The UK supernatural drama Bedlam premiered on BBC America. Theo James plays Jed, a man with the ability to see spirits from the other realm. This has left him estranged from his sister Kate, though they reunite when she moves into a flat built in what used to be a mental institution. We caught up with James over the summer at the Television Critics Association press tour, where he’d just come from Comic-Con with Underworld: Awakening and didn’t yet know that Red Tails was getting a release in January.
CraveOnline: Is this an intense show to talk about or is it fun?
Theo James: I think it’s fun. Luckily Jed has enough depth to be able to really divulge some decent details about his character and think about him in depth. At the same time it’s a fun show. It’s still a supernatural show about young 20-somethings.
CraveOnline: How did you come to the reaction you would perform when Jed has a vision?
Theo James: That was interesting actually. I had discussions with the director. Me and John talked about it and he was on the same page. We wanted him not to just see ghosts in an “oh sh*t, there’s a ghost” kind of thing. They’re more like visions and they physically affect him quite strongly. So we talked about where it comes from and how it affects his body actually. For example, because he could easily just see them and go “oh sh*t, there’s a ghost,” actually it’s like an epileptic fit. It’s a barrage of information and sensory and anger and violence in his brain and sees all this stuff, but at the same his body is convulsing in his reaction to it so he comes out of a vision really depleted and in pain. That’s why it’s such a burden for him.
CraveOnline: But you also don’t want to overplay it.
Theo James: No, exactly. That was part of the discussion. You could be like, “Noooo!” The thing for me was it comes internally. It’s a mental thing but the initial feeling is like a blinding migraine but then it tumbles into this kind of fit, and then the vision itself is just very arresting. So externally you don’t see that much really but it was important to know where it’s coming from.
Crave Online: Is it pretty common in England that there would be desirable, affordable housing in a place that was originally, say, less desirable?
Theo James: Yeah, you often think: Why would you live there? David [Allison] would probably tell you, it’s based on an asylum in Leeds which is actually being turned into luxury flats. Apparently, that’s where some of the inspiration came from. They’d already come up with the concept and then they went out scoping the arena and scoping different places to film. They went to this mental institution that had been turned into a flat.
CraveOnline: What is the actual set like to work in?
Theo James: Fine, kind of normal really. Sometimes it was good material to draw on because it felt a bit eerie but there’s always a massive crew there so it was never scary.
CraveOnline: How much did you think about Jed and Kate’s relationship before all this started?
Theo James: I had to figure that out. I wanted to figure out every single detail of his life from when he began having visions. Was he thrown out of school? What were his first visions? Who was his first doctor? How was he diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia? What drugs had he been fed? I really wanted to know every detail so with Kate, I had to figure out, talking to the writers as well, when they met, what their relationship was like, what he still holds? Because he obviously is still deeply connected to her, reluctantly in some way, which you don’t find out until later in the series. But they have a connection from very young, from living together because he was adopted into their family. They shared some fairly dark experiences and as a result they bonded.
CraveOnline: It seems Kate can be a little rude or snotty too.
Theo James: Yeah, man. I think that’s kind of the appeal. She’s can be a bit of a bitch but I think the idea with her is that inherently she’s a good person, although she’s very flawed and she’s quite vain and she’s affected by the fact that she comes from a particular background. Her family had done some bad stuff in their period. Also the idea was that she comes to this building and the longer she stays there, somehow the more affecting the environment becomes, so the darker she becomes.
CraveOnline: Once she gets pulled into the bathtub, wouldn’t she believe you?
Theo James: That’s a good question. Yeah, that’s the thing. For me, you’ve got to weigh out realism with the fact that it’s a supernatural show. So yes, of course but I think in her eyes, I can’t answer for her but there’s denial. She probably knows that there’s something a bit messed up going on in this building. She can feel the anger. Strange things are happening but people deny stuff when they don’t want it to be revealed.
CraveOnline: Do you basically get to have new guest stars every week?
Theo James: That was the idea. David will talk to you about it. I think the idea was not always. In the first episode and the sixth episode there are no guest stars but the idea was that there’s a new guest star and there’s a new entity/ghost.
CraveOnline: Is it nice when one of them can be a love interest for Jed, like in the third episode?
Theo James: Yeah, that was cool. It’s nice to play. It kind of mixes up the chemistry of the cast. For Jed, he has some encounters in the love interest arena with don’t succeed or possibly don’t succeed. As a result you see the loss and the loneliness and the jadedness of him as a character.
CraveOnline: And it softens him up a little, doesn’t it?
Theo James: Yeah, exactly. Otherwise he’s just running around solving mysteries.
CraveOnline: You only got started as an actor a few years ago. How did you break in?
Theo James: I’ve been very lucky. It’s been good. Basically I finished 18 months ago, two years and I was lucky. The first thing I did was a Woody Allen film and then I ended up doing TV and film from there.
CraveOnline: You Will Meet a Tall Dark Stranger was the first thing you did?
Theo James: Oh no, actually in fact I did something before I left drama school, a film called Red Tails which still hasn’t come out yet.
CraveOnline: What took so long for Red Tails to come out?
Theo James: I don’t actually know what happened to it. I really don’t know what happened to that.
CraveOnline: Who do you get to play in it?
Theo James: I did it so long ago to be honest, I don’t remember much about it. It’s a second world war thing.
CraveOnline: Are you a new character in Underworld: Awakening?
Theo James: Yeah, it kind of changes things. It’s a different lead from the second movie but there’s a kind of dystopian feel. The human element has been added more now so there’s a third dimension.
CraveOnline: Do you have some cool action scenes?
Theo James: Yeah, I get to do some cool action sequences which I was pleased at. I obviously made sure that I was going to be fresh and I was fully up for it so I could get as many in as possible.
CraveOnline: Do you have fights with werewolves and vampires?
Theo James: There’s quite a lot of fights. I got to do some wirework and loads of cool weapons and stuff, so it was cool. There’s loads. There’s a lot going on in the movie. It’s pretty massive in terms of the action stakes. Its’ a very strong story.
CraveOnline: Are you involved in the Lycan chase on the freeway?
Theo James: There is a Lycan running loose on the freeway which is very cool actually. In fact I saw a bit of it yesterday. I went and saw the guys and it was looking cool. They only finished it fairly recently so they’re still in the process of all the finishing touches.
CraveOnline: What was shooting 3D like?
Theo James: To be honest, I thought it might be more different but it was pretty similar. The only thing is the setup times are longer and I suppose they choose the shots a bit differently for different effects and thanks, but from an actor’s perspective, it wasn’t that different really. It was cool. I’m interested to see it in 3D. I saw Captain America in 3D. It’s cool. I liked the beginning. It’s a really good setup.
CraveOnline: Is your character set up so he might continue in the series?
Theo James: We’ll see, we’ll see.
CraveOnline: Where are you from? Did you study acting?
Theo James: I basically reached a crossroads at 18. I thought maybe I could pursue this but I wasn’t really ready enough or mature enough I didn’t think at the time. So I went traveling and did a major in philosophy. Then I did a kind of postgrad two years at Bristol Old Vic which is a drama school in England. That was fairly recent actually.
CraveOnline: Were you in school plays and everything?
Theo James: I did all that. I was in the school plays, I did a lot of music. I carried on through university for short films and loads of plays. Lots of different stuff so yeah, I always wanted to do it but I really wanted an intellectual grounding and I wanted some experience basically.
CraveOnline: How has that experience paid off?
Theo James: It helps. I think it’s good to keep your feet on the ground and to be able to do things as a career rather than getting swept up in any glamour or anything like that. I also have a close family who are very supportive, big family.
CraveOnline: Anything like the family in Friday Night Dinner?
Theo James: Yeah, probably more messed up than them. It’s pretty crazy. I’ve got two brothers and two sisters so there’s five of us and we’re all very close which is cool.
CraveOnline: How famous are you back home?
Theo James: Not very. I’ve only just started. I’m not recognized or stuff like that. I think because of the nature of my projects, I’ve done quite a lot of different stuff.