'Homecoming' Star Stephan James Breaks Down Walter's Evolution in Season 2

'Homecoming' star Stephan James talks returning to the Amazon Prime series, working with Janelle Monae, and much more.

Stephan James in 'Homecoming'

Image via Amazon Prime

Stephan James in 'Homecoming'

After the way he closed the opus that was Season 4 of Mr. Robot, I was intrigued about where Sam Esmail would be taking Season 2 of Homecoming, given that there was no more story from the original podcast to base Season 2 on. With Esmail allowing Kyle Patrick Alvarez direct every episode of this season (similar to what he did for Season 1), and Janelle Monáe joining the cast for an intriguing tale throughout this peculiar world, it was bound to be something to at least dive into.

The seven-episode season is easy to devour, especially once Stephan James—who received a Best Actor Golden Globe nomination for his work in Season 1 of Homecoming opposite Julia Roberts. It's another feather in James' cap; aside from the nom, he starred in Oscar Award-winning Barry Jenkins' second feature, 2018's If Beale Street Could Talk, as well as going head-to-head against Chadwick Boseman in 2019's 21 Bridges. He's for sure putting in work, and recently took the time out to share with us a little bit about the process behind rejoining his Globe-nominated role. James also talks working with Monáe, the reaction to his portrayal of war veteran Walter, and more. 

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How are you feeling about the new season of a Homecoming?
I dug it man, but I sound a little bias saying it.

It's a different situation. I mean, it's a show that's based on a podcast, and you've got Sam [Esmail, creator of Mr. Robot] is kind of like helming the whole thing. Now [for Season 2], you're in an arena where there's no blueprint and Sam's around, but he's not the day to day guy. Can you talk about the differences in production and approaching this situation?
I think [it was] just a change of pace, obviously, a change of tone, Kyle Patrick Alvarez does an incredible job of taking on the show from Sam Esmail who built this dystopian universe so brilliantly in that first season. I think that could have been daunting for any director to come on and to take on a show like that. But Kyle, to me, just did a fantastic job in making this season feel like its own thing. It has a life of its own if you will, its own feeling, its own tone. And then yeah, when we have new cast members too, I mean it's no longer Julia Roberts, we got Janelle Monáe and we got Chris Cooper and Joan Cusack. So it's been incredible.

The only characters returning from Season 1 are yourself and Hong [Chau, who plays Audry Temple on the series]. Was that daunting for you to kind of go into any kind of leadership role or anything?
No. I've never really thought of it as daunting. I've never really thought of that until you just said it, to be honest. Honestly, it's been one of the greatest joys of my career so far to be a part of this show. There's incredible people behind this show, and I think that that starts really with the writers and Eli and Micah who just make everything so easy for me. They sat [me] down and they explained to me what the second season was going to look like. I just thought it was really, really cool because in that first season, Walter was sort of naive, a little aloof, and he was being used, let's call it what it is. He was being taken advantage of. And there was something about that, that rubbed me the wrong way, selfishly. And I knew that if I had the chance to come back and I'd want some sort of redemption and I think he gets that in the second season.

How much of Season 2 were you privy to of the story continuing when you wrapped up Season 1?
I had no clue. We did Season 1. I didn't even know if I was going to be a part of Season 2 or not. I only signed a deal for one year. So, you know, once I had signed on for Season 2, I was given all the scripts.

Your character Walter deals a lot with PTSD and the veteran's experience coming outside of having to go overseas and go into war. Did you talk with a lot of veterans, a lot of people that have seen combat and crafting your portrayal of Walter?
Definitely. To me, it was important to be able to speak to young veterans much like Walter was because I find far too often, those soldiers get written off as statistics and people forget to realize that they're human beings, they got families, they may have wives and kids; certainly parents and friends that they want to get back to. And so it just really meant a lot to me that I was bringing an authentic voice to Walter because he deserves it. And those soldiers deserve it.

Have you heard a lot from the soldiers in the veteran community after people who've seen your portrayal?
I've definitely bumped into veterans who have sort of expressed their feelings about the first season and how much it meant to them to just see their story be told in that way, to know that people were thinking about them. That they were asking these questions and having these discussions. So I don't think it's lost on that community at all.

Take us back to when you heard that you had gotten that Golden Globe nomination.
It was crazy. I don't know where I was, but I was in a hotel room somewhere. And the hotel room phone started ringing really, really early in the morning and it was my manager and my publicist just basically freaking out. And I was like, what's going on, why is everyone yelling? But they had called me to let me know that I had been nominated and the show had been nominated. And honestly, just like a surreal sort of experience as an artist, you never really do things for the purposes of awards. Like that's not your motivation for why you go to work every day, but an incredible thing to be recognized, for sure.

Stephan James and Janelle Monae in 'Homecoming'

During this season of Homecoming, you're working with Janelle Monáe. Talk about what it's like working with her. She's been doing some really good work on the low, and I think it's dope to see her be able to show off her skills in a role like this in a show where she's essentially the central character.
You took the words out of my mouth. I was a big fan, obviously of Janelle, her music, but some of the acting work that I seen her do, Moonlight, things like that. And I just knew that she was special and I felt as soon as I heard about her casting, I was geeked out because I just felt like this show was going to give her an opportunity to really flex those acting muscles and to put her talents on full display. So I think people are going to be pleasantly surprised with the job she did.

Are there any particular episodes or moments for Walter this season that you think people should look out for?
I mean, people should watch the whole show. I don't think I come in until episode three or four or something like that. People should definitely just watch the whole show. As far as Walter, for all the Walter fans, Walter is in for a ride this season. It's a totally different version of Walter, a more whole, more dogged, determined Welter. I like to say in that first season he was sort of a passenger in the car and now he's driving, you know?

Definitely. Are there any other things post Homecoming Season 2 that you have lined up?
The first up for me is going to be this film called the Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace. Directed by Chiwetel Ejiofor.

What's your quarantined situation like? Are you doing a lot of script reading?
A hundred percent, a ton, a ton of reading, even some writing, like low key I might be a screenwriter. I don't know. Who knows? So, just trying to stay creative. You can't do too much in the physical nowadays, but keep mentally active.

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