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From USAF to 'The Red Room'

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James Burleson. Courtesy of James Burleson.

Actor and Academy of Art University alumnus James Burleson knew he wanted to perform on screen since he was five years old. He first started appearing in shorts and television series in 2008, and last month, he was cast as the lead role in the upcoming Blue Light Pictures feature film, The Red Room.

Although he always knew he wanted to act, Burleson started his professional life as a training manager and technical writer, serving on active duty in the United States Air Force (USAF). His father served for 26 years in USAF’s Vehicle Maintenance, so Burleson’s family moved every few years and the actor grew up everywhere from England to Texas.

“I didn’t have the support system really to pursue my ambitions and knowing where to start was just impossible based upon the environments and limitations I was surfaced with growing up,” he said. “My dreams of being an actor were just in my imagination.”

During his four years of active duty, Burleson attended school simultaneously, receiving his bachelor’s degree in education from Wayland Baptist University in 2007. He then moved to Dallas to serve an additional four years in the Air Force Reserves and at the same time was able to kick-start his acting career with a dedicated agenda of auditions. He left the USAF in 2011 to devote all to his acting career’s development.

This past fall, Burleson earned his master’s in multimedia communications from the Academy. He said his time at the Academy gave him “more of an approach and likeness behind the camera in regards to film and video editing and broadcasting.” Instructors Mike Bellew and David Stoelk taught him the intricate processes of post-production, and Desmond Crisis passed down web development techniques that have allowed Burleson to promote his work and build a community of fans online.

“I also felt my on-camera skills strengthened in regards to reporting and interviewing, as it’s a different medium, and I was able to learn more about voice skills, communication, willingness and tone when speaking on-camera,” Burleson said of his time at the Academy. “I apply those techniques to my acting along with my natural senses and emotional intelligence.”

The roles Burleson is most proud of have been featured in film festivals and boosted his profile, like the 2014 short film Everyday, which was screened at the Cinequest Film Festival in San Jose this month. But in 2014, he also starred as Sergeant Burnside in Breathe In, a role that felt all the more meaningful because of Burleson’s past military service.

“It made me think of the feelings and dreams I used to have of what it would be like to be on a film set following my military journey,” he continued, “I was sincerely thankful, humbled and grateful.”

For his first leading role in a feature film, Burleson is playing the role of Andy in the thriller The Red Room, but this isn’t his first time working with Blue Light Pictures. In 2012, he was cast in the production company’s 12-minute short, Forgive Me Not, and in 2013, he starred as the father in The Abandoned, a short about a young couple deciding to abandon their adopted child when complications arise.

Both of the short films were directed by Vu Nguyen, the same director bringing his talents to The Red Room. After taping his audition, Burleson met with Nguyen at a coffee shop to re-read a scene from the film. The casting process, as a whole, took more than two months, but when the director emailed to say that the part was his, “It felt nothing short of spectacular! I am superbly exuberant!” he said.

The feature film is still in pre-production, but Burleson has had table reads with the director and rehearsed with his co-star Tiffany Griffin. Filming begins in March and continues through June of this year, and the movie is slated to be released late 2015 or early 2016.