Interviews & Articles

Land O’ Lakes native screening TV pilot

June 15, 2016 By  Leave a Comment

Ryan Paul James’ first brush with fame came at the age of 6, when his name was listed in The Laker/Lutz News.

“I was playing Little League there, with the Red Sox. All of the players were mentioned there in an article,” said James, a former Land O’ Lakes resident, now an actor and writer who lives in Los Angeles.

Since moving to L.A., he’s performed in two dozen plays, has written 10 plays and is now shopping a pilot for a television show he’s written called “The Comeback Kids.”

The show is about a pair of actors who were famous as children and are attempting a comeback, decades later.

Melissa Disney is married to Ryan Paul James, who grew up in Land O’ Lakes. He’s shopping a television pilot, ‘The Comeback Kids,’ and she’s an acclaimed voiceover artist. She’s also related to Walt Disney, although she never met him. (Courtesy of Ryan Paul james)

Melissa Disney is married to Ryan Paul James, who grew up in Land O’ Lakes. He’s shopping a television pilot, ‘The Comeback Kids,’ and she’s an acclaimed voiceover artist. She’s also related to Walt Disney, although she never met him.
(Courtesy of Ryan Paul james)

While no one has picked up the television show yet, it has been screened at film festivals in such places as Los Angeles, Honolulu, Miami, Switzerland, Australia and London.

It also has picked up a number of awards.

It’s a project James has been working on for five years. He’s written eight episodes of the show and has casted most of them, with different stars who would be making appearances as themselves, or performing a role in the sitcom.

The TV pilot most recently screened on June 10 at The Chinese Theatre in Hollywood.

James said his desire to act began when he was a young boy, when his dad was a wildlife officer and the family lived on the grounds of Pine View Middle School in Land O’ Lakes.

“Living in the middle of nowhere and playing there on the campus of Pine View, I would let my imagination go.

“I remember, that, like for a year, they were building their (Pine View Middle) gym. I don’t think I can get in trouble for this anymore — but I would go in there and play Indiana Jones,” James said.

“I would watch probably too much television,” he added.

His acting debut came in 1994 when he played the role of a Mousekateer on the Mickey Mouse Club, filmed in Orlando. His acting teacher, who was the show’s casting director, got him the gig, he said.

He knew from the beginning the role would be a short run.

“When I was brought on, they’d already announced that the show was cancelled,” James said.

He replaced a cast member who wanted to go to Los Angeles to pursue a music career.

James moved to Los Angeles in 1995 to attend the American Academy of Dramatic Arts.

But, that didn’t last long, either.

“I was so homesick, and I hated L.A. — could not stand it,” he said.

So, he returned to the Tampa Bay area, where he became a disc jockey on 100.7 Kiss FM.

“I wasn’t really looking to get into radio, but it just happened for me. I bounced around to a couple of other radio stations. A radio station out here in Los Angeles heard one of my air checks, and they called me up and wanted to see if I would be interested in coming out here,” he said.

He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do.

So, he prayed about it.

“I was like, ‘God, you’ve got to give me a sign here’,” James said.

He knew he couldn’t afford to move to L.A., but within a month of his prayer, he had booked two national commercials and had received the offer from the radio station.

“And, so I thought, ‘I’ll give L.A. one more shot.’

“Here I am, 12 years later, married, with a kid,” James said.

His wife, Melissa Disney — a cousin of Walt Disney — is a voiceover artist.

Though not a household name like her cousin, she has attracted her own share of fame.

She narrated the trailer for the action movie, “Gone in 60 Seconds,” — widely credited as one of the first major movie trailers to employ a female voice, according to The Hollywood Reporter. She also has voiced The Academy Awards, The Emmy’s and the Billboard Music Awards.

While James and his wife work in the industry, their 4-year-old son, Ryder, gets a chance to dip into the lifestyle, too. He already has met such international stars as Madonna, Harrison Ford and James Earl Jones.

Although the Land O’ Lakes native has lived in L.A., for a dozen years, he still gets homesick and travels back to the area to visit family a couple of times a year.

Every time he comes home, he must make one stop before returning to L.A.

He drops by Larry’s Deli, on Land O’ Lakes Boulevard, where he loads up on Cuban sandwiches to take back to California.

The mere mention of them, James said during a recent telephone interview, makes his mouth water.

Published June 15, 2016

 

Photo by Sallie Ross

 

WHAT’S SO FUNNY?

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH PLAYWRIGHT

                                    RYAN PAUL JAMES”

BY AMY WENDLE

 

Amy Wendle: How long have you been writing?

 

RPJ: When I really think about it, I’ve been writing for almost twenty years. When I was back in Florida taking acting classes, I used to write my own scenes, and then when I was asked “What play is that from?” or “What movie is that from?” I would lie and say I got the scene from a scene book. I didn’t want to be a writer, I wanted to be an actor. To my surprise, the other actors liked my scenes and the writing. I’ll never forget an actor asking me if he could borrow my scene book. I said that I lost it, but he could buy it at “Barnes and Noble”. I told him that I forgot the title, but it was green with blue writing on the front. Wouldn’t you know it, the next week he found a scene book that was green with blue writing on it. I figured that I should be honest after that.

 

AW: When did you realize that writing was something you wanted to do as a career?

 

RPJ: Nine years ago, I joined a theater company in Hollywood called Theatre 68. The artistic director, Ronnie Marmo, and I became close friends. I used to send him funny emails that he and his wife, Wendy would read. One day I was over at their house for dinner, and they suggested that I should start writing. I thanked them, but I didn’t take it seriously. Until one night, I was watching an old movie on TV. All of a sudden I got an idea for a play. I started writing it that night and couldn’t stop writing. Forty eight hours later I had written my first play, Lost In Radioland”.  I told Ronnie about the show, and let him read the script. He liked it, but wanted me to do more rewrites with a very funny actress Denny Siegel. After a few rewrites, Ronnie put the show up, and it was a great hit. It was during this process that I realized just how much I love to write. Lost In Radioland ran for eight weeks at Theatre 68, and it later got picked up by Theatre Palisades.  We had amazing audiences, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. I came away with a hit play and a new girlfriend, who would later become my wife, Melissa Disney.

Poster For "Lost In Radioland"

 

AW: Tell me about that.

 

RPJ: (Laughing) Melissa and I were friends going into “Lost In Radioland”. I knew she was a great actress, so I asked her to be in the show. I’m often accused of casting her because I was interested in dating her, but that’s not the truth. It was after we were in the rehearsal process, that’s when I started asking her out. She’s an amazing woman, and I can’t believe that she married me.

 

AW: How has your marriage with Melissa affected your writing?

 

RPJ: She is so supportive, and really brings out the humor in me. I can tell her an idea I’m working on, and her laughter is all I need, to know that I’ve got a great idea in the works.

 

AW: Do you have a favorite play you’ve written?

 

RPJ: I really don’t, because each one has been such an amazing experience. The World’s Worst Play, Ever” was some of the most fun I’ve ever had writing and directing. “Desperately Seeking Love” was a very special experience for me, because it was my first Romantic/Comedy. Plus getting to work with an amazing cast with actors like Bernie Kopell, Mariette Hartley, Richard Horvitz, Deborah Geffner, Izzy Diaz, my wife and Katie Zeiner, who’s been in every show I’ve written. That was a special cast and an experience I’ll never forget.

 

AW: How did you come up with the idea for “What’s So Funny?”?

 

RPJ: I was writing a couple of scripts for a couple of television shows, and an idea hit me - “what if there was a play about a writer and while he writes, his ideas are being played out by actors”. I began to work with that idea, and before I knew it, I had a play that I was very excited about.

 

AW: How do you know if your script is good or not?

 

RPJ: I don’t know. On the day of opening night, I usually have a panic attack and I’m a nervous wreck. When I start to feel better is after I hear the audience laugh for the first time.

 

AW: What’s the lasting impression you want your audience to have when they leave one of your shows?

 

RPJ: I want them to come out feeling like they’ve just had a great time. When I write, I try not to write anything that’ll make the audience feel uncomfortable. One of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten was somebody telling me they wet themselves because they were laughing so hard. Another compliment was a guy who felt like his wife dragged him to a play, and by the end of the show, he ended up having a great time. That’s what I want, people wetting themselves and realizing their wives are always right.

 

AW: Who is your favorite playwright?

 

RPJ: I’ve got more than one. Neil Simon can never do wrong in my book, and I love his style of writing.  However, my favorite play is Michael Frayn’s “Noises Off, but there is one writer that I really enjoy. I’ve recently struck up a friendship with Jonathan Lynn and I look at him as my mentor. I’ve watched his movie “Clue well over a hundred times, and his British TV show “Yes, Prime Minister” was brilliant television. He has now turned “Yes, Prime Minister into a play, and it’s some of the best theatre I’ve seen in a long time. For anyone wanting to be a writer or director in theatre they need to read Jonathan’s book “Comedy Rules”. As you can tell I’m a big fan of Jonathan’s, and I’m so honored to call him a friend.

 

AW: Where do you see yourself professionally in ten years?

 

RPJ: Hopefully writing for television. I feel like I’ve got some really good ideas for some TV shows. I also hope I’m still writing for the stage, and my plays are being performed all over the world.

 

“What’s So Funny?” will make its debut at Theater Palisades July 19, 20, 21, 27 & 28. ■

 

For more information on Ryan Paul James: www.ryanpauljamesproductions.com

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