James C. Burns, Call of Duty's Frank Woods, talks upcoming Coldwater movie
James C. Burns is known for portraying a variety of badass characters throughout his acting career. Gamers most likely know him as Sgt. Frank Woods from Call of Duty: Black Ops and Black Ops 2. Burns takes on the role of another military man as retired Marine Colonel Frank Reichert in the upcoming movie Coldwater scheduled for U.S. release on August 15th. I sat down with him to talk a little bit about the new movie and how his character compares to Woods.
For readers who might not have heard of Coldwater yet, give me a brief run down on what the movie is about and who you play.
In a nutshell, Brad Lunders is a troubled young man on the wrong side of the law. He is sent to a remote rehabilitation facility run by a retired Marine with good intentions… Colonel Frank Reichert. Things go from bad to worse as the inmates test the patience of the increasingly abusive staff. It’s really a movie about choices and there are definitely pivot points where impulsive decisions impact one’s life and the lives of the people around them. I play the role of the retired Marine Colonel…big surprise eh? The Colonel is very much an extension of the Woods character I play in Call of Duty: Black Ops 1 and 2. My character is gruff but cares greatly for those around him. Coldwater will shake your tree a bit, and that’s all you get for now. Watch the movie on iTunes August 15th!
What type of real life preparation did you go through to prepare for your role as Colonel Reichert?
Real life? I think having been a hockey coach and working with inner-city youth at risk for 20 years allowed me a unique insight into self-destructive behavior. I learned the hard way that changing the way people see the world and their place in it is not possible – they have to want it. No matter how strong or gentle you are with them, if they don’t want it [to change], it won’t happen. Unfortunately, learning the consequences of one’s actions can often be devastating…wow…did I just put your readers into a coma?
Coldwater has already won several awards including Best Film at the Las Vegas Film Festival. What do you think has made the movie so successful?
Well, I think a lot of things went right! The performances are excellent across the board. PJ Boudousque, Octavious Johnson, Chris Petrovski…all these guys were first timers and they nailed it! Vince, the director, told a very direct and powerful story – and the soundtrack is killer! Coldwater is one of those projects that just has the “it” factor. Like I said, it’s going to shake your tree a bit.
Reichert seems much more complex than your run of the mill a-hole. What type of obstacles did you face as an actor in portraying such a complex character?
None, really. Vince and I both agreed that the Colonel needed nuance; to be portrayed in a “real” sense. To play him with just one dimension would have been fatal. The Colonel’s descent had to match and contrast Brad Lunders’ journey. To play the Colonel simply as “evil jerk” would have been first, boring, but more importantly, a lost opportunity to show how these types of horrors come to happen - good intentions gone bad, if you will. As an actor, it is a gift to have the opportunity to play a complex character like the Colonel. This might sound strange, but it’s a lot of fun to play these damaged characters. It’s kind of like therapy.
Who would win in a fight between Colonel Frank Reichert in his prime and Master Sergeant Frank Woods in his prime?
Wow! That’s like the ID versus the Ego kind of sh*t! I want the pay-per-view rights to that one baby! But in reality, you know that fight would never happen. Both of these guys would try to avoid conflict at all costs, knowing that the price tag is way too high. No one wins, because once they go to war, it’s all out! Both would receive irreparable damage and neither could really claim a WIN in this scenario. Just having to survive with the regrets and damage would be deterrent enough. Then again Woods did say it best… “YOU CAN’T KILL ME!”
What are some of the differences between acting for a movie such as Coldwater and voice acting for a video game like Black Ops?
None. The Woods character is shot entirely in live action. Every scene you see him in actually happened in a studio somewhere. Black Ops 1 & 2 are shot just like a movie or TV show would be. There are actors in room trading lines and throwing punches – granted some games and some characters are still done the old way where there is a voice guy and a bunch of stunt guys doing the motion capture, but Woods is all live action. This basically means I have to hit my mark and say my line - it’s the same on a movie set.
You have a pretty distinct voice, has a gamer ever recognized you from Call of Duty just from hearing you out in public?
YES! Often actually, and many times it’s comical! A lot of the PR has connected my face to the character so I did get a lot of visibility for a while. One time, I was in line for popcorn at a movie back around the time Black Ops 1 had just come out. I was ordering and the kid at the counter just stared at me. His manager came over to see what the problem was and he looks at me and says, “Oh sh*t! It’s Woods!” The whole concessions crew were huge fans of the game. They went nuts! I then turned and about a dozen kids had come over to check it out…so I hit them with a "THIS IS NAM BABY!” and the place just roared! But I DID NOT GET FREE POPCORN! Go figure!
Think you'll do VA work for video games again someday in the future?
Probably not. I’m not known for being a voice over guy. Like I said, Woods is a live action character. The athleticism and weapon skills are an integral part of the character. This physicality is part of what makes Woods so formidable. I also feed off of the other actors in the room. In the VO box you don’t really get to have that live interaction or incorporate the “physicality,” which is a tool I depend upon in my work. This isn't to say I would turn a job down. I just focus more on film and TV roles.
Not counting Reichert or Woods, who would you say has been the most fun character you've ever portrayed?
Wow…I actually think he is in a project that is currently stuck in post-production limbo. It may never see the light of day, but role of Titus Finch is a blast! But something you can see now? I did a film in Japan last year called JUDGE! which is a comedy. I played a down on his luck advertising executive that joined forces with a young Japanese whiz kid to battle against the corporate ad moguls. He was a fun character, albeit I was the straight man - the set-up guy for the jokes – but it was still a great gig. I hope it comes to the US because it’s a really funny movie!
Any cool new projects on the horizon after Coldwater fans should look out for?
Yeah! I’m in a film that starts on the 10th of August called Sugar Baby. I get to be a nice guy in this one, I don’t carry a gun and I lose the only fight I get into. My character is still a fun guy to be around, just not a military man. And of course there is Nam Zombies, a movie I wrote that is exactly what it sounds like: a Vietnam War action film with zombies in it! We’re looking for financing and hope to start shooting in the fall… NAM ZOMBIES BABY!!!
Coldwater is currently available for pre-order on iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/coldwater/id894230471 ) and will be available through cable VOD and theaters in select US cities August 15th. For more information about the film be sure to check out the official site http://www.coldwaterthemovie.com