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EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW: Liam James on ‘Deadly Class’ and playing Billy Bennett

Also, Liam tells us what his favorite episode was to shoot!

At twenty-two years old, Canadian actor Liam James has already had quite the start to his career. He had a breakout role in the 2013 film The Way Way Back, also starring Sam Rockwell and Toni Collette, and starred in television shows like The Killing and Psych. 

Now he stars in SYFY’s Deadly Class, the series adapted from the critically-acclaimed graphic novels of the same name by Rick Remender. Liam James stars as Billy Bennett, a punk rock class-clown who quickly befriends the new kid Marcus at King’s Dominion, a school for the deadly arts.

While other students are Legacies, or born into crime families and organizations that have a history with the school, Billy is a Rat, a student who doesn’t have any affiliation with a gang, and is therefore at the bottom of the food chain. Billy’s father is a corrupt cop, and he’s been sent there to train to work for the mob. The new kid Marcus, an orphan rumored to have killed a bunch of people at a boy’s home, is also a Rat, and they bond over their shared suffering.

This week we got to talk to Liam about what drew him to the part, the strengths and weaknesses of his character, and what might be coming up for Billy.

This interview contains spoilers for this season of Deadly Class. Tread carefully.

PURE FANDOM: First, how did you get the role?

Liam James: I first got the audition for Deadly Class, and I had no idea what it was and then I read it. And as you know probably, because you’ve read the comics, it kind of read like the comics do, the way they make you feel, even without the pictures. Which is, you know, such a testament to Rick’s writing. And just the excitement it gives you when you read it. So I was kind of left with this adrenaline buzz afterwards.

And so without even really thinking, I started really working on the audition and and giving it 100% of my attention and I just wouldn’t quit. I kept reading it over and over again and wanted to give my best take on it. I threw myself on tape for it, so I didn’t see them in person, but then afterwards I sent it to my agents and they were like, “Liam, you never send us this stuff this fast. Like, what’s wrong?” You know, basically saying we usually have to hound you for this stuff. And then they go, “Well, they’re actually here in town, so we want you to go meet with them in a couple days.”

So I again started to just really think about it, and that’s when I went out and bought the comic book and I was like, okay, well this is something else. This is really cool. And they’re trying to say something here. So I just worked really hard and I got to go in and meet everybody, and I guess they liked me enough to ask me to come on board.

Image: Katie Yu/SYFY

What would you say Billy’s strengths and weaknesses are?

I think that his strengths are in his ability to meet life with kind of a humor and a lightness that helps to deflect a lot of the craziness that’s going on around him. I think maybe one of his weaknesses is trying to, you know, a lot of times he gives people slack where maybe he shouldn’t, and should maybe try to deal with things a lot sooner.

He lets things go because he doesn’t really want to see people get hurt. And then that ends up making him kind of turn into a bit of a fervor. When he all of a sudden has to deal with something, he goes into a bit of a frenzy and deals with everything very quickly.

Do any of your past roles influence your performance as Billy?

I think they all do to a certain degree. I think they have helped me to really evolve and you see where you were at that time. The character is usually trying to do their best job with what they have at the moment. And I think you find out what works well for that character when you’re playing it, and then you evolve and you get better. It’s very interesting. I think Billy is, it’s hard to relate him to my other characters because Billy is so, so, different, as you know, to a lot of the other characters.

I think he kind of carries that same kind of softer side that you maybe just don’t get to see as much, and so you might see some of that in the character sometimes. But I think for the most part, Billy was a real departure for me, in every way, shape, and form. I literally just shaved off all my hair and dyed it green, and I think that that’s kind of a metaphor for what Billy stands for. This is something very different, this character.

Image: SYFY

In episode four, that last scene is pretty amazing, where Billy tells Marcus about his dad. How did you prepare for that?

I prepared for it by locking myself in my room and reading what I was going to have to say over and over and over and over again. Because I wanted to make sure that I was going to be able to say what I need to be able to say, because oftentimes in television things have to move quite quickly. So I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to get where I wanted to go emotionally if I didn’t have all of the words right there.

Which is interesting, because it goes kind of back to what I was saying with my audition scene. They were both monologues that I got to do. And those were the two monologues that I’ve had in the show so far. It was really just about working hard and wanting to do justice to the part because like yourself, I’m a big fan of the comics, and when you love something, you want it to get its validation as well. So I just tried to work really hard and do my best job again.

How will his father’s murder affect him going forward? 

I mean, yeah, we’ll have to see what happens. That’s a tough question to answer, and I’ve been asked it a couple times and I never have a great answer. But I think that’s a tough one. I don’t know how it’s going to affect him, I really don’t.

Image: Image Comics

Last question, what was your favorite scene or episode to shoot?

Oh, well that’s a tough question. I think for me, episode five was really, really special to shoot because we got all of the students outside the school, and you got to see Billy for the first time, kind of in his element, which is on the road, just being more free and a little bit more in control of his destiny, without being picked on the whole time at school. And you got to just see this transformation where you’re like, wow, this is a real person, not just a cartoon character.

So that was really cool and everybody did such a great job. Watching all my castmates pretend to be on acid was, it was trippy, literally. You never really knew what to think and what to do, and to just play in that world where everybody is just doing these things. We’re very lucky that they really strive for improvisation and creativity inside the show. So a lot of the look and things, are me genuinely being surprised by the whole world that was put in inside of there.

Season one of Deadly Class airs on SYFY, continuing tonight, Wednesday, at 10PM!

(Featured Image: Katie Yu/SYFY)

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Devon Forward

Devon is an artist, writer, and current student of film/television development. She loves anything science fiction or fantasy, and her favorite show is Charmed, which kick-started her obsession with powerful yet imperfect female characters. You can usually find her somewhere analyzing a tv show or reading a good book. On Twitter @dev4wrd

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