- The Washington Times - Friday, March 22, 2002

James LeGros, who co-stars with Maura Tierney in "Scotland, Pa." a morbidly facetious update of Shakespeare's "Macbeth" that opens today at the Cineplex Odeon Inner Circle says Halifax, Nova Scotia, was a perfect, and economical, place to shoot the film.

"We were lucky in the locations that we found around Halifax," Mr. LeGros says. "It was a beautiful place, and it also provided us with a lot of things that would have been too expensive otherwise. I work in this business where certain people persuade themselves that if they can save a nickel, they'll do it."

Shooting in Canada is "really a function of the exchange rate," he says, but in most cases (excluding, he says, "Scotland, Pa.") it brings with it its own problems.

"You need to compensate for telltale buildings: frame out the Museum of Vancouver and things like that. They start to add up. All the small parts are played by Canadians because producers don't want to pay travel expenses for an entire cast. Then the Canadian accents are such a giveaway in one scene after another that you have to loop all the dialogue later with Americans. There's a whole variety of obstacles."

An independent feature written and directed by Miss Tierney's actor-husband, Billy Morrissette, who is making his debut behind the camera, "Scotland" envisions the infamous Scottish usurpers as a menacing couple of early 1970s vintage named Joe and Pat McBeth. They covet the restaurant owned by their boss, the ill-fated Norm Duncan, played by James Rebhorn.

Mr. LeGros began his professional acting career almost 20 years ago, when he accepted an apprenticeship with the South Coast Repertory Company in Southern California. He never returned to undergraduate studies at the University of California at Irvine.

He says the bottom-line considerations of moviemaking intrigue him because of producing and directing aspirations that remain to be realized.

"I've worked on the other side a little bit," Mr. LeGros says. "As time goes by, your interests broaden, and you can offer more. I would like to have the opportunity to direct, but you have to be practical. I don't think there's anyone willing to pay me a good deal of money to take 18 months off in order to make good on a directing commitment. I couldn't make financial sense of it at this point. Maybe down the line. But it's still a serious long-term goal, and I'm working on adapting something right now."

• • •

Mr. LeGros was born on April 27, 1962, in Minneapolis. He was an only child. His late father worked as a salesman and real estate agent. His mother was a schoolteacher.

The family moved to Redlands, Calif., when James was still young, and he became active in high school drama. Restless to jump into the profession, he left college at 19 and began auditioning systematically in 1983.

He got his first part in a TV movie that featured Danny DeVito, "The Ratings Game." One of his earliest feature roles was as "Goon No. 2" in the 1987 science-fiction fantasy "Batteries Not Included." That was something of a banner year: He also had roles in "Fatal Beauty," "Near Dark" and "Real Men."

He began to acquire a measure of both credibility and familiarity within prestige independent circles after appearing in "Drugstore Cowboy," "The Rapture," "Singles," "Where the Day Takes You," "My New Gun," "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle," "Safe," "Destiny Turns on the Radio," "Living in Oblivion" and "Infinity."

He enjoyed a cult triumph when cast as a troublesome actor named Chad Palomino in Tom DiCillo's "Oblivion," a comedy about the trials and tribulations of a New York City movie director during his first day of shooting. The role had been written for Brad Pitt. Mr. LeGros proved an exceptionally amusing replacement.

His resume also has included numerous TV appearances. A handful of roles stretched out for a season or more, notably with "E.R." in 1998 and "Ally McBeal" last year, when he played a lovelorn attorney named Mark Albert. Major titles have sometimes recruited Mr. LeGros for minor roles, from a member of Tom Cruise's platoon in "Born on the Fourth of July" to a federal agent in "Enemy of the State."

His own estimate of his stellar potential after two decades in the business is wonderfully disarming: "I think the fame train sort of left my station a long time ago."

Maybe and maybe not, but he elaborates on this theme enjoyably.

"It became clear that if I wanted to get somewhere," Mr. LeGros says, "I would have to get down and walk to the next stop rather than wait very long for the next train. But that's OK. There hasn't been a key professional break, just a lot of little steps. A few dry spells here and there, but over 19 years, gosh, I've generally worked.

"That's not easy to do when you're basically a free-lancer. It's tough. You've gotta keep your feet moving all the time. I've noticed that the harder I've worked, the luckier I've been. That's a good thing to find out about yourself. If the fame train had stopped, I would probably have found a way to ruin the trip.

"I'm just happy to have survived the 1980s. You know, if you're the kind of person who's a little insecure and fame comes too quickly, you can fall into that trap of feeling entitled. I have been very effectively disabused of feeling entitled to an acting career. No one has ever called up saying, 'Hey, Jim, get out here. They need more actors in New York City. More actors in Los Angeles.'"

Mr. LeGros says there is no didactic aim to "Scotland, Pa."

"For our purposes," he reflects, "Shakespeare was really more of a platform. There was no kind of virtuous intent about bringing Shakespeare to the masses. If it does have that effect in a roundabout, unexpected way, that would be a great thing.

"I think Shakespeare would be pleased with what we're trying to do. It's true to the impudent, rejuvenating spirit in which his plays first found an audience. But really, Billy just thought it was funny that all these 'Macs' were in the cast of characters. Obviously, there's a lightheaded emphasis to what we're doing. The idea of playing around with 'Macbeth' occurred to him long ago. By the time an opportunity was available, he had built up enough momentum to knock off a first draft in short order."

Mr. LeGros liked the idea of trusting a novice and playing opposite Miss Tierney. It didn't concern him that the leading lady (who plays nurse Abby Lockheart on the TV blockbuster "E.R.") was also married to the director.

"To my mind," he recalls, "Billy was suitably unhinged at the prospect of making his first film. I drew great comfort from his nervousness. That's a great sign with first-time directors. Your teeth should be shaking a little when faced with that situation, especially when you know that the shooting schedule will be short and the financial resources slim. You have to be adaptable, and he was. He rolled with every punch."

The Tierney factor reflected both professional admiration and a renewed friendship.

"I had enjoyed Maura's work for a long time and thought she'd be perfect in this part," Mr. LeGros explains. "I've been able to work with a lot of talented actresses, and I put Maura up in the same category with Julianne Moore and Catherine Keener. With all of them, it was as if we'd been working together for ages. Each new day seemed spontaneous and rewarding.

"The conditions with Billy and Maura actually favored our becoming good friends, since Maura and my wife were friends years ago, when they were starting off as actresses. They lost touch what with one thing and another. Now all four of us are close. Last week, when I was shooting an episode of 'Friends' on the Warner lot in Burbank, I could go over to the 'E.R.' set between duties and hang out some with Maura and Paul McCrane and Anthony Edwards, friends from earlier days."

Mrs. LeGros is the former Kristina Loggia, daughter of actor Robert Loggia. She had drifted away from an acting career before she and Mr. LeGros became parents. They have two young sons. The family resides in Jackson Hole, Wyo. In recent years, Mr. LeGros has split time between there and Los Angeles. When work obligations keep him in the movie capital for weeks at a time, he lives in Manhattan Beach.

There is no acting heritage in his own family, to the best of his knowledge.

"I'm a solo act," Mr. LeGros quips. "My folks did very well by me, but you wouldn't describe them as giants of their professions. I'm carrying on that family tradition."

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