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  • Writer's pictureThomas Bonifield

Introducing James Pilachowski, a Player in "Miracle on Christmas"

A talented Christian actor, he has had to overcome the effects of Tourette syndrome to make his mark.

James Pilachowski between takes for "Miracle on Christmas." Image: Horse is Ready Productions.

***This is the sixth in a series of articles profiling cast members in Miracle on Christmas, a Christian film written and directed by yours truly. All previous articles can be found under this heading on the website.***

James Pilachowski got his first taste of show biz back in 2000, when an HBO movie called 61* came to his home state of Michigan. The Billy Crystal-directed baseball film was shooting scenes in old Tiger Stadium in Detroit and needed extras. He heard about it from a woman at his church and that was that: 11-year-old James got to take part in the production.

Of course, the journey from childhood extra to professional actor is a steep climb for anyone, but particularly if one is challenged with a condition like Tourette syndrome, a neurological disorder characterized by repetitive and involuntary muscle movements known as tics. This is something James has dealt with since he was a boy, though he says good nutrition, regular exercise and a disciplined sleep schedule as an adult have lessened his symptoms. He also currently takes medication, but hopes that will prove a temporary measure.

James was very forthcoming about his condition for this article and hopes his story will prove helpful for others facing similar challenges, so we will state directly that the disorder-related tics were obvious to us when he arrived at his audition for Miracle on Christmas. Furthermore, it would be disingenuous to say we were not concerned as to whether he would be up to it, so to speak, were he to win a role in the film.

All our concerns washed away when he started to read for the part, because James underwent a total transformation as the audition began. It was as if he had become the character - a completely different person - and he exhibited zero signs of Tourette syndrome: not a single tic during the whole audition. It was remarkable, truly something to behold, as if he had flipped a switch and undergone a metamorphosis.

It turns out that was not something new for James; also a musician, he is free from the visible manifestations of his medical condition whenever he acts or plays the drums. He doesn't know the science behind the phenomenon, but says when he performs, his "brain goes to another level," and he feels like there is a "silence" and a "safety" connected with playing music and acting.

Are we ever glad we didn't let our first impression color the decision to cast James in Miracle on Christmas, because we truly would have missed out: he is a fantastic talent with great range. From the dramatic to the comedic - he has a background in comedy improv - James delivers both tearjerker and laugh-out-loud moments.

In the picture, he plays Peter "Petey" Ross, the black sheep of the family and something of a lovable rogue who is self-centered, underachieving and possessed of an in-your-face hubris. All of that puts him at odds with the movie's protagonist, his sister Mary Boyce, played by Christian actress Erin Bethea, and it leads to one of the climactic scenes in the film...yes, there are several.

James himself is a committed Believer - he has turned down acting roles he felt were offensive - and was drawn to this project in part because of the faith-based nature of the story. And having had to struggle with Tourette syndrome all his life, he also likes the movie's message of redemption born out of trusting in God despite difficult circumstances.

It worked out really well, too, because he and the rest of the cast clicked, providing what James felt was, "the most tight-knit experience" he's had on a production. We are not surprised by his assessment and believe that the close collaboration between cast members absolutely translates to the screen. You'll be able to make your own judgement when Miracle on Christmas is released for this year's Yuletide season.


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