James Ashcroft’s first feature Coming Home in the Dark turned heads in Hollywood, after his thriller received praise at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival. We caught up with James to chat storytelling, Dad-life, and where to find the best tomato-relish scone. We also want to invite you to a special Q&A session with James after the screening of Coming Home in the Dark, Saturday 14 August at United Cinemas Bayfair. Book your tickets here! Enjoy this interview…
Your occupation, job title, artistic discipline (or very brief description of what you do):
I’m a film Director, Co-Writer and Executive Producer. I learned to write and produce to facilitate my passion to direct. Collectively it means I like to be involved in the overall vision and execution of the film from conception to release.
What cities/towns have you lived in (or spent more than a few months in) beginning with the place of your birth?
I grew up in Paraparaumu before moving to Wellington for many years (interspersed with long stays in Vancouver, Toronto and New York). Mount Maunganui has been my home for the past seven years.
What are the earliest stories you remember hearing? The ones that told you about the world?
My father believed that a child should never go to bed without a story, so when we grew tired of hearing the same books over and over, he would tell me adventure stories called ‘James and Dad in the jungle’. These would take place in exotic lands and feature strange and mysterious characters. I only realized much later that he was in fact retelling the plot of films we had watched and inserting me and him into the stories as the main characters. All the film projects I am working on in Aotearoa and abroad are adaptations of novels and short stories, so I consider dad my first teacher in the craft of storytelling.
What’s an average day in your life at present?
It’s a daily juggling act of zoom meetings, script reading, draft writing, and domestic duties as a stay-at-home Dad. I prefer washing clothes to dishes and vacuuming carpets to mowing lawns.
Your first feature film is turning heads in Hollywood. What was your favourite part about directing Coming Home in the Dark?
There’s a pressure that makes the role exhilarating because it demands every part of you to be present, engaged, responsive and flexible. Navigating the challenges that occur at each stage of production can be daunting but I tend to thrive in that space – creating solutions is the fun part. I love the dance of collaborating with others, allowing them the space to lead in their artistry while keeping them inspired and aligned to the vision of the film. If I’ve contributed to letting the best in someone’s work shine, then that can only mean the best for the film. And that’s incredibly rewarding.
How do you want Coming Home in the Dark to make audiences feel?
I hope audiences leave theatres with their pulses racing and minds contemplating how their own world is a little less black and white than perhaps they previously thought.
What music was present and still memorable from your youth/adolescence?
I did Rock’n’Roll dancing for about 7 years in my youth so the sounds of the 50s and 60s has a special place in my heart. Everyone from Bobby Darrin to Gene Pitney to Lesley Gore still make my feet twitch.
For you as a creative person, who are three influential artists or thinkers?
David Lynch – Director, Writer, Painter. His film Blue Velvet made a huge impact on me as a 10-year-old. It very much changed the way I thought about the world around me and continues to influence me today. Blue Velvet is not a film a 10-year-old should watch by the way.
Robert Lepage – Film/Theatre Director/Creator, Author. His productions and writings opened up the possibilities to me of how to unshackle the theatre from the antiquated notion that the writer/text is king. Specifically, how the medium can embrace and unify all its features – design, music, text, choreography – to tell stories in a vital and dynamic way.
Patricia Highsmith – Author. I’m continually drawn to her ability to make readers consider the ugly truths about the human condition in a sophisticated and entertaining way. Though a successful writer, I think she’s still under appreciated for her astute analysis of both men and women of her day. She also invented my favorite literary character, Tom Ripley.
If you went away from the Bay of Plenty for a long time and then came back, what are the first three things you would do or visit?
- Coffee and a tomato relish scone from Love Rosie.
- A trip to Xanadu Book Exchange for a dozen or so secondhand books.
- Feet in the ocean at Omanu beach.
Looking back at your teen-age self: what one sentence describes that person?
A precocious, if not earnest, ball of angst.
What was your first real job, second, third?
Growing up on the Kapiti Coast I could often be found loitering around the local video store. The store owners wisely put me to use and gave me my first and most influential job (and film school). I’m good friends with them still. Everything else has been in the performing arts, whether as an Actor or Artistic Director of national theatre company Taki Rua. I’ve been fortunate to make a life and living in the arts here in Aotearoa.
What word of advice would you offer an aspiring creative person?
Commit. Go to work. Work hard. Work smart. Fail ten times, get up eleven. Don’t give up. Do Not Give Up! Go to work.