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Buffy The Vampire SlayerSunday Q & A with James Marsters at Dragon*Con
By ’Talk English To Me’
Tuesday 30 September 2003, by Webmaster
James Marsters Q&A — Sunday, Aug. 31, 2003 DragonCon 2003 - Atlanta, GA
JM : So... HELLO ! You guys recover from last night ? [loud cheers from audience] Woah... I went to bed early and I still haven’t recovered from last night.
What I do best is just answer questions if you guys have any... uh I’ve got stories but you’ve probably heard them already so... [yells of no, no from the audience interrupt him].
(In different voice) Tell us a story. (getting into serious storyteller voice) Once there was a King who was into astrology. [laughs from audience] Through his art, he came to think that the wife that he had would bear him a son... who would kill her and destroy his kingdom [loud laughs from audience as they realize they weren’t about to hear a nice "bedtime" story.] The wife became pregnant and on the day that the son was born the Heavens opened up and hailed blood. The wife died in childbirth and the King locked his son away in chains trying to save his kingdom. He raised him like an animal. When the son was 18, the King relented and took his son out of jail and tried to make him a Prince, but being raised as an animal, he was an animal and he decided to try to kill people. So he became a [ ? ? Can’t make out words - something man ? ] ...(laughing voice) I’m running out of steam here... [loud applause and laughs from audience] I stole that from Calderon de la Barca. That’s not me. I have... not that imagination.
The brave lady... hello...
Q : I love your passion and strong opinions about "Macbeth" and I was wondering... if you could talk to Shakespeare about "Macbeth", what would you ask him or talk about ?
JM : (pauses to really contemplate his answer) You know, with that play I really... this is going to sound... okay, there’s one play in the world I feel like I know EXACTLY why he wrote it and I don’t think I need to ask him any questions about it. I really think I know, uh, what was going on in his world and... you see the thing about "Macbeth" is...
(laughing as he realizes he’s slipping into lecture mode) Here we go... [laughs, clapping from audience]
The Catholics had tried to kill the King. It was the gunpowder... the [Guy] Fawkes incident... and they put a bunch of gunpowder underneath Parliament when the King was going to speak to Parliament. So the whole Royal family was there along with the King and all the politicians, and the Catholics were going to blow the whole thing up. The King discovered it at the last moment and defused the bomb himself, but for a long time after that Catholics were even more persecuted than they usually were in Protestant England. The Catholics actually held a mass the night before the attempted murder, which to the Protestant mind was a black mass being that they were trying to kill the King so everyone’s blaming Catholics at the time calling them devil worshippers and everything else and so Shakespeare writes a play where the guy DOES go in league with the Devil and yet the reason that he may be evil on Earth was his own decision. I’m boring you to tears, yeah. [audience roars no, claps and cheers] Sorry man. I’m on so little sleep. I can ramble on until you tell me to shut up.
[Someone from audience yells out, "Take your shirt off". James, immediately responds in an OBVIOUSLY unhappy tone, "F*** NO !". The audience roars in support of James.]
JM : (in a obviously perturbed, upset tone... his expression made it obvious that he was quite upset and was NOT pleased that once again someone had yelled at him to disrobe !) Who said that ? Stand on up, honey. Come on up here.
[Shocked roars and laughs from audience anticipating an uncomfortable exchange. As the young woman who had yelled out the demand approached the stage, James says to her, "You got a bra on ?" [crowd roars] She nods yes. James, still seeming displeased by her request, says in kind of controlled but sort of daring tone, "Let’s see it baby."]
[To the surprise of James and the audience, the woman unbuttons her shirt without hesitation. She unbuttons it and takes her arms out but the shirt is still hanging around her waist where it is tucked into her pants. LOUD screams and cheers of surprise from the audience. She motions like, "there, I’ve done it" or something, and James says - I think - , "you’ve unbuttoned it." He then repeats her own demand back to her saying, "Take your shirt off". The woman holds her arms up motioning as if to say it is off. James says, "No it ain’t" — since she still had the shirt on around her waist. To everyone’s surprise, rather than taking her shirt the rest of the way off, she takes off her bra. Deafeningly LOUD shocked laughs and cheers from audience. James gives a smiling, shocked look to the audience. He walks over to the woman and they slap hands in a "high five" and then he gives her a quick hug.]
[The woman puts her bra and shirt back on] (Still smiling and laughing) You Rock ! I’m still not going to take my shirt off, but you rock.
[James says something I can’t make out then high fives her again] A brave soul. (Shakes head and says) I’m a fan of yours. D**n, braver than me.
Note from Talky : I thought it would be appropriate to add what James said at the start of Monday’s panel addressing the shirt incident.
From Monday Buffy All-Star Panel at DragonCon :
James M : I just want to talk real, real quick about yesterday. There was a girl who was real brave yesterday.
[one of the other guys (I think Leary but not positive) jumped in saying, "That’s one way to put it". Crowd laughed and he added, "The other would be real naked." ]
JM continued, "I just want to apologize to anyone if I offended them. I was trying to make a point of what it feels like to be asked to take your shirt off on demand, and she didn’t seem to care. I’m impressed by her courage, but I’m not like that and I was kind of expecting her to wuss out and she really didn’t. And I didn’t mean for that to happen.
If there were any kids in the audience, those really don’t exist in real life. [everyone laughs] ......................................................................................................
[Now back to Sunday’s transcript]
(laughing, turning back to person at mic) What’s up ? I’m awake now !
Q : [next person at the mic] There’s no way I could possibly top that.
JM : (laughing) Well, you know... (laughs) [audience laughs]
Q : Okay. I work in the theater and I know you did too. We all have our favorite theater train wreck stories where things went spectacularly wrong one night. You got one of those ?
JM : (thinking, thinking) I don’t know...uh... hmm... uh...(still trying to think of an example says in kind of apologetic tone) I don’t talk about it because I, uh ... hate to say it but the theaters that I’ve been involved with they just.. nothing goes wrong. [doubtful murmurs from audience]
(kind of embarrassingly covers his mouth and then gives a slight apologetic wave of his hand) It’s true. I’m thinking back. Uhm... I’m really trying to think back. [Someone in audience suggests "Robespierre"]
Robespierre ? Uh no, but "Life is a Dream"... okay, here’s one. "Life is a Dream" - the one I was just telling the story to - doing it at the Bailiwick in Chicago and the computer dumped all the light, the light flop [ ? ? a theater term I don’t recognize]. It was a three-hour show and the computer dumped the whole thing. But what I found... what happened was that they just had to bring general lighting up on everybody - on the house and on the actors as well - and it forced everyone to suspend their disbelief even more. It forced the audience to actually engage even more and it was the best performance we ever had.
Q : Yeah, they love that stuff.
JM : What’s that ?
Q : They love it. They get on your side just like that.
JM : Yeah, exactly. Exactly ! Something’s gone wrong and you are going to [rise] to it. It was the best... it was our opening night and we had critics from all the major papers there and we got great reviews. People thought it was a much better show (laughing) than it really was.
Q : [new person at mic, I think] I wondered - you said the other day that you’re a Method actor - I wondered, all these years of playing Spike, if you found that you took on any of his little characteristics or changed in any way personally while you were playing that character ?
JM : I went too far into the Method playing Spike. It really burned me frankly. I’m in therapy now (kind of smiling/laughs) because of it. [audience laughs] Yeah. The Method is really applicable to mostly film and film alone. The Method really it... in simple terms, the Method is just developing a fantasy life that you can release into to and improvise within... and it’s not so good for stage because for stage you have to tell a story and there’s a large part of your brain that has to be aware of what plot points you have to get in, what pace is, if you hear rustling outside... and when I’ve worked with actors who try to do the Method on stage, it’s been really frustrating. I’m like, (funny voice) "Hellooo, I’m glad you’re FEELING so much but there are people out there who want to hear a story."
But it works wonderfully for film because film wants to document something actually happening for the first time. It doesn’t want a recreation of the actual event, it wants the ACTUAL event and it will catch you lying. So in my mind, the Method is the ONLY good acting technique for film. And for television, it’s just problematic. On television because you’re in it for six years, and it will eat you alive. So I was playing a character who was a metaphor for hunger and, uhm, it ate me alive quite frankly... but I’m back. I’m okay.
Q : [can’t make out question]
JM : What’s that ?
Q : Method acting on the stage loses the audience in the process ?
JM : Yeah, one of the things. You lose the audience, you lose your responsibility to the other actors, you lose your responsibility to the playwright and you just become engulfed in your own sensation. And that’s great for film but it just doesn’t work for stage. ... I think. [audience laughs]
Q : [new person at mic] I was wondering if Spike was supposed to be representative of the Trickster archetype like Loki or Puck, and if so, with your experience as a Shakespearean actor, how you like that ?
JM : Spike’s not intelligent enough to be the Trickster. [crowd laughs, a number in the audience seem to disagree] Shakespeare was coming from a ... I mean for Shakespeare, the Trickster, the Fool... in the Elizabethan Court, the Fool was one of THE most powerful guys in Court. He was the one guy that could call the King an idiot and get away with it. And they also often lost their lives, if the joke wasn’t funny, but all of those roles that you mentioned are patterned after and thought of as the Fool. And there’s a great respect and a great wisdom contained in those roles and Spike (laughing)... Spike’s a 120 years old but he’s got the, you know, he’s got the maturity of (laughing) a 12-year-old. He doesn’t have the wisdom to be a fool. (laughing, says to himself, "So true.")
Q : [new person at mic] Hello from the Sock Sisters. (James smiles and replies, "Rock On Sock Sisters.") I have a quilt here that I can’t bring up to you (James jokingly asks, "of Socks ?") No, we sent out quilt squares to all Sock Sisters and we put together this quilt for you. So that’s all, just to let you know we’re the Sock Sisters and we love you.
JM : (laughs) I love you too. Thank you. I appreciate it.
Q : [new person at mic] This is kind of a personal question. I work with patients who even on ventilators ask for cigarettes. What motivated you to finally stop ?
JM : It feels bad. Smoking makes you feel bad. [claps from audience] I was tired. I was sick of feeling nauseous, man.
Q : It’s almost a religious experience because no other person can motivate you to do it.
JM : Exactly. And, I still haven’t. I mean I was just smoking a couple of cigarettes last week. I’m still on the patch, you know, but I had to do naked scenes again and so I’m like (motions frantic smoking). I will not... I won’t give up on myself. I don’t want to be a smoker. I don’t want to die from emphysema. [loud cheers and claps in support from audience]
Q : [new person at mic] Can you tell us about the process of recording "Fool Moon" and if there was a difference between what you did with "Storm Front".
JM : Uh, no, you know, the process was very similar. My schedule is so busy that I didn’t get to read either book before I recorded it. So it was really a process of reading one page and then reading it out loud and reading the next page — to myself in the booth — and reading it out loud again and trying to get carried away by the story. Trying to get a flow happening so that I’d have an emotional response to what I’m reading and it kind of flows. Just kind of letting myself be surprised by the plot, just like the audience would be. And I hope that worked. I wouldn’t (laugh) recommend that to people who do voice over, but I didn’t really have a choice. Yeah, both very enjoyable. Both kind of like... turning the page like (excited, surprised voice) "Oh my god". (laughs)
Q : I’ve slept with "Storm Front" about every night for the last year and I’m starting on "Fool Moon". It keeps me going when I have insomnia. Thank you.
JM : Yeah. Rock on. (asks audience) Is Jim Butcher here by any chance ? [audience says yeah and he wants to meet you... Questioner tells him that he’s signing over in the other hotel.] Really ? Is he far ? (Cups hands over mic and yells into mic) HI JIM ! [audience laughs] (James smiles laughing to himself at the silliness of yelling to another hotel) I’m really sorry guys.
Q : [new person at mic] I’m awake now, thank you. And my heart rate is a little high and it wasn’t before. [laughs] Okay, my question has to do with a favorite non-Shakespearean play I’ve heard you talk about a lot. Personally, I’m a fan of Tennessee Williams...
JM : That’s SO weird. I was just going to say that...
Q : I saw "Summer and Smoke" at the college where I attended and ... it just immediately grabbed me and touched me. I’ve never forgotten what I got out of it.
JM : "Streetcar" is a play that [audience claps]... you know, I don’t think I’d ever do Stanley because there’s always Marlon right (motions as if to say Marlon is up there, looking over your shoulder). But that’s the problem with "Streetcar"... that Marlon Brando played in it and he almost kind of eclipses the play and it’s too bad. I’ve watched that movie and I think, "He’s too good". You really... you’re on his side. And Tennessee was NOT ON HIS SIDE. That’s the animal, you know.
And then... I hate to sound like I haven’t read anything but really "Death of a Salesman" continues to be SO apropos to American culture. It just keeps being true. It’s a play that we keep around not because it’s a great play that we all remember being relevant, it still rocks.
As far as playwrights that may not be so famous, I really like Steven Berkoff. He’s an English playwright. My favorite play of his is "Kvetch". I directed a production of it in Seattle and it was really good. And then George Walker is a Canadian playwright who writes about underprivileged people in Toronto. He has a lot of kindness and a lot of wrath, which I like.
Q : Toronto is a beautiful city. You don’t see that part of it. It would be an interesting play.
JM : Yeah, you don’t think about poor people in Toronto. That’s the problem.
Q : It’s a Canadian city ; it’s very clean and Canadians are [ ? can’t make out words] and you don’t see that part of the city... I’m taking up way too much time... (big laugh from James as he says "no...")
JM : There are poor people everywhere but we don’t like to think about it.
Q : [new person(s ?) at mic] What we would like to ask you, two things, quick. We all have our favorite Spike lines — well, multiple favorite Spike lines — what are your favorite Spike lines ?
JM : You caught me. And this is the horrible truth about television. I don’t remember it. [audience laughs. Questioner says, "Would you like us to help you ?"] (James laughs) Seriously, sometimes I’d watch it, the show, and I don’t remember filming that scene. There’s part of your brain... when you’re doing stage you put your lines into long-term memory and you can keep those lines for years afterwards. But for TV... oh, by the way, to heck with the whole flash photography thing, take the pictures [loud cheers from audience and sudden blasts of flashes going off]
Q : [new person at mic] I just wanted to ask what you were planning to do in the future ?
JM : In the future ? Sleep. (big laugh)
Without the smart a** answer... Filming "Angel", trying to get time to work...[crowd claps, cheers interrupting James] Yeah. Oh guys, it is SO working. [crowd cheers]. It is SO good. All the producers and the writers are just like, (excited, surprised voice) "Oh my god. This is great !" We’re having a lot of fun over there I’ve got to say.
And then really trying to get into the recording studio with Ghost of the Robot and record some of this material... [audience interrupts with applause and cheers] We hit this period where just all these songs came up. I think we’ve got about three or four albums worth of material that we need to sort through and get down into one album and then record it.
And then beyond that, there’s a film coming out that I’m doing with Derek Jacobi and Sean Bean [loud roar from audience]. You know Sean from Boromir...(audience claps) the best role in the film [Lord of the Rings] I think, and that’s going to shoot in late October for two months. Then after that, wherever fate takes me.
Q : [new person at mic] Since you weren’t able to give us your favorite Spike lines, how about your favorite "Macbeth" lines.
JM : Yeah, sure. I’ll just do the thing... okay... uh, this is the most depressing monologue in Shakespeare. This is not philosophy that Shakespeare actually believed, but it is a reflection of a lead character having carved away his soul to hold onto power... that’s the great thing about the play... what it says about how murderers... people who do heinous things have to cut away their psychology so they can live with themselves and you go down that road far enough and you really can’t feel anything any more and if you read any interviews with any serial killers — I did, to do the role — it’s something they talk about a lot. ...So at the end of the play... at the beginning of the play we see Lady Macbeth and Macbeth just almost having sex on stage, that’s how hot they are for each other. Then we watch them go through this journey where they decide to do evil. At the end of the play, Lady Macbeth dies and Macbeth has just said "I can’t feel anything anymore" and then there’s a scream off stage. Dude goes checks it out, comes back and says, "The Queen, my Lord, is dead." We’re all holding on for the reaction to Macbeth and all he says is (slipping into his monologue)
She should have died hereafter ; there was a time for such a word. To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow, creeps in this petty pace from day to day, to the last syllable of recorded time ; and all our yesterdays have lighted fools the way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle ! Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more. It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury Signifying nothing.
[audience erupts in applause and cheers]
Bill Shakespeare, making me look good... again. (laughs)
What’s up ?
Q : [two women, in unison] We’ve been waiting on our knees for you.
JM : (big laughing, shocked grin) That’s an image I’ll keep. (smiles)
Q : [again in unison] We have another joint question.
JM : (laughing) If you all could harmonize, you’d have something. What’s up ?
Q : What do you consider your personal strengths and weaknesses ?
JM : My personal strength is patience, and my personal weakness is temper.
Q : By the way, the band kicked a** !
JM : Yeah ! (making excited little jumping and putting arms out in "yeah" motion) Yeah, we did ! Thank you.
Q : [new person at mic] I was just wondering, in the seven years that "Buffy" has been on, I think a lot of fans have taken away a lot of life lessons about it from the writing and the stories that have been told. I was just wondering if you had taken away anything personal, any life lesson that you have learned from the overall run of the show ?
JM : You know, I haven’t really learned...uh... I guess I’ve learned most from having to deal with the pressures of Hollywood in general. I don’t know how to explain this, but there’s a lot of people who don’t really treat people very well in Hollywood. It’s a really mean game sometimes and if you don’t watch out, you could take it personally. So, like early on, when I came to Hollywood, I was like, (slipping into funny, offended voice) "How dare they treat me like this. Don’t they... I’m an actor d**n it, I’m giving my blah, blah, blah". [audience laughs]
And now, I’m comfortable with the fact that they are trying to screw me [audience laughs] but I’m not going to let them. It’s just a game. It’s okay. So, I (laughing) think not easily making myself into the martyr is probably the biggest thing I’ve come up with.
Q : [new person at mic] My question is from a purely personal level, what kind of music touches you ?
JM : All music touches me. You know, this is something I realize more and more as I get further into music and really make that draw - take music into the center of my life - it’s always been a personal thing for me that I’ve kept for myself. And now that I’m sharing with people, things start to come up. Music really is magical. Music is math in the air. I was not particularly good in Math in high school, but I do remember the sensation of understanding a complex formula - when you finally understand like, "Oh, I get it. It’s B squared". Whatever the h*ll that is [audience laughs] and it’s a very pleasurable sensation when those pieces come together in your head. And music gives you that without the effort of learning math. [audience claps]
As a drama major this sounds a little weird, but I think the one art we need to keep in schools is music for that reason. Drama is nice but music you can’t do without. It really... you know, there were so many times I was smashing plates in my apartment or I was breaking windows and it... before the cops came, I’d pick up my guitar and start writing a song and it saved me more than once. And I really do feel like it makes my brain function better. I get to a higher level in my brain.
(looking over at person at mic, who is now a different person than the one who had asked the question) You didn’t ask that question and I’m nodding to you like you did. What’s up ?
Q : I have kind of a two-part question. Which union did you join first - Equity or SAG ? And which do you think is best for actors going to Hollywood for the first time.
JM : I joined Equity, which is the stage actors’ union - the oldest union in the history of mankind - and joined SAG later on. Actually, joined SAG before I moved to LA. When I was in Seattle, I did a couple of guest spots on "Northern Exposure" and got my card there. Uh, (sighs) sighs, the Actor’s Equity card is useless in Hollywood. Nobody knows what it is.
This is... okay... this is Hollywood... my manager - not my manager now - who I love - the other guy. (laughs) Because I mean (laughs) he’s like, (in kind of agent, schmoozing voice) "James, you are a FABULOUS actor. You are a BRILLIANT actor. That’s the one thing I hear every time I send you out, I make the phone call and I hear, ’God, that’s the best actor I’ve seen in a long time’. You are a Fabulous actor... and that’s a Plus !" [audience laughs] Go back to Seattle James. (laughing)
So I would say film... the other thing is that the acting techniques are so different from stage to film that if you really want film, just go to LA and start. (having second thoughts about what he just said) Uh, man, I don’t know if that’s true.
See the problem is the stage will give you a real discipline that it’s not really about you. You know that you function within the group. Stage also gives you... stage gives you what I like to say is "flight hours". Like a pilot needs a certain amount of flight hours to become a pilot, I think an actor needs a certain amount of time in front of an audience before they can really understand the craft. And stage will give you that. I mean, as a stage actor, I had so many more hours actually acting than people who haven’t been on the stage. I also hang my costumes up at the end of the night and that’s also a good thing. [audience claps approvingly] But at the same time, a lot of what I learned from stage, I had to jettison to do film. All the tricks of deciding where the audience wants to focus, manipulating words to create — I don’t know — sunshine in the fog, you know what I mean ? You can’t do any of that for film ; it will catch you. And the guy who was my idol, who I won’t name right now, all my life growing up on stage he...I mean he was a wizard on stage. He could take you. But I saw him on film and he sucked. And it was a big lesson. Wow, you can be that good of an actor on stage and it just doesn’t translate. So, I (laughing) don’t know what to tell you. (big laugh) Follow your bliss and don’t let anybody tell you that you don’t have a reason to be there. But just remember, Hollywood is making money and no offense if people try to screw you.
That’s like the longest answer (laugh) I think I ever gave.
Q : [new person at mic] Sorry, I’ve got blow job knees.
JM : Hey, that’s alright. (laughs) They do that on purpose.
Q : I read that Patrick Dempsey is going to play your character’s love interest in "Venetian Heat". How do you feel about that ?
JM : Uh, no. No, he read the script and found out he had to kiss me and dropped out. (loud voice) The WUSS ! [audience laughs] (says something I can’t make out, then in funny voice of someone put off by the role says) "I have to play a gay man ? !"
I can’t wait. I can’t wait. I want to do a love scene with a guy that’s SO HOT that it turns the girls on. [Roars from audience]
[Questioner says something I can’t make out. James says, "What’s up ?" And she says, "Why don’t you do at least one episode of [ ? ? I think she said "Queer as Folk"] ?"]
JM : You know, I know one of the guys on "Queer as Folk"
Q : Go for it.
JM : Yeah. Uh, Scott. He’s a fabulous actor. Yeah, I’d love to do it. I’d love to.
Q : Would you nail Harold or [ ? ?some other name, maybe Scott or Bob ?] ? [audience laughs, James laughs] [Note from Talky : I think she said Harold but when I looked on the show’s website, I didn’t see any names that seemed to match. I don’t watch the show so I’m not familiar with the characters’ or actors’ names.]
JM : Uh, (still laughing to himself)... However...[audience laughs as he redirects his answer]...it’s not as well written as what I get. It’s hard... I mean, life [ ?not positive that’s the word he said] on TV, it’s a great subject matter and everything but ... uh, ... call me opinionated but I just LOVE what I’ve got. And a lot of people are like, "Why don’t you do more guest spots ? Why don’t you do more movies ?" and I’m like, "Because they’re not as good as what I have." [audience claps in agreement] So... [loud clapping from audience]
Q : [new person at mic] Hello...
JM : I LOVE your sense of style. ...
Q : I’m glad you came to the convention and I hope you come back again. My question is that you go to a lot of cons, which a lot of people don’t ever come back to, what keeps you coming back and particularly what do you love about this one ?
JM : You guys. [roars, claps from audience] I used to go to cons. Man, I used to have ears. (laughs) [audience claps, laughs] I love being in an atmosphere where everyone lets their FreakFlag fly. [loud roar of support from audience] (Motioning with arms out) I’m a Klingon. I’m [ ?can’t make out word ?] (laughs).
That is really extraordinarily beautiful. I mean, that’s the coolest thing I may have ever witnessed — people strutting around being proud. I love it.
Q : Thanks.
JM : Yeah, you’re welcome.
Q : [new person at mic] The first thing I want to say to you is that when you were at the Q&A before, on Friday, you said you hadn’t really heard any new music that you really liked. Well, that’s because you’re in the new music that I think, that is really out there I really like...
JM : I agree with you. I agree with you. Ever since Kurt Cobain died — corporate rock — the corporate heads have taken rock and roll over and we’re now in the period before the next band shakes it up and gets it back to the garage where it belongs. [audience claps]
Q : [new person at mic] My question is - because I have to have a question - from all your experiences, what have you learned and what would you like to have had when you went into Juilliard before you became a stage actor ?
JM : Ticket back home. [audience laughs]
(speaking slowly with emphasis and obviously strong emotion) Juilliard was the most pathetic excuse for actor training I could ever imagine. [woos and claps from audience] I could go into every detail if you want it but it just... okay, in short, they take the fun out of it okay. And as professional actors will remind you, it’s called a play. Nobody’s paying to watch you work. We’re called players. (big laugh) You know — actors, players — and if it ain’t fun, it’s just... why don’t you do another job you hate, you know. (laughs) Earn more money.
But they have a big old cred and they convince you that if you’re having fun, you’re wrong. It’s really sick. I mean, I don’t have sour grapes about it because I went ahead and I became a success and far out. But I really have this nagging feeling that... because Juilliard has this big name, guys, right ? ... and so every high school student wants to go there and they audition and so they get the pick of the litter every year and then they go about telling them that they suck and they’ll never make it and you should quit now before you get bitter. And so I feel like the best actors in my nation are getting told not to do it before they ever begin. I just know there are two or three young actors every year that America would really love to have that don’t and that just PISSES me off. [loud roars, claps from audience]
Q : I enjoyed last night.
JM : Thank you. I had a really good time man. You guys were SO cool. [audience claps, cheers loudly]. I’m doing art now... (apologetically to new person at mic) I’ll get right to you... It’s amazing when you plug in art. Like going from stage to TV, it’s like they put the electricity in you know, and it just jumps up. I’ve been playing folk songs in bars for so long but now I’m amped into all this voltage with rock and roll and it just makes the art sizzle. I love this century. (laughs)
Q : Hello James. I’ve been sent by someone in the audience who was a little bit shy about asking a question so I’m here in proxy for this person. [James quietly says, "Rock on"] And their question is, in "House on Haunted Hill", why did you choose to portray the cameraman with a British accent ?
JM : (surprised, puzzled) Did I ? [audience laughs] [he says something I can’t exactly make out in laughing tone]
I don’t think I meant (laughing) to do a British accent ? (laughing) I’m going to have to watch that DVD.
No, I did "House on Haunted Hill" because I’d just seen "Shine" and I really just wanted to work with that actor [Geoffrey Rush] and I didn’t care if I had a line or not. I just wanted to know what kind of human being he was. And he was just fabulous, yeah.
Q : Thank you, and I’ll hand you over to my lovely daughter Rebecca. [now her daughter asks question] I was wondering how long did it take you to record "Storm Front" ?
JM : Two days.
Q : How many hours ?
JM : Eight hours a day.
Q : Can I take a picture ?
JM : Sure. Take one. [Proceeds to give her a lovely "tongue out" pose and then a big smile.]
Q : Thank you for saying we could flash.
JM : Thank you. (big laugh)
[Someone, I think the moderator, says humorously clarifying... "That would be FLASH photography." Audience laughs and James smiles big and ducks head down toward his chest kind of laughing/smiling too.]
[Two eight-year-old twin girls go up to the mic. When James looks over and sees them, he has a smiling, kind of surprised/"aw" reaction and clutches his hand to his chest over his heart silently mouthing, "Awww".]
Q : My name is Veronica. And my name is Victoria and we wanted to tell you happy birthday and our birthday is Tuesday. [lots of "awws" and claps from audience]
JM : Rock On ! How old are you going to be ?
Q : Eight.
JM : Eight ? Rock on. I turned much older than that (big laugh). [audience laughs] You guys are darlin’. If I had room, I’d want to take you home. (laughs) But I’ve already have two kids I’m taking care of. God, you guys are great. Happy Birthday. (asking out into audience) Who’s the Mom ?... Congratulations ! Lucky woman !
Q : [new person at mic] I had a question but it got asked so I’m just going to tell you what I came here to tell you which is that you are such an inspiration to theater actors everywhere — not just to work, but to keep working — and I just wanted to say thank you.
JM : Keep the flame going. Thank you. [audience claps]
Theater will never go away. See, everyone was worried that theater was going to die when television went into the homes and it took a hit, but theater is one of the most natural artistic impulses that we all have because we’re all actors, guys, right ? (laughs) We all like to tell stories. And somehow watching it on a flat screen is not dangerous enough really. It’s really MUCH more wonderful to watch someone stand here and make a big mistake. [audience laughs, claps] So beautiful.
Q : [new person at mic] Hi James. I was wondering, when Juilliard didn’t work out, how did you get your artistic confidence back ?
JM : I went through a really dark period because I really... uhm, I went to Juilliard thinking that "I’m now going to be a Grade-A, USDA actor if I get the stamp" you know. And I made some enemies among the British contingent of the faculty. (laughing) They quite... they tried to take me down a peg and they succeeded. I almost threw myself off the top floor of Juilliard. (laughs) But... (realizing audience is quiet) yeah, that’s funny. [Audience laughs. The questioner or moderator says, "We’re all just really glad you didn’t." Audience cheers in agreement.]
I started playing in rock bands. I hung out with some really violent people for a year, uh... and then I started bartending. And then it really struck me, after two years, I wasn’t really an actor (quick laugh) any more. And so I moved to Chicago. That was MY SALVATION ! CHICAGO ROCKS ! I did like 70 plays in six years. I was never without a play. I started the theater company. I learned SO much and I’m thankful forever to that city because it got me back on the horse. [audience claps] I was in town for three months and I got cast at the Goodman, which is the biggest theater in the Mid-West. (laughing) It was like, "JUILLIARD" (and shoots "Juilliard" the bird with both hands !) [audience roars]
Q : Thank you.
JM : You’re welcome. If you ever lose confidence, just get back in front of an audience and let them tell you what’s up. They’ll tell you ! [audience laughs]
Q : [new person at mic] I have the book "Storm Front" by Jim Butcher and I was going to ask you to read a paragraph but since I’m not allowed to do that, can you please tell me your favorite part ?
JM : Of "Storm Front" ? It was the scene in the kitchen with the wife of the perp. Just the details of the silence and the clock ticking on the wall and this woman’s pain and you could tell that she felt it was her fault, you know, and I thought that was really deft. I thought that it spoke volumes and the guy knows about abuse.
Q : [new person at mic] I know you said you don’t have a lot of time to read but I was wondering what your favorite book is and why ? And how you got involved with Jim Butcher and doing that ?
JM : My favorite book in the world is a book that was written about a hundred years ago called "Twentieth-Century Madness and the Insanity of Crowds". [actual title is : "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" by Charles Mackay, originally printed in the 1840s. Read discussion thread about it here : http://forums.morethanspike.com/index.php ?...t=739&hl=mackay ]
(getting excited) It’s just fascinating. It talked about London early on. Every 100 years ago... every 100 years or so — because London has been around forever — there would be some maniac in the streets saying, "The world is going to end. I saw it in blood." And they believed him ! And they would all run to the west bank and evacuate the city for a couple of months. And this would happen regularly.
The basic precept of the book is that there are three things that we will never overcome in our life. There are three things that we can never get past - toil, ignorance of the future, and death. People have been selling snake oil, trying to tell us that they’ll get us over this, and the INSANE behavior that people have trying to get over those things when, in fact, we just have to release and say, "I don’t have control over that".
Right now, I’m enjoying Michael Moore’s book, "Stupid White Men" [loud claps from audience] Great chapter in there called "Kill Whitey" talking about... he’s like, (in different voice to quote/paraphrase what Moore wrote) "You know, every time I watch TV or see a movie, it’s always some black person doing violence to white people but if I look back in my life all of the F’d-up things that have happened to me have been at the hands of white people. I can’t remember a black person doing anything wrong to me." It’s a beautiful book.
And then, the new Harry Potter book. (laughs) [audience roars, claps] Right before I came down here I was reading it, right, and I was like, (in pissed off voice) "SNAPE ! I HATE you ! A**hole !" [audience laughs] He’s SO jealous of Harry. He’s so (laughs) jealous of him. I just want Harry to stand up and say, "You show me respect because I’m getting more powerful every year and you’re getting older." [laughs, claps, roars from audience] I was walking (laughing) around in my suite (laughing) cussing at Snape.
[audience laughs] Yeah, ISSUES. (laughs) Thank you.
Q : And with Jim Butcher, how did you get involved with that ?
JM : Oh, with Jim Butcher ? I think someone from his staff just approached my manager and they said check out the book. I read three chapters and was like, "Cool !"
I’m a fan of his. I think he’s a really good writer. I’m glad you’re happy with the genre. He really puts more meat on the bones of the story than he has to and it raises the level of the whole genre.
Q : [new person at mic] First let me say that I have to agree with your management — you are one of the most absolutely brilliant actors I’ve ever seen. [loud cheers of agreement from audience]
JM : Thank you.
Q : I know in your work, you read a lot of screenplays and, as a writer myself, I was wondering when you’re reading one, what in a screenplay makes it stand out ? What qualities make it stand out as something special, the kind of project that you’d like to be involved in ?
JM : Two things. One is if the writer is brave enough to actually get to where he wants to get to. I have worked with a lot with playwrights as a director and a producer and that’s the one thing I find the big problem often is... that they shy away from their theme because to them, it’s very dangerous, very personal, and they often don’t really understand the theme consciously while they’re writing it. It seems like they’re just about to get to really say what they want to say and (makes beep noise) - off. So, there’s that. I feel like if the writer is successful and he’s writing a script and he understands what he’s talking about, the theme should be there somewhere in the first three scenes. There should be something that doesn’t clue you in completely to what he’s talking about, but it should start the dialogue between he and you, or she and you.
And then the other thing that I like is just good execution. You know, a film that has almost nothing to say, but if it says it really well... there’s dynamic sense... there’s a forward motion to it that is... then I’d sign onto it for that reason as well.
Q : Thank you.
JM : You’re welcome. D**n, I’m so serious. I feel like you guys should be getting class credits for this. [loud laughs from audience] I don’t really (laughingly) KNOW what I’m talking about. This is just me...
Q : [new person at mic] I was late coming in on "Buffy" because I did not like the movie.
JM : Yeah, the movie sucked. [audience roars] I mean it had good actors in it. It had a lot of good actors in it, but it was... the thing with Joss Whedon and his material is that you can’t send it up. It has to be based in... it has to be realism. The acting style has got to be natural and you can’t be aware of how witty you are or how strange the situation is. If you send it up at all, it just breaks it to pieces. And that movie just sent it up higher and higher and higher. Like, "What are you guys doing ?" I’d love to go to the director of that film and go, "Dude, (laughing) should have listened to Joss, man."
Q : I had to back up and get DVDs ... you were kind of serious toward the end ... I had to back up and watch [the early seasons] and when I backed up, you were hilarious. You can pull off comedy.
JM : Well that’s the great thing, one of the great things, about working with the material is that you get to show off. Usually, you try to bury all the strings of the puppet so people don’t understand what you’re doing up there. Usually you either play comedy or drama, melodrama or romance — they’re different styles — but in the scripts for "Buffy" and "Angel", you change up styles, sometimes mid-sentence. I notice it most clearly when I’m watching the other performances, like especially Sarah’s. She can go from parody to melodrama like (snaps fingers) bam. And it works. Yeah, so I just feel like I got to show off for six years basically. There are a lot of actors who can do comedy and drama. There are a lot of them but usually we only get to do one at a time so you don’t notice it so much.
Q : One more question. Do you have any offers for movies coming up ?
JM : Yeah, I’ve had a lot of offers for movies but (laughs) a lot of them I don’t take.
Q : You’d make an excellent Gambit.
JM : (nodding in agreement) [audience cheers loudly in agreement] Yeah, I would. I love that theme too. The X-men - that’s a good theme. I would love to play Gambit. H*ll, yeah. [audience claps] (big smile) They’ll probably get some big STAR though.
Q : [new person at mic] Early on in your career, were you ever asked to anything embarrassing or compromising to get a role ?
JM : Well, yeah. You know, actually, that brings up an interesting point. For film, which I have less experience in than in stage in which I have a lot more, you’re often asked to do things that you’re very uncomfortable doing. Either nudity or, for me, it’s enacting sexual violence against women, I can’t do that. Uhm, but on stage, you get to choose if you WANT to do that or not. If the script makes it worth it... if what’s being said is important enough that you want to put yourself through that. And what I find so disconcerting about television is that I have no choice at all. I have to show up at whatever time they tell me, day or night, five days a week - there’s no off time. I have to wear or not wear whatever they tell me and do or not do to whomever they tell me, whatever they tell me to do. And that makes me feel (pauses, sighs) like a whore... frankly.
No offense to prostitutes ; we appreciate your work. [audience laughs] But... (laughs, hangs head down, shakes head, and laughs more)...
That’s the thing I trip on most of all. And it’s getting to the point where even taking my shirt off, even if I have pants, you know, "Cut" and I just wrap the towel around me (motions wrapping a towel, covering himself up, kind of curling up into himself and shaking head). I don’t have any problem with my body. It’s just that I didn’t choose to do that. I was forced to, and even when I look at the scripts and they are talking about things that are real — it’s not just fluff, these writers are really trying to explore themselves honestly within the metaphor of the show — but somehow, once my choice is taken away, that somehow changes it. Yeah, so you know, I’m proud of everything but it’s hard to me. But, yeah, there are... I’ve done... It’s mostly nudity.
Q : Did you ever have to do anything compromising to get the role ?
JM : Oh. No. No. You see, I’m am an actor and if people don’t want to cast me off of the audition, they ain’t good enough for me to work with anyway. [audience claps in support] But the "couch" does exist. It does exist and for men, it’s as problematic, I understand, as for women and that guys have to go to the couch as much as women. [shakes his head as if saying he can’t imagine having to do that] (laughing) I’d kill the mother-f*****. (motions throwing punches at someone) [audience claps]
My manager’s like, "His career’s sunk." (laughs)
Q : [new person at mic] I can’t believe I had to sit on my knees for an hour to ask this question. I’ve got rug burns now on my knees and no good story to tell.
JM : (laughing) Well, make one up, baby. [audience laughs] Just make me large. (big laugh, hangs head down and shakes head.) [oohs, laughs from audience]
[James looks up and motions/makes expression like, "what, what’d I say ?" Then motions hand to chest like, "What me ? I wouldn’t say that ?"] (playfully says) "Did you think I meant... ?" (big laugh)
[Audience laughs] What’s up ?
Q : Now I forgot what I was going to say. (BIG laugh from James) Actually, I auditioned at Juilliard. I played a number of instruments. I thought I was pretty good and I went to audition for percussion, and they told me what they tell so many other people and I stopped music at that point. I never went back to it. I wanted to be in the NY Symphony — that was my dream — and I stopped because of Juilliard and what they did to me that day.
JM : (shaking head in understanding) Yeah. You know what, they do that to a lot of really talented people. They tried to do it to me. F-them ! You know what, take that instrument back for yourself. [audience claps in support]
Jimmy Eats World, Don’t let the bitter hearts... what do they sing (starts singing the song quietly to himself to remember the words) Don’t worry what the bitter hearts are going to say.
And the other thing about Juilliard, okay... (lower voice) to be perfectly honest... there ain’t no air at Juilliard. I’m serious. The whole thing is hermetically-sealed because they’ve got Stradivarius violins - no sh*t - they’ve got Stradivarius violins up on the fourth floor and they can’t mess with humidity, right. So, I mean the actors had it bad enough. The dancers were DYING. But there literally has not been fresh air in that site since 1966. [audience laughs] It’s true ! "We need oxygen. We’re students."
Q : It does have an unmistakable smell to it...
JM : The smell of pain. [audience laughs]
But seriously, you go in there and you’re falling asleep in class and you’re like, "I slept last night ?" And then you go out to lunch and you feel great because you leave the building and you go back in the building and you go to sleep again.
You’re lucky they didn’t take you. It’s the best thing that ever happened to you. They’re fools. It’s probably a mark of pride, actually. [can’t quite make out what he says]. [audience claps]
Q : [new person at mic] I wanted to know what your favorite quote was or if you have an original one ? I have one. It’s, "Politics is a lot like a sewer tank, the big chunks rise to the top." (big laugh from James) What’s yours ?
JM : (thinking) You put me on the spot. I have a lot of them and I’m trying to come up with one and I’m like too sleepy.
"Acting is being private in public." That’s the most concise explanation of why it’s difficult and also rewarding. Yeah, you either have to be so brave or so desperate that you’re willing to be private in public. It’s a strange profession.
Q : [new person at mic] I’m a drama teacher by profession. Actually, I’m staying home with my daughter right now. I spent a lot of years teaching acting to high school students and I’ve talked a lot about how it takes vulnerability to produce a really... a real performance. (James nods in agreement.) And you know, a lot of people have been bantering the comments about what a great actor you are - and you are - but I want to be specific. To me, the reason I have loved your performance so much in this series is that you have been so vulnerable as Spike and you have taken this character who was supposed to be this heinous villain and we LOVE him. (James grimaces then smiles, hangs head.) [audience cheers]
JM : (laughing) What’s wrong with you people ? (laughing)
Q : It’s a combination. I don’t want you to think that I’m some sort of sick freak but what I mean is and what I want to ask you specifically... I mean, I thought that I had seen so many wonderful performances from you throughout the series but to me, in the last season, in that episode, "Beneath You" [cheers from audience], forever, forever will that image of Spike draped over the smoking cross... [cheers from audience drown out what she says]... I really want to ask you... I can’t even imagine... those who can’t, teach. I couldn’t act my way out of a paper bag ; I’m a drama teacher. So I want to know, good God, how did you come up with that performance ? What motivated... what was the motivation for Spike ? The pain in that character was TANGIBLE, you know. And how you could not have been nominated for... [audience roars in support] an Emmy, best actor in any f**king drama is [audience roars and again drowns her out]...
JM : (laughing) I get so much more credit for not getting nominated. (laughs) I’m like the underdog forever, even though (laughs) I’m a TV star.
Q : How did you, yeah... how.. where did that performance come from ?
JM : You see, this is the sick thing about acting. You see, that pain was real. I dredged up everything I felt guilty about in my whole life. And there’s a lot of things I’ve done wrong in my life. It was a process of getting all of that to the surface and living it. Acting is not really healthy. There are a lot of things you do to yourself that a therapist would say, "You’re an IDIOT".
You’re never going to be happy if you keep beating yourself up like that. That’s why...
You know, I can’t watch "Rebel Without a Cause" any more because I think that I’ve realized the truth about film acting, which is that it has to be real. When I watch James Dean... it’s obvious that he is going through something real and at this point, it’s like, "oh, God". I can’t even watch it any more. It’s just too painful.
The camera... the camera is demanding... demanding son of a b... it will catch you lying. It will love ya for telling the truth, but anything other than the truth just ain’t good enough. So when they ask you to do those scenes, you know, if you really want to do them right you put yourself through a lot of pain. And there’s a lot of stuff on "Buffy" that I ... I mean I was just... god, I’d come home just weeping, you know.
You know, usually the writing in television is mediocre so you’re safe. (laughs) But on "Buffy" and on "Angel", these writers are cutting close to the bone sometimes. [audience claps] The thing is, you know we became friends, so we would start talking about our lives, and they’d chop my life up and put it into the show. And I was like... I finally went to the producers... and Marti and I was like, "Marti, you just can’t hide around here. Sh*t. Stop it." (big laugh)
That’s why I wonder why the he... heck I’m still an actor. I look at myself in the mirror and I’m like "What are you doing to yourself ? What are you doing ?" It’s either courage or desperation. I’d like to think that it’s not... I don’t THINK that I need the validation. Maybe I used to so I got into it. I’d like to think at this point that I just found something that I can do (laughs), you know, and I have fun doing and that’s why. But there are days I really ask myself, "What are you doing ?" It’s a weird thing to do to yourself. [audience claps]
Moderator : Alright, unfortunately we’ve come to our last question. I know there are a lot of great ones out there but on behalf of everyone here, I know we were thrilled to have you obviously. So big round of applause... [major applause from audience, screams, claps]
JM : Thank you ! I’ll see you guys in the autograph line - if you have time. (waves to crowd)