TORONTO — When Oscar winner Julia Roberts signed up to star alongside Toronto native Stephan James in the upcoming Amazon series “Homecoming,” she wanted to make sure their work ethics aligned.
“It was one of those things where — not to feel like the old mother hen — but I remember saying just the last day of rehearsal or hanging out or something, ‘So, how are you with time? Do you come to work on time? Is that something that you like to do?'” she said in an interview at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the series is premiering.
James reassured her that yes, he does show up to work on time.
“And it was just so great to be with someone who, and not to sound like I’m stereotyping, but just based on how young Stephan is, you don’t know what their sense of being ready is going to be,” Roberts continued, sitting beside James.
“And his ready is my ready — and that made us a pair.”
Building a rapport between the two was crucial, as they have many scenes together in “Homecoming,” which debuts exclusively on Amazon Prime Video Nov. 2.
“Mr. Robot” creator Sam Esmail directed the noir psychological thriller, which is based on the podcast created by Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg.
Roberts is an executive producer on the show and plays a caseworker at a transitional support centre for soldiers trying to return to civilian life. James, 24, plays one of these soldiers.
“I feel like I’m getting to a certain point in my career where I’m becoming more and more comfortable,” said James, whose other projects include the American drama series “Shots Fired” and the Jesse Owens biopic film “Race.”
“And being in a space like that and working with those people, I feel like it was just a sweet spot and comfortability for me.”
Esmail said they auditioned a bunch of actors for James’s role, looking for someone who could “go toe-to-toe with Julia Roberts.”
“There were a lot of complexities to that character and Stephan, he first taped for us and blew us away on the tape, which is so much harder to do than in person,” Esmail said.
“Then he came and did a chemistry read with Julia and I think that’s when we knew and we saw the chemistry — and it was electrifying to watch.”
James, who grew up in the Toronto suburb of Scarborough, also stars in the Barry Jenkins film “If Beale Street Could Talk” at TIFF this year. His brother, Shamier Anderson, is also at the festival this year with “Destroyer.”
Roberts gushed about James when asked about the Oscars and if they should create a new category, as the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has proposed.
“Category: best performance by Stephan James in that year,” said Roberts, who also stars in “Ben is Back” at this year’s TIFF. She won an Oscar for best actress in 2000’s “Erin Brockovich.”
“I think there would be multiple nominations every year and I think he might win.”
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press