10 Questions

7 Questions with James Urbaniak

james urbaniak - 7 Questions with James Urbaniak

By Ryan Meehan

Actor James Urbaniak is the voice of Dr. Venture on the hit Adult Swim animated series “The Venture Brothers”, a show whose sixth season will premiere in 2016. He currently plays the role of Grant on Comedy Central’s “Review” starring Andrew Daly, and plays the boyfriend of Julie Klausner’s lead character on the Hulu series “Difficult People.” His other TV appearances include “The Office,” “Homeland,” “Agent Carter,” “Adventure Time,” “Comedy Bang Bang,” “Childrens Hospital,” “Weeds,” and “Sex and the City.” His film credits include “American Splendor” (as Robert Crumb), “You Don’t Know Jack,” “Confessions of a Dangerous Mind,” “Across the Universe,” “Sound of My Voice,” “The Boxtrolls,” “Advantageous” and several films for Hal Hartley including the trilogy “Henry Fool,” “Fay Grim” and “Ned Rifle.” He recently wrapped the indie “Dave Made a Maze.”  James’ podcast “Getting On with James Urbaniak” was chosen as one of the top 20 comedy podcasts by Rolling Stone magazine, and also he’s my guest today in 7 questions.

RM:  You’re from Bayonne, New Jersey…the same place my father was born. For those who may not be familiar with that lovely city, how would you best describe growing up in that area?

JA:  Whoo! Bayonne pride!! (*high-fives your dad*). Industrial working class New Jersey city across the bridge from New York.  I lived next door to a trucking company and down the block from a pickle works. I briefly considered a career in pickle manufacturing. We moved to another town in NJ when I was 8, but my understanding is Bayonne resisted any form of gentrification for a long time. Arguably the aluminum siding capital of the tri-state area, if not the country.

RM:  What was the first acting performance you saw that really inspired you to want to entertain others with your own talents? When did you first realize that you had the ability to act; and how would you best describe the first time you performed in front of an audience that didn’t consist of your family and friends?

JA:  The first performances that inspired me were comic actors in ‘70s TV like Carol Burnett and Paul Lynde. I remember quite liking Ken Berry, who was the leading man on “F-Troop.” I first realized I loved acting in elementary school sketches and plays. Was in the chorus of “Bye Bye Birdie” freshman year of high school and senior year I played the character part of the horny old English aristocrat Lord Brockhurst in the musical “The Boyfriend.” That was the first time I felt real excitement at having an impact on an audience. That summer I auditioned for and got cast in two plays a local community college which further defined my sense that this was something I was good at although it would be a few years before I decided acting was what I wanted to do professionally. Like most actors, each time I get a new job I have to remind myself that I know how to act.

RM:  How long have you known Julie Klausner; and what do we need to know about “Difficult People”?  Do you have any personal character traits that would lead others to think that you are a difficult person?

JA:  I met Julie in New York the early 2000s. On “Difficult People” I play Arthur, the infinitely patient and supportive boyfriend to her unfiltered crazy person which is in its way a delightful change of pace and challenge since I’m usually cast as the crazy guy. Not that Arthur doesn’t have his quirks. Julie knew that my playing “normal” would be funny. I think I’m a pussycat in real life but I have a certain way of speaking that sometimes makes it seem like I’m a difficult person, a particular New Jersey dialect that can make me sound sarcastic when I’m not trying to be. Why are you looking at me like that? I’m serious.

RM:  You are responsible for the voices of Dr. Thaddeus Venture on the hit Adult Swim show The Venture Brothers as well as the other characters Jonas Venture Jr. and Phantom Limb…What might the casual fan of animation not realize about the work that goes into voicing characters for a show such as that one?

JA:  All the actors on The Venture Bros record separately.  For the first three years of the show, Patrick Warburton and I lived and recorded in different cities. Show creator Jackson Publick directs the voiceover sessions very meticulously, he’ll do repeated takes of a given line to get the exact emotional quality he wants. He’s a taskmaster but a benign one on the service of excellence. Please tell him I said that.

RM:  You play the character of Grant (the producer) on the Comedy Central series “Review” that also stars comedian Andrew Daly…What’s the best part of getting to do that show; and if you had to “Review” working with Andy how would that evaluation go?

JA:  “Review” is brilliantly scripted but we do some improvising. Andy Daly is one of the best improvisers on the planet so it’s very exhilarating to go off script with him. Working with Andy Daly:  Five stars and nine sweaters.

RM:  What’s the most bizarre thing that’s ever happened to you on set while filming a movie or a television show? How did you react to the situation at the time; and if it happened today do you think you’d react in the same manner?

JA:  Working with Al Pacino on the HBO Jack Kevorkian biopic “You Don’t Know Jack” was bizarre. Bizarre in the sense of working with an icon you’ve been watching your whole life. I play the Detroit journalist Jack Lessenberry and have a couple of scenes where it’s just me and the great man one on one. He was lovely, a mensch but he’s Pacino so even the most mundane moment takes on an epic feel. One day on set I said hi and he gave me the finger gun as a hello back. And I thought, holy shit, Al Pacino just gave me the finger gun. I still get star struck, but I try to play it cool.

RM:  What types of books do you generally read? What was the last piece of literature that you finished reading; and what did you like most about that set of passages?

JA:  I devour histories and biographies, particularly showbiz related. Last book finished was Charles Brackett’s diaries, “It’s the Pictures That Got Small.” Brackett was Billy Wilder’s co-writer for about a decade until “Sunset Blvd” in ’49. Fascinating look at the day-to-day life of a working Hollywood screenwriter during the golden age. Very relatable, lots of references to driving and lunch.

RM:  What’s up next for you in the remainder of 2015 and beyond? Anything big in the works that we should know about?

JA:  Season 6 of the Venture Brothers premieres February 7, 2016. Season Two of Difficult People starts shooting in December. I’m starting up my podcast again. And we’ll see what else comes up.

James on IMDB:  http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0881672/

James on Twitter:  https://twitter.com/JamesUrbaniak

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