411mania Interviews James Marsters
James Marsters will always be best known for the character of Spike, who he played on seven seasons of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and during the final season of Angel, but he’s also put together very well received stints on Torchwood, Without A Trace, and Smallville. He stars in the major motion picture Dragonball Evolution, which opens in theaters next Friday.
Al Norton: How familiar were you with Dragon Ball going into the movie?
James Marsters: I never got to see the manga but I did get to see the anime, I got to see the cartoon, mostly on DVD. I’ve seen about 80% of it, and there’s 12 years of it to watch, so I’ve seen a whole lot of it. Unfortunately I saw it all out of sequence because my son – he was younger then, 7 years old – he just fell in love with it and we cleaned out Best Buy and Circuit City of Dragon Ball videos for years. Sorry to anyone who was trying to buy them at the same time (laughing).
Al Norton: What was his reaction when you told him you were doing the movie?
James Marsters: It’s the first time he cared what Dad did at the office (laughing). Kids care what you do when you come home from the office but this was the first time that his ears perked up. And he was merciless. He’s a fan fan, so he said, “Dad, if you’re going to do this you’re going to do it right, you’re not going to mess it up. You’re going to train hard, right?” Anytime I put anything in my mouth he’d say, “fat Piccolo, fat Piccolo.”
Al Norton: Aside from your son, is there added pressure doing a project that comes from such well read and watched source material?
James Marsters: Yes but from no one more than myself. I figure if I can please myself than I’ll please the other fans because of how big I fan I am. But yes, there is a lot of pressure. When I first got the role I thought, “me, for Piccolo?!?” He’s my favorite character in the whole series. Piccolo is just the coolest.
As I got to work on it and talked to the director and what he needed for the fight scenes, how much he wanted the actors in the fight scenes and didn’t want to use stunt men, how much wire work that there was going to be, plus the needs for the character, not only for this movie but for the next ones coming up where my character is no longer evil…at this point I feel like I’m the only guy to play him. I’m very territorial about the role.
Al Norton: You’ve done plenty of physical work before but had anything you’d done compared to this shoot?
James Marsters: No, not at all. Buffy was gnarly, we were fighting quick and dirty on Buffy. Sometimes with those fight scenes we just got one take but here I felt like a high school student who’s all proud of graduating from high school and thinks he’s oh-so ready to be in college and found out what it was really like when he got on campus.
It was a whole different level. They just kicked us for two months down in Los Angeles. 8711 was the fight crew that designed and did the stunts. They’re behind the stunts from Spiderman, 300, The Bourne movies, and most of the cool fight movies coming out right now. They were pretty tough on us, and for good reason; the director didn’t explain to me going in but he decided he wasn’t going to use a stuntman at all. It was the last day of shooting and I was getting kicked in the face 9, 10, 15 times and I realized they weren’t going to use the stuntman (laughing).
Al Norton: What was the daily transformation into Piccolo like?
James Marsters: The first time we did it took 14 hours and that was my own fault. I was really specific that I wanted him to be old and decrepit and ugly. He transforms later in the story into a younger, better looking version but I wanted this to be as far away as that as possible to make the transition that much cooler. I kept telling the makeup man, “more lines, meaner, deeper around the eyes, more sunken” and then finally after 14 hours he literally hit me upside the head and said, “I’m done”. We eventually got it down to four hours; they brought in an amazing guy named Ed French and he didn’t put up with my guff.
Al Norton: You mentioned other movies in this series, obviously in a project like this there is hope of doing more but are you already set for them?
James Marsters: I was told the day before yesterday that we’re green lit for the second film and it’s ok to tell the press.
Al Norton: So are you going to just stay in shape? Did you have a little post-production celebration of being able to eat what you wanted?
James Marsters: No (laughing). I went from grueling workouts during Dragon Ball to shooting in eastern Europe for two films, getting a little out of shape but not bad at all. I’m on a good workout now but as soon as I get back from playing music in May the stunt crew is going to have me again.
When I signed on for Dragon Ball I knew it was all about transformation. The characters start at one power level and they transform into a new and more powerful version of themselves, and that happens to each of them more than once. It’s going to be very important to step up and give that physical transformation so that every movie that comes down the road makes the audience go, “oh my god, is that the same guy?” I’m going to have to keep topping myself and frankly I was in better shape for Dragon Ball than I was for Buffy.
Al Norton: Have you seen the finished product?
James Marsters: Yes, three times. I like it better every time. Twice in English and once in Japanese. It was dubbed but I chose to think that the acting was very good.
Al Norton: Was that strange to see you with a different voice? Buffy must have been dubbed into a whole bunch of languages.
James Marsters: Very weird. I have to say I keep being told by people that the actors who do Spike all around the world are very good….The voice is always even deeper and even more rumbling than mine, so I am happy with it.
Al Norton: We talked about a year and a half ago and I asked you about the likelihood of playing Spike again and you told me about a seven year window from when Angel went off the air. It’s now 2009…do you think there’s a chance you’ll even put on the black leather trench coat again?
James Marsters: Well, Joss (Whedon) is all busy with Dollhouse now so I don’t know (laughing). If he were ever just sitting around then maybe. The problem is that all the writers have scattered to the very profitable winds; Marti Noxon is a producer on Grey’s Anatomy, the other writers are working on some of the top shows on TV right now, and old Spike is getting lost (laughing). That’s all right.
I’m definitely into it. I pitched Joss an outline for a TV movie and he liked it a lot. He tried for a little while to get it going but it didn’t get anywhere. Frankly Buffy was always an uphill battle to do; we were always happy when we got renewed. From a network standpoint, to do a Buffy thing without Buffy in the lead is a risk. I mean, I don’t think so, but I’m not objective about it.
Al Norton: You wrote a comic book about Spike; would you ever consider taking a whack at a script on your own?
James Marsters: I don’t know if it would be smart to do that out of the blocks. The best thing for me to do would be to co-write it with someone who has written before. I think I’m good with big picture, I think I’m good with basic plot, I think I’m good with character, but I think my dialogue could be better. It’s important not to be too proud about that stuff.
Al Norton: Can I ask you to share some thoughts about Andy Hallet (Marster’s Angel co-star who tragically passed away at age 33 two weeks ago)?
James Marsters: Andy was always so kind and so funny, and always being that way so while in so much pain. His eyes did not do well with the contacts he had to wear to play Lorne at all. When he was filming it was very painful for him. It’s easy to be nice when everything is comfortable but you really find out what someone is made of when it’s tough, and it was tough for him everyday and yet there was never a day without him being totally gracious, cracking jokes as he’s wiping the tears from his eyes. He was a real gentleman, very funny, and I will miss him greatly.
Al Norton: Did you see Twilight?
James Marsters: Yes, I’ve got a niece who’s almost 12 so I’ve seen it twice. And I’ve read a third of the book. I thought it was great. The vampire myth is a potent one and I am surprised it took this long for another big vehicle for them. I mean, there have been others. Blade was totally cool and Blade 2 was so awesome.
Al Norton: Did you have as much fun doing Torchwood as it seemed from watching it?
James Marsters: (Laughing) We had more fun doing Torchwood than we could even show you. John Barrowman is just fabulous and he will not let you be tired, he won’t let anyone not care. The harder it gets, the more tired you get, the more this man just goes off. I’ll follow him anywhere because I know the job is to have fun.
Al Norton: Are you a part of the upcoming third season? I think it’s actually a mini-series.
James Marsters: Yeah, that’s the strange thing about the BBC – “we’ve got a hit show, the whole world wants to see more, let’s cut it down to five episodes.” They obviously know what they are doing. It’s a five episode arc and I don’t think I am in it. They haven’t called me.
Al Norton: If they approached you about taking Captain John Hart and giving him his own project, is that that something you’d be interested in?
James Marsters: That is something I would love to talk about. I hadn’t been on anything as subversive as Torchwood since Buffy. Subversive in the best sense, in the sense that there are lies we are told from childhood that don’t really serve us well, lies like “you can buy happiness” or that certain people are cooler than others, and artists, especially subversive ones like myself, we try to rip these lies down all the time. I was so blessed to be on Buffy because it was a deeply subversive show and Torchwood equally so.
I really got interested after I was on it one time and found out there was a homophobic backlash against the show.
Al Norton: But that’s what makes that whole introductory fight scene so great. I mean, when do you ever see a kiss in a scene like that?
James Marsters: I know, exactly. Once I found out there was a backlash it was like blood in the water to me, I was like, “oh my god, we drew blood, let’s do it a lot more.”
Al Norton: Does Moonshot (a TV movie about the Apollo 11 moon landing, with Marsters as Buzz Aldrin) have a firm air date yet?
James Marsters: Yes it’s going to be on July 20th, the 40th anniversary of the moon landing. That was a great but tough shoot. The director warned us from the beginning that it was going to be rough. Every time they had done Apollo movies that had to make the capsule three times bigger than it actually was to fit the cameras and the lighting but for the first time it was actual size because they now have digital cameras that are about the size of a chapstick. It was as cramped and uncomfortable as it was for them.
We hear the transmissions from those missions and they sound so calm, like if there hair was on fire they’d say, “mission control, my hair is on fire. Is there anything we can do about that?” They were test fighter pilots who were trained to deal with anything that might come up but in reality they were really stressed, really uncomfortable, and were in real danger the whole time. NASA only gave them a 50-50 shot to come back alive so in some ways it was a semi-suicide mission. The director wanted to show that, yes, they were cool in a crisis but that they were actually hanging on by their fingernails.
Al Norton: You’ve played real people before but was playing an American hero like Buzz Aldrin more pressure than usual?
James Marsters: Yes, especially after I saw the Youtube clip where Buzz Aldrin punches out a journalist for claiming that he never got to the moon (laughing). I live in fear that Buzz will walk up to me and say, “you made me into an emotion wimp” and take a swing at me.
Al Norton: What’s going on with your music these days?
James Marsters: I’m going first to Florida, and then to London, and the hopefully to Italy playing music. Just me and my guitar out on stage. The fans seem to like it. I sometimes dream of forming a new band but I have lot of fun out there on my own. It’s a little more dangerous to have no back up. I keep writing songs and I keep enjoying it.
Don’t miss Dragonball Evolution, in theaters next Friday.