James Ransone immediately wants you to know just how lucky he is.
In fact it is the first thing he says in response to my very first question about how he got involved in “The First,” the Hulu space epic led by Sean Penn and created by Beau Willimon about the first manned mission to Mars, in which he stars as astronaut Nick Fletcher.
“I am actually just very lucky to be involved. Because I have known Beau and producer Jordan Tappis for a long time.”
“I have known Jordan the longest. We kind of grew up together. I actually helped them to pull a prank on their old friend a long time ago.”
Of course, I instantly ask to know more.
“We played a prank on an old friend of Beau’s where I actually pretended to be a vet with PTSD that they picked up on the side of the road.”
“Then we convinced his friend that I had basically taken Beau hostage and then he freaked out. That was the prank we pulled on him for his birthday.”
Despite their past, Ransone still can’t work out if this old friendship means that the character of Nick Fletcher was written specifically for him, though.
“That would be really nice if it was. But honestly I don’t know. I knew Lorraine the casting director really well. Even though I have known those guys for a long time, I am just really lucky to be a part of it.”
But while Ransone is quick to reiterate just how lucky he is to be involved in “The First,” there was one specific scene in the third episode of the first season that made him genuinely believe that Beau Willimon had created Fletcher just for him.
“There’s one scene in the show where my character talks about almost drowning where I was like, ‘Did they write this for me?’ Because I have this whole experience where I almost drowned in this African river.”
“So I was like, ‘Oh, this is really easy, I can just tell my whole story. Because that is totally what happened to me.’”
Again, though, Ransone looks to try and play down his talent. Because as soon as I mention working with David Simon on “The Wire,” “Generation Kill” and “Treme,” he immediately credits the rightly lauded writer as the catalyst for his entire career.
“I like to tell myself I am a better actor than I actually am. It is just that more of me shows up on this stuff than I would like sometimes.”
“I do know that Beau really respects David Simon as one of the best TV writers, if not the best TV writer, that is out there today. He has expressed that to me.”
“What ends up happening with a lot of these guys is that once you can kind of land yourself in something, and cut your teeth and prove yourself in something that a lot of other artists respect, then you just kind of luck out and you can work on projects like that for the rest of your life.”
The next time Ransone, who is currently shooting the part of Eddie Kaspbrak in the much anticipated follow-up to “IT,” notes just how lucky he has been with his career, he quickly explains that his good fortune goes way beyond simply standing in front of a camera.
“The truth is I am really lucky. I am talking about life experience. Because it wasn’t just ‘The Wire.’ It was ‘Generation Kill,’ I was in Africa for almost a year, spending time with Marines that became really close friends of mine. That enriched my life.”
“Then I went to work on ‘Treme.’ That wasn’t as big of a show and I didn’t have as big of a part but I got to spend a lot of time with David Chang working in his restaurant. That stuff is always the coolest to me.”
“David Chang gave me the best career advice I have ever heard. To get to spend time with anyone that is the master of what they create is just awesome. That is so cool. I think it exceeds just being an actor.”
“I got to spend time with people from Nasa, learn how to cook from one of the best chefs in the world, live and go camping with Marines in Southern Africa for 7 months of my life. That stuff is just awesome.”
Ransone’s modesty is admirable. But it is clear from just speaking to him for 15 minutes that his enthusiasm, attitude and all round demeanor, as well as the talent that he refuses to acknowledge, have all merged together perfectly. And the result is an on-screen presence that is now deservedly more in demand than ever before.