James Ransone's life reads like a more adult Lifetime movie-of-the-week, or a slightly older version of Jim Carroll's "The Basketball Diaries." A sensitive, creative kid from Baltimore, Ransone (who goes by the nickname PJ) played in several Fugazi-inspired punk bands and started acting with early roles in indie films such as the sci-fi musical "The American Astronaut" (2001) and Harmony Korine's controversial "Ken Park" (2002). Ransone's intense demeanor, wiry energy and native Bawl'more accent led to his casting as the hot-headed Ziggy Sobotka in the second season of "The Wire" (HBO, 2002-08). After leaving the critically-acclaimed but low-rated series, he landed supporting roles as a dirt-obsessed sex addict in John Waters' "A Dirty Shame" (2004) and a desperate criminal in Spike Lee's "Inside Man" (2006). Although Ransone's professional career was on an upward trajectory, personally his life was going down the drain; he developed a sizable heroin addiction after moving to New York City, and eventually realized the only way to quit would be to do something even crazier. So he teamed up with David Simon and Ed Burns, creator and head writer of "The Wire," respectively, and moved to Namibia for eight months to make "Generation Kill" (HBO, 2008), a mini-series based on a Rolling Stone reporter's firsthand account of the 2003 American invasion of Iraq. His next few roles were considerably less dangerous, but no less compelling; among them were a tattooed farmer/fashion designer in HBO's "How To Make It in America" (2010-2011), and a stoner NYC transplant in Simon's "Treme" (HBO, 2010-13). With back-to-back roles in the semi-autobiographical "Red Hook Summer" (2012) and "Oldboy" (2013), the no-B.S. actor officially became a member of the Spike Lee Players. Ransone is all cleaned up, dressed up, and ready to go.
Growing up in Baltimore during the '80s and '90s was no picnic, and Ransone found solace by playing in post-hardcore bands and studying drama at the Carver Center for Arts and Technology, a magnet high school in suburban Maryland. After graduating from the school in 1997 with a degree in fine arts, Ransone moved to Los Angeles and fell in with musician-turned-filmmaker Cory McAbee, who gave the young actor his debut role in the ambitious space western musical, "The American Astronaut" (2001). The film's low-budget, black-and-white experimentation fit perfectly with Ransone's next project, "Kids" screenwriter Harmony Korine's "Ken Park" (2002). Based on the journals of Larry Clark, who directed the controversial 1995 film about a group of disaffected New York City teenagers, "Ken Park" found Ransone portraying Tate, a sadistic teen who engages in autoerotic asphyxiation. Though both films were small-scale endeavors, they proved that Ransone had big-league talent.
Never one to miss an opportunity, that same year a 22-year-old Ransone returned to Baltimore to audition for "The Wire's" upcoming second season, and was promptly cast as Ziggy Sobotka, the dim-witted and criminally-minded son of a union stevedore. Intended to show the difficulties facing a young generation of dockworkers, the foolish, overconfident Ziggy became Ransone's best-known role and the first of several collaborations with David Simon. After leaving the show, he brought his manic energy to fellow Baltimore native John Waters' "A Dirty Shame," where he portrayed a sex addict with a dirt fetish. Small TV roles here and there kept Ransone afloat until 2006, when he was featured as an unlucky burglar in Spike Lee's surprise hit "Inside Man." By then the tattooed actor was living in New York City and developing an expensive heroin habit. Though he was able to keep working with minor appearances in the indie romantic drama "Puccini for Beginners" (2006) and the short-lived TV series "Jericho" (CBS, 2006-08), and even saved his neighbor from being assaulted (he chased the would-be rapist through the Lower East Side with a metal bat), Ransone's heroin addiction was becoming increasingly unmanageable.
So he did what any rational person would do: in 2008 Ransone moved to Namibia for eight months to film "Generation Kill," Simon's brutal HBO mini-series based on reporter Evan Wright's first-hand account of the '03 American invasion of Iraq. Riding in tanks with Marines for up to 13 hours a day proved beneficial for the strung-out Ransone, who portrayed a nerves-of steel driver in Bravo Company, 2nd Platoon. After coming back to the States, Ransone found steady supporting work on a number of TV shows, including the primetime reboot of "Hawaii Five-0" (CBS, 2010- ), and returned to the HBO fold in 2010 with a recurring role as Tim, a Brooklyn-dwelling, urban-farming fashion designer on several episodes of "How To Make It In America" (2010-11). The following year the fiercely loyal Simon cast Ransone on the NOLA-set "Treme" as a stoner line cook from NYC in a storyline that included real-life chefs David Chang and Anthony Bourdain.
The year 2012 may have been predicted as the end of the world, but for Ransone, it proved to be the beginning of a new chapter. In addition to this recurring role on "Treme," he was featured in Lee's divisive "Red Hook Summer" as an earnest summer camp director; portrayed a small-town deputy in the psychological horror film "Sinister;" and shared an Independent Spirit Award with his castmates of the ensemble drama "Starlet." And in a show of loyalty rivaled only by Simon, Lee announced Ransone would be taking over the role of Dr. Tom Melby in his 2013 remake of Korean director Park Chan-wook's "Oldboy."
Cast (Feature Film)
Cast (TV Mini-Series)
Made his TV debut in "The American Astronaut"
Cast in Harmony Korine's "Ken Park"
Portrayed Ziggy Sobotka on HBO's "The Wire"
Cast in Spike Lee's "Inside Man"
Featured as a Marine corporel on HBO's "Generation Kill"
Landed a supporting role on HBO's "How to Make it in America"
Appeared in a supporting role on "Treme"
Reunited with Spike Lee in "Red Hook Summer"
Starred as Damon Callis on the short-lived cop drama "Low Winter Sun"
Appeared in Spike Lee's "Old Boy" remake
Had recurring guest role on "Bosch"
Began playing Michael O'Connor on "Mosaic"
Cast as the adult Eddie Kaspbrak in Andy Muschietti's "It: Chapter Two"