HOW does a 24-year-old from a small rural town in Ireland get a role in a $100 million US TV show? Well, where there’s a “Will” there’s a way.
James Berkery appears in the recurring role of Jeremy Knightstand in TNT Drama’s new 10-part series, created by Craig Pearce, Baz Luhrmann’s long-time collaborator on films such as Moulin Rouge, The Great Gatsby and Romeo And Juliet.
The series is directed by Shekhar Kapur, who also directed Oscar award-winning movie, Elizabeth, and follows the glamorous life of a young William Shakespeare, played by Laurie Davidson with a dream to change the world with his words.
The series begins by introducing us to a young Shakespeare in his 20s leaving behind his small town life to chase a career in the big smoke which is something James can relate to.
James’s character in the 10-part series, Jeremy Knightstand, is one of the original players of ‘The Theatre’ which was historically owned by James Burbage played by our very own Colm Meany.
James is a London-based talented performer, choreographer, and actor who grew up as an only child in Nenagh in Co. Tipperary before making the move to Cork in 2009 to pursue his passion for dance.
He initially trained under Alan Foley founder of Cork City Ballet and former director of Coláiste Stiofán Naofa’s Dance course.
James recalls the move to Cork as a little daunting at the time: “Moving from the small town of Nenagh to Cork was challenging as I was so young. It was almost on par with the later transition from Cork to London.
“I was challenged and inspired by everything that was going on. At CSN, we were based in The Firkin Crane under the direction of Alan. It was a really amazing course because I got the opportunity to perform for two seasons with Cork City Ballet and we got to work with professionals from all over the world while there.
“In our second year of training we got the opportunity to travel to St. Petersburg in Russia for the International ballet festival so it was just a really incredible time of learning and we were really encouraged in a very individual way by Alan.”
James’s father is a musician so naturally he grew up around music and performance and from a young age he performed in amateur dramatics and shows in his home town.
“Back then of course it was unusual as I was the only male dancer in the area. I think if it wasn’t for my parents who have supported me throughout everything, I may not have kept going with it.
“Alan Foley is known for nurturing male dancers so my training with him really pushed me to find myself among other male dancers. I soon realised I could do this and make a living out of it.”
Fresh from his training with Alan, James was offered a full scholarship to study Drama and Dance at London’s prestigious Bird College of Dance, Music and Theatre performance. He then went on to attain BA (1st class honours) in Professional Practice (Arts) from Middlesex University with a focus on the choreographic process.
His extensive training informed his role as Jeremy Knightstand in Will allowing him to combine his foray into acting with his skills as a dancer and choreographer on screen.
“During my training at Bird College I studied singing, dancing and acting so in my role as Jeremy Nightstand, I perform in the company in various plays as many different characters.
“All these shows include sword fighting, movement and dance so it drew very much on my experience in dance and physicality.
“I had done commercials before as many actors do but this was my first ever venture into acting for TV.”
James credits the team he worked with on Will and says that everyone he worked with was at the top of their game.
“The main thing for me was working with this amazing team. Golden globe nominated Shekhar Kapur directed Will. He was a hugely inspiring person to work with and his vision brought an entirely new perspective to Elizabethan London.
“We were working with acclaimed choreographer Francesca Jaynes who I really admire, so that was great.
“We had Jenny Shircore who won an Oscar for her make-up design for the same director on Elizabeth. I just felt so privileged to be involved.”
James describes Will as a modern take on a period drama.
“Will is a period drama set in the 16 th century but it is a very modern telling of the tale. The story is told as if theatre was the ‘rock and roll’ of the time.
“It has a very contemporary punk rock look and it’s a fresh take on a period drama. It’s a very accessible way of telling a story. I play a minor role but it is a recurring one.”
James is as busy as ever and combines his acting and dancing skills once again in his role as a dancer on a British independent feature film Been So Long which is due for release in 2018. He is also currently workshopping a new theatrical musical based on The Hunchback of Notre Dame which he hopes will go into production next year.
To find out more about James, follow him on Twitter and Instagram @jamesberkery
The final episode of Will on TNT Drama airs tonight, September 4, 11pm.