Rochester Magazine: So tell me where you are right now.
James Freetly: I am in Africa.
RM: Can you be more specific or is that not allowed?
JF: I can tell you the country. I’m in Niger, yes.
RM: What are you doing there?
JF: I’m working with the military as a military contractor. We’re helping to fight terrorism in the area of the northwest of Africa.
RM: Does this go back to your computer background? You’re an actor. How did you end up in this field?
JF: I’ve always done computer work. It was my primary job besides the acting stuff. Three years ago, a friend asked me to help out with computer work for a contractor that is assigned to a base here in Niger. It’s crazy. But I’ve enjoyed it because of the purpose it has for me. I can’t get at all the specifics, but definitely, it affects people’s lives and that’s been great.
RM: How often are you in Niger?
JF: The way it’s supposed to work is two months at home and two months here. But with COVID and all the travel difficulties, it’s turning out to be more like 45 days at home and three to four months out here. So most of the time, I’m here, yeah.
RM: When you say fighting terrorism, is that more behind the scenes in covert ways? Or are you openly exposed to shootings?
JF: I don’t carry a gun here. But yes, it’s around me. But most of our missions, we are involved in surveillance. That’s my part of the gig. And so we interface with U.S. troops to help them do their job and to help find these kind of people.
RM: Do you have a fake mustache in your pocket right now?
JF: Yeah, exactly. You’ve definitely got to watch your back. It’s a different way to live for sure.
RM: There probably aren’t a lot of acting gigs out there.
JF: That’s true. It’s funny—I still have my agents and I still will do a little work but I’m home so little. I have written a lot. I’ve actually written two screenplays and one pilot. So that’s been a lot of fun to do. And so my hope is when I get back to it I’ll have something to maybe produce or sell.
RM: And your home base is still North Carolina, correct?
JF: Yes. My kids—Travis and Emma—were born in Madison (Wis.), but they pretty much grew up in North Carolina.
RM: How long into your North Carolina stint before you were saying “y’all” and calling pop “Coke”?
JF: I don’t call all pop Coke, but I do call it soda, which is weird. It’s funny because most people here think I don’t have an accent. And I go home [to Rochester] and most people out there think I have an accent. And so it’s basically, between the Minnesota and the Southern it’s combined into a kind of neutralized accent.
RM: So you didn’t do any acting at Mayo High? No school plays?
JF: Not at all. I played baseball in high school and then in college at Mankato State. Baseball was definitely my thing. I didn’t get into acting until very late in life. I started doing triathlons. I got in better shape. I got introduced to an agent and I started doing some modeling. And then, in part of that process, did one thing that was a little bit of acting and I loved it. And I had no idea what I was doing. I was in my early 40s.
RM: And then to get a role like you did in “Trouble with the Curve,” with Amy Adams, had to be just kind of falling into a number of really fortuitous situations.
JF: Yes. I picked up a new agent and immediately that agency said, “Hey, we got an audition for you.” And it happened to be that audition. I’d never been in an audition of that size before. It went really well. And so I was very fortunate. And then of course, being on set was by far, even today, of all the times I’ve been on set, that set was the most fun to be on. I will give Miss Adams—Amy Adams—a lot of credit. That scene I had with her was everything for me, and for her it was a small piece of what she was doing. And she responded in kind with everything you’d want.
RM: All right, so you said this terrorism IT stint has a shelf life. Is that what the writing is for? Is that what the acting coaching is for? Is your next step to pick up those two things?
JF: I actually got a third one in there because acting and writing is so inconsistent—you can’t rely on it. My buddy Burgess and myself, we’re opening a coffee shop/bar in Winston Salem.
RM: Oh, very cool.
JF: Yeah. We’re excited about it. It’s a beautiful stucco building—an old pharmacy—that sits in the heart of West End. We’re calling it The Remedy. So I’ll add that to my list of jobs, with the acting coaching and everything else.
RM: Okay. Speaking of acting, I’m going to do a line from one of my favorite movies, and you can tell me my take on it.
JF: Okay. Will do.
RM: It’s from “Old Yeller.” So I’m playing the dad talking to the kid after the dog has died.
JF: Context, good.
RM [in terribly dramatic Southern accent]: “Can’t waste the good parts frettin’ about the bad. That makes it all bad.”
JF: Good. Hey, lovely. I mean, I’ve not seen that movie, but ...
RM: But you could really feel the emotion? It really struck a chord with you?
JF: Yes, definitely. I could feel all of it. Through this Zoom call.
RM: So you’re saying there’s a chance for me?
JF: Hey, I will be honest with you. Anybody who wants to act, and I mean this sincerely, if they’re willing to work at it, I think it’s a learned skill. Take it from me.