Go Away With … James Wilder

James Wilder 450By Jae-Ha Kim
Tribune Content Agency
March 24, 2015

James Wilder may best be known for his acting skills (“Melrose Place,” “Murder One,” “Equal Justice”), but he’s also an architect and designer whose work was featured on HGTV.

Wilder designs leather jackets.

And he can still juggle things on fire, like he used to when he was a teenage street performer.

Wilder, 46, costars in the upcoming indie thriller “3 Holes and a Smoking Gun.”

Fans may follow him on Facebook.

Q. Did your family travel a lot when you were growing up?

A. I’ve been traveling basically since birth. My mother’s Parisian and my father’s Italian. He was born in the U.S. to an immigrant family. My mother was an immigrant from Paris who didn’t speak English. I’m an only child. She said that San Francisco is as close to a European city as possible, so we went that way. And I was always encouraged to explore and travel from a very young age.

Q. What was your first solo trip?

A. When I was 14, I had a contract to play the Moulin Rouge in Paris.

Q. You went to France by yourself?

A. (Laughs) In Europe, kids were left to their own designs. It was a much safer place than in the U.S. My father was a little apprehensive about letting me go, but my mother was fine with it. She said he’s already going through an accelerated learning institution and he’s bilingual. Let him travel and make money. It was great.

Q. How did this come about?

A. I started as a street performer when I was 11 in Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco. I performed there with Shields and Yarnell, Harry Anderson and A. Whitney Brown. I was the little one. They were maybe in their 20s. They were very nice to me. If you had a good one-man show, you were treated a bit like a special thing in San Francisco. These one-man shows were like live shows on stage that you have to audition for. Each time I performed, there was an audience of maybe 300 people sitting on benches. During that time, I was spotted by an international booking agent, and that’s how I got the Moulin Rouge offer.

Q. What was it like living in Europe as a young teen?

A. It was great. I was living by myself. No one tried to steal from me. (Laughs) In Vienna, I got a front-page review in the Kurier that revealed that I was only 14. I needed to be 16 to have a work permit, so I had to leave, so I went to Paris to work at the Moulin Rouge. From there, I went with my show to Sun City, South Africa, when I was 17, and spent three months there.

Q. Have you ever traveled to a place where you didn’t want to leave?

A. Yes, many times. Five years ago, I went to Kiev in Ukraine for a two-week trip. I came back seven months later. I loved it there. I traveled and went between Kiev, Odessa, Moscow, St. Petersburg and saw the art, “The Threepenny Opera,” Ibsen plays. … Even though I didn’t understand the language, I was fascinated with their stage. Very few people spoke English in Kiev. What was interesting was that Ukraine is considered a third-world country, but they have an epicenter much like Paris and Buenos Aires. All the money gets poured there, because it’s the destination part of the country.

Q. What have you learned from your travels?

A. That it helps you open your eyes to the world. For a country that’s so involved in world affairs, the U.S. has such a low percentage of people who travel outside of their country.

Q. How much research do you do?

A. I like to learn about a place once I get there. When I told a friend I was going to go to Buenos Aires, he said, “Let me show you a virtual tour of it,” but I said no. I wanted to see it in real time. Just let me enjoy the experience myself, without thinking, “Oh, it doesn’t look as nice as the pictures.”

Q. Are you an adventurous eater?

A. I totally try to immerse myself and make myself as local as I possibly can. I never want to be perceived as an American tourist. We’re hated everywhere. People love the American green, but not us so much, because too many of us want to do things our way even when on foreign soil. I really loved the street food in Thailand. It was the best.

Q. Do you enjoy cold- or warm-weather destinations?

A. I love it all! I love Chicago. I know it’s cold, but when you live in the land of oranges and avocados, it’s so refreshing to come to cities that actually get seasons. I enjoy the different temperatures.

© 2015 JAE-HA KIM


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