James was born in 1965 in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, where he attended the local school, Coleraine Academical Institution. He has three older sisters. He later abandoned a French degree (and an aim to be a French teacher) to attend the Central School of Speech and Drama in London.
In 2008, James took part in a documentary about the 40 years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, with other celebrities from the Province (Patrick Kielty, Charles Lawson, Eamonn Holmes and Barry McGuigan).
James was among the many celebrities playing in a charity golf tournament in July 2008 (in aid of leukaemia research).
In 2008, James hosted the British Independent Film Awards again, London's Old Billingsgate Market.
James narrated the audio version of Colin Bateman's Divorcing Jack.
In 2003, James received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the University of Ulster, for his services to drama.
In 1999 James was nominated for a SAG award for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Theatrical Motion Picture for Waking Ned Devine.
In 2008, James played Pontius Pilte in a a BBC drama, The Passion.
James has admitted that his worst habit is sucking his thumb.
James is an Ambassador for UNICEF, traveling to West Bengal (2005), Zambia (2006) and Sudan (2007) to witness their work first hand.
James is 5'11½" (1.82 m) tall.
Best Actor for Bloody Sunday (2002) (Nomination)
British Comedy Awards
Best TV Comedy Actor for Cold Feet (1999) (Nomination)
Best TV Comedy Actor for Cold Feet (2000) (Won)
Best TV Comedy Actor for Cold Feet (2001) (Nomination)
British Indepdent Film Awards
Best Actor for Bloody Sunday (2002) (Won).
Best Performance by an Actor in a Mini-Series or a Motion Picture Made for Television for Jekyll (2008) (Nominated)
Irish Film and Television Awards
Best Actor in a Feature Film for Bloody Sunday (2003) (Nominated)
Best Actor in a TV Drama for Murphy's Law (2003) (Won)
Best Actor in a TV Drama for Wall of Silence (2004) (Nominated)
Best Actor in Television for Murphy's Law (2005 (Nominated)
Best Actor in a Lead Role in Television for Murphy's Law (2007) (Nominated).
National Television Awards
Most Popular Comedy Performance for Cold Feet (2003) (Won)
Most Popular Actor for Canterbury Tales (2004) (Nominated)
Screen Actors Guild Awards
Part of Outstanding Performance by a Cast for Waking Ned (1999) (Nominated)
Stockholm Film Festival
Best Actor for Bloody Sunday (2002) (Won)
Television and Radio Industries Club Awards
TV Drama Performer of the Year (2002) (Won)
James appeared on stage in 2005 in the play Shoot The Crow.
James tries to honour his Northern Irish roots by taking on parts that recognise his heritage. He does admit, that being Northern Irish has been a help to his career, as the Troubles provided a lot of Northern-Ireland concerned television and film.
For the role as a prisoner in the film, Lucky Break, James spent a day as an inmate inside a real prison, Wandsworth, researching the role.
For the sake of his family, James claims to have no interest in trying to gain fame in Hollywood. Instead, he is thankful for every opportunity he gets in the UK.
James' secret ambition is to be a singer.
James is the face of the 'Yellow Pages' in the UK, regularly appearing in adverts for the company.
James' nickname is Jimmy.
James loves football.
James' mother-in-law is actress Penelope Munday.
James strongly supports Coleraine Football Club and has donated money to the club.
James supports Manchester United Football Club and as a child one of his two ambitions was to play for the team.
(on playing different characters in "Jekyll")
James: Hyde became easy. Jackman was hard. He's human. Hyde's a kid. Hyde was about tapping into childhood – a bit more complex than that, but really about finding what it's like to be a child again.
(talking about how lucky he feels he is in 2008)
James: I've always been mouthy, always been one for the craic. But I've never been fulfilled. I've always felt a bit empty somewhere. Now I can finally say I'm proud of myself. Things like Midnight Man are a tremendous reminder of how wonderful the medium of television can be and of how lucky I am. I am paid handsomely to learn some words, deliver them in the right order and then find out where the wrap party is. Then I go home in my Mercedes to the wife and two daughters whom I love. My life is very blessed. And Manchester United won the title again last season. What more can a man want?
(on his 'heartthrob' status)
James: Tragically, I get more letters from grannies than daughters. Quite often people come up to me and say 'my grandmother loves you'. An old lady approached me recently and asked, 'Can I touch you for luck?' That's my fan-base. But anyway, the very idea of being a heart-throb is ridiculous. You get to play a great character and people attach things to you that actually belong to the character. It's absurd.
(on his perfect holiday)
James: Good weather and good company. We go camping every year with 30 friends and relatives. It's very basic but good weather helps and as long as we can buy beer and wine, we're happy.
(on playing Pontius Pilate)
James: You can get a bit world-weary in this job and The Passion reminded me of what a fantastic job acting is and how lucky I am to be doing it.
(on the rumours that he was to take over as "Doctor Who")
James: At one point I started to wonder if I'd signed up without realising. I wouldn't want to do it. I wouldn't want to follow Eccleston and Tennant and I was never a big Doctor Who fan. But I'd love to work with Steven (Moffat) again. What a writer!
James: (On the work done by UNICEF) The situation seems bleak. But in Zambia, half of the population is aged between five and fourteen, and relatively few of this age group are HIV-positive. So, if those children are in school learning about HIV-prevention, then there is a real window of hope for an AIDS-free generation. This is the crux of UNICEF's global campaign – calling on everyone, world leaders, governments, the private sector and the general public – to unite in action against AIDS and put children at the heart of the global response.
(Jame's life motto)
James: Love your parents, but don't have them as your mates.
(On acting fame)
James: Acting was never my vocation I sort of fell into it and there's not a day goes by that I don't feel privileged and thankful for what's happened to me.
(Speaking on his varied acting genres)
James: The comedy is challenging because it's not always easy to make something funny. More often it's easier to play the psychotic roles.