Bear this in mind
James Wolk will have to share the spotlight with some wild animals if he wants to become a star, writes Colin Vickery
Will James Wolk finally be a major star? That’s the question on Hollywood is asking as the 300year-old gets set to front big budget adventure series Zoo.
Back in 2010, Wolk looked the actor-most-likely when Foxox gave him the lead as Texan conon man Bob Allen in 2010’s Lone Star series. The show was axed d after two episodes.
A bitterly disappointed Wolk olk had to settle for smaller TV roles after that. But with Zoo he has another shot at glory.
Zoo is based on the James Patterson bestseller and taps into the paranoia that fuels The Planet of the Apes franchise — animals rising to attack humans.
Wolk plays renegade American zoologist Jackson Oz, who runs safaris in Africa with best friend Abraham (Nonso Anozie). The pair stumbles on a camp site and, later, a safari group ravaged by deadly animal attacks.
In Los Angeles, other onslaughts are taking place and journalist Jamie Campbell (Kristen Connolly) reckons she knows why.
Campbell starts investigating whether a multinational company’s new animal feed could have set off a chain reaction.
It quickly becomes apparent that these aren’t isolated incidents. Vicious animal attacks are happening all over the world.
“It is a fresh, kind of strange, interesting idea that I hadn’t seen on TV before,” Wolk says.
“Jackson is a great character to play because he is kind of flawed. Jackson comes from a very dark past. His father was a zoology professor who had theories about animals turning on humans (but) his father had a lot of mental illness and that split the family.
“Jackson and his mum left the USA for Africa, while Jackson was still in his early teens to get away from all that.
“After the safari attack, Jackson realises his father is undeniably right about what animals will do if certain things happen to them. Jackson becomes the centre of this global event.
“I did a lot of reading and had conversations with as many people as I could who had been to Africa and on safari.
“I also prepared physically. I am a runner and I love to stay in shape but I tweaked that up a bit because in my mind Jackson would be someone who is very fit.”
The first episode of Zoo has numerous scenes of Jackson being stalked by large packs of lions. Very few CGI special effects are used. Wolk admits that made him nervous.
“There are so many different kinds of animals on this show, from lions and leopards to bears and wolves,” Wolk says.
“I have a dog at home and I’m a dog lover so when we had the bigger cats coming on the show I get quite apprehensive.
“From an acting perspective, it required a lot of patience because some of the animals, even the ferocious ones, got tired and didn’t want to work.
“The show is incredibly entertaining but I do think there is an environmental message, too.
“It will make people think. TheTh animals are the heroes in a weirdwe kind of way.”
Wolk admits that the Lone StarSta experience stung for a wh while. The show had a topflig flight cast including David Ke Keith, Jon Voight and Andie Mc McDowell. It was widely pra praised by critics, but didn’t con connect with audiences.
“To have it skyrocket and the then go away was really trying at t the time, but it was also a goo good lesson about the entertainment industry,” Wolk said recently.
“You have to keep going, and keep rolling with the punches.”
Wolk got his hopes up the following year when he signed to appear in political drama Georgetown but that show never made it past the pilot.
In 2012, he had guest parts in Shameless, Happy Endings and Political Animals, opposite Sigourney Weaver, but still nothing really meaty.
Wolk finally snagged a role of substance when he played mysterious advertising executive Bob Benson in 12 episodes of Mad Men.
Benson generated lots of buzz among fans with theories that he was an FBI agent or a corporate spy.
Another big opportunity came when Wolk played advertising copywriter Zach Cropper opposite Robin Williams in 2013’s The Crazy Ones.
Unfortunately, The Crazy Ones only lasted one season. Williams died three months after CBS announced it wouldn’t renew the show.
Later, Wolk described Williams as “a comedic genius” and “one of the greatest actors we had”.
“Working with him for nine months straight was … an amazing experience,” Wolk said recently. “One of the lessons I learned from him was (about) existing in the moment. How much it helps to dig deep and stay present.”
Wolk is philosophical about the path his career has taken ever since the disappointment of Lone Star.
His career has turned out to be so much richer and more varied after that early blow.
“When I sit back and think of my career up until now I’m grateful (for the way it turned out) because I love acting and it has been a joy to do that in the company of people like Robin and Sigourney,” Wolk says.
“For me, it has been the perfect path up until this point — to watch and to learn (from the best). I’m proud to have such a wide range of work.”
“The animals are
the heroes in a weird kind of way”
JAMES WOLK ON THE REAL STARS
ZOO, CHANNEL 10, THURSDAY, 8.30PM
James Wolk and, below, Kristen Connolly and Billy Burke in Zoo.