So far best known for his starring role in season two of the Netflix creep fest You, James Scully is set to become a familiar face on your screens, both big and small. Already a hit in the currently streaming Hulu film, Fire Island—a queer retelling of the Jane Austen classic Pride & Prejudice—Scully will next be seen in the independent feature Something’s More Than One Thing, executive produced by the Russo brothers. Then in the new Julio Torres project alongside none other than Tilda Swinton—with both projects expected to be released later this year.
LEO: Where did you grow up?
James Scully: San Antonio, Texas. A mythical, magical place. The birthplace of the breakfast taco. I have never stopped feeling lucky to have been born and raised there. Were it not for the “live big and dream bigger” attitude of the state, I imagine I would not be where I am now. The city is such a diverse tapestry of people and beliefs, and I feel so fortunate to have come up in a place that embraces what other cultures have to offer, particularly our Mexican neighbors. Like any other concentrated intersection of nationalities, I think San Antonio, and Texas in general, presents a fantastic opportunity for learning and growing and healing. Go Spurs Go!!!!!
Tell us about Fire Island.
A queer retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Writer Joel Kim Booster made the genius choice to explore the themes of that seminal classic in an explicitly queer environment. While Fire Island, the place, provides an escape from the injustices visited upon us by straight people, it also brings the injustices we enact against each other into laser focus. What makes the film so groundbreaking is it manages to balance taking an unflinching, nuanced look at that “queer on queer hate” with so much queer love and joy. At the end of the day, more so than a romance, it is a celebration of chosen family, queer friendship, and the communities we build from scratch—not just to get by, but to absolutely thrive.
What drew you to the role?
My mother and sister are staunch Jane Austen acolytes. I really just want them to be proud of me, and now they don’t have a choice [laughs]. Also, I was going to get to make out with Bowen Yang AND Mikey Graceffa so it was …. kind of a no brainer. In all seriousness though, starring in a gay love story that didn’t revolve around the ways we’re forced to interact with homophobes and was instead about OUR culture and OUR community and our JOY was an opportunity I couldn’t miss. Joel and Andrew really made a movie about queers by queers and for queers. Here’s to more! More life!
What has been your favorite part of working on the film?
Getting to know all the cast members and building a chosen family in real life as we attempted to model one onscreen. Getting to interact with queer fans and tell them how much I love them and how brave I think they are and how much their support means to me. Learning and growing and expanding my vision of myself as a queer person. And, MOST IMPORTANTLY, all the kissing! I mentioned the kissing, right?
Most challenging part?
Taking on the responsibility of telling such an important story. Hollywood still only allots a very small and precious amount of space to queer stories, and if we want that space to get bigger, we have to nail it. Every. Single. Time. We have to prove that these stories are worth telling and that audiences are eager to see them. But our target audience, the queer community, is understandably very discerning about what they will accept as adequate representation because they’ve had to put up with years of being relegated to caricatures and sidekicks, usually made by and played by straight people who don’t even care about the community they’re making a buck off of.
Fire Island had to be better than every straight rom-com that came before it. It had to be timely and intersectional and funny and grounded and sexy and innocent and joyous and painful and deep and silly. It was such an impossible line to walk, but guess what, Joel Kim Booster and Andrew Ahn and Bowen Yang fucking did it, and given the chance I’m sure they’d do it again.
What will you remember about the making of it?
The people, of course. That’s my favorite part of any job. The village that rises up around the shared goal of telling a story. This story was very special and this village was wall to wall angels. Not a bad apple in the bunch. I love them all so so much. So many quiet moments of queer people and allies understanding each other and loving each other and supporting each other. I will never, EVER forget the community we built.
Who did you most lean on during this time?
My co-stars. We were all going through it together and there wasn’t a day that went by that I didn’t text one of them looking for a little love and support. Big shout-outs to Matt Rogers, Bowen Yang, and Tomás Matos for always reminding me that I am enough and I deserve love and the little scary voices in my brain are not to be trusted.
Do you have any hobbies that help keep you sane?
I used to be a cycling instructor. I loved it. It was such a shared release for me and my students. Covid kind of ruined that vibe for about two years, so I just started taking my cycling playlists and a CitiBike and biking all over Manhattan. The focus and athleticism it requires to bike from Williamsburg to Washington Heights is the only thing that can keep me busy enough to not go completely insane with anxiety. Also, it’s made my butt look incredible.
I also love to write. As an actor, you can often feel like so much of your autonomy in communicating is taken away from you because you have to trust others to represent your interests and/or the things you say are being edited and curated and rearranged. When I sit down and write, however, I get to take, but am also forced to take, responsibility for everything that comes out and I think it’s a really excellent exercise in learning to communicate efficiently and effectively.
Who is your role model in your industry and why?
My boyfriend, Julio. There is a person who has made a career for himself in the entertainment industry pretty much entirely on his own terms. He is so utterly uninterested in what other people expect of him, and way more concerned about what he knows he should expect of himself. He makes art because it is important to him, not because it’s easy or lucrative, and that’s reflected in the work he puts out. He is also deeply disenchanted by all of the things we’re told are supposed to be important to us—status, power, wealth. Those things are only interesting to him as tools to help the people in his community succeed. He has made so much happen by trusting his imagination and not being afraid to fail, and he shares the bounty of that success so generously with everyone in his life. Any time I feel myself getting sucked into the vortex of vanity and narcissism and classism that this industry can be, I try to imagine what Julio would do, and I suddenly recognize that so little of that stuff matters!
It is always more important to be kind and true and original than it is to be popular, and he is a living example of that.
CHECK OUT JAMES
As Remy in Something’s More Than One Thing
As Charlie in Hulu’s Fire Island
As Forty Quinn in Netflix’s second season of You