From Edmond to Hollywood: James Austin Kerr

How does the shy kid from high school become a successful Hollywood actor? If you ask James Austin Kerr, the answer is “good relationships and hard work.” The Edmond North graduate now lives in L.A., and you’ve probably seen his work.

Best known for “Queen of the South”, “Awake”, “13 Minutes” and “Dauntless: The Battle of Midway”, James’ 14-year career also includes household hits like “NCIS”, “The Mentalist”, “Criminal Minds” and a number of Hallmark Christmas movies.

With credits this long, some might assume James was a natural in front of crowds and cameras. But the actor says this was not always the case.
“I was just kind of a shy kid,” James said. “I was good at drums and skateboarding, and part of the ‘outcast scene’. I was introverted and terrified when it came to giving presentations or being in front of people.”

His first performance experience was as the drummer for a band. “As the drummer, you kind of have a shield in front of you – a barrier between you and the audience.”

By his senior year in high school, James decided to face his fear of the spotlight. “I just decided I was tired of feeling this way,” James explained. “I figured there was no better way to gain confidence than to be thrown into the lion’s den of acting, where everyone is focused on you, and people are counting on you to deliver.”

So, James joined an acting class in Norman. Taught by Oklahoma actor, casting director, producer and director, Chris Freihofer, James identifies the class as a turning point both personally and professionally.

“Without knowing a soul, I packed up my car and headed west.” With his “Hansen brother hair” and “California look”, James was quickly picked up by a modeling agency. He began shooting ads for brands like Target, TJ Maxx and various shoe companies while also taking acting classes.

“I knew finding success in acting would take trial, error and hard work,” James said. “But it took me a long time before I realized I had the talent for it.” Around five years into his pursuit, it clicked.

“Casting directors began to ask for me, and even if I didn’t get the role, I was gaining the experience and reading for roles and auditioning.” Through this process, James realized it was “sometimes less about talent and more about choices.”

“I began to look at each word as an opportunity,” James said. “It’s important to figure out what works on camera, and little things like a wink, nod or exaggeration of a word can make a scene unique and signature to you.”

Though intended for aspiring actors, James’ advice may actually apply to all: “The most unique thing you have to offer is yourself,” he said. “Use the particular gifts you have. That’s what is going to stand out.”

As his acting career continues to unfold, James hopes it will include writing, producing and the creative freedom that comes along with them.

In the meantime, Edmondites may keep an eye out for the actor at his favorite local spots like Kickingbird Cinema (where his love of film began) and Around the Corner Restaurant (where his love of the pancake sandwich began). Follow James on Instagram @jaustinkerr.

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