When you get to terrorize both the Flash and the pop culture-loving audience, you know you’re doing something right. Troy James, the actor with the self-described “freakishly bendy body,” is having himself quite the year, from giving Simon Cowell the heebie-jeebies on “America’s Got Talent” to playing the nightmare-inducing Pretzel Jack in the latest season of “Channel Zero” for Syfy. Most recently, the flexible thespian made his debut as the villainous Rag Doll on “The Flash,” a new favorite of ours in the hero’s small screen (and always expanding) rogues’ gallery.
We recently sat down with James to discuss the best type of typecasting, going full sociopath, and why his real-life superpower is jumping to the worst possible conclusion in a single bound.
TrunkSpace: You have a self-described “freakishly bendy body.” With that said, has there ever been a role more suited for you than that of the villainous Rag Doll?
James: Usually actors loathe being typecast, but honestly, I don’t mind getting to play fantastical creatures that flip and twist about. That I get to be a supervillain with awesome red hair, a terrifying mask, and get a one-up on Barry? Well, that is just icing on the cake.
TrunkSpace: Rag Doll has been a fan-favorite villain for DC Comics readers for a long time, but he is not one of those iconic characters that comes with a lot of on-screen baggage. In many ways, he’s a clean slate for TV viewers. Did that allow you to take some ownership in him and make him your own?
James: Bittersweet. On one hand, I didn’t have to match anyone else’s portrayal of Rag Doll, so I didn’t have to worry about being endlessly judged against them. However, he still is an established villain. It meant I had some serious shoes to fill if I wanted to do him justice.
When I was doing my research, I came across Peter Merkel Sr. and his son, Peter Merkel Jr., who also donned the Rag Doll mantle. I took pieces of both when playing the character. Sr was born naturally flexible without augmentation like me, but Jr is an utter psychopath with family issues. Looking back, I wish I played up Rag Doll’s degenerate nature a bit more, but it was my first time on a show as big as “The Flash;” I was on my best behavior! (Laughter)
TrunkSpace: You’ve played a lot of creepy, scuttling characters over the course of your career. From a performance standpoint, what did Rag Doll allow you to do on-camera that you have yet to tackle before?
James: Talk! Rag Doll speaks. I’m used to playing silent, creepy-crawlies that let their bodies do the talking. This time I get to taunt our heroes while I do it, and you really get a sense of how little empathy Rag Doll possesses. What a sociopath! I relished every minute of it. (Should I be troubled that I slipped into character so easily?)
TrunkSpace: “The Flash” has a huge, loyal following. What does it feel like to join that world and get to interact with the fandom firsthand?
James: Holy cow. When it was revealed that I was to play a role on “The Flash,” I think my social media following increased by 33 percent overnight. People really like this show! I love how excited everyone is, and I am too, but I’m also super anxious about it. I think I’ll calm down after the episode airs.
TrunkSpace: Were you a comic book fan growing up? What would 10-year-old Troy think of his future self getting to play in the superhero sandbox?
James: 10-year old Troy? Try Troy, circa-2017! I still can’t believe this is real. I loved video games growing up, and I have a few comic book collectors in my family. (Great for research and character notes!) This is pretty much a dream come true. If I could go back in time and tell myself this would be happening now, I wouldn’t believe myself.
TrunkSpace: We recently read an interview with “Channel Zero” creator Nick Antosca where he said he specifically created the part of Pretzel Jack in the latest season, “The Dream Door,” for you. As an actor, what does that mean to you and your career when people are creating characters specifically for you?
James: It’s a good thing! It means I’m doing something right… right? What an honor. (Thanks Nick for taking a chance on me!) Then again, my real-life superpower is being able to leap to the worst conclusion in a single bound. I used to worry about my non-traditional acting background. Now I’m hearing people say, “Pretzel Jack” and “iconic horror monster” in the same sentence. What a thrill!
TrunkSpace: Pretzel Jack is straight up nightmare material. There’s got to be something kind of cool about being able to bring out these visceral reactions from people as a performer – the kind that stay with you long after you turn off the television?
James: Guilty pleasure meets natural instinct. I love making people nervous and squirmy. Perhaps I honed the skill when I used to work at a theme park during the Halloween season; it was literally my job to scare people. Grant Gustin teased me about how fiendish I was when the cameras were rolling, only to revert to happy, non-scary Troy immediately after cutting.
TrunkSpace: This seems like a very exciting run for you, with both “The Flash” and “Channel Zero” hitting at the same time. This truly is a business where work seems to beget work. With that being said, is the hope that high profile projects like these two will open more doors as larger audiences see what you’re capable of?
James: And that’s just the stuff I’m allowed to talk about! Next year the real action happens when a few of the feature films we just wrapped hit the big screen. It’s funny. I’ve been catapulted into this life of an actor/performer, and I’ve spent more time than I’d care to admit wondering how this all happened. The dust is settling though, and no one is telling me to go back to Human Resources. I’m doing alright!
TrunkSpace: You appeared on “America’s Got Talent” earlier this year and made Simon Cowell very uncomfortable, which is not something many people can stake claim to. For you personally, what was the best thing that came of your “America’s Got Talent” experience?
James: People know my name! I travel. I go out to eat. I walk around… and people recognize me! I get stopped on the street. I didn’t make it to the finals of AGT, but I guess I made an impression. When I got to set on “The Flash,” everyone in production had already seen my audition and they were very excited to see what I would do. Just this past week, for Halloween, I got to perform in Orlando, New York City and New Jersey. Can you imagine that I almost didn’t audition for AGT because I was so nervous?
TrunkSpace: What’s next for you beyond “The Flash?” Where should we keep our eyes peeled for future Troy James sightings?
James: I wish I could give you the good stuff. A horror film is coming out next year where I really push my movement to the limits. The downside to playing scary creatures in movies is that you can never tell anyone without ruining the reveal. But you haven’t seen the last of me yet. I promise.
“The Flash” airs Tuesdays on The CW.
“Channel Zero: The Dream Door” is available on Syfy.