James Marsters is best known for his role as the bad-boy vampire Spike on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” but this is an actor with a classical education and much to offer. He attended The Juilliard School, the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts and the American Conservatory Theatre, and boasts a long and varied stage background. In L.A., he got his on-screen break from Joss Whedon, who cast him as a short-lived character that became so popular that he stayed for quite a long time.
His other genre roles have included Lex Luther in the online video game “DC Universe Online,” Brainiac 5 in “Smallville,” Barnabas Greeley in “Caprica,” Mr. Fantastic in “The Super Hero Squad Show” Lord Piccolo in the film “Dragonball: Evolution” and Captain John Hart in “Torchwood.” He’s also had roles on “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” “Andromeda,” “Millennium” and many others. Marsters plays guitar, has one son from a previous marriage, and is currently engaged.
The following quotes are from his appearance at Chicago Comic Con 2010.
On his role as Lord Piccolo in “Dragonball Z”: “I happen to think that’s now my role. I was so passionate about ‘Dragonball.’ The anime helped me raise my son; we watched the whole series together and we talked about what it meant. And what I think ‘Dragonball’ was saying, is a rumination on being a man. If you really want to be a man you will be humble, and goofy, and meek, and if no one’s attacking you, you’ll hang out with your kids and smile. But, if they attack your house, rip them apart.”
On the “Buffy” episode, “Lies My Mother Told Me”: “I was going through a period of therapy and coming to terms with what my mother did, which was nice. And I went to Joss and I said, ‘I’m going through this--I think it’s a good metaphor for vampirism. I think that there’s rocket fuel here and I’m fresh and I’m in it right now--you should use it.’ So he went and cast a woman as my mother that looked just like my mom, and she immediately started hitting on me….I had to spend 12 hours with that woman and I didn’t like it. But so be it. If that’s the price one has to pay to say that, to be in the service of a writer like Joss, who has things to say, and difficult things to say, so be it. I lit myself on fire for him once.”
On Spike: “At one point I went up to Joss and I was like, ‘You know what, this is a better role than Hamlet. Shakespeare only had three and a half hours to make his point, and we’re having years to explore this.’ And I know we don’t have Shakespeare, but we have the time and the money, and when I really think about where we’ve gone with this character and all of the things we’ve said about life using him, it’s deeper than ‘Hamlet.’
On his “Buffy” accent: “I do think that the accent was good on ‘Buffy.’ It was an English accent and I did have a good dialogue coach--for free--and his name was Tony Head. He came up to me one day and says, ‘You don’t say it like that, you prat.’ ….One word I got wrong, it was an important word, ‘bollocks.’ Because they misspelled it in the script, they spelled it ‘bullocks,’ because they didn’t know either. After that mistake he said, ‘Know what, I’m taking over.’ So we went over the script together and he gave me notes. And he was both very firm but very loving.”
On working with Juliet Landau: “Juliet Landau is a true artist. She is fearless, and when she knows what she wants she’ll go there and she’ll get it. Basically, I got cast in “Buffy” because she liked me. I was her boy toy. I was supposed to die in five episodes. I mean, the original idea was that Angel finally has sex with Buffy and then gets to be a jerk. That never happens in life. And his first act of evil is to kill me and take up with Priscilla. And they kind of changed that idea a little bit…but I was there because we clicked. We both come from stage--people that come from the stage have a certain way of thinking about things. Frankly, we think about things.”
On the original idea for Spike and Priscilla: “We were told that we were supposed to be the punk rockers of the vampire set, that we were Sid and Nancy. And I went to Joss and I said, ‘You don’t want Sid and Nancy. He was an idiot. He was also a horrible racist. The reason that the Sex Pistols were the Sex Pistols was because of a guy named Johnny Lydon. It was Johnny Rotten. So I said, ‘I’m not going to give you Sid, I’m going to give you Johnny. And he was like, ‘Yeah, okay.’ But the point is true. We were supposed to be drug-addled punk rocker vampires….If you look, and especially in the early stuff before they caught us, we were always doing something or we were pretending to do something very nasty just below the frame. So look at those early scenes, just look at our arms and just ask yourselves, what are they doing?”
On working with John Barrowman on “Torchwood”: “He is fabulous. He is a real leader. He’ll tell you that he grew up watching his dad. His dad ran a factory, and he used to go with his dad onto the factory floor and just watch everybody, [watch his dad] deal with the workers and what he did. Never get tired with John. If you dare to yawn he will pump up his own energy just to embarrass you. I didn’t know if I was going to make it through--I was like, I can’t do it this morning, I can’t do it, He comes in, [makes loud sound]. and when people start taking themselves too seriously, and there starts to be tension around, he’ll just drop his pants….One day, I blew a stunt early on. But the thing is, you shouldn’t really admit that you blew a stunt because then they won’t give you the next stunt. So the next day after I blew the stunt I didn’t tell anybody about it, and I was bleeding through my costume, and John comes up and goes, ‘You blew a stunt. You blew a stunt, didn’t you?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, man, I screwed it up. I’m so sorry.’ And he goes, ‘Go back to your trailer. I’m going to call my own doctor and we’ll get you stitched up and we won’t talk about it.’ So he snuck in a doctor to the set to stitch me up and get me back out on the set. I didn’t have to admit to my boss that I screwed it up. I really love that guy. I really do.”
On love scenes: “The truth for me about love scenes is that I don’t enjoy them and not many of us frankly do, because it’s very uncomfortable to make love in front of an audience….And on the other hand, as a storyteller, sex is a part of life and it’s not necessarily bad to put that in your story. And so, if it’s saying something, if there’s something really happening, then it’s worth it. But the truth is, it’s not going to feel that hot for me, and it really evolves down to, do you trust the person you’re being kissed by? Are they your friend, and are they going to understand your feelings and are they going to help you get through this whole day? On that level, I’d rather kiss John than anyone I’ve ever kissed.”
On his favorite episode of “Buffy”: “My favorite episode of ‘Buffy’ without question would be the musical. The reason for it is that, in ‘Buffy’ we were young, and we were given a lot of money and a lot of fame, so there was a lot of whining going on on ‘Buffy,’ which I didn’t appreciate. But in that time everyone screwed their courage to the sticking place, boned down and became singers and dancers. I remember I’m trying to take a nap because it’s lunch, right, and Joss knocks on the door and he says, this is your homework for the next episode, and he doesn’t explain himself at all. And it’s a cassette tape. And I walk over, I’m sleepy. I walk over, put it in and it’s Joss and his wonderful wife playing the piano and singing these songs and they don’t really sing. And it sounds horrible. It sounds like suicide. And I opened my trailer door and the sunshine is bright and I’m kind of confused, and I notice all the other cast members are opening their doors too. Tony and I were already singing publicly so we weren’t as worried but everyone else was just begging Joss to get out of this. Like, ‘What are you going to make me do next week, Joss, juggle chainsaws? I signed up to be a dramatic actor and now you want me to be a musical comedy actor but that’s not what I do, that’s not what I chose to do with my life, that’s not what I’ve gotten good at, and you are going to ruin my career.’ And he would just be like, ‘Yeah, whatever. You’re under contract so get in.’ And we did it. And nobody was better about this than Sarah [Michelle Gellar]. Nobody had more to lose than her, and nobody worked harder. At some point I think she hired two vocal coaches, and so she did the best job she possibly could for that show.”
On moving to L.A. to work: “The truth is, the only reason that I moved to Los Angeles was, I had a son. And when I was watching him on the gurney table with the blood getting wiped off his face, I had a voice in my head, and it said, ‘Go to Los Angeles, pour yourself out. This little boy did not decide to be born. You are sleeping on rags in the back of your own theater. You’re very happy but he’s not going to get on that ride. So I went down for money. I had already done 80 plays. I successfully produced in both Chicago and Seattle. I didn’t need to prove myself artistically at all. It was just--we’ve got to eat. When I met Joss Whedon I was on the run from the IRS…and also Social Security was starting to look at me because I was ripping them off too. And I swear, if I hadn’t gotten that job, I might have gone to jail. But I was unapologetic because my son’s got to eat.”