James Bane was born and raised on Dale Hollow Lake near Celina, Tennessee. He was a fun loving, goofy kid. Fortunate enough to have received football and academic scholarships to Campbellsville University in Campbellsville, Kentucky, James majored in Communications and Theology, earning his Bachelor of Arts in both. He graduated Marine Corps bootcamp in August 2001, and served in Iraq in 2004 and 2006. After an Honorable Discharge in 2008, James went on to graduate from the University of Southern California’s (USC) School of Dramatic Arts in 2013, with an MFA in Theatre. He now resides in Hollywood, California.
Find interviews like this one on the Military Veterans in Creative Careers podcast.
Justin Sloan: Thank you for agreeing to speak with me about your experience as an actor, James. To get us started, can you tell us about your military time? What did you do and what were your major takeaways?
James Bane: Thanks for having me, Justin. Well, about my time in the Marines. I was fortunate to have an eccentric career in the Marine Corps. Meaning that even though I technically had one job, Field MP (Military Police), I ended up doing much more than that. The MP often meant multipurpose. Stateside, I’ve been Honor Guard, a mechanic, supply sergeant, and the most rewarding work was as a liaison at Bethesda Naval Medical Center (now Walter Reed National Medical Center). In Iraq (2004 & 2006), I trained Iraqi police, hunted IED’s and the insurgents placing them, ran route recon, border patrols, FOB security, and served with some of the best people I’ve ever known. I believe there were three major takeaways for me: First, you are your only limitation—if something matters you’ll make time for it. If you say you can’t then you’re probably right. I lost 80 pounds just to go to bootcamp, and another 45 while I was there. There were times I thought I couldn’t do it, but the Marines didn’t give me the option to quit. You learn a lot about yourself that way. Second, let your name stand for something you’d be proud to tell Mom about. It’s the first thing you’re given when you’re born, and the only thing you take with you when you die. Make your name worth it. The most proud I am is when I hear another Marine say my name with that rasp of brotherhood and for me to return his/ hers equally. Third, it can always be worse, and you can make it better. You can’t change the weather, but you can change your attitude about it. We turned nine month deployments into five month ones just by changing the way we counted the days. Can’t count the current month, nor the month you go home, and there are two super months; Julaugust and Farch. Get it? Results may vary.
JS: What inspired you to join the military? If you could go back and change anything about your time in, would you?
JB: I joined the Marines for my “man card,” if that makes any sense. I felt like I needed to prove myself as a man, to the men in my family, mainly my father, I suppose. I learned, eventually, I was really only proving it all to myself. People will see you how they want to see you, all you can do is be the you you’re happy with. That’s still the challenge. I think about the “what ifs” often, but in the end I know the present “me” is the place I’m supposed to be.
JS: In those final days, did you have any idea that you would go on to become an actor? Were you acting before you went in and/ or during your service time?
JB: Yes. It’s what I wanted to do. I just didn’t think I could (see takeaway #1). I didn’t know how to go about doing it. Coming from a blue collar world, acting wasn’t a “real” job. It wasn’t tangible. Fortunately, while working with injured Marines at Bethesda Naval, watching them overcome great obstacles and achieve more than they ever thought they could, I was encouraged, inspired. It felt silly to say “I don’t know if I can do… (fill in what you want to do but think you can’t)” to a guy who just ran a triathlon missing an arm and a leg. Their response was always, “Why can’t you?” I’ve always been interested in acting. Church plays, high school plays, a few more in college. Anything I could do to scratch the actor itch. While I was on active duty, I was in a couple of plays at a theatre off base. It’s always been a part of me.
JS: What advice do you have for other service members preparing to enter the civilian life?
JB: Find other veterans to connect with. Do what you love. You’ve been brave in serving your country, now be brave in chasing your dreams.
JS: Do you have any acting projects you are especially excited about? Any crazy or inspiring stories from your time on set?
JB: I was lucky enough to be in the first all veteran production of “Tracers,” a Vietnam play written by Vietnam veterans, in 30 years. The original director and some of the original cast were there to guide us along. Working with fellow veterans that are now actors was incredible. At times we connected to our veteran audience, especially the Vietnam era veterans, and it was some of the most moving moments in my life, personally and artistically. Nothing too crazy yet, mostly in hopes of continuing to get hired. I want to keep a solid name for myself. (Takeaway #2)
JS: How did you find the opportunities you have been involved with so far, and what can you advise other military men and women do to land roles?
JB: Network. Network. Network. It is really who you know and who knows you. Although there is also the numbers game here. I have agents and they send me out for auditions. Enough good auditions and I get a role, enough good roles and I get better ones. So on and so forth. It’s a war of attrition, all you gotta do is last. (Takeaways #2 & #3 play well here).
JS: What more can you tell us about your experience on set? Do you feel the same about television and film now that you have seen how the sausage is made?
JB: TV and Film is almost an analogous to the military. So many moving parts. So many individual jobs to make the whole thing work. There are the grunts who do the heavy lifting and make it all happen, with no recognition. These are PA’s, grips, lighting, food prep, stunts, etc. The stars are like the officers, they are the faces. Then directors and producers are basically the high brass, generals and admirals. All the weight and responsibility lies on them, as does the glory of the success. My family has banned me from ruining the secrets of their favorite shows and commercials with the fact that most all of them, even based on truths, are made up. I have the “I know him/ her” moments a lot now, having been here for a few years.
JS: You have an MFA in Theater from USC. Has this made a huge impact on your career as an actor? Do you recommend a similar path for other aspiring actors?
JB: My training has made all the difference. As it does in the military. I think that is why I chose the MFA path. I looked at it as “We do our training for combat, it’s life or death and the training keeps you alive.” Remember, complacency kills. Not everyone needs training to act, but I knew that if I wanted longevity in this career, I needed it. I’m not a natural. My initial thoughts on acting were: “Know your lines, show up on time, and don’t bump into the furniture,” but that’s only step one.
JS: Many of us would love a chance to attend USC. What was it like? What were some of the highlights?
JB: I was so lucky. They only picked 12 people my year. I still don’t know what I did to deserve the chance, but I took it. At times it was more challenging than the military, in different ways. It had me questioning my career choice. “Why am I flower now? Why do I have to play make-believe as an adult? What are these emotions?” The core teachers of the program actually pulled me into a meeting to ask if I was going to go back to the military, but I said “no” and continued to work harder. Then it changed to, “I get to be anything! My imagination is my strength! Emotions make me real.” It was life changing. Really. I learned a different kind of strength. Being from the south and the military, I grew up to emulate the stoic man. To learn to weather what life throws at you. There are times for that, but to always live that way makes for a hard life. I learned that there was another kind of strength, another kind of bravery; vulnerability. To be able to open up and connect with others, with your true self. It takes real guts. I learned that in the MFA program, still learning now, still stretching and pushing myself to grow and be braver in my vulnerability, in my humanity. The only downside was the price. Even with the GI Bill helping me, I still could own a nice house in Tennessee for what I owe. But, you can’t put a price on your dreams and it’s not like they can repo what I learned. Although, they might come take my diploma off my wall if I don’t start paying soon.
JS: What other resources are out there for aspiring actors? Do you have any favorite websites, blogs, or books on the topic?
JB: Wow… that’s the million dollar question. There are so many different sites and books and ways for aspiring actors to give money away for the secrets of success. I’ve learned that it’s different for everyone. Each person’s journey is just that, their own, but there are some easy guidelines: Find what works for you. This may cost you—probably more time than money, or equally both. Be skeptical of paying (money) for anything, but not paralyzed from it. Don’t be afraid to fail. Work hard. Learn from others’ experiences and mistakes. DO. DO. DO. Have fun. I probably just saved someone $100 in advice. Sites I use: Actors Access, LA Casting, and Back Stage. Books: The Actor and the Target, Invisible Actor, and The Open Door.
JS: Do you feel your time in the military has helped you with your acting, even for any nonmilitary roles you may have? How so?
JB: Yes, even though most all my roles are military or military like (Firefighter, police, etc). Basic concepts like manners, dedication, and hard work go far in this industry. Narcissistic tendencies are expected, so people find it refreshing when you understand team mentality. Especially going back to the idea that being on set is a lot like the military. Also, the military life has made it easy to adjust to life on set. People like to complain, but I’m always just happy to be there and not getting shot at, at least not shot at for real. I think deployments and combat change a person’s perspective on what is a hard day.
JS: What about the military network? Do you find that having this network of fellow military men and women available has helped, or have you not seen a sense of people helping each other? If there is, how should a military veteran aspiring actor reach out and conduct themselves?
JB: There are great communities of veterans in this industry. USVAA and VFT are just two of them. I believe the network is not only an important element in growing my career, but also in growing me as a person. Having people that understand where you’ve come from can help you know where you’re going, or be okay with where you are at.
JS: Have you interacted with other military (current or former) men and women in the entertainment industry aside from actors? Do you have any advice for people aspiring to those positions?
JB: There are all kinds of veterans in all kinds of different jobs. Directors and producers, all the way to writers and grips. It’s all about networking. Veterans tend to trust veterans first, but we shouldn’t just rest on that reputation, we should strive to make it always concrete. Again, complacency kills.
JS: What’s next for you? Do you have any upcoming projects you are especially excited about?
JB: I just got back from Texas, where we filmed an awesome movie with some very talented people, many who are veterans. I wish I could tell you more. I think it’s gonna be a cult classic. I expect that five years from now it’ll be the movie that all the college freshman are made to watch by the upperclassmen. I mean, I wouldn’t mind being Bruce Campbell, but I hope to make a name for myself (takeaway #2).
JS: Thank you so much for your wonderful advice, James. Before we sign off, do you have one piece of advice you would like to leave our readers with?
JB: Remember, “You are enough.” and have fun.
Other interviews like this one, along with the author’s advice, can be found in the book Military Veterans in Creative Careers.