpowers,” are coming together and together we’re making something. There’s a sense of belonging that we all need and want to feel. During that however many weeks or months, you’re working on that project, that’s the family that you belong to and you move on to the next. It is a strange profession because in some ways, it’s replicating my childhood of you’re going from one environment to another. You’re working on a TV show. Sometimes it could be 2 weeks, sometimes it can be 2 months, sometimes it could be 5 years, but eventually that ends and you move on to another project, environment, community. I’m not sure if that’s meta in a way. One is reflecting the other, but I do appreciate it in a different light.
This begs an obvious question. What’s your superpower, James?
I’m good at bringing people together, magnetism. For the past few years, I’ve hosted a lot of different groups in our home. We would read books the intuitive way or the artist’s way. I love learning together as a group because I feel like we all bring different perspectives. There’s something about being in the room together with other human beings. I love that alchemy. I host this event called Music and Flow, which I’d love for you to come soon. It’s a combination of live music, spoken word poetry, and creative writing. There’s a sense of alchemy because I invite all these talented musicians who’s never played together before. At the end of the night, they become an instant band. We have a jam session. Our poetry piece that was written that night turns into a song. We sing it together. It’s a communal experience. I loved hosting things like that. That’s what people have told me.
I’d also love to talk about your marriage if you are open to it because relationships are interesting. I thought it was interesting that Jason shared some of his vulnerability to relationships. It’s almost like you’re in different places. In a way, I’m interested in the opposite side. Did you want to talk any further about what you’ve been feeling lately, Jason? We can hear some of the opposite perspectives.
In decoding my subconscious resistance to being in a long-term relationship or a marriage or family, in observing the beautiful container you’ve created with Jamee and your baby and this beautiful family you have, James, in reflecting and observing your life, it brings up this subconscious narrative that I have held onto for a while. I remember a musician friend of mine a few years back, we were talking. He was British. He said, “I don’t want to settle down.” I was like, “Why don’t you want to settle down?” He’s like, “My motivation, my edge will go away.” I was like, “What do you mean?” He said, “If I’m happy, I’m grounded, I’m secure and the search is over, my fuel, my whole basis for my music will go away.”
I realized that for a lot of artists and me, there’s this idea that struggle, unhappiness, pain and suffering is the fuel that creates a lot of great art. It has created a lot of great art. For me, being honest about it and reflecting that with other friends I’ve talked to, it becomes the default mechanism of this is where great art comes from. That’s held me back a lot from opening myself fully to the idea of a partnership, a wife, a family because I’m like, “Where’s my edge going to be?” I’ve operated from that place for long. I’m reflecting that back to you of being a husband, a partner, a father. I’m curious how you do it because, to be honest, when I think about that, it terrifies me because of that old operating system that I’ve held onto for so long. Was there any fear or any like, “My life’s going to be different.” I’m curious about your experience of all that because it’s still new for you. All of it is new.
It’s 1,000%. I could relate to what you’re talking about here, especially artists and performers who do this dance between discontentment and contentment. We’re striving for the things that we think are going to make our content. Discontent is providing that ambition, the drive and the fuel that you were talking about. Once we arrive at a place, we look for a different kind of discontentment to fuel us whatever that next level is. What I’ve discovered is that it is one type of fuel. We have gasoline. We have solar. We have hydrogen. We have new, different evolved modalities of fuel that the fuel can come in different ways.
For me, committing to my wife and having a child has opened up a new aspect of me that I could never even dreamed of. Especially as a man, it unlocked something in my DNA as soon as my child was born because I got to hold her for the first 23 minutes. She was looking at me. First of all, I was high at that point on emotion, serotonin, and oxytocin. I’m calling my baby queen. We’re going to go here and do this. You’re going to do this for the world and you’re going to do many amazing things. There’s a sense of responsibility, protection, an embodiment that I didn’t have access to before. Even committing to a partnership with my wife and I know people have different associations with the word marriage, but marriage is whatever you create it to be.
When I committed to that too, I had to access a whole different aspect of myself that I didn’t before. My guess is when you are creative and an artist, there is an initial resistance to that because it’s been such a dominant messaging from a traditionalist point of view. Whether it’s your parents or your family or society or expectations. It’s been this traditional path of like, “This is what happens as you get older, you get married and you create a family.” As a creative, we have an initial resistance. I don’t want to be told what my life should look like. That part of the essence of being creative is there’s an unknown.
There’s an organic flow of how we create so don’t draw a picture for me were put me in a box, I’m going to create my own flow. That’s necessary for creativity. I’m not going to stay within these lines. I’m going to draw aside the lines. I felt that. When you’re in a profession where you’re constantly going from environment to environment, a group of people to a group of people. LA is a land of 1,000 acquaintances where things are constantly transient. Your cards are stacked of novelty and newness. The idea of, “This is the person that I’m going to wake up to for the rest of my life.” That’s scary. It was scary for me.
When I met Jamee, this has never happened before. The first date that we went on, we fell in love in the first 15 minutes. We both knew that, “It’s you from another lifetime.” I’ve never had that experience with anyone else before. I’ve met incredible women in my life. This was the first time where there was a soul knowing and that this is my partner for life, not this lifetime but multiple lifetimes. It was important that we both felt that because it’s weird when it’s one person that happens to people too. I love your enthusiasm. Luckily, it was mutual. Even in the midst of that, even with that knowing, we’ve been together a few years now. We’ve had to go through so much work as a partner, as a couple because that’s a whole lifetime of things that you’re bringing now into a relationship.
It’s important that we have to know ourselves. We’re discovering ourselves differently through one another. The work has to continue and now you’re doing the work with someone, which is a whole different thing too. It’s incredible and amazing. It’s not comfortable by any means. I would say much of it is the willingness to have uncomfortable conversations and being able to be in that place of the discomfort of looking at myself. Those things are from lifetimes ago and sometimes it can be generational, sometimes it can be cultural. Being able to peel those layers and willingness to look at it is scary and at the same time, it’s the most incredible thing because it taps into our most basic desire of needing to be known and wanting to be seen.
I’m rendered slightly speechless because it was beautifully profound. Maybe to circle back to the previous question about the fears that come up is the desire to be known and the terror of being known are two sides of the same coin.
Isn’t that Marianne Williamson’s quote too? She has that quote about our greatest fear is to be seen.The life of an actor is an unending journey because it's a very personal journey. Click To Tweet
It’s not that we are inadequate, it’s that we are powerful beyond measure. That’s her quote.
Isn’t there also a line about we’re afraid of being seen or we’re afraid of our own power? I forget the exact words.
I want to be seen but to show somebody all of me or perhaps as you said, James, through the mechanism of intimate relationship seeing parts of me that I didn’t even know were there and exposing these latent parts that have not been brought into the light fully. You’re talking about it was giving me chills because that is the work. We can’t do this in a vacuum. A relationship is a mechanism through which we learn about one another because if we’re locked away in complete isolation, we don’t have a mirror. We don’t have a person to share this energy in this life with vis-a-vis. We learn more about one another through relationship. It’s a necessary aspect of the human experience.
Isn’t it such a genius thing that’s built into our human design that by nature, we are social beings? In order to survive, we have to be collaborative. We have to be connective. We discover the most about each other in ourselves through being in a relationship with one another, however you define that relationship, that in isolation we literally cannot exist.
Maybe that is tied into why some people choose to end their lives. It seems a lot of people and their lives when they’re feeling isolated, when they feel alone and maybe that their brain is feeling like I’m alone, I can’t survive even when they’re literally around people. Some people feel much social anxiety or much deep despair and loneliness that ending your life is the ultimate form of aloneness. You’re literally now no longer part of society. I’m interested in how anxiety has become more and more prevalent and depression seems to be growing and how we’re more connected than ever and yet more disconnected than ever.
I feel there’s much polarization and in terms of what we think of one another. There’s much fear around relating to one another. It’s fascinating and also scary to me because I feel society needs to learn how to come together, communicate better and work through these things. When we do collaborate, that’s when we are the most powerful. Yet for some reason, we go through many periods of war and many periods of fighting each other in all these different expressions of it. I think people seem to be the happiest when they have a community and when they feel supported and when they see, feel even in the smallest way, being seen by one other person feeling understood by one other person can have a tremendous effect on one another. We have to work for it.
Having gone through a period of heavy social anxiety, I have much compassion and empathy for people who are struggling in that.
How did you get through that?
It was tough. For me, I think my darkest years were late teens and early twenties where I remember being 21 having anxiety attacks and feeling I was going to have a heart attack. I was like, “How am I 21 years old? I feel like I’m about to die.” As a creative, it’s not uncommon as human beings. We all deal with anxiety on different levels. I remember for me even feeling there were days where I couldn’t leave the apartment because it was heavy. I learned to cope with it through counseling, learning different tools, vocal mantras or being aware of my thought patterns and thinking. Meditation has helped with a lot of that. Some of the spiritual practice that I’ve come across lately has helped a lot.
This battle that you’re talking about is literally what we are exploring when we talk about the hero’s journey. It’s that conflict and battle with fear within ourselves, the unknown, the darker part of ourselves versus the light. We express that through all types of different stories, but even all the movies we see, Marvel superheroes, good fighting evil. It’s weird trying to address that of the conflict that we feel within ourselves of the fear and wanting to be seen versus, “What if I’m completely seen and rejected?” Different aspects of ourselves like, “This is a part of me that I’m not proud of or I don’t like and this is a part of me that I love and I’m proud of it.” All of those things are playing at the same time. A lot of times, what we see externally out in the world is a reflection of what we are battling inside.
As people begin to realize that there’s a process of integration of all of the aspects of themselves to not deny the darkness, to not push away the light. It reminds me of a lot of studies talking about meditation, James, because we’re huge proponents of it. The energetic power of a few hundred people engaging in conscious meditation, the ripple effect of that psychic and emotional energy. There have been some fascinating studies to show how that can have an effect externally on the environment and the energetic vibration of the planet.
You notice that whenever we have perhaps a period of mourning and you can feel the energy of a city and a planet change with Kobe. It’s a different vibration in the city of Los Angeles. It’s palpable. On the other side of that coin, when people are clear, aware and manifesting a calm, peaceful, loving energy, that also can shift the vibration of an entire city or on the most macro level, the planet or the universe.
The opposite is true too when we see tragedy hitting us. It’s the Corona virus. There’s a cultural fear. There’s a bad health scare happening in China. The US is on high alert at the moment. Are we going to be affected too? We have these be these times culturally where there’s a big fear and you can feel the tension. It is interesting how we do respond much to one another for better, for worse.
It’s a great opportunity, a reminder as we wrap up the show, to cultivate additional self-awareness, know thyself and that through all of these wonderful experiences you’ve had, James, and you’ve shared. All of the highs and the lows and everything in between has brought you to more of who you are. As you peel the layers of this onion back, there’s no end to it. I want to extend my appreciation for you being authentic, vulnerable and human here as always, every interaction we have and sharing a little bit of your heart and your light with the audience. Thank you.
Thank you. It was a pleasure to be here.
It’s neat for me on a personal level how several years ago we met, where our lives have gone and how we started off connecting over my old career path. I started this new career path and here we are more connected than we were back then. It’s fascinating. I’m also in awe of the fact that that’s where that tripod came from. I remember buying that tripod for that film shoot that I met you.
That’s serendipity and synchronicity right there. It’s cool to experience each other in a new light continually. I know both of you have multiple gifts. It’s been cool to meet at different stages of life and meeting each other there.
If you, the dear reader, are interested in learning about anything we talked about including James, what do you think is the best way for someone to connect? Is it Instagram? Are you using other platforms? Where’s your heart?
On all social media, I’m at my name, @JamesKyson. People could message me there.
If somebody wants to connect with you, would it be on a social media platform? Would it be in person? What is the best way?
Depending on the world, social media is a good way to get in touch with me. I’m trying to think if I have some in-person appearances coming up.
Are they listed on your website? Do you have a newsletter?
I do have a website. It’s JamesKyson.com. Sometimes, I’ll have some public appearances, so that will be posted as it comes along.
Encouraging people to connect in person is always good.
What’s interesting being an actor for me is because of these cannons, archives and the stuff that you’ve done, they’re all miniature markers of that point in your life. For me, that is one interesting thing to watch all the work. That person in that time period and remember who that person was. Every year feels different for me, definitely different chapters of my life. It’s interesting to go back and see some of those things.
To finish the story though, do you remember there was the bus scene?
I remembered there was a bus scene, but I don’t remember what the scene was.
I don’t remember either. Maybe that’s where you met the girl and maybe you guys were buddies. You got on the bus and he fell because he was cold and he put his arms inside his shirt because he was cold. He fell in front of this girl and she goes, “How could you do that to your friend?”
I’ve done many feature films, independent films that no one has even heard of or seen, so I don’t know. Some of them I can’t even remember. I’m happy to be reunited with both of you.
The feeling is mutual. More beautiful creativity to come.
Until next time, thanks for being here.
- James Kyson
- Fela Kuti – Music Is The Weapon Documentary
- Disarmed – IMDB Page
- The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris
- The Way of the Peaceful Warrior by Dan Millman
- Marianne Williamson
- @JamesKyson – Instagram
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