EWTN Series ‘James the Less’ Timed for Valentine’s Day
The romantic comedy is an original EWTN production helmed by Stephen Beaumont
[Note: This five-episode web series airs Monday through Friday, Feb. 13–17, at 8 p.m. ET on EWTN’s YouTube channel.]
An exclusive EWTN new narrative web series will debut in time for Valentine’s Day. James the Less is a romantic comedy that follows atheist James Little (Tanner Kalina) fresh out of college and desperate to find work. With a bit of a chip on his shoulder and a good amount of skepticism, James encounters the strange new world of Catholicism when he takes a job as a handyman at St. James the Less Church and finds his ideals challenged by the no-nonsense pastor, Father Burns (F.J. Zentner), and through the romantic pursuit of parishioner Anne-Marie (Carol Jeong).
The project is an original EWTN production, written and produced by Greg Hendrick and Michael Masny. The series was directed by Stephen Beaumont, who brings a welcomed cinematic flourish to the series, and was the principal visionary behind the project’s inception.
Who is James the Less?
“A few years ago, I was in St. Peter’s Basilica and I noticed that a pilgrimage group from a parish in England was having Mass at one of the side altars,” Beaumont said. “The parish they were from was called St. James the Less. That name struck me, because usually you hear ‘St. James the Lesser’ or ‘St. James the Younger.’ At the time I was developing a story about a man trying to grow in virtue, and James the Less seemed like a perfect title.”
The series was filmed on location at two Birmingham Catholic churches: the Cathedral of Saint Paul and Blessed Sacrament Church.
Unique for EWTN programming, the web series is narrative fiction, a storytelling format Beaumont specifically wanted for the show. “Narratives provide an opportunity to attract people who might not otherwise watch Catholic programs,” he observed. “Our hope is that Catholics and non-Catholics alike will find the show entertaining, and that atheists will gain insight into what Catholics believe.”
Tanner Kalina headlines the cast as main protagonist James Little. Kalina actually reached out to the network a year earlier to pitch some of his own ideas. “I’m passionate about Jesus and media, so what better place to turn to [than EWTN]?” he said. When holding auditions for James the Less, Beaumont remembered Kalina, and asked him to audition. “The no’s [for me] ultimately turned into a better yes,” Kalina said.
A Faithful Ensemble
Two key supporting characters both challenge and strengthen James’ spiritual journey as he fumbles his way as a handyman around the church property. Carol Jeong is Anne-Marie, a devout young woman and James’s romantic interest. Jeong, represented by CPM Talent Mangement, layers her character in multi-dimensional complexities. As Jeong describes in her actor bio, “Her love for the Lord and her Korean-American upbringing taught her the importance of compassion and the beauty in staying curious.”
James’s employer is the parish priest, Father Lambert Burns. He is portrayed by veteran American actor F.J. Zentner, who has appeared in film, TV, commercials and theater. A proud Texan who lives in Los Angeles, Zentner brings a nice balance of gravitas with the compassion of a pastor unafraid to challenge James or meet him head on with the quiet conviction of faith — a trait that often unsettles an atheist more than verbose proselytizing.
The Plot Thickens
One of the attributes of James the Less is its balance in displaying a solid grasp of Catholic thought and practice (Father Joseph Mary Wolfe is credited as liturgical advisor) while remaining devoted to authentic characterizations and authentic conflicts in dramatic settings. When the Eucharist factors into an episode at a critical juncture, Tanner Kalina recalled his method acting lessons in Los Angeles. “In order to genuinely portray James’s openness [to the reality of the Eucharist], I had to dig in my own heart and make it open to the Eucharist,” Kalin explained.
Without spoiling the plot, the Holy Eucharist is a major element in both the character development of James, and his relationship with Anne-Marie. Speaking of the series finale (Episode 5, slated for release on Feb. 17), when James gazes upon the exposed host during Eucharistic Adoration and asks, “Is anyone there?” Kalina said, “This meant the world to me because it’s my own heart crying out to the audience, ‘Please! Look! Jesus really is here!”
James the Less is suitable for all audiences.