Born on September 26, 1968 and growing up in Mount Vernon, Washington, acting was far from James' mind. After a foot injury in his sophomore year in college ended his dreams of becoming an NBA basketball professional, he became interested in acting. He auditioned for a small part as an Italian ticket agent in Gus Van Sant's My Own Private Idaho (1991). He landed the role by fooling casting agents into believing he was a recent Italian immigrant.
James then moved to California and shortly thereafter was cast as one of the ten boxers in Michael Ritchie's con caper, Diggstown (1992). In 1993, he declined his acceptance to Julliard because he had won the role of Kevin Costner's youngest brother in Wyatt Earp (1994).
Early work brought James little attention, including The Rock (1996), G.I. Jane (1997), Ride with the Devil (1999/I), Pay It Forward (2000), though he came to critical attention in Terrence Malick's Oscar-nominated The Thin Red Line (1998).
In 2000, James starred in his first science fiction time travel adventure, Frequency (2000) with Dennis Quaid. But his first big break came when he met with producer Stephen McEveety and actor Mel Gibson to discuss a role in a surfing movie. He later found they wanted to cast him as Jesus in the movie The Passion of the Christ (2004). The movie made headlines and broke box-office records around the world. Although the movie dealt with controversial matters, James' performance was acclaimed by both critics and viewers. From an outcast actor to a respected film star, James is continuing to give his best to play challenging roles.