Jesse James opened up about his past, his time in rehab and what made him cheat on his Oscar-winning wife in an exclusive interview with ABC News' Vicki Mabrey. The following is a transcript of interview as seen on "Nightline," Tuesday, May 25, 2010.
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The Jesse James Interview
It splashed across the headlines and dominated the airwaves: actress Sandra Bullock's devastating heartbreak at the hands of her husband, Jesse James. Right at the moment of her greatest triumph, America's sweetheart faced with the ultimate betrayal. As the scandal erupted, James maintained his silence -- until now.
VICKI MABREY: The headlines say that you're the most hated man in America.
JESSE JAMES: I think it's most hated man in the world now. I took a pretty amazing life and amazing success and marriage and everything and kind of, you know, threw it away, by my own hand.
From the very beginning, they seemed like an odd couple. Sandra Bullock, Miss Congeniality herself, dating Jesse James, then host of "Monster Garage," whom the tabloids labeled her heavily-tattooed biker boyfriend.
MABREY: So many people said that you and Sandra Bullock were a mismatch. Were they right?
JAMES: I don't think so. I think the reality of it is, is we probably have way more in common than people realize.
MABREY: Like what?
JAMES: I think we're just both driven and both focused, you know, on our careers.
They met when Bullock's godson asked her to get him into James' West Coast Choppers, where he builds custom motorcycles that sell for up to $300,000.
JAMES: I assumed that she was a bitch, some Hollywood snob and didn't really give it two thoughts and I talked to her for a couple of minutes and it was like getting hit in the head with a brick. You know, here's a woman that I had assumptions about and she couldn't be farther from that. She was intelligent and, you know, it was like, wow, this is like -- that's perfect to me...
When I interviewed him six years ago for "60 Minutes Two," pictures of the two of them together had just surfaced, but he didn't want to talk about that. But soon, it was out in the open. The bad boy and the girl next door were an item.
MABREY: How'd you start to woo her?
JAMES: I asked her out and she said no, and so, typical me, you know, I'm not going to really take no for an answer.
MABREY: She said you sent a lot of emails and you were much more thoughtful than she imagined.
JAMES: It was a real courtship.
For five years they avoided the limelight except when the red carpet beckoned. At home in California and Texas, she was a much loved stepmother to James' three children from his two previous marriages, Chandler, Jesse Jr., and Sunny.
MABREY: How'd you two make this marriage work?
JAMES: Just live a normal life, you know? I mean it's - there is no limelight when it's her and I trying to figure out who is going to take the kids to school and who's going to pick them up and what we're going to have for dinner and that type of stuff. You know, I mean it's just - we're just -it was normal.
By 2009, Bullock was back at work in Atlanta, starring in the film, "The Blind Side." But back at home, her husband was living a double life.
MABREY: You cheated on your wife.
When the movie opened, it was Sandra Bullock's moment. In a sweep, she took home a SAG Award, a Golden Globe, and memorably, her very first Oscar for best actress.
MABREY: Was it in the back of your mind, I'm going to get caught? Did you know it was about to crumble?
JAMES: I don't think it was just at award shows, I think it was every day in life.
Less than two weeks after her triumphant night at the Oscars, her world was shattered. A woman named Michelle "Bombshell" McGee sold a story to "In Touch" magazine claiming she had an 11-month affair with James while Bullock was away filming. James says he sat his wife down and confessed.
MABREY: What'd you tell her?
JAMES: I told her basically everything. You know, that I had affairs outside of our marriage.
MABREY: Did she have any idea any of this was going on or did this hit her like a ton of bricks?
JAMES: I think she's had her suspicions, you know, in the past, but you know, I lied and lied my way out of it, you know? I lied to everyone about everything, even to myself, you know.
MABREY: We've had five women come forward now. Did you have affairs with all of them?
JAMES: I wouldn't believe everything you read in tabloids, you know. I was unfaithful to my wife and I'm not going to put any kind of count to it and - just the fact that, you know, I took a perfect marriage and a perfect wife and perfect life and step-mother and like threw it away because of my actions, it doesn't matter - it could have been a million. It doesn't - you know, bad is bad, no matter what it is.
MABREY: This was a woman who stood on stage in front millions of people and said that. She loved you. Why would you hurt her?
JAMES: I never in a million years, the last person I would ever want to hurt or harm is her or the kids. But the most hurt she's ever been caused is by the person that wanted to protect her, so - it's really - it's terrible. And she's going to be hurt for a long time. You know - I don't know. It's hard for me to talk about a little bit because, you know, I still really love her and care about her.
MABREY: And that's the thing. That's the million dollar question. You had the perfect life. You had the perfect wife. Why did you throw it away?
JAMES: I don't know, you know. During the midst of all of it and when I was doing it, one, I knew it was horrible. It made me feel horrible. And two, I knew I would get caught eventually, and I think I wanted to get caught. It was me trying to self-sabotage my life.
MABREY: So you're saying this didn't start because you were bored or because Sandra was away on a shoot or...
JAMES: No. Not at all.
MABREY: ...or because you didn't love her, you weren't happy in the marriage?
JAMES: Everything that happened in our marriage and everything that I said and every good moment on, for her, and for me, and for the kids, none of it was bull. It was all real. I'm doing it because, you know, I basically never felt good enough for anyone.
Under the weight of relentless public scrutiny, he recognized he needed help. But to get it, he would have to confront his deepest secrets.
After the infidelity scandal broke, paparazzi shadowed James' every move, and nothing, it seemed, was off limits.
JAMES: You know, I was being basically stalked everywhere by paparazzi and they're yelling stuff and asking me how many women I've been with in front of the kids, in front of my 6-year-old and stuff like that, and I really felt that, like, rage come over me and I knew I had to get a grip, I'm like, life got to a point where, okay, I can't fix this on my own. And I can't be a tough guy through all this. I need help.
On the spur of the moment, he says, he drove himself to rehab -- to this place, Sierra Tucson in Arizona, where he would spend 30 days out of the glare.
MABREY: What did you tell Sandra when you were going in?
JAMES: I just told her I was going to get some help and I told - wanted to make sure that she would take care of Sunny.
MABREY: And what did she say to you?
JAMES: No problem. Okay. And she told me she was proud of me.
MABREY: What did you go to rehab for? Did you go for sex addiction? Did you go for anger management?
JAMES: Those are two of the things I was there for, but the main thing I was there for was being a victim of childhood abuse.
He's a child of divorce, raised by his father, a man he says was physically and emotionally abusive.
JAMES: I was always scared. My whole childhood, I never had a chance to be a kid. I just remember the, like, clenched teeth, like, strained neck look on his face, you know.
MABREY: Did he beat you?
JAMES: He beat my ass pretty good a bunch of times. You know, football star, bike builder, "Monster Garage" TV star, all that stuff is a huge smokescreen so people won't see that I'm a scared, abused kid, a 7-year-old.
MABREY: That's what you learned in rehab?
JAMES: That's the truth.
One incident in particular stands out in his mind -- a time when he says his dad chased him in the dark. Jesse fell and broke his arm.
JAMES: I remember my dad laughed at me when I hit the ground and called me a dummy. You know, I fear - was petrified of my dad and, you know, it wasn't so much getting the (censored by network) beat out of me or getting my arm broken or getting kicked or whatever, or punched, it was the in between time, the fear of that happening again was - I was a terrorized kid, you know? And this - I mean, it's - it's really tough for me to think about now because - because Sunny's the age...
MABREY: You see all those things that happened to you?
JAMES: Well, Sunny's the age that I was. Sunny's the age I was when my dad broke my arm. Let me take a break for a second.
In an email to ABC, his father denies the abuse allegations, but Jesse James says rehab forced him to confront memories buried for 30 years.
JAMES: I cried more in rehab in the last 30 days than I have in my whole life. No BS. That's the truth.
MABREY: And what did you figure out? Are you a sex addict?
JAMES: I don't think I have a sex addiction where, like, you know, I'm running around trying to have sex with everyone and I can't stop. I think I do things to sabotage my life, including having extramarital affairs, texting, overworking myself, injuring myself, you know, doing stunts and stupid things. I think I do a lot of things in my life that I shouldn't be doing that aren't, you know, conducive to being a perfect husband. You know? And the affairs is just one of them.
MABREY: There are a lot of people who are abused who don't go on to cheat on their wives.
JAMES: There's a lot of people that are abused that go on to abuse or go on to do drugs. I may seem like a monster in people's eyes, but I'm not that kind of person where I'll willfully, like, you know what, I'm going to really show her, I'll get her. That's not what it's about. It's about trying to push someone away, that I thought was going to leave anyway.
To the public, he was a pariah, and just when it seemed his reputation couldn't fall further, it did. While he was in rehab, a photo surfaced of him giving a Nazi salute.
JAMES: The truth about it, it was a joke that was probably pretty funny in a party at my house with a bunch of friends, but it's not funny...
MABREY: A Nazi salute is not funny for a lot of people.
JAMES: If that photo would have came out all by itself, I would have released a statement and everybody would have murmured about it, but it would have been gone. But coming out in the wake of some huge infidelity scandal, you know, people love Sandy and she's America's sweetheart, and to hear that I was unfaithful to her, and then that comes out? It's a perfect storm, and people were out for blood and that photo gave it to them.
They got more blood from bombshell McGee's tattoos and the letters W and P, thought to stand for white pride. By association, James was branded a racist?
MABREY: Is it true?
JAMES: Absolutely not. Dealing with losing my marriage and my son and embarrassing everyone and decimating my life, but to be called a racist on top of that is - it, like - it makes me really sad. There's not a racist bone in my body.
MABREY: Which would surprise a lot of people.
JAMES: Well, people judge a book by its cover with me.
For four years, Sandra Bullock and Jesse James had been preparing to adopt a baby. Just before the scandal broke, they brought him home.
MABREY: When did you find out that you were getting Louie, this particular guy?
JAMES: We found out around Christmas time and we got him on New Year's Day.
MABREY: Why New Orleans? Specifically, why a black child?
JAMES: I didn't care, didn't care what color he was. My only - my only prerequisite for adopting a baby, I want the baby that needs us the most.
MABREY: How did you feel when you saw the cover of "People" magazine and it's all about Sandra adopts Louie and he's going to have her name and not yours?
JAMES: It made me sad, but you know, adoption agencies are pretty conservative and as long as I'm in the picture, they wouldn't run the risk of her not getting him.
MABREY: What was it like, being at home, being a family with him?
JAMES: It - I mean - the sad thing about it is, like, I looked at her in a different way and found this, you know, me commenting on her, trusting me is hard for people to understand, I know, but like, I found a new trust for her, like, I knew she wasn't going to leave, and our relationship blossomed, and to see her in the role of mother is like, one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. I mean, she's - like a fish to water, as soon as she put that baby in her hands it was automatic and amazing.
MABREY: She was very kind in the article about saying, she wants to co-parent. Will you be in Louie's life?
JAMES: Yes, ma'am.
MABREY: How are your children adapting?
MABREY: How did you explain to them that life has changed, it's not going to be - we're not the family that we thought we were?
JAMES: I was honest with them and told them the stuff that had happened, and they all love Sandy so much, so - you know, when I hurt Sandy, I also hurt them. Because I took someone that they really love away from them, so...
MABREY: Do they get to see her?
Right now, they're seeing a lot more of their dad. He's still turning out two-wheeled works of art, but on an 8:00 to 4:00 schedule so he can spend more times with the kids. Sandra Bullock has filed for divorce.
JAMES: I still have hopes of saving, you know, some sort of relationship with Sandy.
MABREY: Do you think you can change her mind?
JAMES: About divorcing me? No. We're getting divorced. 100 percent sure of that.
MABREY: Is that what you want?
JAMES: Ah, absolutely not. I didn't want any of this.
What he does want, he says, is to eastern the forgiveness of his soon to be ex-wife and his children. To atone for the past with the future.
JAMES: A vision of a better life and a better future, if you can squint and visualize that, that's the basis for recovery. When I can squint and see amazing, happy kids and myself as a decent person and the person I should be, then that's - that's when I can smile and know okay, everything is going to be okay.
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