Originally studying Fine Arts at Warrnambool I.A.E. in 1974, James switched to training as an actor at NIDA, Sydney in 1975. He arrived in New Zealand in the late 1970s, studying with Raymond Hawthorne at Theatre Corporate. After serving as a company member at the Fortune Theatre for two years with Tony Richardson, he moved to Wellington to work at The Depot, Circa, Centrepoint, Downstage, Toi Whakaari, Bats and Taki Rua.
As a pivotal and committed member of the Depot collective, he began writing/directing his own material in 1985. In 1990, he was appointed as Taki Rua’s first director-in-residence and the following year was awarded the Sunday Star Times Bruce Mason Award.
Returning to Australia in 1992, he worked as an actor for the Melbourne Theatre Company, co-directing Vis-à-vis Dance in Canberra and script assessment/workshop directing at Playbox Theatre, Melbourne.
Returning in 1996, James directed for the Auckland Theatre Company and the Watershed, before taking academic tenure at Waikato University in 1998. Later, he also taught at Canterbury University, Te Wãnanga O Aotearoa and Unitec. James has worked as a director, playwright, script assessor, actor, educator and as an arts funding adviser.