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James Marsters

James Marsters - About his career - Bostonnow.com Interview

Al Norton

Monday 5 November 2007, by Webmaster

Marsters learns to leave Spike behind

Recurring roles keep former vampire working

James Marsters is best know for playing Spike on both Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel, where his mix of intensity, wit, and soul (pun intended) earned him a devoted following. He currently has a recurring role on Without A Trace and later this season will return to Smallville for multiple episodes (reprising a role from last year) as well as appearing on the upcoming second season of BBC America’s Torchwood. Recently Boston Now talked to him about his acting, his singing, and the part that made him famous.

BN: You’ve got a lot on your plate these days. Was it a conscious decision to work more or is this just when the jobs came in?

JM: Life goes in cycles. This is just when the jobs came in. I’m hitting a good part of my life mentally ... I don’t know if biorhythms are correct but sometimes you just hit a good part of your life and things are just humming. People want to hire you, people can’t get enough of you and everything you do seems to turn out well, and then sometimes you can’t seem to catch a break. Frankly for about nine months now I have been a little golden. That probably means in a year I’ll hit a skid but right now things are humming.

BN: How did you end up on Without A Trace?

JM: I don’t know why the cast me. I know they like me on set but I think they just like my haircut (laughing). They didn’t need me for ratings; it was just an audition. They needed a cop that the audience would trust quickly and I was in a good mood ... I think I bragged about the brand new suit I was wearing (laughing). I think I’m the trustable cop, which probably means I’m going to die.

BN: That leads into my next question. Reports have been that you are doing four episodes with the potential to turn into more.

JM: I’m glad they told you (laughing). That’s great. Really?

BN: That’s what’s on the Internet.

JM: Great. I think they should hire me. I’m having a great time with them. I’ve only acted with Marianne Jean-Baptiste so far and she’s just fabulous. She’s a really cool person but don’t mess with her (laughing). I’d never mess with her - I always know my lines and we’re bonding over Aretha Franklin right now. The crew and the directors are so tight; they don’t make any mistakes. I’m used to being the guy that knows his lines while the crew makes a few mistakes but they never screw up anything. If you know your lines it’s two takes and out and you go back home.

BN: How is it different doing a series that has been on for six years compared to appearing on a brand new show like Saving Grace?

JM: The Saving Grace environment was so fantastic. It was their first episode after the pilot, which had gone really well, and it was this time of "could be" and possibility and everybody was believing that they might be on to something special. What was great about Without A Trace is that they have held on to that "happy to be with you" kind of feeling. Everybody is not sick of each other at all but they’re very comfortable...the people are just so pleasant. You can’t really overstate that - that’s so important for an actor, to be in an environment that is easy to be in because an actor is supposed to play. We’re called players, not workers. If we’re working, it’s not working.

BN: And you’re doing Torchwood, too.

JM: (laughing) I hope America can deal with Torchwood. I thought I was going to do this nasty Dr. Who spin-off over in England because, you know, English people are kind of randy. They like their entertainment a little spicier than Americans can deal with, frankly.

BN: Are you bringing back the accent (much to the shock of many of his fans, Marsters is from California, not England)?

JM: Yes. I decided I was going to England so I should have an English accent. I got the script and he’s a total criminal, so he should be lower class, and then immediately I’m in Spike territory.

BN: Was it easy to slide into?

JM: Completely. The nice thing was that there is a difference to the two characters that was central; Spike was a romantic, he would only date one person at a time, whereas this new character, Captain John, will do anything that moves. (Laughing) In the script is said "anything with a zip code." I’m introduced and kiss the hell out of the male lead and then kick his ass. Or maybe he kicks my ass. We kick each other’s ass.

BN: Did you know that at the end of last season that you would be coming back to Smallville?

JM: No, I didn’t know. It was kind of a synchronicity. I was thinking that it was Smallville’s last season and that I’d like to go up and see them one more time and called my manager and said, "they’re probably closing down this year. What about going around with them one more time?" and he said, "oh, didn’t I tell you? They’ve been calling asking if you’re willing."

BN: Buffy, Angel, Smallville, Torchwood...there’s a lot of science fiction and fantasy in there. Is there something about that genre of storytelling that appeals to you or is it just that those are the good scripts?

JM: I think I grew up like many young boys liking that stuff and believing that you could actually give your heart to that stuff, that you could act it as if it was as meaningful as any other script, which is true if it’s good. People have noticed I’m willing to commit that way. I enjoyed it as a kid but at the same time I did 15 years of theater and never did any sci-fi and had a great time. I got known for doing a vampire and I think that people still do think of me that way.

What’s weird is that all the Buffy writers - I talk to them every once in a while - they’re all in hugely popular shows. They’re working on CSI, on Grey’s Anatomy, 24, you name it, they’re all on the big shows, and they all have the same complaints. They say, "God, I’m bored. I want to have a big demon jump out and rip his throat out. I want something big to happen, something special. We’re just sitting here talking about nuclear weapons and it’s boring." There is something free and liberating about sci-fi and fantasy.

To tell you the truth, when Buffy went down, I had wanted to get into a quality procedural cop show because what had frustrated me about Buffy, and television in general, is that when characters reveal themselves they just talk about themselves, usually near a kitchen sink.

BN: There’s a lot of expository dialogue.

JM: Exactly. That’s the way that you do in television because to do it through action, which is the better way, is too expensive. It takes too long to write, it means your characters are on the move more and you just can’t shoot that in a week. What I like about these procedurals is they don’t talk about their feelings; the writers just rip that part out and trust that the actors will put that into the performance. I think it’s a brilliant recognition of television to realize what they can do and what they can’t, and if the actors know their lines and are willing to reveal themselves, they still get the character stuff across anyway.

BN: When you create such an iconic role like Spike, is it hard to pick the next part? How do you follow that up and avoid being typecast?

JM: Ralph Waldo Emerson said something I’ve always found really helpful as an actor; "within all men are all men", and I’m sure if he was born a little later he would have said, "within all people are all people." The truth is I took aspects of my own personality to use for Spike and then slapped the accent and the hair on top of it. I’ve tried to take roles that still play on those aspects that I used as Spike, without the hair and without the accent; loners, criminals, people who might be a bit frustrated, but tried to stay away from vampires ... and from blonde hair (laughing). I’ve tried to continue with the same aspects of my personality and at the same time branching out into new kinds of characters. Also I’m taking what comes. Acting is so much surfing; you just hope people saw your last performance and then want to meet you.

BN: There are always rumors about spin-off’s or movies; do you think you’ll ever play Spike again?

JM: I told Joss that he had 7 years to get a Spike project going after Angel went down, which would have given him 14 years with the character. I thought that given that the character is not supposed to age, that was the edge of the envelope. When I am rested though I think I could still play him without having to say he’s drinking poor blood so he’s aging slowly. My thinking is that’s the only way you’d be able to do it since one of the coolest things about vampires is that they don’t age. If we did a screen test and with the right lighting I could hold to the look I had 14 years ago, yeah, that would be cool. I don’t think that Joss is really interested; I think he’s moved on.

BN: Do you keep up with the various comic book incarnations of Buffy and Angel?

JM: Sometimes the fans will give me the books and I think they’re great. The recent one is fabulous. Joss is writing the books but they don’t have a lot to do with Spike so I haven’t needed to check them out on that level. I think he’s interested in other characters.

BN: Did I read that you’re playing Ted Bundy?

JM: Yeah! John Pielmeier, who wrote Agnes Of God, I worked with him years ago in Seattle on a play called Voices In The Dark, he was doing a movie and he wanted me to come play Ted Bundy. I asked if I had to kill or torture anybody and he said, "no, you’re just in jail" talking about how to catch the next guy, and I thought, "oh, ok, that’s fine." I didn’t want to do anything gruesome.

BN: Did you do any research?

JM: I didn’t want to do the research because he’s a sociopath who doesn’t feel bad about what he’s done, where if I look at that stuff, I’d feel awful. It was weird because I’d be in my trailer and they’d say, "oh, you look just like him" and I’d say, "shut up!!!" I didn’t want to hear that (laughing).

BN: I know you’ve got an album that just came available on your web site. What style of music would you tell people to expect?

JM: Blues and folk. There’s a punk rock song on the album. Some pretty good pop. It sounds like it’s all over the map but we made a real effort to keep it together and I think it grooves really well.

BN: Thanks for chatting. I look forward to seeing you all over my TV the next few months.

JM: Yeah, I’ll be a pandemic on television (laughing).

BN: Not sure if you want me to quote you on that.

JM: No, I’ll be a nice disease (laughing).