After being belittled, almost murdered, and whored out by his husband (and my favorite monster) Cyrus Beene, James has taken a stand ... maybe. (It’s Scandal; James could very well be planning to renew their vows next week.) But for now? A mighty first pump to you, James, for making it at least appear like you’ve found your backbone. Vulture caught up with actor Dan Bucatinsky to talk about his toxic on-screen marriage — which he still hopes will be reconciled — James’s new job at the White House, and why he totally gets Olivia’s jam fixation.
James wants revenge! I did a slow clap at the end of the episode. How about you?
Well … I didn’t. He has a long, very complicated relationship with Cyrus. I’m a gay dad in real life, I’m a writer in real life. There are so many similarities between me and James. I think underneath it all there is, or has been, a deep love that James has for Cyrus. I mean, he also suffers a little bit from battered wife syndrome —
A little bit?
Ya think? Reaching a point now where James is really fed up and is willing to push things for what he believes in is satisfying. Of course it is. It is satisfying when I step outside of it. When I’m in it, there is a deep, deep sadness. In the episode before the break, when James is confronting Cyrus for having pimped him out, and he says, “You’ve ruined everything. You broke our family,” I felt so deeply when we did it that I think the residual of that is gonna take me awhile to get over. I’ve certainly noticed that fans continue to want them together. They often stop me in the street and say, “Just leave things alone. Leave Cyrus alone. Don’t poke the bear.” Just really rooting for this couple and this family and not necessarily … [laughs] for justice to be served.
Yikes, those people are insane.
It’s really interesting. This show really forces people to question every belief system they ever had. That’s true for us as actors, too.
When I got the script where James was going to choose to sleep with Daniel Douglas because he realizes he’s been set up by Cyrus, there are a million things he could have done. What I realized was what James needed to do in his heart of hearts was get back at Cyrus in a deep, deep way. It was hard. I really had to find in my soul how I was gonna play the guy who makes this choice. It’s a long way of saying I’m prepared for this thing that happens at the end of the episode to be a real moment for James to decide where he draws the line.
Our commenters were very upset when James asked to be named press secretary, like he was willing to compromise.
Is it a compromise to leverage what happened to get a very big bump? Listen, for a beat reporter to wind up as press secretary of the White House? That doesn’t sound like a compromise to me. I know they mean. They mean that it’s a compromise for him to stay with Cyrus, but who knows? I do honestly think that everything that came after James said, “You broke our family,” was him thinking and planning. Like, I’m gonna use my position for my career, and to try and get to the truth. Because everything he knew to be true in his life doesn’t seem to be true.
Did you know in advance that James wasn’t actually letting Cyrus off the hook?
I didn’t. When you read a scene like that on this show, you don’t even know that you will become press secretary. But the writers followed through because then there I was on the other side of the podium, which was surreal after having been inside that press room as a journalist for a whole season. I thought, This is so weird. I’m a Democrat liberal journalist gay guy, married to a Republican conservative chief of staff and I’m now working for that administration as their press secretary during a re-election campaign.
Since you brought it up, James is a Democrat working for a Republican administration. Is he gonna be bumping heads with Fitz and Mellie?
We’ll see. He’s on the team, and that means you’ve gotta say, "I’m willing to forgo my personal liberal points of view." You know, it’s something that happens on a television show.
Ha, right. And as you mentioned, James really has had a meteoric rise, from press corps to TV reporter to White House Press Secretary.
Yeah. And I think he’s more calculated than anyone gives him credit for. Think about it: Why did he fall in love with this guy? He was attracted to Cyrus, but he was also attracted to Cyrus’ power, right? Hillary Clinton loves Bill Clinton, but I think she knew exactly who she was marrying. The very things that make Cyrus a dangerous, volatile character are the things James I think finds incredibly appealing. It’s so fraught! And who knows? Maybe we’ll fall back in love with each other. I’ve always loved the idea of having another kid.
I loved that Cyrus had a picture of baby Ella on his desk. Do you think he even remembers who that is?
You would think that he would have to look at that digital frame every once in awhile to remember, Oh yeah, I have a daughter. But I think it’s also lovely because it reminds everyone — Cyrus, James, the audience — that they’re a family worth protecting and fighting for. Maybe I’m too much of a softie because I’m a dad in real life, and deep down I’m really hoping it all works out. I’m so in love with the actress who plays little Ella. The day we shot those pictures for that digital frame, I was just in heaven. We went down the slide together. I thought it was just a really fun day, me, Cryus and our kid in the park.
Any idea why James and Cyrus sleep on a twin bed?
It is crazy, crazy small. It’s not a twin, but it’s like two twins pushed together. Maybe smaller. The two of us in that bed together are always like, Wow, this is tiny for two people in Washington who could probably afford a king. I don’t know why that was chosen, or why it might be useful for production, but they forgot to measure us. And it certainly makes for closeness.
Just curious: Have you tried Vermont jam?
I have. I’ve had the real thing. I did a play years ago right on the border of New York and Vermont and we’d always go apple-picking there on the weekends, and we’d always get Vermont jam. The minute Olivia mentioned Vermont jam in the story, I was like, Oh honey, I know exactly what you’re talking about. I romanticize it as much as Olivia does. Making it is another thing — I’ve actually made jam and it’s not easy. I made fig jam. A good jam, boy, there’s just something romantic and homey and aspirational about it. I get the dream to go and leave the fast life and make jam, I really do.