James Allen McCune stars as himself in Blair Witch. Don’t worry, they’re not pretending he really got lost in the woods and died. 17 years after The Blair Witch Project, they can’t pull that trick again. But McCune does play a character named James, the brother of Heather Donahue going back to the Burkitsville woods with his friends to look for her.
McCune is from Georgia, where he appeared on The Walking Dead and now lives in California. He’s since appeared on Homeland, Shameless, State of Affairs and movies like Snitch. Or, if you work in fast food, you might be able to see his very first starring role
“I was in this Chick-fil-A training video,” McCune told me. “That was my first gig. I think it’s actually still going on. If you know somebody working at Chick-fil-A, they can see a video of me playing Brad showing them how to take multiple orders in a drive-through.”
I spoke with McCune by phone to discuss his role in Blair Witch, which is now playing in theaters.
Franchise Fred: Has this been an unusual job as an actor to have to keep the secret of what movie you were in?
James Allen McCune: Yeah, that was an interesting process to feel kind of ashamed to talk about something.
Franchise Fred: Why ashamed?
James Allen McCune: We had to kind of make the word “Blair Witch” a swear word essentially. If anyone were to talk about the movie honestly out loud, it was a negative thing. So much so that by the time it was out in the open and we could talk about it, it almost felt weird saying the words. I remember at Comic-Con when they had revealed the name change, there was a sense of dread that I had down my spine when I saw the words Blair Witch up on the screen. I felt like somebody did something wrong.
Franchise Fred: You’re the only cast member with a character named after yourself. In the first movie obviously they all used their real names. Was that by design? Did they name him James after they cast you?
James Allen McCune: They did. I remember reading for the role of Josh which in retrospect is kind of funny because there’s a Josh in the first one. Yeah, I just thought the character was going to be named Josh until my agents called me and said, “They’re actually naming the role after you.” I was like, “Oh wow, I must really embody the part.” It was definitely their plan to I guess throw it back to the original.
Franchise Fred: I imagine you don’t have to worry about people mistaking it for the real you, like they did with Heather, Josh and Michael when they thought The Blair Witch Project was real.
James Allen McCune: Yeah, thankfully. It sounded like it was kind of a rough circumstance for the original cast back then to have their real names put in a film synopsis like that.
Franchise Fred: Did you have to imagine that you knew Heather as family?
James Allen McCune: Yeah, and the funny thing about that is as a kid, I have two older sisters. My oldest sister was super obsessed with the original Blair Witch when it first came out. I was nine years old when that happened. I remember her talking about it and seeing pictures of it. I believe she bought books of it. She was really into it. I remember seeing Heather from the first one and feeling as if she resembled my sister too much. I was bothered by the resemblance in a lot of ways. So I didn’t want to see the movie because Heather reminded me too much of my sister. It’s kind of funny to come back full circle like that. It’s not that hard, because she actually is a whole lot like my sister.
Franchise Fred: When did you ultimately see The Blair Witch Project?
James Allen McCune: I didn’t really officially watch it until after I had booked the part. I was never really much of a horror buff if I’m honest. It was kind of going outside my element to watch this thing but I’ve gotten to the point now where I’m so familiar with it. I would put it on, I would watch it every night before bed while we were shooting just so I had the context of stuff. It’s very familiar to me now.
Franchise Fred: How many times have you seen it now?
James Allen McCune: Somewhere around like the 20th time, I remember being like, “This movie’s terrible. I hate it. It’s so boring.” I had all these things about it I didn’t like. Now that I’ve seen it 20 more times I’m back to being, “Oh my God, it’s the most genius thing in the entire world.” The things that bother people are exactly why the movie’s so great. I’ve seen every perspective at this point. It’s a really remarkable thing.
Franchise Fred: I was a smartass making fun of the stick figures and rock piles when The Blair Witch Project came out too. When you see the stick formations and rocks all over the woods, is that terrifying?
James Allen McCune: Oh man, I think just because I had seen the movie so many times by the time that was revealed to us, that gave me chills just to know what it was in reference to. That’s just the environment Thom Hammock created with all those sticks and rocks. They’re so gross. There’s something really upsetting about being surrounded by all those things. I don’t know what it was. We actually had an extra crew on set that day because it was making a lot of people upset. We had a makeup lady doing touchups on me before we were shooting. She was almost crying. I was really concerned but didn’t want to pry. I eventually gave in and asked, “Are you okay? Is something wrong? Can I get something for you?” She just said, “There’s something evil in here.” And then walked away. Someone told me later that she was apparently a medium. I don’t know. I don’t know where I stand on all that stuff, but she felt very uncomfortable and that was really spooky. I don’t know if we were unintentionally conjuring something, but if there was any environment to accidentally do that, that was the one to do it.
Franchise Fred: Was it monumental when you got to do the “I’m so sorry” confessional?
James Allen McCune: That was actually improv. I’m pretty happy with all that because it was initially just written that we go in there and just freak out. Adam gave us the time to feel out the scene and do what felt natural to us in the moment. That was just something that I felt I had to say. We kept it and did it a few more times like that. It’s the most honest reaction I think that anyone would have in that situation. I think it’s relatable for people when they watch it. It’s crazy because James the entire movie is like, “It’s going to be okay. Everything’s all right. Keep going.” Even when Ashley cuts her foot up. “No, it’s not as bad as you think.” His whole throughline is it’s going to be okay, I’m going to protect you, everything will be all right in the long run. That’s the only time you finally see him realize no, it’s not going to be okay. We are not getting out of here. It was cool. It gave me chills . I love it.
Franchise Fred: Was there any resistance about paraphrasing so closely what Heather says in The Blair Witch Project?
James Allen McCune: No, I just think it was so honest that it works. I don’t feel like there’s any trepidation if I remember correctly. Everyone was very open to suggestions the entire way through the movie. We were always very honest if stuff didn’t work.
Franchise Fred: What was it like revisiting that famous house in the woods?
James Allen McCune: There were a few moments where we met the house for the first time which was just the facade that we built for the place. It’s a slightly different angle from what we initially see in the first movie. That was really, really jarring, especially because that scene was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever had to shoot. That was brutal. It looked so perfect. Then to see the set that they built in the soundstage with all the rooms and stuff was even better. Thom Hammock, our art director, you see it in the film. It’s hard to wrap your head around just how perfect the house is unless you’re there. The details are unreal. Even the smell of the house felt really like something had lived there and then stopped living there. It was spooky. The basement’s perfect. He had perfectly traced each block on the wall and made sure that every single stone in the house was a perfect recreation of the original house. It’s just awesome. I could talk for hours about that. Thom Hammock is a literal genius.
Franchise Fred: Did you ever stay a whole night in the woods?
James Allen McCune: Yeah, most shooting nights. You mean did I sleep or shoot because we were shooting there every night. I spent almost all my time out there. We only came back to the hotel to sleep and then went right back outside. A lot of the time we didn’t even shower because what’s the point? So I spent more time out in the woods than I ever did in my hotel.
Franchise Fred: With the body and helmet cameras attached to you, were you actually filming some of the footage in the film?
James Allen McCune: Yeah, I’m really proud of that. I feel like it adds a special something to be behind the camera myself. We had realized about halfway through that it would just be technically easier and emotionally more comfortable to connect with your costar if you don’t have a whole team of cameramen. I opted to wear the rig as much as I possibly could. I really feel like it helps. Pretty much my entire last half act of the film was me holding that thing. I’m really, really happy with how that turned out. It was kind of cool to be responsible for not only the acting but the camera and the lighting because the lighting in the film is a flashlight. It’s just kind of neat to be able to say, “Yeah, I did that.”
Franchise Fred: Callie Hernandez gets the tunnel scene and there’s the great scene climbing the tree. You said the house was your most intense scene?
James Allen McCune: I think the rain scene, which poor Callie was there for. Callie I think got the worst of it out of all of us. She really got the crap beaten out of her but that rain scene just ruined me. They wanted us to wear wetsuits underneath our wardrobe just so we wouldn’t freeze to death. We opted out of it for a few reasons. It’s easy to say we were going to it because we wanted to actually feel what our characters would feel, but it was also because we just wanted pee and it would take an hour and a half to get out of the wetsuit to do that. So it was a 12 hour shoot in the middle of the night out in the woods of Canada with these rain towers and all of these gigantic fans and wind machines, mud, so much mud. It was brutal. I remember at one point at the end of that sequence, I leave Callie outside, I run up to the door, I go inside, the door shuts behind me. I remember one of the takes, I ran up, I walked through the threshold, the door shut behind me and next thing I knew I was waking up on the floor. I don’t know what happened but I blacked out. The camera guy, the DP, Robby Baumgartner, a lovely man who came in to check on me and I was on my way up as he was walking through the door so he didn’t catch me. Otherwise they would’ve stopped filming. We had a hard time doing that one. It was a heavy shoot.
Franchise Fred: You filmed in Canada. Did you ever visit the actual woods in Burkittsville, MD?
James Allen McCune: No, I would kill to. I’m dying just to go visit sometime. No, we were up in Vancouver, south of Vancouver. Still the border of Canada but it’s pretty much the Washington woods. It very closely resembles the woods in Maryland so we got a nice match but what I would do to actually go to Maryland and check that out. It’d be amazing.
Franchise Fred: You said you were not much of a horror guy. Then how was your experience on The Walking Dead?
James Allen McCune: That was a dream come true. It’s funny talking about Burkittsville. Where I grow up, Newnan, GA is kind of like Burkittsville for The Walking Dead. That’s where all of the Walking Dead stuff is shot. It’s where it’s set and everything so our town actually embraced it harder than a clingy boyfriend who just won’t let go. We have four coffee shops that have Walking Dead things and stuff. The Walking Dead was a really special show. The cast and crew are amazingly kind and super sweet and really took me under their wing. It was the first thing I ever did so that was a really special thing for me to do just starting out. It was not as scary as you think making a TV show about zombies would be, but the content did get really heavy a lot of times. Those people really taught me when you’re filming something in that situation to just lean into it. Never lose the realism for it. They really trained me well for this. I feel like that was all bootcamp for Blair Witch in a lot of ways.