James plays Frank, the schoolteacher husband of Deborah Messing‘s character, a composer who carries on an affair with a former love. While preparing for his limited engagement musical revue titled Under the Influence at the new nightclub 54 Below, he spoke to the Huffington Post about the new show and what he learned from starring on Smash.
As for his new show — for which James covers some of his favorite songs from the 1970s and 1980s — James explains that he’s reached a point in his career where he has a chance to do what he loves. He says, “I’m just singing pop songs that I really, really love. All the advice from people who really know this world is, ‘Do something that you love. And if you enjoy it then hopefully that will be infectious.’ So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to be indulgent and honor my own satisfaction first. That may be the life or the death of me. We’ll find out.”
It’s a big difference from when James finally sang in Smash, when he confesses that in keeping with the character’s non-theatrical background he intentionally didn’t show off his full ability. He says, “My intent was not to make it bad. My intent was to try to come off as a guy who wasn’t singing for a living like Katharine McPhee or Megan Hilty. I couldn’t do that even if I was trying to sound as good as they sing. But it was an interesting challenge. By no means did I go there and say, ‘I’m really going to stink!’ It was an interesting acting challenge in a way. You want it to be good enough to make it fit into the system but also distinct enough and believable enough.”
Though James will have a smaller role in the second season of Smash, he already looks at the experience of being in the show’s cast as a positive one. He points out, “Having a season under my belt, I learned so much. And the consistency of doing it was something I really enjoyed and benefited from. While it did kind of put a pause on some things theatrically, I think it’s only really helped, especially in terms of perception. That’s such a huge thing in this industry and in that sense it might make a producer a little less queasy to hire someone who’s not Hugh Jackman. These are all steps forward for me.”
Under the Influence runs at 54 Below (254 West 54th Street) from June 26 to 30. For ticket information, visit 54 Below’s website.