411mania Interviews: James Marsters
While James Marsters will forever be associated with Spike, the iconic character he played on both Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, his work since then is also impressive, including stints on Smallville, Without A Trace, and Torchwood as well as guest spots on Lie To Me, Saving Grace, and Numb3rs. Tomorrow night he begins a run on Syfy’s critically acclaimed new series Caprica.
Al Norton: My Facebook status all day on Valentine’s Day was, “love isn’t brains, children, it’s blood. Blood screaming inside you to do its will. I may be love’s bitch but at least I’m man enough to admit it.”
James Marsters: That’s awesome (laughing). On Valentine’s Day I was doing some sonnets in New Jersey and I used that line. I said, “Shakespeare was definitely love’s bitch but at least he was man enough to admit it.”
Al Norton: How did the role on Caprica come about?
James Marsters: This came about because of Jane (Espensen, executive producer of Caprica and former writer/executive producer of Buffy the Vampire Slayer); she really wanted me on the show and she let everyone know that I wouldn’t let them down if they let me come on. She really fought for me and I would go anywhere in the world if she called but I’m really glad she called me to come up there.
Al Norton: Had you watched Battlestar Galactica at all during its run?
James Marsters: I’ve seen some episodes. I didn’t see the whole thing but every time I saw it it was amazing. Much more about human interaction and the potential that we all have to hurt each other. It was like, “who’s going to be evil this week?”
Al Norton: What Galactica and Buffy have in common is they were both shows where critics and fans tried to convince people, “don’t be put off by the genre, it’s really just about people.”
James Marsters: Yes, exactly. It’s nice that the actors are following. These are just good stories. The whole point of good writing and good directing is to get human beings in very intense circumstances. My favorite director is Martin Scorsese because he notches up the tension in his characters so high. That’s one thing that fantasy and science fiction can do so well, put people in extraordinary circumstances and then the audience gets to sit back and watch how they deal with it.
Al Norton: Tell me about Barnabas and what drew you to him.
James Marsters: He is a lot like me. He’s a revolutionary fighting for a more just world, at least one he believes in. He’s at war with the world, like me (laughing). My thing is that my revolution is peaceful whereas he has decided otherwise. He is so thinking that he is right that he is going to battle for it and he’s hurting people in the name of philosophy.
Al Norton: And you’re on for at least four episodes?
James Marsters: Yes. They’ve left it open. I’ve completed one arc and I’m hoping they weren’t just being friendly when they told me it was going well and they were thinking about having me back. They didn’t promise anything, of course, but they told me they would definitely like to see my face again. We’ll see.
Al Norton: Did you see the story that Fox was working on an American version of Torchwood?
James Marsters: Yes, that would be fabulous.
Al Norton: Possibly with John Barrowman in the lead again.
James Marsters: Really? As long as they have Russell T Davies at the helm, they are going to have a good wild ride. I think it’s a very brave and wonderful thing to do and I hope that they keep the teeth of the show.
Al Norton: So if your phone were to ring and they wanted you to play Captain John Hart again, is that something you’d be interested in?
James Marsters: Oh hell yeah. We made all the right people uncomfortable with that show. I would go there in a heartbeat. It’s a subversive show. Frankly if I could ever work with Russell again, I’d love to; he’s a friendly man but a deeply subversive man. I haven’t seen the third season but I’ve heard it’s amazing.
Al Norton: It really was quite disturbing, and I mean that as high praise.
James Marsters: That’s one of the things I loved about Caprica – the pilot and how wonderfully disturbing it was.
Al Norton: That one scene in the pilot where Adam’s daughter’s avatar says, “I can’t feel my heart beat.”
James Marsters: When Zoe wakes up in the Cylon body and doesn’t realize she’s a robot yet, it just made my stomach drop. Just the scenes in the V-Club, the mass executions and mass orgies, it just made me uncomfortable in the best way, in the way that I love being uncomfortable (laughing).
Al Norton: I admired the courage to open the show that way, to challenge the audience to watch stuff that makes them feel uncomfortable without introducing them to any of the characters or the storylines.
James Marsters: Yes, yes. What I love about that is that is my character. My character is responding in revulsion to that. He feels like he is in ancient Rome and that these people are just feeding on each other, feeding each other to the lions and the whole society is becoming unhinged. I can really understand why Barnabus would graft himself to a philosophy of one God with certain rules and do’s and don’ts. I can see why that kind of thing would be worth fighting for in that circumstance. I love the fact that they put the audience in the mind of my character to begin with. Obviously they have a bigger plan for that philosophy but it was just wonderful.
Al Norton: When we last talked you were just coming off of Dragonball and complaining about all the crazy workouts you had to do. Have you maintained that physique?
James Marsters: Oh yeah, because they might call at any moment (laughing). I fall in and out of that shape but it’s hard to hold. When I went up to film the first couple of episode of Caprica I told them, “don’t take my shirt off guys, you don’t want that.” Then finding out that they had wanted me to made me go crazy and start working out like nuts.
Al Norton: Is there any word on a Dragonball sequel?
James Marsters: I haven’t heard anything officially. I’ve heard there are rumors we might start up again but nothing official so I am in ignorance but always at the ready.
Al Norton: What else do you have going on?
James Marsters: I just finished three more books on tape from the Harry Dresden series and I’m also playing Mr. Fantastic in a Fantastic Four cartoon for Marvel. It’s really funny, I play a genius who is also foolish enough not to see that his wife is having an affair right in front of him (laughing).
Al Norton: How are things with your music?
James Marsters: I just got back from London and New Jersey performing and looking to cut an album, a third album, that would be just me on acoustic guitar and my son on acoustic guitar. Maybe some piano. Keeping it to something simple like that.
Al Norton: You mentioned your son playing guitar with you; how old is he?
James Marsters: He’s 13. If you go on YouTube and search “James Marsters and son” you’ll see some pretty cool stuff.
Al Norton: He’s got the chops?
James Marsters: He’s got way more than I do. He buried me within about two months. He really has found something that he is especially good at.
Al Norton: You seem very much at peace with Spike and the fame that playing him brought you so I thought you might be able to tell me why so many actors, including some you used to work with, seem to run so far away from the parts that made them famous.
James Marsters: I have no idea (laughing). Give them a few years, they’ll come around. It seems to be the normal kind of reaction, doesn’t it? At first a singer is very lucky to get a hit song but then they don’t like the hit song. Kurt Cobain wouldn’t play Smells Like Teen Spirit in front of audience. I don’t know why they run from the parts that got them attention but later in life they seem to realize how lucky they were to get the attention of the world like that. I don’t know, maybe they’re trying to prove themselves.
Al Norton: My guess is it doesn’t happen anymore but there must have been times in the past when you went to read for something and the casting people just saw you as Spike.
James Marsters: Well yeah but I was able to dump the hair and the accent so it was easier. I mean, you want me to lose the accent and change my hair but you still want me to play a badass? Ok (laughing). Torchwood is so close to Spike but there is a little difference there and that makes all the difference in the world, that being that Spike is a romantic and Captain John is not and that opens up a whole different door. It’s still massively fun. My god, give me guns, swords, and a watch that lets me travel through time? I’m there (laughing).
Al Norton: What do you watch on TV these days?
James Marsters: I’d addicted to the news but I’m trying to wean myself off of it because I get too bitter and angry at things. I’ve been watching CNN. I watch CSPAN, dude; I’m one of those guys. I’ve been watching MSNBC. I love Rachel Maddow, I think she’s fabulous.
Al Norton: I saw on your calendar that you are doing a few of the conventions this spring and summer. What’s the appeal of that for you, what does that bring to you?
James Marsters: I like to build community. I’ve been trying to build community all my life through theater; I used to have a theater in Chicago and another one in Seattle, and we were always talking to each other about how to build community within our town. It always seemed to me like a hallow conversation because the only people coming to see our shows were fellow lefty artists, we were always preaching to the choir. Now I find just by showing up and waving a pen, I’m getting people in the same room and convincing them to meet each other and become friends with each other, and to this point I feel like I’m a poor man’s Grateful Dead of Phish (laughing). There is a group of people who follow me around although I’m just the dancing monkey who makes it fun to show up together but the real draw for them is everyone showing up together. It’s kind of cool; I’ve got my own little traveling show, my own little community that is slowly growing. It’s not just every year, some of them come quite often and the beautiful thing is they all know each other. I’m finally building community.
Don’t miss Caprica, Friday at 9 pm on Syfy