Nearly 14 years after starting on Y&R, Bryton James is well aware of the differences between him and his soap alter, Devon Hamilton. “Devon doesn’t think before he acts as much as I do when it comes to falling in love, taking advice from people who care about him and just being logical about situations,” observes the actor. “He seems to like a bit of chaos in his life, while I don’t.”
James’s early life was a lot more stable than Devon’s, thanks to the close connection he had to his father, Eric, and mother, Bette, who made it a priority to create a loving home for their son. “My parents put so much into my upbringing,” he shares. “My mother was with me every single day of my life; I never had babysitters. My father was a musician at a recording studio, working for Kenny Rogers for three years. Then, two months before I was born, Kenny decided to move that studio from L.A. to Nashville and my parents had to make a hard decision. Even though I’m very happy my dad didn’t choose to take us to Nashville, he ended up losing that job and started doing landscaping, installing alarms, painting houses; he probably did every job under the sun. My parents instilled in me that what you do doesn’t define the kind of person you are, it’s how you treat the world around you.”
Family Guy: James with his parents, Eric and Bette. “My father passed in 2015” he says. “He was an amazing and talented man.”
He admits that portraying a troubled teen caught in the flawed foster care system didn’t come easily at first. “The biggest challenge was remembering to not be myself,” James recalls. “Not welcoming, not friendly, not approachable, and it was so different than how I really was. Y&R was my first acting job in quite a while, but I’m glad that I was able to eventually evolve it into more of myself.”
Happily, he found an on-set mentor right off the bat. “From day one it’s always been Kristoff St. John [Neil],” the actor attests. “He made it so comfortable for me to be a part of the show. He not only welcomed me, but helped me think that I could be just as good as everybody else. He really made me feel like an equal and has been a true father figure to me.”
James credits Victoria Rowell (ex-Drucilla), who inspired the foster care storyline, with providing invaluable guidance, as well. “Vicky would share stories with me about what happened to her, since a lot of things that Devon went through were taken from real accounts of her life,” he explains. “Such as when Neil and Dru forgot Devon’s birthday. Vicky told me about when she was with a new foster family and was so hurt and devastated when this family didn’t know something that personal about her. I really got to understand how someone who grew up with no family, which was so different from my background, could have a chip on their shoulder. Having her share that with me was a tremendous help.”
Show business wasn’t new to James when he joined the soap. At age 2, he was appearing in TV commercials, and a few years later, in 1990, he landed the part of adorable moppet Richie on the hit sitcom FAMILY MATTERS. “The first person I really gravitated to was Darius McCrary, who played Malcolm for a short time on Y&R [2009-11],” James smiles. “He was like the brother I never had and he really looked out for me on set. Telma Hopkins, who played my mother, was fantastic, but really the whole cast embraced me. Last September, we had a reunion [for an Entertainment Weekly cast photo shoot] and it was crazy because I haven’t seen these people for a long time but it still felt so familiar and comfortable. It was something I hadn’t felt in a really long time and it was a good feeling to have.”
It MATTERS: James made his acting debut on FAMILY MATTERS, shown here in 1991 with Reginald VelJohnson.
The series could make a comeback, à la ROSEANNE and WILL & GRACE. “There have been talks with different networks about doing a reboot,” James reveals. “I believe we’ve gotten everyone to commit to being a part of it, including Jaleel [White, Urkel], so as of now we’re just kind of waiting to see what happens. I think there’s definitely an audience for it and it’d be the first African-American sitcom to be rebooted. I’m all for it.” James says he has no plans to leave Y&R should the show happen, noting, “I feel when actors are able to do both it really helps both projects that they’re working on.”
As the actor looks back on his Genoa City run, he is grateful for the opportunites the soap has provided. “I never really thought that far into the future when I first got on the show,” James sums up. “I’ve been extremely fortunate that they value me enough to keep me around. As long as the show wants me and the fans appreciate my character, I will always want to be a part of it.”
JUST THE FACTS
Birthday: August 17
Here & There: Born in Lakewood, CA, but grew up in nearby Fullerton.
From The Start: “For the first year and a half of my life, I was all about rock music, because that’s what my dad played. He listened to Led Zeppelin and The Song Remains The Same was my babysitter! He could put that on in the living room and I’d watch it all day on repeat with my little guitar in my hand.”
Relationship Status: Divorced and single.
Focal Point: James is in no rush to have kids. “My parents were very dedicated and if I were to have a kid, that’s how I would want to be, but my focus is on my career and things that I really want to achieve. Also, I can honestly say I’m selfish with my time.”
For The Gold: Winner of a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Younger Actor in 2007
Tats All Folks: “I have quite a few tattoos! I think I’ve lost count by now.”
Making Music: “There’s such a different energy about performing live because you get to reach and affect people so instantly. I enjoyed that quite a bit. [As a teen] I ended up meeting this German manager who brought my family to Europe, and I spent some time there doing my music.”
Sound Off! “I enjoyed that quite a bit,” James reflects of his singing career.
DID YOU KNOW?
James knew sign language before he joined Y&R, which came in handy for the storyline when Devon became deaf.
He’s the godfather to Christel Khalil’s (Lily) son, Michael. “She’s my best friend and to know that somebody appreciates my input and influence means everything.”
Then And Now: James and Christel Khalil (Lily) first met in 1996 when she appeared on FAMILY MATTERS. “It was actually the eighth episode in the eighth season in an episode called ‘The Karate Kid’. ” he shares. “If anybody wants to check it out, it’s on Hulu.”
“I met Michael Jackson when I was 5 or 6 years old,” recalls James of his initial contact with the King of Pop. “I was asked along with Raven-Symoné to present him with an NAACP award. Afterward, I met him backstage and he invited my family to the Neverland Ranch.” Not surprisingly, James was wowed by Jackson’s fantastical compound. “I spent almost every birthday at Neverland,” James marvels. “You go inside the main house and there’s every beverage you can imagine. Anything you want, at any time you want it, they’ll make it for you. There was a full movie theater with candy, popcorn and an ice cream machine, and you’d go behind the counter and just grab whatever you wanted! It was amazing. Every month, Michael would have busloads of kids who were ill and suffering from diseases, who couldn’t go to amusement parks or even go outside and just be normal kids, to the ranch for a good time. In the movie theater, he even had setups in the back of the theater where there were full rooms with beds for hospital care if kids needed that.” The friendship broadened James’s music tastes. “I learned from Michael that if you really want to reach people with music, you have to study it all, from classical to country to rap — everything!” James chuckles. “He said to imagine opening your arms and trying to hug as many people as possible. He was a perfectionist; he told me that for one album he would write over 70 songs and record them in their entirety, then choose 11 of the best ones to make the album. He was just an amazing mentor and friend to me and my family. He stayed in touch with me until he passed away.”
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