Baltimore County-born James Ransone, a local favorite since playing the tragically flawed (and ultimately murderous) Ziggy Sobotka on “The Wire,” returns to the movies with this weekend’s release of “It Chapter Two.” A native of Phoenix and 1997 graduate of Towson’s Carver Center for Arts & Technology, Ransone lived in New York while commuting back to Baltimore for “The Wire,” a gig that helped launch a career now approaching 70 film and TV credits,
We caught up with Ransone over the phone from his current home base, Los Angeles, and got a quick debriefing on “It Chapter Two,” as well living with the legacy of “The Wire.”
Tell us a little bit about “It Chapter Two” and your character, and what we can expect in the film.
I play Eddie Kaspbrak, who was played by Jack Dylan Grazer in the first one. He played it a little bit against type from the book, because in the book, he’s kind of like…I wouldn’t call him weak, but he’s more like the subdued hypochondriac. Jack Grazer did kind of like this fawning, fast-talking hypochondriac. So he played to all my strengths.
I had auditioned for the first ‘It,’ I will not say which role, with (director) Andy Muschietti. What ended up happening was, Andy probably kind of kept me in mind for the sequel, if they were ever going to do one. I don’t think he cast Jack Dylan Grazer because of me, I think it was just sort of a lucky twist of fate.
Sounds like it worked out OK.
Yeah, it worked out really well, in my favor...There are plenty of other actors who are more than capable, who could have done just as good of a job in the movie as me. At this stage of the game, I think it’s just more luck than anything else.
How was it, stepping into a role that somebody else had inhabited first?
It’s not ever easy, but Jack, he played…Like, I have a very few limited tricks in my bag that I can use. I’m like a very bad kids’ magician. And Jack played all those tricks…Jack just naturally played to all of my strengths.
I know that these kids were so beloved from that first movie. That’s what everyone loved about that first movie – they’re all talking over each other, like in ‘Goonies.’ There did feel like there was an intimacy there. So I just did everything I could to honor what Jack was doing in the first one. I didn’t really think much past that.
For a lot of people around Baltimore, you’re forever going to be associated with ‘The Wire’ and the Sobotka family. Does ‘The Wire’ still hang over you? Do you still get recognized?
It was weird for a couple of years. I think the thing that I resented the most about it is that people didn’t really like that character. Or if they did, it was so tragic that it broke their hearts. So it was a really polarizing character.
I wouldn’t have minded so much if people had watched it while it was on, because maybe I would have gotten more work. Burt it was really hard when people would, like, scream at me ‘Ziggy!’ on the street, assuming that I was that character.
Being on ‘The Wire,’ getting to work in your hometown, getting to show off your Baltimore accent a little bit….that must have been special. Talk about playing to somebody’s strengths!
Sure. You know, I have a good relationship with Spike Lee where I’ve done four or five movies with him, and that was 100 percent because of ‘The Wire.’
After I finished ‘The Wire’ that year, I went back and did ‘A Dirty Shame’ for John Waters. I had to come back to Baltimore to do the same thing over. It was like I couldn’t get out of there.
And then there’s that Baltimore accent...
The great thing is, people in Baltimore, they think they don’t have an accent, and they all have the accent. I was at my aunt’s house in Catonsville one Thanksgiving, and there was a family friend who was there, sort of an older, middle-aged woman. And she pulled me aside before we were about to eat dinner, and she says, (affecting a perfect Bawlamer accent) ‘Let me ask you something, why do you talk like that?’ No one down here talks like that at all.
I was friggin’ shocked. I had to be like, ‘Yeah, totally, I don’t know where I came up with that.’