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James Marsters - "Angel" Tv Series - SFX Magazine September 2003 Interview

Jayne Dearsley

Tuesday 19 August 2003, by Webmaster

You’d be surprised at the surreal things that can happen on the day you’re scheduled to interview James Marsters. You arrive a ridiculous two hours early because you are worried about missing your train. You can be glared at by a strange, scary woman as you kill time on a bench in Kensington Gardens, making you wonder if she is placing a voodoo curse on your head. You can sit in the lobby of a swish hotel where the interview will take place, watching a pool of water forming on the marble floor as a flood in room 125 drips slowly through the ceiling. Posh guests can saunter to and fro, oblivious to the liquid soiling their expensive shoes. A smiling PR guy can usher you into the bar, but not before you’ve received a mighty electric shock as you shake his hand.

And then there’s the presence of The Marsters himself, walking towards you with a clear drink in his hand and a huge grin on his face. He looks well; those legendary cheekbones have filled out slightly, he’s subtly tanned and the blond locks have their usual between-filming dark roots. Blue eyes twinkle. He’s Spike: ethereal, every inch the star, as otherworldly as all the other freaky incidents of the day. Until he coughs the most unhealthy cough I have ever heard, and within moments we are discussing colds and the perils of phlegm. "When it’s black, that’s when you go to the doctor," he points out, in a very un-Hollywood way. Suddenly he’s not that blond bloke from Buffy; he’s just some down-to-earth geezer with a cold. The world returns to normal. "I’m feeling really good" he says, settling back into a richly-cushioned sofa in the corner of the hotel bar. "Right now my mind is all about the band, frankly, because that’s what I am doing here. We’ve done some really good shows."

He’s talking about Ghost Of The Robot, the group with which he wants to take over the world. You can tell he is serious because he raves about their music non-stop, hands moving wildly, bitten down fingernails itching to pluck guitar strings. A plectrum hangs on a chain around his neck. He’s got the Rock `N’ Roll vibe coming out of his ears. "We don’t feel like we are a celebrity band" he explains, when asked if Fame from Buffy will be a good or bad thing for this new venture. "The best argument to convince the audience that we are not just a freak show, or a celebrity show, is to play them the music; and quite frankly, once we do that..get’em in the venue, and then start playing the music, and you get the converts. Half audience are people who have seen the show and are ready to erupt at anything, and I love that, and there’s half the audience who are at the back going "Bring it on." And it’s wonderful to see them start to move, and by the end of the show they’re going, "YEAH!" Judging by the contagious enthusiasm that’s oozing from his every pore, Marsters is happy with his lot at the moment.

Is he more about the music than the acting, though? We’re a little worried."No- I have always had my cake and eaten it, too! I have friends around me who say, "James, you can’t do both! Nobody does that!" I as always like `Why Not?’ you just find a way. You give up sleep. You do. It’s worth it. I like to express myself, I like the veil that art gives you. I’ve shown things on Buffy that are very private, and nobody knows what they really are, and I have got to say them in public and have a response. And with the music, it’s much more revealing because I am writing my own stuff." He wriggles on the sofa cradling his drink. "If you really examine the lyrics you’ll learn a few things about me that might be surprising actually."

Surprising, eh? Does he admit to liking donkeys or something? Marsters laughs and a few heads in the bar turn to stare - his voice carries far across the room. "Sometimes I can write a songs and I think, people are gonna go, `you’re a freak’ And then they just hum along and say, `That’s a beautiful song.’ It’s just an amazing experience. That’s what art does, it reminds people that they are not alone. You say `Wow, I feel that too! I thought it was just me ! I thought that I was a weird freaky person; everybody’s like that! Wow I’m not alone" There must be many freaks in the world, if that’s the case "There’s lots of human beings. We’re all freaks, as it turns out." Marsters reckons - and his right, dammit! - that America and Britain are the only countries the only countries that know how to play Rock and Roll. This seems to explain why he spends so much of his time over here. "Frankly, I like England a lot," he nods. I point out that maybe it has something to do with the fact that he’s sitting in an unbelievably swanky hotel overlooking Kensington Place. "Oh my God!" he agrees, laughing wryly. And I am now seeing Britain. The Brits are wonderful. They have a very high social skill, they have a high vocabulary. Social interaction is easier and more pleasant here." Judging from the mountains of letters received by SFX, the Brits like Marsters too.

At the mention of how pleased our readers were to discover he was joining Angel, the actor looks shocked. "Really?" He was one of the most popular characters in Buffy after all. He looks astounded. He’s about to deny it, but I know for sure that it’s the truth. Honestly if Spike hadn’t have joined Angel, I say, there would have been an outcry. People would have been furious. Now he just looks embarrassed , so he chooses to deflect the praise by talking about one of his favorite subjects in the world- Joss Whedon. "Joss is so excited about it, too. He started to write my entrance to Angel as he was writing the death scene in Buffy, he was getting so excited about the potential, and the things he could do."

So, Spike and Angel in the same show. It’ll be like two roosters in the hen house. Does Marsters see them competing, on-screen or off? He lays the question to rest with ease. "It’s his show," he affirms "Believe me I am not going to out-sexy David Boreanaz!" Ah, but maybe he will: after all, Angel no longer removes his shirt on the show, whist Spike does it at the drop of a hat. Marsters laughs a particularly dastardly laugh when I point this, out not at all offended to be discussing the allure of his chest with a virtual stranger. "Well you know, maybe we will have a shirt-off competition, I donno! No, it’s definitely Angels show, and if the show’s going to continue to succeed it’s because the character of Angel gets more and more interesting as the years go by. They’re not gonna do anything that’s gonna corrupt that at all. There’s potential there for conflict with Angel, because Spike knows that Buffy really loves Angel and not him. And Angel hates Spike because he’s been there recently! I don’t think these guys are going to be doing high fives. Marsters shrugs. "Then again, we say that, and Joss might do exactly the opposite. At the same time, both of them have souls now, so there might be some connection between them."

Will he be seeing much of his old Buffy cast-mates? "Oh I imagine so. You know, I feel like they’re old war buddies "Oh, I imagine so. You know, I feel like they’re war buddies. I feel like we’ve been in the trenches lobbing hand grenades at Time. Time is mother. There’s never enough time. "I feel like I’ve seen the best and the worst of all of them," he muses, playing with the chunky silver chain on his wrist, " And the thing is, it really is like family; in that you can’t choose family, but you can’t hate them, because if you do, if you hate them, because if you do, if you hate these people. Then you go down. So it forces you into a wisdom about people. All of my fellow cast-mates have delighted me, they’ve all frustrated me, it’s a human thing; and the cumulative effect is that I think I have a beautiful warts and all appreciation for them. They are all good people. There was no weak link. That was a well-populated show, there were a lot of characters, and there was never a bad one." He stops to ponder. " Except for one."

Intriguing! Who? "NO." Go on! Pleeease "There was one person who didn’t gel. Not a regular, not a cast-mate. Never mind." A cackle worthy of a pantomime villian leaves his lips. Was it.? But he heads me off at the pass, staring out of the window. "Oh, look at those trees," he breezes all innocence. Then he turns back and wags a finger. "You’ve never gonna get dirt out of me. First of all, there’s very little dirt to get and second of all you don’t speak about it. At the end of the day we created something beautiful, and we will always have that."

The phrase "Blood out of a stone" springs to mind, so it seems to be a fitting time to change the subject, albeit reluctantly. There’s something else close to James Marsters Heart at the moment. In addition to Spike and his music, there’s now his movie career, which has recently received a boost, as he’s been cast in a movie based on a play called Venetian Heat Filming begins in September. "I was just meeting with the producer and the director over there," the actor reveals, nodding his head across the room at one of the many tables dotted around the bar. "There’s Derek Jacobi."

Resisting the urge to turn around, I listen to Marsters rave about the part "It’s about being yourself. When I first got the script I was really impressed by it, but I was really reticent about the sex scenes. "I had to confront my own homophobia, which I thought, I didn’t have any of. I’ve grown up in the theatre and I thought I didn’t have any of that. It’s not really about being gay; it’s about the incredible price you pay if you’re not yourself; if you choose to live a lie.

The movie takes place in fascist Italy, where being a homosexual means instant execution. The movie ends in swathes of blood. It does not go well for these people!" If you’re worried about spoilers pretend you never read that! Marsters, however, seems unconcerned that he’s given away the films finale. "I think it’s a happy ending!" he exclaims " because even if you die, if you die true to yourself, then you have honour, and that’s a good death. If you live a lie for 80 years, what the fuck is that? I uh-found.. I’ve had some unsuccessful relationships with women. Uh..and, without knowing it, lived lies, women have ..their own reasons." He pauses to structure his thoughts. "I don’t want to get too specific because that’s my personal life, but I know what it’s like to wake up and realise that you are not living your own truth. And, when I made that connection with the character, I got really excited about doing this movie. I think I can play living hell out of this part. I think I know the anger, I’ve figured out what he thinks the problem is.I mean, he thinks..never mind. It’s secret.

He stops talking with a shy smile, suddenly aware that he’s on the verge of blabbing everything. We can safely assume that he’s just as enthused about his film as he is about his music and his television work - the guy has so much energy it’s a miracle he’s still seated on the sofa. Only his hands move about, perhaps still itching to play some tunes on his guitar.

Understandably, it’s difficult to have a conversation with someone from Buffy without the subject of the Willow/Tara romance popping up. "It wasn’t about being gay; it was just about being in love. Two human beings that were in love. It was beautiful," Marsters declares with pride. " Joss pushed the envelope. The executives, the higher-ups were very uncomfortable about that. He quit once, you know. He said "You make me cut this and I’m out of the office, I quit," and hey said `fine ’and And he said `FINE’ He hung up the phone and he started packing his desk. They called him back and he told his assistant, "Tell them I am busy, I’m packing my desk, and I don’t have time to talk to them, I need to get my desk cleared out." Wow. He was serious then. "And they went away for a while, and when they spoke again he said, "They haven’t kissed yet" They wanted him to eradicate the relationship and he said, you know, `They’re kissing in the next episode,’ and he hung up. It was a big envelope to push to have it being two girls. If you are gay and happen to be a fourteen-year-old girl, it’s really wonderful to be able to watch that on TV and realise your not alone. I am so proud of the show for that. A lot of times in my life I felt out of place or that I didn’t fit in, and so I really feel for people who feel that way. And it’s hard, it’s really hard to be gay in America. Ten per cent of the viewership is gay, so they want to see that reflected on the screen, which is beautiful."

Here’s where I make a mistake. I imply that the success of Buffy isn’t just down to the writers (whom of course are brilliant) but to the cast as well. From his reaction you’d suspect that I have that I had just called his mother an old trout. He becomes vehemently defensive. "It is not. IT IS NOT. It is all writing, and a really good actor understands that. Good acting is Not Messing Up Good Words. If you can release the potential of the words..if you can find yourself in the position of having to overcome the material, your in the dog house. The best thing to do is to recognize a good script and then serve it."

Yes, but without a good cast, no-one would know if it was good writing or not, I counter. "Theirs a lot to be said for good acting, but most actors will mess up good words. I’m not saying that acting’s not valuable and good acting is not rare - it is. But good acting is serving good words.It’s releasing their true power." It’s true. Good writing is rare. Marsters is deadpan, deciding to lighten the mood "Good beer is rare,too." And good sex. I add, rising to the bait.

The PR guy is now hovering in the way that says "the interview should be ending right about now." Marsters rises languidly from the sofa and stretches, looking mildly relieved to be moving again; sitting still is defiantly not his thing. I wish him luck with Ghost Of The Robot and his coming year on Angel, and he looks truly grateful, in the oh-so-humble manner he’s honed to an art form. He leaves with a smile on his lean face.

As he exits the hotel bar I wonder if I should warn him about the flood on the floor of the lobby - he’ll ruin his shoes if he walks through it. But suddenly, he’s no longer simply some guy called James. He’s the Marsters again, larger than life, all powerful and gifted. If anyone can walk on water, he can. That’s your lot guys

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