James C. Burns was born on February 25, 1959 in Pittsfield, Massachusetts, USA. He is an actor and producer, known for Transformers (2007), Call of Duty: Black Ops (2010) and Coldwater (2013), along with many other movies and roles.
I conducted a One-Hour Skype interview with James C. Burns, and this is what i found out.
Black Ops 3 would be set in the years 2060/70, therefore Old Man Woods would be dead at that point, correct?
Well…we live in strange times. There’s a thousand story lines that I could give you an opportunity to debate that on. Cryogenics, you know, what’s that movie that Johnny Depp put out a few years ago? Transcendent, where they took his conscience and stuck it into the iCloud. Remember that line I put about ‘Zeitgeist’ in one of my videos? People get this one idea and they sort of write all their projects around that, so you can extrapolate into this project which has been in works for 3, practically 4, year. So there’s gonna be a lot of similar ideas integrated, because you go online and look at something that catches your eye. I mean I just discovered where one of the creatures from Starship Troopers came from, I just discovered it this morning whilst doing a search of Australia, where they had this huge crash that looked just like the creatures in Starship Troopers. So that kinda thing. Your answer is of course there is a possibility [that Woods would be alive], there’s a thousand ways that could happen. See how I could answer all that without answering the fucking thing! [laughs] That’s how politicians talk, you know!
What attracted you to acting in the first place?
A lack of life skills. There’s nothing else I know how to do. Seriously, I was a hockey coach for 20 years and I owned my own restaurant in Manhattan which I had nothing to do with the operations of it. Then one day I decided I really did not want to coach anymore, so what else was I gonna do? I really had no other life skills, the only way I have ever made made money was through those. I had coached hockey, owned a restaurant and I had done some commercials when I was much younger. I wasn’t really an actor until around 2000 when I started to commit to it full-time. So, I’m here by default. You know, I think if I had any other skills, I would have used them because this is an insane business. You can’t work harder at this, I mean there’s nothing you can do. There’s things you have to do, but it’s not like you ‘run faster, jump higher’ to get the job, there’s so many elements you can’t control. It takes a lot of luck and an ability to be delusional, to suspend reality. If you’ve ever thought about the odds of getting a job in this industry, it’s astronomical.
So did you have a ‘big break’?
[Laughs] I’m still waiting for it. If you would have said that to me back in 2000, and said, “OK, here, you will have this role today”, I would have gone, “Oh my God, I could die, that’s a dream come true!” But as you develop and evolve through your career, you always want the next big thing, like, “Oh I want this part in the next Spielberg movie”. I’ll always want to go to the next level. So yeah, my first real ‘break’ happened with a guy named Mark Teschner, the guy who’s the casting director for a soap opera called ‘General Hospital’, and it’s the first time anyone sort of gave me an offer for a part without me having to really battle for it. He saw some footage of me and he gave me an offer, without me having to fight for it, he just kinda came out. I’ve known him for a long time and he just called up and said, “Hey, I’ve got this role in General Hospital, do you want it?”, and I go, “Uh…YEAH!” So he was really the first guy with power to step up and give me a break, an opportunity. He gave me a job, that was huge, so he’s always gonna be on my top ten of people who I root for, so thank you Mark Teschner.
So did you move to California in hopes of finding acting roles?
No, there was a woman involved. Whenever you move house, there’s always a woman involved [laughs] Trust me. You don’t pull up roots like that unless there’s a woman involved. It’s an evolution, gravity and momentum take over your life, but you’re kinda young to understand that yet. But there’s certain things you play and then it gathers up momentum, then the next step is that [moving house] I was still coaching hockey when i tried to transition away from it, as well as my restaurant, and work towards my acting career. I guess I was laying the foundations to become an actor. The momentum, the centre of gravity of that, the magnetic core become powerful enough where I could transition out of all that stuff. A lot of that happened whilst I was in New York, when I was in a relationship with a woman who matched my next steps out here to where all the opportunity was. I had plenty of ammo and a couple of nice weapons with me! [Figurative speech, of course!
What would you say is your favourite part of the Call of Duty universe?
You guys” Nah, I shit you not, you think I’d spend time bullshitting with you guys if I didn’t enjoy it? I mean i’m in a movie right now, and a bunch of other stuff; trying to make my own movie [Check out NAM Zombies HERE], got cats to feed, car to wash…So I got a lot to do! But the fact I spend a lot of time engaging with you guys means that you’re my favourite part of it all. It’s great, c’mon. You guys are intelligent, smart, inquisitive. You never come at me with stupidity. I mean sometimes I’ll get a guy saying, “What’s your favourite colour?” [Said in a joking voice] Alright, blue, I like blue. I get that, I mean I got this one, “What do you eat for breakfast?” [Also in a joking voice] EGGS…ALRIGHT! Moving on. [laughs] But for the most part, you guys come at me with really intelligent questions, you’re on point, and you all seem to have your shit together, so that’s easier for me to handle!
It seems that in the gaming universe, so many ‘figures’ such as yourself don’t seem to engage with fans.
Just remember something, i’m not a voice actor guy, so i’m out in the public more.A lot of voice actor guys, they don’t look like their characters, I look like mine. I’m athletic, I kinda look like you’d expect one of these guys [soldier character] to look like, so yeah, i’m an actor. These guys that are voice actors, they don’t really look like their characters so you see them and you’re like, “Oh my God, Billy Murray, you’re 4 foot tall!”,”Billy, you’re Captain Price. Holy shit!”. So a lot of these guys are massively talented. They can come up with eight or nine characters in seconds, that’s a riot! When you’re on camera, though, you tend to be a little more engaging with fans because you walk more press lines, you go to Comicon, so you engage with the public a lot more than you do when you’re in a voice-over role. You gotta maintain a presence, you know.
What are you most hyped about Black Ops 3?
Wow. So much. What am I most hyped about? In all honesty, I like the science. I love the science, how they really adhere to next-step, scientific logic. They extrapolate into the future very well, so i like the way they’ve sort of projected that to be. You know, what is the next ‘natural step’, Its like the evolution of what will happen next. The next ‘natural step’. Both the actual science and what would be the next natural progression from Black Ops 2. What they’re doing is very much, “Oh yeah, that makes sense”. Just like in Black Ops 1 and Black Ops 2 and how they naturally progressed. It makes sense how they transferred from Black Ops 1 to Black Ops 2. It made sense, right? There’s always historically accurate events Treyarch plug in. We have no reason to suspect that wouldn’t be happening again. Just remember, these games are movies, I mean they link like series. They’re movies that we participate in. They don’t just slap together some arbitrary scenes, it’s a story. Craig Houston is the main writer, in terms of the guy who compiles it. There’s a number of different writers on these projects, but Craig Houston is the main writer. I actually have a video of him pitching Black Ops 2 to Treyarch. I mean it took 45 minutes for him to explain the story! I’ll see if I can get permission to upload that for you guys, because it would be fascinating for you to see exactly how they pitch a video game.
What is your favourite part of Activison and what they achieve? (I was meant to ask ‘Treyarch’, not ‘Activison’, oops)
Activision, I don’t really have a deep connection to them. I’m more connected to Treyarch. Activision is like the NBA, then you have your favourite team in the NBA, right? Or a premier league club for you Brits. You have your favourite team, you like Arsenal or you like Swansea, or whatever it is you have there. Activision has a number of great titles, and this is just the main part of their arsenal. Most of my interaction is done with the Treyarch guys. For me, they’re friends. There are certain guys there who I’ll be friends with for life. It’s like you’ve had a kid together, you created something, you created this great character together. We created this great project together. So they’re friends for life! I mean I’ll often go for lunch with the guys down there. “I’m in the hood, let’s go for lunch!” So these are friends,and Treyarch are extremely motivated and extremely dedicated individuals, and there’s a platter of them over there.
If you were in Call of Duty Zombies, what would be your favourite weapon to use?
Oh man! It depends on my mood, thunder gun sometimes. My favourite weapon’s always been the Commando, but for me, a shotgun is always the best way to deal with a zombie. You don’t have to be as accurate! A shotgun, some shotgun to shoot the hell outta them.
Who would you most like to act with in the ‘acting world’?
[Laughs] See, that’s not the way I look at it. I wouldn’t choose one, because if it’s a crappy script, it’ll be a crappy story. It’s more about finding a great project, finding a great script. You find that, and then you say, “Oh, I wish I had this actor to do this role”, so you can’t base it on just the actor. I’m thinking who i’d want to play NAM Zombies, who’s available. I got a list of actors that I would want in certain roles within the movie. In NAM Zombies, there’s a role called, “The Woman in White” and in my mind it’s played by Emmanuelle Chrique, that girl who read the numbers in Black Ops 1. She’s an actress. She was in ‘Entourage’. She’s like my ‘target zero’ for that role in NAM Zombies. I need a good script before I go, “Ah, this person needs to be here”. In actuality, it’s all about the story and a good script, that’s all that matters. Everything else is like icing. I couldn’t care less. Everyone’s professional, everyone’s good, you know. It depends on how good the script is that determines how good your film is going to be.
What are your favourite bands?
Well this week it’s Nirvana, but the Stones [Rolling Stones] are in there. Wow, it really depends on my mood. You know, for a while it was Reckless Kelly. It depends on my mood man, I have 10,000 songs on my iTunes! David Bowie is there when i’m in the mood [Laughs] Some days it’s Redbone, you know who Redbone are? [Begins singing Redbone songs]
Would you like to be a Marvel superhero in a movie, like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D or something?
Yeah, of course! Firstly, i’d make a tonne of money, but it looks so much fun man! I’d love to be in a light-hearted action film.
What is your most memorable moment from Black Ops 1 and Black Ops 2?
I have a whole playthrough that I watch, and every now and again i’ll come across a moment when i think, “When did we shoot that?” I mean i’ve worked about 90 days and hundreds of scenes where I just forget so much. I’ll come across stuff and think, “Oh i probably did that!” Most memorable? Jesus, dude. I mean it’s a hard question. It’s like asking me what my most favourite Christmas Dinner was, like gee, I got a few! [Laughs]
I’ll always remember my very first day of shooting, which is where I shot the, “You can’t kill me!” scene. Then we had to shoot that again because some things happened with the director and editor where they had to go back and put some new characters and even re-cast. So we shot that again, so that makes it twice (that we shot that scene). There’s a scene that didn’t make it into Black Ops 2 where I get killed by someone, I forgot their name. We originally had 7 endings for that game, and there was one ending where I get killed by that dude. It was a great fight scene, like Old Man Woods in his wheelchair having a fistfight. I think I have the live action of it. I’m gonna try and put that as a video, of endings that never made it to Black Ops 2. I have two extra endings that never made it into the game. I actually have the actual video that had Menendez win Character of the Year in the VGA’s 2012. His acceptance speech, but the guys at Treyarch said I can never, ever put that out. It’s funny as hell! I actually posted it and Treyarch called me up to get me to remove it! They know exactly what i’m saying, when i’m saying it. I just posted on my Twitter an actual casting headline that comes up for a character for Black Ops 3 that came out last Spring, so I’m waiting for my phone to ring [Laughs]
So who was that role for?
[Laughs] I can’t tell you that!
Is there a particular ending to Black Ops 2 that opens up for the beginning of Black Ops 3?
Is there a particular point of demarcation that’s gonna set things in motion? Yeah, like where Woods was in a prison camp, you you gotta go on a rescue mission. I don’t know, um, yeah I can’t even go into that.
Do you have a bucket-list, and if so, what would be your top 3 items on it?
Well, I don’t have a bucket-list, but I do have a fuck-it list [Laughs] “Yeah, fuck it, I don’t need that anymore!” On my fuck it list, I didn’t need to be a professional hockey player so I let that go. I’m a pretty happy guy, so there’s not too much I haven’t done, but I’d like to do another hockey trip to Europe with a team. I’d love to do that one more time. Yeah man, I’d really like to establish myself as a director, that’s what i’m gonna do next; write and direct. I love being an actor, so the next thing is directing.It’s just a matter of getting money from people to do projects, and that’s a whole other ‘animal’. You’re talking about a part of business I have to learn. There’s a thousand great scripts out there and lots of talented people, but the real power is getting people to give you money to make stuff. It’s always great to see an athlete get paid a quarter of a billion dollars to do what he does, you know, but it’s the guy that’s rich enough to pay that salary that you want to be. He’s the guy you wanna be.
Have Treyarch ever put out any fake leaks/ leads?
I don’t know of any, I don’t know of any fakes out there. It’s so much work to do this [release teasers] and a lot of the promotion stuff is done by a different company. For Black Ops 1 and Black Ops 2, Ant Farm -this massive production company- did all the promotions. I almost did all the stuff for Black Ops 1 but they felt my voice was too distinctive for the whole, “When is a lie a lie” line. I did the original voice over for that commercial, but they couldn’t use my voice for that. But of course, for the second Black Ops, they did use Old Man Woods’ voice for the voice over.
“They’ll always need men like us!”
Tell me something about some of the voice actors in the Black Ops series.
About a week before the deadline for Black Ops 1, they brought in ‘Ice-Cube’ or ‘Ice-T’ or some ‘Ice’, and they brought him in to do the voice for Bowman, so I was like, “Oh, when did that happen!” I thought it was this guy, but he turned out to be Bowman. Even now, there’s characters that are gonna start this summer for the game. Black Ops 3 is far from finished. It’s far from done.
Even with the open-BETA testing coming up?
Yeah, yeah, yeah! The testing is to see what works and what doesn’t work, and if it doesn’t work, they gotta fix it. I don’t know anything about when the BETA will be open, though.
In a previous interview, you mentioned your 115 tattoo on the Woods character, and explained that the answer to what that was is contained in one of your videos. I scavenged every single video of yours and couldn’t find it, what happened?
Well, the thing is, some videos are not open to the public anymore [Laughs] Let me find out exactly what I can tell you about that. I gotta make sure I don’t get into trouble! Let me get back to you. Let me found out what I can say.
Are you going to E3 this year?
It depends on a couple of things. If I can, I will. Last year, well two years ago, I was there courtesy of Turtle Beach – the speaker company. E3 itself; well, if I have time. I’m out filming for 4 weeks, so I can’t really do anything outside of that.
If Woods is always aware of his surroundings, did he know he wouldn’t die in the Russian Roulette scene during Black Ops 1?
Playing the odds. There’s also sitautional awareness, ‘Make it outta here alive’. If I shoot myself in the head, guess what, I don’t really care anymore…you know, cause’ i’m dead! [Laughs] But you gotta play it through. The odds are that you’re gonna be okay, but by playing more, instead of having a one-in-six chance of the next shot being hot, you’ll have a one-in-five chance, which is much greater that having it be one-in-six. It’s just math. Plus, one more thing, If you notice that when he puts the gun down, you see Woods looking down. What i’m doing, you can’t se my eyes at this point (due to technology lacking), is trying to see where the bullets are in the chamber. So if you go back and look at the scene again, you’ll see me looking down constantly. So when i’m looking at it, that’s when he hits me, so I don’t look at the chamber.
Great question, by the way, that was really fun!
It’s been a great pleasure to interview you, James!
All right, Ben, we’ll do it again! Maybe around E3, i’ll figure something out, maybe stream something. You’re great, I really appreciate you taking the time to be my friend – that’s what you are! Have a good day, man! Burnsy out.
Interview conducted by Benjamin John Wareing to the recipient, James C. Burns.