You may not know him by sight, but James C. Burns, the voice actor behind Black Ops‘ Sgt. Frank Woods, is a voice that’s hard not to recognize. Not sure you can place him? Try this sexy little number on for size:
“They’ll always need men like us, those who are willing to do… what others cannot.”
Thanks to his skills, training, and rugged good looks, Burns was a perfect fit to play the flawed antagonist in Coldwater, by Flying Pig Productions. Burns plays a retired Marine colonel, Frank Reichert; a decorated serviceman, Reichert is the steely director of a secluded boot camp and reform school for troubled youth. Quarantined in the woods, Reichert and a team of heavy-handed, severe “counselors” at the camp use intimidation, starvation, isolation and brutality in order to break down and rebuild young offenders.
His role as a seasoned badass in the popular first person shooter Call of Duty: Black Ops and Black Ops II equipped Burns with the particular depth and sincerity that Coldwater needed for their empathetic, by-any-means-necessary reform school headmaster. GIZORAMA was fortunate enough to steal a few minutes with James Burns. We talked to him about Black Ops, Coldwater, tough choices, saving marriages, and zombies in ‘Nam, among other things.
Mariah Beckman: Hello, James, and thank you so much for sitting down with GIZORAMA! Can I just start out by saying that you are such a beast? You’ve got a real Bruce-Willis-in-the-Fifth-Element thing going on.
James C. Burns: Hah…here’s some trivia: Bruce and I both shot Levis commercials with the same director on the same day. We shared a trailer with Wesley Snipes and Stanley Tucci…hmmm. I went back to playing /coaching hockey and those three went on to be mega-stars…Oops. So much for being a BEAST!
So, tell me about Coldwater. What’s it about? What is your role?
JCB: It’s really a movie about choices. Pivotal points where impulsive decisions impact ones life and the lives of the peoples around them. In a nutshell, Brad Lunders is a troubled young man on the wrong side of the law. He’s sent to a remote rehabilitation facility run by a well-intentioned retired Marine Colonel Frank Reichert (me!!..another Frank..go figure?) Things go from bad to worse as the inmates test the patience of the increasingly abusive staff…that’s all you get. Watch the movie at select theatres, on cable VOD or iTunes on Aug 15th!!
The movie will be out in the U.S. August 15 in select cities, and it premiered at SXSW. Already a hit in France, do you expect a big draw from the gaming community for the film’s release? If I go see it, will I cry? Is there some comic relief, or is this more of a drama?
JCB: I think there are a lot of gamers that will see this. It’s a story that a lot of people can relate to. It’s not really a sad, sloppy film. It’s not for pussies. This is a powerful film, telling a story of how people descend into violence and chaos…. Viewers will cringe, they will find a few laughs (you sick bastards out there might find a few too many!!)… but overall you’re gonna be effected. You will have a strong opinion about what you just saw and what it means. Is it a date night flick? Depends on your date.
If you had to describe this movie in a three words, which three would you pick?
JCB: Actions have consequence.
So you have a pretty long dossier of film experience, some of which is very…not Black Ops of you. Can you name for our readers a few titles for which you are lesser known?
JCB: Actually, my résumé runs the range from TV to Video Games, but the WOODS type character is my brand basically. I get hired for that type of role a lot. Even in comedies, like JUDGE!, a Japanese film I did last year. I’m still that “authority” figure type. Work is a blessing as an actor and really once you find your “brand”, that’s what you get known for. It’s a business and you have to treat it like one. As an “artist”….I hate saying that shit….but as an artist you try to expand the roles you play, but you need to pay the bills so most of the time you take the jobs that allow you to do that. Then you get art-y on your own time.
What has been, in your successful career, your favorite acting role?
JCB: Really, I’ve had so many great gigs that it’s hard to pick a “favorite”. Of course WOODS was awesome…the Colonel is a lot like WOODS….go see the flick and you’ll crack up when you hear the shit that I say…you’ll be laughing and people around you won’t know why….there are so many WOODS moments in Coldwater.
How has your work with Black Ops shaped your acting career?
JCB: It solidified a role that producers trust I can play. Makes those that hire and fire feel more confident in my abilities.
What’s the process like, becoming Sgt. Woods? How similar are you two? I know you’ve said that your character in Coldwater is like a natural extension of Sgt. Woods; did that make preparing for this role pretty easy?
JCB: Yeah, it was really just perfect timing. All the character and background study I did for WOODS was dead on for Coldwater. Plus having been an Ice Hockey coach for 20 years and working with youth at risk gave me additional insight not only for the Colonel, but for the kids in the story as well.
I’d have to say that your voice is pretty recognizable. I saw you on CSI one time and couldn’t figure out how I knew you, but you sounded very familiar. IMDB saved the day. Do a lot of people know you by voice? When you order a pizza, do people just freak out? I imagine it’s not unlike hearing Batman order a number 5 at a drive-thru.
JCB: Yeah, it happens fairly often…sometimes I’ll help it along. A lot of guys recognize me even before I speak. When I see that “look” in their eyes sometimes I’ll turn and hit ‘em with a “THIS IS NAM BABY”….the reactions are pretty funny. Caused some mayhem at the movies one night doing that…that’s why I always pack WOODS character cards with me…if you see me just ask for one politely and not while I’m in the head.
Geek fanfare can be pretty intense. Do you have any stories about passionate fans?
JCB: The things people have me sign are really funny – beer cans, diapers, a real CAR-15. I once signed a guy’s girlfriend…(don’t say it!!)…. I have parents tell me they hate me, some love me, and a couple once said I (WOODS) saved their marriage. The spookiest is when some uber fan walks up and knows every shitty horror film I’ve ever done. I am easily humbled.
So how did you get into video games, anyway? I know you’ve said before that you actually play Call of Duty so badly that Activision politely asked you to cease and desist. Was it something you saw yourself doing professionally before Black Ops?
JCB: Hah, no. I’m not a gamer. When I had the time I didn’t have the money. Now that I can afford an Xbox, I just don’t have the time to play. I have O skills. Black Ops is an acting job first and foremost. Every scene we shoot is LIVE ACTION. Actors on a set traded lines and pulling punches. It’s just like a movie or TV. Major film stars are now flocking to video game roles. It’s become a great medium for actors.
Have your gaming skills improved any? Do you play anything less…involved? Words with Friends, maybe? Angry Birds?
JCB: Fuzzle? Seriuosly… I am a lightweight….but I also spend ALL my time trying to get Nam Zombies Made….NZ is a script I wrote about a Special Forces team that has to battle its way out of the jungle mission. Kinda like if Predator and Resident Evil had a kid and got adopted by Platoon.
I have to ask: do you have any thoughts on this whole Manuel Noriega deal? Lindsay Lohan just won a suit with GTA developers based on her alleged likeness to a character in that game. Now Noriega is making great use of his time in prison, reflecting not on the alleged crimes against humanity he has perpetrated, but rather on how crappy he may or may not have come across in a video game. Your thoughts, if any?
JCB: I’m not so much focused on Noriega, but the lawyers and legal system that entertain this kind of shit. I know there are good guys out there, but big corporate lawyers exist to make other corporate lawyers rich. This is a highly nuanced conversation that lives entirely in the grey area of mega wealth. I don’t live in that zip code.
We’re tracking you on your official YouTube sgtfrankwoods, and we follow you on Twitter @jamescburns. You may or may not have suggested that things are (or are not) on the horizon for future Black Ops installments in these mediums. Now, I won’t ask what you think I’m going to ask…instead, I’m going to ask this: if there were anything that you think fans could see changed for a BO3, what might in be? Just speculatively? What’s next for Sgt. Woods…hypothetically? Does he quit answering the Call of Duty and start cooking professionally? Our sources say that’s really likely…is this pretty solid intel?
JCB: Well Frank is great with BBQ…I think that’s a well know fact. Other than that I really can’t discuss…BUT… I am putting together a 4-part YouTube series that investigates the possible future of things. Subscribe to the YT channels and both Twitters to get alerted to when it gets posted.
Word has it that you’ve got a zombie movie in production. Not just any zombie movie, either. Nam Zombies tells the tale of a special ops team beset by what you’ve described as a shitload of undead soldiers in Vietnam in 1969. Written and crowd funded by you, what can you tell our readers about Nam Zombies that you haven’t yet shared? Are you going to make a cameo or star in the film?
JCB: Hah…yeah, the script is great. I have Menedez and Dave Mason attached and we are looking for financing. The zombies are unique, the science is legit, the story is based on historical political events, there are zombie battles that will blow your mind and a great set of characters. It has a lot of humor and will be a blast to make and watch.
Can you think of anything to share with me about Coldwater that I failed to ask? Feel like dropping a huge Black Ops bombshell on me? (I know you do.) Any news on who we can expect to star in Nam Zombies, or more info on it’s official release?
JCB: Yeah, the cast. They are truly awesome. I was blown away by the talent on set. The performances are excellent. A lot of these guys were first timers. The guy who plays Brad Lunders is PJ Boudousque and he is a star. He totally nailed it. He will be a household name in a year or two. Octavius J. Johnson (Ray Donovan)…who plays Jonas, is a spectacular wise-ass – smart and funny. Chris Petrovsky – is great…SEE THE MOVIE…it is sooo good.
I usually like to end my interviews with a fun question, if you’ll just bear with me for one more series. Everyone, no matter how nice, has one person, place or thing, animal, mineral or vegetable that he would like to punch in the face. For me, it’s smoothies. Smoothies go in and out of fashion, you can never make smoothies for months on end and not grow weary of them, and making smoothies costs like $20 a day. Those are crack prices. What drives you crazy, Mr. Burns? Clubbing baby seals? Quinoa? The Slap Chop?
JCB: Wasting water… turn off the faucet!!! I know, I live in LA, we have a drought, so I’m a bit sensitive to it. Also people who hurt animals. Not the guy who hunts responsibly, I’m talking about the asshole that just wants to kill shit because he can.
Amazing! Sir, it has been an absolute pleasure grilling you about all things Burns. I trust that you’ll keep us in the loop concerning your upcoming zombie flick, and we can’t wait to see your performance in Coldwater. Slash Black Ops.
JCB: Roger that… WOODS OUT..oppps..I mean BURNS OUT.
Coldwater will be out in select theaters in August. This film was written and directed based on documented cases of violence and corruption in rehab centers, and it shows. Coldwater is a genuine, stirring, riveting, and gritty look behind the scenes of juvenile rehab. Paste, Complex and Flixist magazines all listed Coldwater as a Best Film at its premiere at SXSW; it has been heralded as gripping, chilling, raw and suspenseful, and has won several awards since its debut.
For my part, I was fortunate enough to screen Coldwater, and I can say that this is a really genuine movie that I would recommend to just about anyone. Anyone interested in learning more can check the Coldwater soundtrack and pre-order the movie today on iTunes,as well as Amazon Instant. Don’t forget to visit the website for details on screenings in select (very select) North American cities, and to follow Sgt. Woods himself on Youtube and Twitter.
This article originally appeared online at Gizorama on August 1, 2014.