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Why Spencer James From All American Looks So Familiar

The CW certainly knows its brand, and the company is shooting right down the middle with 2018's breakout hit, All American.

The series is a dramatization of the real-life story of Spencer Paysinger, a star football player from South Los Angeles who beat the odds to make it all the way to the NFL, where he played linebacker for the New York Giants. All American was originally pitched as follows: "When a rising high school American football player from South L.A. is recruited to play for Beverly Hills High, the wins, losses and struggles of two families from vastly different worlds — Crenshaw and Beverly Hills — begin to collide." On the show, Spencer James is the lead character, based loosely on Paysinger. Unlike Paysinger, who was always a defensive player, James is a star wide receiver at Crenshaw who moves to the other side of the ball to play safety for Beverly Hills High School. His fish-out-of-water story has captivated audiences from the get-go, earning All American an early renewal for seasons 2 and 3.

If the fresh-faced young actor portraying the charismatic safety looks familiar to you, there's probably a reason why. Spencer James is played by Daniel Ezra, an accomplished young actor and veteran of both the stage and TV.

Daniel Ezra's many roles in British productions

Being an English actor, born in Birmingham in the West Midlands, Daniel Ezra naturally kicked off his professional career in British productions. He began acting in 2014, making his small-screen debut in the television movie Murdered by My Boyfriend, in which he portrayed Joseph. Ezra then landed a one-off role on the BBC drama series The Village, playing Ghana Jones on a season 2 episode, before appearing in Blood Cells, an acclaimed British drama film that holds a flawless 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

After three more short turns — the first on the crime drama series Vera, the next on the police procedural No Offense, and the last on the crime thriller Prey — Ezra scored the role of Dan Johnson on Undercover, a six-part BBC drama that centers on human rights barrister Maya Cobbina (Sophie Okonedo) and how her fight to free an American inmate Rudy Jones (Dennis Haysbert) from death row impacts her family. Things are made more complicated when her husband's (Adrian Lester) past comes back to haunt the present. Ezra's character is the son of Okonedo's Maya. 

Fans may also recognize Ezra as Daniel Reed from season 2 of The Missing, an anthology series that also features stars like The Walking Dead's David Morrissey, or as DC Ashton from the police procedural Prime Suspect 1973.

Daniel Ezra had a recurring role discovering witches

Before he landed the leading role on All American, Ezra had another memorable TV turn as Nathaniel Wilson on the British series A Discovery of Witches. The show, produced by U.K. giant Sky One, was an adaptation of the popular All Souls trilogy of fantasy novels by Deborah Harkness. Its talented cast included the likes of Teresa Palmer (Lights Outi), Matthew Goode (Downton Abbey), Louise Brealey (Sherlock), and Owen Teale (Game of Thrones), alongside Ezra.

A Discovery of Witches centers on Diana Bishop (Palmer), a historian and witch who discovers an ancient grimoire in Oxford's Bodleian Library. This revelation proves unfortunate, as it draws Diana deeper into the world of magic and evil creatures that she would prefer to shun. Ezra's character, Nathaniel Wilson, crops up on the very first episode as a Daemon computer whiz with a witch for a daughter.

Although Ezra wasn't listed as a principal cast member, his character did recur on five of the show's eight episodes, and had a memorable impact on the plot of season 1. It was likely this appearance more than anything else that got Ezra noticed by casting directors, and paved the way for his leading role on All American. While the football drama is undoubtedly the 27-year-old actor's biggest break to date, it's fair to say his career got a major boost from his role on A Discovery of Witches.

Witches was renewed for two more seasons back in 2018, but there's been no announcement regarding whether Ezra will return. We assume the CW is keeping him pretty busy.

Daniel Ezra showed his Elizabethan chops on National Theatre Live: Twelfth Night

Back in 2017, Ezra put his classical training to use playing Sebastian in the National Theatre's live performance of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. The gender-bending comedy is one of the Bard's most famous works, and Sebastian was a solid role for such a new talent. The story of Twelfth Night concerns intersecting cases of mistaken identity; in the play, Sebastian is the twin brother to Viola. He's lost at sea in the first scene and presumed dead by his sister, though it's later revealed that he survived the shipwreck by clinging to the mast of his broken vessel. He's rescued by the sailor Antonio, who ultimately falls in love with him. (If that scenario and those names sound familiar to you, it's probably because you've seen the 2004 Amanda Bynes comedy She's the Man, a modernized loose adaptation of Twelfth Night.)

The Guardian described the National Theatre production as "full of zest, fun, and good performances." While Ezra's character is off-stage for much of the play's action, he does return to take part in the comedy's amusing denouement.

Twelfth Night gave Ezra the chance to cut his teeth performing live theatre for a TV audience — an opportunity that any young actor would certainly relish. So next time you see him chasing a receiver as Spencer James, remember that the dude can also do Shakespeare.