Stephan James is having a bit of a year. At just 24, he starred in a pair of Golden Globes nominees in Barry Jenkins’ follow-up to “Moonlight,” “If Beale Street Could Talk,” and Sam Esmail’s adaptation of the hit podcast “Homecoming.” James also earned a nomination for his work on that series. The Canadian-born actor talks about working with Julia Roberts and whether he needs to readjust his goals now that he’s surely met a few of them so early in his career.
How did you get the news?
My manager and publicist woke me up a little after 5 a.m., and they were screaming at me, and I was trying to make out what they were saying. I finally was able to put two and two together. It’s incredibly exciting. I have not been able to go back to sleep; that’s been tough.
What was the collaboration like with Sam Esmail and Julia Roberts?
I loved it. We really formed a great team. I knew that Julia and I had to really spend a lot of time together. I was just grateful to how she handled the whole situation. She’s obviously an incredible actress, but she’s also an incredible person. I couldn’t have imagined sharing those moments with anybody else.
Was it hard to focus on bringing it when you’re across from Julia Roberts? What’s your favorite movie of hers?
I don’t think you ever really get over that. You kind of just go with it. She’s been such a joy to be able to work with and to have as a friend.
My favorite movie is “Erin Brockovich,” for sure.
You and Julia actually improvised a lot together, right?
Yeah, we would improvise quite a bit. We already had so much dialogue in the show. Sam often would just encourage us to play around and feed off each other’s energy. It was a lot of fun. She was the perfect actress for that.
Are you better at caring for fish than her character?
I think I’m a little bit better! I grew up with fish, so I better be. I have a special place in my heart for them.
How did hearing the podcast and being introduced to this world through only voices influence your approach?
I think that they were two different things. The podcast is just such an amazing dystopian universe. It really engages you in a way that’s special. You can only imagine, visually, where you could take it. For me, Sam Esmail exceeded my expectations. Really, it’s an incredible thing for me to be a part of. I think the podcast and TV show are two different things but they complement each other very well.
Let’s switch to ‘If Beale Street Could Talk.’ What was it like taking a story from James Baldwin and translating it for the screen with Barry [Jenkins]?
That was everything. Immediately that’s what drew me to the project. James Baldwin and Barry Jenkins — knowing what that could look like, what that could feel like. It’s the first time Baldwin had been adapted in the English-language feature film. We just knew we had a special opportunity to bring his words to light in a way that they’ve never been able to be. To me, it’s meant the world to be a part of this whole journey.
Tell me about your Beale Street.
My Beale Street was Bay Mills Boulevard — the boulevard I grew up on. It’s a place where we had a lot of dreams, and we had a lot of love and family. Beale Street’s about where you find love and where you find people to lean on. And so that was it for me.
Does it give you a sense of confidence to be in a TV show and a movie that people are talking about? Do you feel like you need to change your dreams because they’re materializing?
I’ve always dreamed pretty big. I don’t think anything is going to change as far as that goes. Incredibly exciting time to have the opportunity to do things I care about, to do things I am excited about. I’m really just having fun.