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James Marsters - "Angel" Tv Series - Dreamwatch Magazine #107 Summer 2003 Interview

Wednesday 20 August 2003, by isa

Undead Spike is now really dead, having bought the big one on Buffy finale Chosen, but James Marsters is back in action on the new season of ANGEL.

"I thought it’s be interesting, if he had a real psychological reason to want to reform, to watch they guy choose to be good and how frustrating that could be. I never thought Buffy should reciprocate."

James Marsters was dead when this interview took place, but now he’s merely in limbo. That’s to say that Spike died in Chosen, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series finale, but before that episode culd even air the WB announced that Marsters - and Spike - would pick up stakes and move over to Angel, which the network renewed for a fifth season. It’s been a long journey for Spike, one which actor James Marsters was happy to relive for dreamwatch as he spoke in tremendous detail about Spike’s arc over the course of his days on Buffy.

"I’m not sure that Joss had a conscious plan for Spike," says Marsters, referring to Buffy and Angel creator Joss Whedon, the man who hired him, turned him into a regular, killed him off and then rehired him. "I don’t know that he had the whole master arc worked out when he hired me or when he first developed the role on paper. I think that Spike was first designed to be a disposable boy toy for Drusilla (Juliet Landau). Drusilla was the main character, I think, and I haven’t asked Joss this, but my sense is that Angel (David Boreanaz) was going to go bad after sleeping with Buffy (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and take a new girlfriend, as often happens in high school. That girlfriend was going to be Drusilla. I have a feeling that he would’ve killed me off as one of his first acts of evil villainy. I progressed into a disposable villain, and I say disposable because in Joss’ universe, evil is not cool. Evil is to be done away with. It’s one of the reasons why the vampires on the show are ugly. The only vampire to have his pretty face and his pointy teeth was Dracula himself. The rest of us when we go to vampire are meant to frighten or meant to be loathsome, really. So, they built the character up as being extremely dangerous and extremely cool. I don’t think that they would’ve built him up that far if they hadn’t been planning to kill him. But they didn’t, and I finished the season.

Having survived the whole year, Marsters had thought his days as Spike were definitely numbered.

"What was that, season two? And that was it. My tenure was over and there were really no plans to come back," the actor admits. "Joss often has some characters come back for an episode and so he planned an episode where Dru and Spike came back into town. Luckily for me and unfortunately for Juliet Landau, she was unavailable. She was busy doing a movie and so Joss rewrote that episode to be more about Spike. He discovered Spike to be really quite pitiful. He was a drunken, heartbroken sod, really, when we saw him in season three, and I was just in one episode that season."

Educating Spike

That guest shot was to provide the basis for a more permanent return to Buffy for Marsters.

"It was watching that episode come together and seeing that I was really willing to embrace that side of the character that had Joss get interested in bringing me on as a regular. It was only when Spike became foolish and vulnerable and probably less sexy and less dangerous that Joss actually thought, ’Well, hey, this is a person who I can explore humanity with.’ So, when I came onto the show (full-time), they really highlighted a kind of toothless vampire. They put a chip in my head, and that was really about watching someone be completely unplugged from his source of power. You got to watch him be really quite pitiful and at that point I was really, functionally and structurally, the wacky neighbour. I would come in a couple of times each episode to kind of twist the scene a little bit and then leave. That was cool for a while."

That approach was only going to be interesting for a short time, though, both for the actor and the audience. Marsters knew that if Spike was to remain on the show, the character would have to be developed further. "I did get worried when they put me in Xander’s (Nicholas Brendon) clothes, but that was the only time I almost got fired from Buffy."

Marsters continues. "I was in a Hawaiian shirt in the make-up trailer and I was mouthing off. ’I thought I was playing Spike. I didn’t know I was going to have to play Urkel (a character from popular US show Family Matters).’ Joss caught wind of that and it was before he knew me very well. I’m not really a complainer on the set but he got mad. He was like, ’That ingrate, he’s fired." But luckily that didn’t happen."

What saved Spike and guaranteed Marsters a job for a few more years was Whedon’s decision to put Spike where Angel used to be. "Then, there was the idea to team Buffy and Spike, and that started in season five and really culminated in season six. I had the idea that Spike should fall in love with Buffy because I thought, in my head, the chip was maybe not the strongest choice," claims Marsters. "I thought it’d be more interesting, if he had a real psychological reason to want to reform, to watch the guy have to choose to be good and how frustrating that could be. I never thought Buffy should reciprocate. I just thought she should torture him the whole time, and I expressed that to Joss. He kind of winked and said, ’Well you know, I’m writing the show and I have something a little more interesting than that.’ So, then, he became the heartfelt love interest."

Being the love interest was never going to be easy for a character like Spike, and there was little point in duplicating the Angel-Buffy romance, so a different choice was made. "That took a real dark turn in season six," notes Marsters. "I became that unhealthy boyfriend that many girls have in their life, the bad boy who might be really sexy and dangerous and gets their sexual stuff firing, but the girls and up getting burned by it. That storyline played out so dramatically, I thought that the character probably should be killed off. I didn’t know if he’d be redeemable after season six."

That doubt was quickly overcome as Buffy entered its final season and the writers saw a new, pivotal role for Spike in the series’ climax."(Redemption) was just too tempting for words for those writers, and they decided to reach back and give him a soul. So, this last season, he was doing the journey of the redeemed man or the man who was trying to get a chance to redeem himself. The question was, how can you redeem yourself after 400 years of murder?"

Seven Sins

By the time season seven rolled around, no one knew for sure what the future held for Spike, Buffy or the series itself. Rumours spread that the show would go out while still in top form, but then word got out that Whedon might try to eke out one more season. Later, the buzz was that Gellar wanted out, but that the focus might switch to Dawn (Michelle Trachtenberg) or one of the Slayers-in-training or perhaps Faith (Eliza Dushku). In the end, Gellar announced her decision to hang up her stake and Whedon followed with the news that Buffy would indeed close up shop.

"Sarah has signalled quite clearly that seven years was about as much as she could do, and so it wasn’t a surprise to hear that she was going to go ahead and leave," says Marsters. "I was a bit surprised that there was talk of a spin-off. I thought that there was enough interest from people who wanted to keep watching the characters, but at the same time, the show is called Buffy and they didn’t have Buffy anymore, so it wasn’t a big surprise that they’d want to end it when she leaves."

Whedon, co-executive producer Marti Noxon and the rest of the Buffy writing team always knew that the show might end with the final episode of season seven. When word officially came down that the end was nigh, they set about building to a crescendo. The First became more menacing, the nefarious Caleb (Nathan Fillion, late of Whedon’s Firefly series) wreaked havoc upon Sunnydale, and Angel (David Boreanaz) returned to lend a helping hand. And the, in the last episode, Chosen, all hell broke loose. When the dust settled, Anya (Emma Caulfield) and Spike had perished.

"I wanted him to definitely die gaining his redemption." Marsters explains. "As soon as he went on that trajectory, I thought that the only satisfying thing for him was to at least have a valiant effort at redemption, to truly show that he was in the middle of giving it his all. How do you redeem yourself from a lifetime of murder and not be cheesy about it?

The audience might want me to be redeemed, Joss might want me to be redeemed, and I might want the character to be redeemed, but once you try to do that in an hour-long weekly drama and the back-story is that he has murdered people for hundreds of years, it becomes a little dicey. That’s exactly what Joss does best. He does the impossible, and he does the ting that other writers ays, "No, well, you can’t really do that.’"

For Marsters, that ending was what he and Joss Whedon had been building towards for a couple of years. "Striving for that emotional resonance is really what artists are about, and we shouldn’t shy away from it. I think that redeeming Spike is something that people in their hearts have wanted for a long time. I’ve seen a lot of T-shirts around that say, ’Love. Redemption. Spike.’ Spike’s love of Buffy sent him on his journey to get his soul back.

That was much, much more painful than he bargained for, and it really drove him insane.

He really started to understand that a lot of being human is about self-loathing. I think that he really wanted so save himself, not for Buffy, but for himself.

"You really can’t change yourself for someone else." Concludes Marsters, who spent part of his summer touring with his band, Ghost of the Robot, and is due to begin work on Angel in later summer. "You really have to do it for yourself in the end. I think I would’ve said that he would’ve done it for Buffy at the end of last season, but after going through this season, I think he wanted to become a better person for himself. And he did.

Spike’s favourite episode Marsters played Spike in about 100 episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, so picking favourites is no easy task. Still, Dreamwatch threatened to chip the actor if he didn’t at least try. "Oh wow, OK" he says, laughing.

"The musical. Once More, With Feeling, that was number one. That’s a fabulous one.

The Body was great because it stripped away any comedy, which is a big part of Buffy, and went for 100 per cent pathos in a way that was measured and not sentimental. That was the episode where Buffy’s mother (Kristine Sutherland) is discovered dead on the couch. There are a whole lot of good episodes. I would also probably pick one of the episodes in season five with Glory (Claire Kramer). There was like a six-episode arc there (from Forever to The Gift) that I thought was so compelling, and even though I filmed them, I couldn’t wait for the next episode to come on the air so that I could watch it. There’s just no way that I’m going to name nay of my episodes. I can’t do that, though I can tell you that Seeing Red was probably the toughest episode I ever did. That was just a hard one to get through."

And how about a least favourite episode, one that, for whatever reason, just didn’t work for him?

"Oh, that’s a hell of a question." Marsters protest. "there were some episodes that were better than others, but frankly, that was one of the real joys of doing this. Coming from regional theatre, I’m used to doing maybe one really good play a year or every two years, and the rest usually have some good qualities, but they also have other parts that sometimes sink it. But I’m not going to name Buffy episodes that sank. The fans can name those!"