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From Buffy UK Magazine April 2004 By Abbie Bernstein
James Marsters - Buffy UK Magazine April 2004 Interview
From Uk.msnusers.com/BloodySpike Transcribed by Bloody Spike
dimanche 14 mars 2004, par Webmaster
No Rest For The Wicked
by Abbie Bernstein
Love him or loathe him, Spike has been an integral part of the Buffyverse since his first appearance way back in season two - and since leaving Sunnydale in a blaze of glory (literally), he’s moved on to helping out the Angel Investigations team. Buffy Magazine decided it was time to catch up for a good chat with his multi-talented alter-ego, James Marsters, to find out all about life after Sunnydale, his work in theatre and life as a rock ‘n’ roll star....
By now, pretty much everyone knows that James Marsters plays Spike. The mercurial vampire started as a guest villain in Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Season Two, was made a series regular in Season Four and became an increasingly complex anti-hero who stayed with the series through to its finale, where he burned up saving the world, only to be resurrected (as a series regular again) on Angel.
Series creator Joss Whedon has often said that Spike’s role expanded due to James’ remarkable performance, so Spike, as we know him, wouldn’t exist without the actor. James, however, has a career outside of Spike that began in theatre and has spanned film, audio work and even rock ‘n’ roll.
James was born in Greenville, California and raised in Modesto, where he began acting in school plays and community theatre. After graduating from high school, he first attended the Pacific Conservatory of Performing Arts, then moved to New York to take his acting studies further. It was a tough time, James recalls :
"I was really poor in New York. I lived on 48th Street, between Eighth and Ninth at the Hotel Belvedere with another student, who was even more unhappy at school than I was. I also [at another time] had ana apartment in Queens, down by the water in Astoria, where I didn’t even have any glass on the windows - I had newspaper over the windows."
Still, James explains that there were some good things about living in New York : "Going to the museum, going to the Guggenheim and just glancing down at whatever the big installation was on the floor. Going up to about the second or third floor on a really nice sunny day when the light is really intense, or going across to the Metropolitan Museum and giving them a quarter and watching them give you the poop-face but knowing they had to let you in anyway, and staying warm that way. There was a Japanese tea garden there that I used to spend a lot of time in - it may still be there."
James moved to Chicago, where he and some friends founded the Genesis Theatre, then eventually migrated to Seattle, where he co-founded another theatre company, the New Mercury Players, named after Orson Welles’ theatrical troupe. "I’ve been involved [professionally] in more than 70 plays," James estimates, "I think I produced 20 to 30."
He lists a few of his favourites : "Steven Berkoff’s Kvetch, we did in Seattle, Christopher Fry’s Phoenix Too Frequent, the production we did in Chicago, A Life is a Dream, the Pedro Calderon de la Barca play known as the Latin Hamlet, that we did in Seattle, and also John Olive’s Killers. There was an original play called I Might Be Edgar Allan Poe that I was very proud of. We were the first theatre to do Dr Seuss."
The New Mercury Theatre eventually closed. James explains : "We had critical acclaim, we had good audiences, we were making 70 per cent of our operating revenue at the box office, which is a very high percentage for an American theatre, but we did not have non-profit tax status, which meant that we didn’t get grants in time to bail us out whenever we had a low attendance."
It wasn’t the theatre closing that brought James to Los Angeles, however : "I came down here because I didn’t want to die poor ! In the end, I was hanging round with 50-60 year-old actors who I respected, who could work at the Guthrie, could work anywhere in America, and who didn’t have a car. And I finally thought, ‘It’s time for me to try to just get something in the bank before it gets too late,’" he laughs.
During his time as Spike on Buffy, James has appeared in a few movies - a small role in the big budget The House on Haunted Hill and large roles in the independent films Winding Roads and Amber Benson’s Chance ; has done guest shots on TV series (Millennium, Andromeda, Strange Frequency and voice-over work on the animated Spider-Man series) ; voiced Spike for two Buffy video games and appeared in the Young Playwrights Festival’s production of The Why, about the tragic shootings at the Columbine high School in 1999 which left 15 people dead.
Mutant Enemy had been willing to give Spike a smaller role for part of Angel’s fifth season so that James could go to Europe and film Venetian Heat, a feature in which he would have played a married Italian farmer in pre-WWII Italy, who discovers he is gay. Unfortunately, the project has been postponed, but James is philosophical about what happened : "As is true with all independent films, the financing had to come from a lot of different areas, so there were a lot of different areas that could have fallen through - and one did. Oh, well," he adds, "I’ll catch Italy later." Since James will be around after all, will Spike be written more strongly into the episodes ? "I suspect so !" he laughs.
A new medium opened up for James in the growing world of audio books in 2002, when he was approached by Buzzy Multimedia to read Jim Butcher’s novel Storm Front on CD. The contemporary fantasy/mystery centres around Harry Dresden, a practicing wizard and private eye in Chicago. The project was such a success that, last year, James also recorded the sequel, Fool Moon. Joy Poger, who produced the audio CDs with her partner June Williams, explains why they chose James after seeing him on Buffy : "We decided that what James was portraying as Spike contained a lot of the character that Harry did. He had a great sense of comedic timing, whimsy, fighting against all the odds and still coming through. So we felt that if he could do that with Spike, he would be able to do that with Harry."
Author Jim Butcher is delighted with James’ performance on the CDs : "It’s one thing to read it to myself in my head as I’m going along, but it’s another thing for it to be read out loud by somebody who has talent with that kind of thing. There are a lot of extras that James throws in in terms of tone and inflection and timing that I really think do a lot to help the book out. And I really enjoyed him reading Toot-Toot [a tiny fairy character] in the first book. He obviously had fun doing it, so it made me happy."
For his part, James says he’s thoroughly enjoyed reading the books : "It’s more than just [voicing all the] different characters - it’s telling the story, which is always fun ; it’s also the art of hanging words in the air that the audience responds to, which is much closer to theatre. I love doing books on tape for that reason."
Aside from acting, music is also one of James’ passions, and one that has been a successful endeavor for him lately. After playing guitar and singing solo in small clubs around Los Angeles, James teamed up with guitarist Charlie de Mars, keyboardist/guitarist Steve Sellers, bassist Kevin McPherson and drummer Aaron Anderson to form the band Ghost of the Robot in early 2002. Ghost has played sell-out shows at clubs in Los Angeles, Northern California and on a European tour, and so far released three singles and a full-length album, Mad Brilliant, which is available through the band’s official web site, http://www.ghostoftherobot.net
"[Ghost] is the new, terrifying, wonderful, amazing thing of my life," James says, "I met some people who I had fun making music with, who I clicked with emotionally and the way we view the world in many ways, and it really grew out of a lot of long conversations and sharing material that we’d had separately."
So James is enjoying the music, but is being in a band comparable to acting ? "Music is much more intimate, personal and more revelatory than acting," he explains. "Singing is a very different beast. There’s something different about the air flow and about the way you have to produce it that really makes it more emotional and more vulnerable to me. If there’s anything that I’ve [learned about singing] from acting, it’s not to perform too much and to just try to connect with the audience. We just played the El Rey, which is one of the biggest clubs around LA, and we did very, very well."
James explains that, before every performance, the band talks about how they’ll approach each song : "We talk about phrasing [on the vocals], but we all talk about phrasing for all the instruments, too. You have to make the songs your own so I always kind of reserve the right to say, ‘No, this is what I feel. I’ll try it your way, but I don’t promise anything.’ [The other band members] have a few things to say about what I’m singing, and it always seems to make sense. It’s about trying to serve the writer ; it’s the same as acting."
While James obviously enjoys giving live performances, he also explains that the more creative side - song writing - has additional satisfaction : "Throughout my life, I have picked up my guitar when I was throwing plates - that often happens - [and thought to myself] ‘You’re about to destroy your apartment James. Pick up your guitar - you always get a great song out of that.’ And I’ve always used that as a kind of medicine." But has being in a band changed that ? "There are more pressures when you’re performing for a lot of people a lot of the time, and you’re approaching it on a pretty high musical level, because the people around you are really good, so it’s not quite playing for yourself. But I get more medicine. I’m performing my own material, and material [by fellow Ghost members]. We’re going to be recording a new album. We may have two or three albums’ worth of material. We just need to sit down and shake it out.
"It’s so wonderful to be around other songwriters, because one of us will be cooking, the other two or three of us will not. So the other guy will bring some songs to us, and they’ll be great, and it just sets your mind itching, thinking, ‘I’m not doing anything - he’s burying me. Oh, I’ve got to bring something !’ And then before you know it, the rest of the people are cooking up again. Aaron and Charlie just brought a new song into the set, which we played for an encore at the El Rey. I think it’s their best song - I think it’s our best song as a band. It’s Charlie’s getting sick of girls being so impressed that I’m on television," he laughs. "So it’s all about how TV isn’t everything. I love it."
James is happy for fans of his acting work to come to Ghost concerts, though : "There’s no negative at all. We are entertainers, and to be a performing artist, you have to have an audience. I know that a lot of people are going to come talking about Buffy and Angel, but I really hope that they leave humming at least one song." And when that happens, as James explains, it’s quite amazing : "I didn’t realise people were paying that much attention, but I’ll start a song and then the whole audience starts singing."
As for Mad Brilliant, James candidly reveals that, "I hear my voice and some of it bothers me, because I’ve progressed [since the recording]. I think the album stands pretty well. It’s self-produced - we didn’t have any help in producing it at all, and we didn’t really need it. It’s about self-expression more than trying to make money. And I think it succeeds - we are developing a sound that is our own. And, yeah, I’m proud of it. I think the next album is gonna be really fabulous."
However, even with all this going on, James says he still loves playing Spike and is pleased to stick with Angel as long as Joss wants him on the show. During the last season of Buffy, James gave several interviews in which he said that his Method acting technique wasn’t designed for sustaining a role year-in, year-out. "Method acting for series television can eat you alive," he told Buffy Magazine last year. So does he still feel that way ? "With the Method," James clarifies, "it depends on what you have to play." In other words, it’s only a problem when scenes like the attempted rape in "Seeing Red" come up ; so far, Angel has not called for anything similar. "The things that I’m having to play here [on Angel], I can go ahead and indulge myself and get into and not get burned by."
For a self-professed badass vampire, Spike has spent a considerable amount of time on Buffy and Angel in a state of profound terror, an emotion a lot of performers - especially men - are reluctant to depict fully. James has no such hesitation : "It’s not difficult at all. Even the biggest guy’s guy is afraid. The difference between cowardice and courage is what you do when you’re afraid. Everyone feels fear," he says. "I think it is very human and [as an actor] it gives you a lot to do."
Besides, a less flammable (emotionally and literally) Spike, another contrast that James is finding between Angel and Buffy is the gender balance of the series regulars. Does the set feel any different because of it ? "The hairstylists don’t have to pay so much attention to the cast members," he replies. "No, seriously, that’s a big difference. One strand of hair can cost us 10 to 15 minutes. Girls have longer hair and it’s harder to keep it perfect. On Angel, we don’t have to hold for hair," he laughs. "But it’s a Hollywood set. We’ve got girls in the cast, and we don’t crack dirty jokes all the time. There’s not that much difference in male/female. I guess there could be, but both Sarah [Michelle Gellar] and David [Boreanaz] are real professionals, so that it’s not like Sarah inflicted a feminine [atmosphere] and David inflicts a masculine one."
So overall, James is happy with the way things are going, and the many different directions that his life is taking him in. As he neatly sums up, "I’m pleased that my career is growing. I work very hard at it - and I’m proud of what I do."
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