‘Potato Dreams of America’: James Grixoni on the power of film

Provided by October Coast Publicity
**Contains spoilers if you haven’t seen the movie**

Off the back of his success in “Twin Peaks,” James Grixoni shines in Potato Dreams of America, playing younger version of Potato’s American stepfather John, who, despite his  conservative and religious beliefs, struggles to accept his own queerness. 

Wes Hurley’s autobiographical dark comedy tells the story of a gay boy growing up in the collapsing USSR, his courageous mail-order bride mother and their adventurous escape to America. Full of unexpected twists, the film is an immigrant’s take on the American Dream and the power of cinema, proving that life is often stranger than fiction.

Written and directed by Wes Hurley, Potato Dreams of America also stars Lea DeLaria (Orange Is the New Black), Dan Lauria (The Spirit), Jonathan Bennett (Mean Girls), Marya Sea Kaminski (Waxie Moon in Fallen Jewel), Sera Barbieri (Three Busy Debras), Tyler Bocock, Hersh Powers, Sophia Mitri Schloss (Big Shot), Cynthia Lauren Tewes, Lady Rizo, and Alycia Delmore (Take Me). Potato Dreams of America was produced by Mischa Jakupcak and Hurley, and executive produced by Eliza Flug, Sarah Crowe, and Mel Eslyn.

**James is also set to star as Hemmings, a young gambler struggling to pay off his debt, in the crime film Buckle Up. The film, shooting around the globe this summer, is directed by Ross Fall and Chris Newman. Additional cast includes Daryl Hannah, Michael Madsen, Chuck Liddell and Joanna Pacula.** 

Check out my interview with James!

How would you describe this movie to people? 

James Grixoni: There’s multiple ways I can describe it. But first and foremost, I believe it’s a story about a young gay Russian kid and his mother, who wanted to escape the persecution of Russia and that’s where the mail order bride situation comes in. They come to Seattle, and his new father has his own secrets. I find that this movie is about people running away from their secrets or their true selves, only to eventually have to accept who they are.

Provided by October Coast Publicity
Another theme that I saw was using movies to kind of help find yourself and create your identity. Can you relate to that at all?

James Grixoni: Me personally, of course. I’m just like everybody else; movies have an immense influence, they’re an escape, they’re like peering into the souls of other people… movies most definitely were kind of my escape. I feel like at a young age I may have watched movies I shouldn’t have like Taxi Driver or Goodfellas, but they fit into the character that I am today, James. And they’ve also kind of given me the ability to step into the shoes of other people to gain an understanding that we’re all unified as people and then on a deeper, deeper level than that I also believe that every person, especially today’s culture, are heavily influenced by the media. I also study psychology in school right now. And it’s pretty amazing what media can do to the actual nervous system and the psychology of a person. I feel like this film especially, it’s got a light heartedness. Films were very influential to Wes (Hurley). The films he was watching as a kid were very influential to his self identity, and I think that is an amazing way to watch films, just to discover yourself.

Where are you studying psychology?

James Grixoni: I’m in Seattle (Washington). So currently, I’m just in a community college with an intention of attending the University of Washington. I’m 33 and I spent my whole youth acting and I’ve had amazing opportunities, and as media has kind of changed in the age of COVID, I wanted to gain a further understanding of what it’s actually doing to people, the polarization, just kind of the the effects that films have. When I got invited to the premiere for Potato (Dreams of America), I’m sitting there watching this film, and visually it looked kind of like an homage to Wes Anderson. The colors are so saturated and the cinematography is so beautiful. It was definitely a breath of fresh air watching this film that really isn’t just about love and that was kind of a nice contrast compared to what’s kind of being fed to us on a mass level right now.

Provided by October Coast Publicity
This film is semi-autobiographical for West Hurley, can you explain that a little bit?

James Grixoni: The film is his life. It just starts out with him as a kid, and then his growth and teens and then to where he’s at today. I think the way he specifically wrote it, was to kind of give it a sense of fantasy, kind of more of his internal dialogue sort of personified with gay Jesus… It’s basically his life, but then there’s a sense of fantasy thrown into it. Like the part that takes place in Russia, was a horrible situation, especially for a gay individual, and I love the way that he kind of spun it to be a dark comedy. The movie’s pretty funny. I’m just remembering the scene with him and his grandmother. His relationship with his grandma was just so funny, but if it was shot in a different way, or written in a different way, it could be very heavy. So, I’m glad he has that comedic bone to him when he writes

Knowing that this was his life, did that change how you approached coming onto the project and then playing young John?

James Grixoni: Well, the way that that happened was, I was in one of his favorite TV shows, “Twin Peaks,” and I was in the third season so I’m still decently young. He called me to have lunch one day, and he sat there with me and he asked me to play this role as a trans woman. And normally, I’m an individual that plays young gangsters and drug dealers, I think I played an angel once when pretty young; and I looked at that with a sense of sensitivity and almost resistance. I didn’t want to be any kind of representative for that part because I’m a heterosexual white male and I was talking to Wes about it and Wes was like, ‘Man, I’m adamant about you playing this because your eyes and your face are very expressive, you express a lot. You emote a lot.’ And by the end, I was like,’ okay, I’ll take this on, but I want to study as much as I can. I want to show up with respect, humility, and an open mind.’ And I was lucky enough to take the trans woman out to dinner one night and pick her mind. And that was probably one of the most intense experiences I’ve ever had taking somebody out. It was definitely an eye opener. You know, I kind of walked away from that as James as a human being thinking, ‘If you think your life is hard, someone has had it exceptionally more difficult.’ And when I got into that role, I treated it as such. I treated it like an individual who is afraid to express their authenticity, an individual who has to self medicate and has to hide. It was definitely an eye opening experience and I learned a lot as an actor and as a human being.

What do you hope that people take away from watching this movie?

James Grixoni: Yeah. The only ones I know that come into my mind is, ‘it’s all right. It’s gonna be okay. You are beautiful. You are perfect as you are.’ And that comes at the end of the film when Potato finally gets to just be a sexual being and just gets to be himself. That really inspired me and I would say the thing I mostly took away was to just be yourself. Be yourself.

Is there anything else that you want to say or that you want people to know about Potato Dreams of America?

James Grixoni: I would love for y’all to see it. And, real quick, the next project I’m working on is, I’m going to London to shoot a gangster film. And that’s gonna be a really cool time too. It’s really amazing how my career’s panning out and I’m really grateful. And if Wes reads this, thank you so much for just having me be a part of the film.

Provided by October Coast Publicity
Potato Dreams of America will be released on VOD and Digital on February 22 from Dark Star Pictures.