Oregon-based actor Greg James kicked off his career on the stage before making his feature acting debut in the acclaimed “The Dividing Hour,” which has gone on to achieve cult status. Since then he’s appeared in such films as “Wild” with Reese Witherspoon and “Birds of Neptune.” Greg’s latest film, a horror-thriller from filmmaker Brad Douglas, is titled ‘’Between the Trees.” Released in March, it tells of a group of men ambushed by a group of cannibals while they are on a road trip.

Greg recently told us about the film, thirty years of acting, becoming a father and more via an exclusive interview.

Characters, films, and Hollywood

Meagan Meehan (MM): Greg, how did you get your start as an actor?

Greg James (GJ): I started onstage in high school at 15. I think they created the character of “Newspaper Man” for the musical “Guys & Dolls.” My first film acting performance wasn’t until I was 22, in the cult horror film, The Dividing Hour (in 1999, it was praised by Roger Ebert and Harry Knowles as one of the Top 25 cult film Movies of all-time, even though most peeps have never heard of it, ha)

MM: And you kicked it off in Oregon and are you still there?

GJ: Yeah, I started my film career in “The Dividing Hour,” where I played a goofy stoner named Dean. How was the film industry there at the time?

Not a ton in Oregon except for the occasional movie or TV series – but the indie film is plentiful, and has allowed me to learn quite a bit about filmmaking, in front of and behind the camera. In fact, I edited this and Brad’s last film, Besetment. A little strange, I know, but that’s the beauty of indie filmmaking, ha.

I recently spent some time in Atlanta, GA doing a few things, but yes, Portland, OR has always been my home and probably will continue to be so.

MM: You took some time off after the birth of your child. What did you do during that off-time?

GJ: I took about five years off of acting once my first child was born. I actually took this time to integrate myself on the other side of the camera. I wrote, shot, produced, directed and edited many short films and commercials during this time – and I honestly believe it made me a better actor when I returned to the screen in having that knowledge — built empathy, so to speak, in the process.

MM: I imagine it was rewarding getting to spend time with your little one?

GJ: Yes, of course, that was the best part, in just learning to be a dad for the first time and helping out my wife. I did not have the greatest childhood myself, so it was important to me and us that we gave my son as good a baseline as we could. And I’d say he’s done pretty well because of it. At 13, he’s already a great student, singer, musician, and takes after his old man as being an actor, as well as just being a cool kid and awesome brother to his little sister.

MM: Did you find it hard to break back into the industry though after taking time off?

GJ: Actually, no. But I will say the hardest part, but a key element was getting back into shape physically.

Once that happened, I was blessed with a lot of opportunities pretty quickly. I already knew the principles of acting pretty well, but I strived to look and feel good while doing it, which gave me the needed confidence for this crazy profession.

MM: Do you have to juggle a day job at the same time?

GJ: I still am a co-owner of the production company I helped create during that “down” time, which has helped me keep the bills afloat. But lately, I’ve Uber’d, and Lyft’d to help bring some cash in between auditions and gigs, which I kind of like how it gets me out of the house and talking to all kinds of people. And I also have my wife’s hard work as a school counselor and that income to lean on, thankfully.

MM: So, Greg, did you ever consider moving out to Hollywood?

GJ: Yes, of course. But it’s expensive, and I wouldn’t be able to move my wife and kids there (and I’d have to sell my wife on it really hard, which means we’d have to know I’d be making millions, ha). Does it matter? Maybe it does, maybe not. From my recent stint in Atlanta (where it was cheaper to live, and I spent six months to get a bit of a foothold), I realized that no matter where you are, the producers still want an already recognizable face to fill the bigger roles. Everyone else is just scrambling and scratching for the smaller, supporting roles in hopes they’ll get the recognition to take them further. Obviously, there are more opportunities to be had in LA, but I’m pretty happy with what I’ve been able to accomplish in the Northwest, and still have some hope a big producer will “discover” me in one of these crazy indie movies someday.

I certainly will travel anywhere for the role. But Portland will always by my home base.

MM: You’re a real flag-flyer for independent films. Is there a benefit to doing these smaller films over large studio fare--I imagine even the actors are more relaxed on smaller films?

GJ: Definitely more relaxed, and more of a feeling of exploration and freedom to play and hone the craft. That way, when more of the big boys and girls call, I’m ready to play. Because, I’m not against bigger films (I do like more money and greater exposure options), but they just don’t come to the northwest often, so I work within the passion of indie filmmaking more often than not – and get to play those larger, lead roles in them as well.

Leads, cast, and crew

MM: Why do you think you nabbed the lead in this film over, I imagine, many, many other actors? What did Brad Douglas see in you, you think?

GJ: Brad doesn’t really audition in the “traditional” sense, which is unique yet refreshing. He really collects talent and actors and finds ways to fit them into his stories. I first met Brad on the set of Besetment, his previous film, and we just hit it off immediately. He’d seen what I could do, and knew at that point; I was mostly known for my comedic roles. He really wanted to see me do something gritty and dark for his next film. And when this script came about, I think I was one of the first he had in mind for the character. In some ways, I think it was a sort of calculated experiment for him, but one I appreciated him taking the chance with – and I think it paid off a bit.

MM: There’s some physically-demanding stuff in this, so was that hard work and lots of warm showers afterwards?

GJ: What’s funny is that until I get pretty nuts later in the film, the hardest part was trying to hold in this pent-up energy and not do much of anything. Kind of like a blue flame. But I certainly went a bit method with this one, and I’m sure I pissed off a few peeps around me at times. If so, sorry about that.

MM: Was it a little spooky being out there filming this?

GJ: No, not very spooky. The cast and crew were fun, so we made it pretty light-hearted off set. Plus, I had a bit of Oregon-grown weed to chill me out some after a long day of filming, ha.

MM: What’s the best part of doing what you do, Greg?

GJ: I love the process of taking on a character and acting with others. The moments where it all clicks, where you do a kickass take, and everyone in the room knows it. Getting to live and breathe someone else is great because just being me all the time would get really damn boring.