Discovery: James Landry Hébert
ABOVE: PHOTOS BY KIRK EDWARDS
“I get offered a lot of edgy, bad-guy roles,” says James Landry Hébert. He’s not exaggerating, the 29-year-old actor has appeared in big-budget films such as Looper, Seven Psychopaths, and Gangster Squad as a killer, a killer, and a pimp respectively. At this year’s South by Southwest festival in Austin, Texas, Hébert is promoting two films: A Night in Old Mexico with Robert Duvall and Two Step, in which Hébert has his first leading role as a con-man named Webb who targets the elderly. But, Hebert assures us, he’s “not afraid of that type-casting; I think it’s just a tip on a spear to break through. I’m grateful for it.” Like most seasoned actors, Hébert looks for the good—”the heart and humanity”—in his characters, even when, as in Two Step, it seems a particularly daunting task. It is hard to get caught up in any sob-story background Webb might have when he’s tricking lonely, forgotten grandparents into believing he is their negligent grandchild and handing him thousands of dollars. “For me, he’s a lost little boy looking for a home,” explains Hebert. “I don’t think Webb had grandparents or anything like that. I think this whole grandparents scam, for me to justify it—this money meant love and respect… although it’s really a violent thriller, for me, it was a love story,” he concludes.
Written and directed by Alex R. Johnson, Two Step was filmed over 17 days in Austin, Texas, and co-stars Skyy Moore as James, the grandson of one of Webb’s victims; Beth Broderick as James’ kind neighbor, Dot; and Ashley Spillers and Jason Douglas as Amy and Duane, Webb’s ex-girlfriend and boss.
HOMETOWN: I’m from New Orleans, Louisiana. I was born in Lafayette, but I got my start in the New Orleans’ film industry, so I call New Orleans home.
HERITAGE: Lafayette is Cajun country. Landry and Hébert are both very Acadian names, so I always joke that I’m about as Cajun as they come, even though I don’t sound it. A lot of my family speaks Cajun French; my cousin’s in a Grammy-nominated Cajun French band called Feufollet. They’re young and hip and sexy and sort of update the genre.
EARLY ACTING AMBITIONS: I lost my parents at a young age and my aunt took me in the summer after that. They were shooting The Apostle (1997) in Lafayette, Louisiana, and my cousin came home hootin’ and hollerin’ about how he was just in a movie with Robert Duvall. As it turns out, he was just an extra in a dance scene, but that’s when a seed was planted for me and that’s when I realized that even a kid like me, essentially an orphan from the Bayou, could be in the movies.
I think that was the beginning of something that led me to where I am now. Little did I know that Bill Wittliff had written a script before I was born, A Night in Old Mexico, which is one of my films at SXSW. When I ended up working with Rob Carliner and Robert Duvall’s casting director, Ed Johnson, on this movie, it just felt like everything was coming full circle and it was meant to be.
I did tell [Ed Johnson] the story of my cousin, actually, and he really got a kick out of it. Ed Johnson has sort of this love for Lafayette and Cajuns and Cajun culture. I think after shooting The Apostle down there, he’s always had an affinity for the area and the people and I think that’s what led to me booking that role and probably what ultimately led to me booking Two Step.
FIRST ROLE: I went on an audition to be Brad Pitt’s stand-in and photo double on The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008). They offered it to somebody else, he got fired, and they offered it to me next. I was able to convince my theater teachers at LSU that this was what I wanted to do and they gave me college credit to do my first low gig in the movie business. I started standing in for Brad Pitt and then eventually started doubling for him—even got to do that in some of the sex scenes you see in the movie. Did I get to meet Brad? I did get to meet him, which was an incredible experience. He’s done so much for the city of New Orleans, and for that I will be forever grateful. The same goes to Angie. Unfortunately, the first time I met Angie, we were shooting in a graveyard and her mother had just passed away that day or the day before.
LEARNING CURVE: After Benjamin Button, all these movies started shooting in Louisiana; it was this growing Hollywood boomtown that I was very eager to take part in. I got offered a day job working in casting for one of the best casting directors in Louisiana, Elizabeth Coulon. I ended up working as her casting assistant for about four years. Eventually I became her casting associate and I was reading with all the actors for the principle roles and really learned a lot from other people’s fortunes and mistakes in the casting room. I didn’t necessarily have to go in a room and fall on my face 250 times to learn what works and what doesn’t—I just had to do it 20 times. [laughs]
TWO STEP: I think Two Step as a whole is about two boys who are trying to find a home, James and Webb. I feel like these two characters were at a fork in the road and one went north and one went south. Webb is essentially an orphan and doesn’t really have anyone except for Amy and Duane. If he did have parents or anyone to raise him when he was young, maybe they were always saying, “I would take better care of you if I had more money.” For Webb, these grandparents giving him money means that they care about him. That’s the sort of sick and twisted thing behind it all. He thinks he’s getting this love and he’s giving it to his surrogate family, the Amy and Duane characters. When you get out of prison, you want everything to back to the way it was and that wasn’t the case for Webb. Already being an orphan or a stray dog or a lost soul, I think those feelings of betrayal and abandonment when he got out pushed him into a corner that you see him almost fight his way out of throughout the film.
DRAWING ON PERSONAL EXPERIENCE: [In Two Step], art met life in ways I never knew possible. I first got offered the role by the producer Pat Cassidy, who is one of my oldest friends in the movie business—we actually went to college together. We’d been trying to connect on something for many years, but nothing was quite right and when I read this script, it was just perfect. I had to do it for so many reasons. I really related to the James character: that we coincidentally had the same name, having lost a lot of family at a young age, and having to grow up fast and being on your own. That led to something for Webb and, as I read on, Webb was perfect for me. I had just gotten out of a relationship of five years and was having similar feelings of being alone in the world and I just thought, “What a great experience—to turn a bad thing into a good thing.” That’s sort of been the basis of my entire craft. When I first took this theater elective in college, I did a scene from Orphans and that was the moment I thought that everything I’d been through could be very useful for me as an actor. I do feel vulnerable on set or stage, but I think that’s sort of what acting is—it’s being private in a public place.
HEROES AND VILLIANS: My family calls me “Jamie” and they’re like, “Jamie! When are you going to play a good guy? What’s up with them casting you as these bad guys?” I think that’s where the “nicest bad guy you ever meet” came from. I am looking forward to just being able to be myself on camera, although it’s really fun to play the bad guy.
TWO STEP AND A NIGHT IN OLD MEXICO ARE CURRENTLY SCREENING AT SXSW IN AUSTIN, TEXAS.