The origins of “James Dean: A Beautiful Soul,” an interview with Cody Mullins

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Cody Mullins has worked as an actor, director, writer, and producer. He filled all four roles in the video Kelly and the upcoming feature film James Dean: A Beautiful Soul. As an actor he has appeared in those projects as well as the short film The Lost Samurai and the television series in development, Absolutely A List. In his latest effort James Dean: A Beautiful Soul he attempts to bring to light some of the deeper, often ignored, traits and qualities of the man often viewed through fame alone.

 

Since there isn’t a lot known about you, can you tell us a little about yourself? Where are you from? What were you like as a child?

I am originally from the east coast. I came out here to California in 2009…San Diego to be exact. I came out here to make a change in my life as I saw my life steadily going nowhere fast in my hometown. I didn’t come out here for acting or to be in the industry originally. I just wanted to move to a place where I could find peace of mind and start over. It was a five day vacation with me and my mother and on the second day I told her I wanted to stay. She was very surprised but she helped me to find an apartment, car and a job before she would fly back. We were very lucky to find all three in such a short span of time. She has always supported me in anything I have I wanted to do in life. I mean, be it that it is not too crazy or dangerous. She is a wonderful lady.

As a child I had a pretty good imagination as I was never one to have a lot of friends. I would pretend to be characters from movies when I would play outside. The first character that I pretended to be which, looking back really shaped my personality at a young age was “John Connor” from the film “Terminator 2”. I was only seven years old when I watched the film for the first time.  Seeing this older boy riding around Los Angeles on a motorcycle doing whatever he wanted just seemed to click with me. I was fascinated by him. I was fascinated by the way he wore his clothes, the way he had his hair, the way he spoke and that he was independent in his mind set at such a young age. He was what I wanted to be. I dressed like him, wore my hair like him and tried to speak just like him. I annoyed my mother to get me a motorcycle even though I didn’t know how to ride one. I just had to have one because he had one and he looked damn cool riding one. She spoke with my father and he bought me a little 50cc orange motorcycle that I learned to ride and loved it. That is what got me hooked on motorcycles. I still own a motorcycle to this day. Not to mention the song that is in the film entitled, “You Could Be Mine” by the band Guns N’ Roses is still my favorite song. The strange part about it, now looking back was I pretended to be that kid for two years. It is not like I would go outside and pretend to be him and then come back inside and be Cody again. I was him for 24 months straight. I guess I was always an actor and I didn’t know it.

When did you first take an interest in acting?

Oh boy, you opened Pandora’s Box with this question. The first time I really wondered what acting would be like was when I was in college and I saw that they offered a class called “Acting 101”. I thought that maybe it would be fun to act out scenes and to interact with other people in that sense. The class turned out to be a pantomime class which I hated. I didn’t like it and no one in the class would talk to me. I wanted human vocal interaction. I wanted to act out angry and upsetting scenes. I wanted to vent. I had a deep urge to spit out my emotions for some reason. I wanted to try to be good at acting but this class was not what I wanted. I found it boring at the time although, now being a little more experienced as an actor I have respect for all forms of acting, art and even pantomime.

At the beginning of the semester the teacher told us, “If you miss every class and come in on the last day and pass your final, which will be a pantomime exercise then you pass for the whole semester.” I thought that was great. I didn’t want to be in a class where no one would pair up with me to do the exercises or talk to me so I skipped every class and would go skateboarding. I was sponsored for skateboarding at the time by a company in Colorado called “Krown Skateboards”. I had just signed a contract to be on what they called “flow” for the company so I really wanted to work my way up and become a professional. It was the only thing I was good at. I wasn’t good with people or books so I figured skateboarding was my only option.

So needless to say the last day came and it was time for me to take my pantomime final exam. As soon as I entered the room everyone was wondering who I was because I had not been there in months. Anyway, the only props we were allowed to use were a chair and a foot stool. All the students were miming out all these “nice” things for their final, like baking cakes, cookies, washing their clothes etc. I found it once again boring to say the least. Then my name came up, “Cody Mullins you are up.” As I walked down to the stage area I kept asking myself in my head, What the hell am I going to do? I don’t even want to be here.  Ah hell, might as well try something and attempt to pass the class at least. Then I looked up at these people. These people that clearly didn’t really like me and I just felt an urge to scare them.  I mimed out a business man who came home from work and as he was watching television he received a call that was upsetting to him. I really tried to show in my face that I was clearly upset. I wanted to show the transition from happy to upset but in a very subtle realistic way. Then he reached down and got his briefcase and took out a gun (a mimed gun mind you lol) and commited suicide. I was the only person that no one clapped for. They were all looking at me with this surprised look on their faces. I liked the fact that I had their attention at that moment. I think everyone thought I was crazy. I just wanted to jazz things up a bit that’s all. Once I got back to my seat this really big muscular guy who was seated behind me put his huge hand on my shoulder and I got nervous. He leaned up to me and whispered, “Hey that was awesome man.” I told him thank you. I passed the class.

I didn’t really try out acting again until I moved to San Diego. I had lost my sponsorship with “Krown skateboards” due to my location in my hometown and the fact that the skate shop had closed down. That was how I was suppose to get my free boards and shirts was to go to the skate shop and pick them up there. They informed me that there was not a skate shop within 500 miles of my hometown that carried Krown skateboard merchandise and they could not mail company product to my house as only professionals have that privilege. So I was sponsored no more.

I figured being in California I could try to get sponsored again but age and old injuries flaring up just really got me thinking that maybe this was just not going to happen. Skating helped to take away some of my tension but skateboarding is a quiet art form. So when a person does a particular maneuver one does not talk. It took away the tension in my teenage years and early twenties but it wasn’t really doing it anymore and I didn’t know why. I needed to vocalize something. My emotions were erupting out of me for some reason. I couldn’t make the tension in my chest go away anymore so I thought maybe acting might make it go away. I went to an acting school in San Diego and begged the teacher to let me act there because I was broke and couldn’t afford the price of his classes. He let me attend the classes for free as long as I would advertise for his acting school by taking fliers to coffee shops and leaving them for people to obtain. I appreciated that so much and still do.

There came a day where we had to act out monologues and just like in the pantomime class all the people were acting out all these sweet, nice monologues. I wanted something with an edge. I picked a monologue from the movie American Psycho. My monologue was very gruesome in detail. I embraced the piece and acted it out without any restraints and just like in the pantomime class no one clapped and they all looked shocked once it was over. I had gotten into the part so much that my hands were shaking and at long last….the tension… was gone from my chest. I walked back to my seat and I whispered to myself as I looked at my hands, “I am going to have to do this for the rest of my life.” I was hooked on acting. It was my emotional outlet and I have been addicted to it ever since. I moved to Los Angeles a few months later to pursue acting as a career.

Who are some of your influences?

I would have to say that my biggest influence would be my mother. She is such a positive individual, a good person and so very wise. My other influence would have to be James Dean. I have had the opportunity to meet several celebrities here in the Los Angeles area and I have to say that I have been very disappointed with every single one of them. Every celebrity that I have met has been very arrogant and egotistical and those are traits that I am not fond of at all. When I read up on James Dean he seemed so real and so genuine. I kept saying to myself, “Man, I bet that guy would have been wonderful to meet and get to know.” I have to say that he is the only celebrity that I would have loved to of met in person.

What do you love most about the art of acting?

I love the beauty of it and the emotional therapy it provides. There is really nothing like it and it is always changing. Every scene is different and ever project is different. It never gets boring. It allows my soul to scream and as an actor you have the ability to touch people’s hearts. I only wish I would have found acting at an earlier age because it is amazing.

As someone who has worked as an actor, director, writer, and producer do you enjoy one more than the other or do you love them all equally? Which do you find the most challenging?

I enjoy acting the most. I don’t really like the mechanics or paperwork of movie making. I like being in front of the lens. I like the feeling of venting and doing a scene well. When I am not in front of the camera I feel displaced and I want to be in front of it. I knew I needed to take great care with this film. I wanted to make sure it was done right so I decided to take on the roles of actor, writer, director and producer. It took me a long time to get use to jumping from actor to director. That is exhausting mentally. Trying to find these moments in Dean’s life, get them in chronological order, and then put them in screenplay format was a bit tiresome but it was worth it. I feel that if I ever decide to quit acting or directing etc writing will be what I fall into as my mind is constantly creating stories. If I can’t film them I’ll try to publish them at least.

How did you first become interested in James Dean?

He started to spark my interest when I read that he had insomnia. He would walk around New York City all hours of the night. He would talk to homeless people and people from all walks of life and pick up their gestures and movements for his acting. I thought to myself, what a better way to be realistic than to study real people in real situations. So I started to read up more about him and my fascination grew and grew as time went on. I have never come across a person as fascinating as he is, or as interesting.

What led you to create the feature film James Dean: A Beautiful Soul?

In one of the biographies I have on Dean I read that he befriended a young girl who was an amputee. She had lost her leg in a motorcycle accident. One evening he asked if he could see her leg. She said he could so he knelt down, very gently ran his fingers over the scars. He then kissed the end of her leg that had been severed and looked up at her and said, “Your leg is beautiful. You are beautiful and very special. Don’t ever let anyone make you feel like you are any less than beautiful.” That moment brought me to tears and I said out loud right at that moment. “This guy has a beautiful soul.” That is where I got the film title. I knew right then at that very moment that he was my favorite not only for being a brilliant actor but for being an amazing human being. This world needs more people like that.

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Do you find it a little intimidating to be portraying the greatest actor of all time? What is the hardest thing to convey while trying to do that?

Yes it is intimidating. It is very scary in fact. There have been many times I have asked myself, “What am I doing? Can I even do this? Do I have what it takes to do the guy justice?” For the longest time I wondered who I might want to cast as him before we started filming. The more I thought about it the more I felt that I could relate to some of these moments that I am trying to convey on film. They are moments that I, as an actor can relate to and maybe other actors can relate to them as well. I felt that it was best for me to interpret Dean and not try to imitate him. I would read conversations in biographies about him and see how he would respond in the dialogue and think to myself, Yeah, I would respond the same way if I was in the same situation.  I felt that I related to him and to these moments so much that I just had to do it myself.  I just felt in my gut that I had to do it this way.

Why do you think society as a whole seems to focus more on the fame aspect of his life as opposed to the deeply personal qualities he possessed as a man?

People are just drawn to fame for some reason. It is so strange. When I came across these moments in his life I kept asking myself, “Why hasn’t anyone filmed these moments? There is so much more to this guy than what people know.” People are just drawn to the success side of things I guess. When I read about how he struggled and how much he cared about his art form I would say to myself, “This guy deserves his place in history. He earned it.”

What do you personally admire most about Jimmy as a person? And as an actor?

He took his acting very seriously and that is something to be respected. He had traits that I admire and respect in a man. He cared about people and didn’t like to see others mistreated. He was an individual and had a real sense of himself. He had the mentality of someone so much older than 24. He was very much wise beyond his years.

Are you nervous about how this project will be received?

Oh yes, especially when the project is about a man who is so iconic and who is sadly not here to defend himself. I am very nervous. The last thing I would ever want to do is disrespect him. I want this film to not only show that even an icon struggles but to celebrate just how much of a wonderful person he was. I hope it turns out well. I hope people enjoy it.

Do you have any interesting stories from the set that you’d like to share with our readers?

Yeah one incident comes to mind. I have always wanted to meet someone who knew James Dean so I could talk with them about him. I really wanted to meet Frank Mazolla. He was a real gang member that Nick Ray brought onto the set of Rebel without a Cause to help to make the film more realistic. He was friends with Dean and helped to coach the knife fight scene.

We were doing a behind the scenes moment between Dennis Hopper and Dean in the film. This scene took place while filming Rebel without a Cause so it was one of the scenes where I had to wear the red jacket. A friend of mine handed me a newspaper clipping that said that Frank Mazola’s funeral was that very day. I found it strange because there are only two scenes in the film where I had to wear the Rebel without a Cause wardrobe and that was one of the days. It seemed a little eerie to me.

What do you hope the viewer takes away from viewing this particular work?

I hope that the viewer realizes that even someone as iconic as James Dean struggled to achieve his dream. He was an amazing person with a beautiful soul and a lot of natural born talent. He went through the tough times and succeeded. I hope that not only actors relate to this film but everyone.

When can the public expect to see it finished?

The release date was December but we still have a few scenes left to film. I decided to add two more scenes to the film so it will be a little longer. We have the editing process so I hope no later than Feb.

Is there anything you’d like to say in closing?

My ultimate goal in creating this film is to show moments in Dean’s life that people are unaware of and that I find admirable. James Dean is my favorite actor and over the last couple of years I have felt compelled to make this film. I hope others will appreciate the life he lived and take something of value from it. I appreciate all the people who helped make this film a reality. I would also like to say that if there are any young people who want to get into acting, read up on James Dean and watch his films. I have learned a lot from him and I think other people can learn from him as well.

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