Welcome fellow Rebels, have we got a treat for you today. We recently had the pleasure of having none other than James C. Burns in the offices of Rebel gaming. James or ‘Burnsy’ to us now is most well-known for his fantastic performance as Frank Woods in the epic Call of Duty Black Ops I & II.
Once we got over the fact that Frank Woods was in our office we found that James has a lot of awesome projects coming up, including a feature film called ‘Coldwater’ and his very own brainchild he called ‘Nam Zombies’! Here is what he had to say;
Good afternoon Mr Burns, and welcome to the offices of Rebel Gaming.
Good to be here….
Thank you so much for meeting with us today, and may I just get something out of the way real quick *begins bowing* WE’RE NOT WORTHY, WE’RE NOT WORTHY!
Hah…yes few are, few are….hah…thanks for having me.
May we call you ‘Burnsy’?
Now we all know you have been a mainstream actor since the late 90’s. But the vast majority of our site visitors will of course most recognise you from playing the part of Frank Woods in the most epic Call of Duty Black op’s 1 & 2. How did that role come about?
An Audition …simple as that. But the project was called “untitled Video Game”. Treyarch was testing the new performance capture technology and needed an actor with weapons and stunt training and had experience playing this character. He was called FRANK BARNES back then.
Was there a lot of competition for the role?
I guess. I worked on testing with Treyarch for 3 months and became great friends with all those guys. Christmas came around and I did not hear from them again. I know they were trying to cast some “name” actors for a while, but around mid-march I got a call to come in and read for the role I created…so I KINDA HAD THE INSIDE EDGE…I knew the character and the story inside and out so it was just a case of doing what came naturally. Me and Woods kinda became the same guy at that point.
Had you ever played a video game character before?
Rarely… when I had the time I couldn’t afford it, now that I can almost afford it, I just don’t have the time. I was a big Space Invaders guy for a while…on a Gameboy.
What were the biggest challenges you experienced during shooting and how did you prepare for the role?
The biggest challenge is making the words feel like they are your own. Many writers write dialogue with their own voices in mind and sometimes you have to figure out what point they are trying to make.
Prepping the role? I play this character often, so a lot of WOODS was already in motion. I have a lot of weapons and stunt training for prior films, plus I read a ton and talk to soldiers and such. The trick is to pay attention to the whole of a person when you talk to them…not just what they say, but how they say it…WHY they say… that’s the real work for an actor – understanding people.
Everyone knows just how successful the Call of Duty Series is, but I don’t think anyone could have predicted just how well the Black op’s games would do. Did you have any idea what you had got yourself in for?
Hah. I almost didn’t take the gig. I had another job that started on the same day and prior to CODBO, most video games were stunt jobs. I’m not a stunt man; I am an actor that can do stunts. Stunt guys work too hard. So I talked to my manger about turning it down. I had no idea what Call Of Duty was. He did…he called me and said take the JOB!!!! So I did.
No, it’s great. It gives me access to fans and opportunities to make people smile. Look, I’m an entertainer…simple as that. I am blessed to part of the COD franchise and if I can make someone’s day better by being WOODS, then it’s worth all the nuttiness that comes with being a celebrity.
In the Black Op’s games there were some pretty big names playing the characters. Did you all get along? Any prima donnas? C’mon you can tell us.
I make it a point to get along with everyone and it was easy for me Because WOODS was the ALPHA. But, yes on the prima donnas, a few…for the most part everyone was awesome…Rich MacDonald (DAVE MASOM) and Kamar De Los Reyes (Menendez) and I are good friends now…I focus on them, not the dipshits.
Are you a gamer? Do you play the Call of Duty games?
Poorly, badly, awful, pitiful – use any word to describe it, and it will work.!!!
When you play, do you look at your character and think. ‘Fuck, I’m awesome’ I know I would.
Hah, no. I judge myself harshly. I critique the performance and take notes as to how it could be better. I am relentless with trying to improve my actors’ skill set.
Has anyone ever recognized your voice while playing online or ordering take out etc.?
All the time! Sometimes I’ll do on purpose. “Hey, see that Burger? I GONNA TAKE IT!!!!!”
Did your role as Frank Woods open up any new doors in your career?
Yes and no. It has given me a fan base, which makes me interesting for some producers, but WOODS’ voice is so distinct that it scares other jobs away because it’s so obvious. The best part is that It inspired me to write NAM ZOMBIES a zombie action film set in the VIETNAM War (1969)…I hope we can get enough interest to make it this year.
Are there any plans to once again put on Frank Wood’s boots?
I can neither confirm nor deny any future boots for the Sarge, but his shoe size is 11.
Hmmm. Is Woods a nice guy? The word “Nice” is a value judgment, very subjective. Sometimes being soft gets confused with being nice. Sometimes the nicest thing one can do is to be hard on someone that is about to hurt themselves or someone else. The Colonel falls into that category. He’s tough, be really cares.
There has been a script for this movie going around since 1999, has it improved with age?
Scripts constantly evolve. I first read it in April of 2012…and it has changed a lot since then. That’s the nature of filmmaking.
How did you feel about playing the bad guy on this one?
I don’t see the Colonel as a “BAD” guy. He is a man that truly believed he could help these young men. Everything he did was in an effort to do something “good”, to effect change for the better. He doesn’t wake up and say lets be an A-hole today…he strives to do good. But as he adjusts to the events and environment around him he slowly descends into a place where he’s hurting the people he wants to help. The Colonel is a complex character and I am grateful they gave me the opportunity to explore the humanity.
I was in the middle of shooting BOPS 2, so all the military hardass stuff was right there. Prior to becoming an actor I was a professional Ice Hockey coach for 20 years. I had the privilege of working with all types of young men and faced many of the same obstacles the Colonel faced in the movie. So I really just had to line the experiences up with scenes in the script. Vince (The Director) and I had a many conversation about the role. We both agreed that the Colonel needed to be nuanced and complex. Not just an angry vet screaming and yelling, but a man of many shades and textures. Vince did job of highlighting these characteristics and helping me to weaving an nice story arc for the Colonel.
The reviews for the movie are great so far, are you happy with the results?
Love the film. It’s brutal, but powerful. I think PJ is awesome as is the whole cast! Everyone shines in this movie. It’s a wonderful achievement.
Some of the scenes are pretty harsh, did you have any trouble delivering a great performance?
That’s a testament to the talent of these young actors and having an excellent director. All I had to do, really, is just react to the brilliance in front of me. It was as simple as listening and responding to what they gave me. A good editor also helped.
I know you have a lot on your plate right now, but what are you looking forward to next the most?
NAM ZOMBIES!!!! Trying to raise the financing to shoot it. The script is great, I have the cast of BOPS2 attached, its all set to go…just need a sponsor!!
Thank you so much for talking with Rebel Gaming today Burnsy.
The pleasure is all mine. Peace and love man.