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Buffy the Vampire Slayer's James Marsters guests at Supernova Pop Culture Expo (int)
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Buffy the Vampire Slayer's James Marsters guests at Supernova Pop Culture Expo
James Marsters, Spike, Buffy

James Marsters as his fans remember him, as Spike in US TV series Angel. Source: HWT Image Library

JAMES Marsters - the man best known to millions of Buffy the Vampire obsessives as Spike - is in Melbourne to attend the Supanova Pop Culture Expo at the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds from Friday April 16 -Sunday April 18.

The fan event also features Star Trek Kiwi Karl Urban, Parker Lewis himself, Corin Nemec, Twilight wolf-boy Alex Meraz, a bunch of comic book creators and more.

Herald Sun Hit
caught up with Marsters before he flew to Australia, interrupting a Marsters family jam session. “My son, my father and I are all playing ukulele, it’s crazy,” Marsters said.

Marsters, who has also appeared in the film Dragonball, and TV shows including Torchwood, Smallville, Caprica and Without a Trace, had just returned home from shooting a new Hawaii Five-O pilot on the American island.

There are clips on YouTube of you and your son, Sullivan, performing acoustic songs, but your father gets in on the act too?

He started the whole thing. He’s been looking for a baritone ukulele for years but they didn’t make them anymore in America – or I couldn’t find one. I found myself, surprisingly, in Hawaii for a few weeks and I was able to track one down, so he’s a very happy man. I’m not a ukulele player by nature, but apparently the size of your ukulele is very important.

When you were a kid, did you roll your eyes at your dad playing ukulele?

No, I always loved it. My dad’s been playing the guitar and ukulele all my life. That’s one of the reasons I play guitar. In fact that’s one of the reasons I play it for my own son – when he was a baby I played him to sleep every night. Also, selfishly, there was one song by Keb’ Mo – when I hit that song he’d start yawning and go to sleep. At one point, it wasn’t even by my encouragement, I came back from Europe and he he’d picked up the guitar. He very quickly became much better than I ever have been.

How young was Sullivan when he picked up the guitar?

He didn’t start playing until he was almost 12. He’s been playing for about a year and a half now. He was playing baseball, which I’m terrible at. He was on the all-star team as the pitcher, and he was fast-ballin’ and burning it into me. And I was on the worst team in my school – in the whole school system I was in the worst team! So when Sullivan said he had started guitar, I thought “Oh great, now I can be the one showing you how to do it”. That lasted for about two weeks. I’m a rhythm guitarist, I’m pretty good at rhythm but I don’t have all the licks. It’s really wonderful, you keep telling your kids they’re doing a great job, even when they’re just learning something, then suddenly you turn around and they’re doing things you could never do.

You turn 48 this year. What are you still learning?

I think back five years ago and I remember myself as kind of a moron. And I hope that feeling never stops. I hope I’m always learning stuff both about myself and about the world and my own abilities. I always feel like, “Five years ago, I didn’t quite get it yet, did I?” But yeah, my songwriting’s gotten better. I guess I’m a better parent than I was five years ago. What else? I’m better at computer. And I’m better about not watching too much news. It can really play with my head – I’m a news junkie. I can really just spend five hours a day on the news if I’m not careful.

Are you a watcher of The Daily Show style news parodies?

Yeah, that’s the fun way to digest it, I guess. I have to say … let me just admit it, I watch C-SPAN… for fun. I’m one of those. (Note to Australians: the C-SPAN network offers non-stop coverage of US government goings-on. Think ABC TV’s Parliament Question Time, if it ran 24 hours a day). My favourite news program though is Rachel Maddow on msnbc, I find her to be both humorous and honest, and not cynical yet.

Are you cynical?

Um… Huh… Good question. I’m clinging on to optimism with my fingernails, put it that way.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer ended in 2003. Do you feel you’ve managed to sink your teeth into some meaty roles since then?

I’ve been pretty lucky, huh? I got to play Buzz Aldrin for the BBC on a project called Moonshot, and I’m the first person to actually play him as a full character and not a background character. So that was really cool. He was a rock star at NASA, he was the cool one, with enough rough edges to be truly interesting. He saved NASA three times, by the way. He was also a scientist and professor as well as the decoration Colonel in the military. Anyway, I also got to play a cowboy who saves a town from an invasion of alien bugs (in TV movie High Plains Invaders). That was fun because finally my son, who was tired of me playing villains, got to see me playing a hero. I got to play a demon god in Dragonball, which was mainly about the stunts, and not becoming too afraid. That was a trip – I didn’t really have a stuntman for that movie. I was my own stuntman. A lot of screaming and getting hit a lot and getting yanked around on wires. What else? This year, I got to start in with the cast of (Sci-Fi channel series) Caprica. And I just got finished with a pilot in Hawaii that I think stands a very good chance of becoming a TV series.

The word on your appearance in the Hawaii Five-O pilot made it sound like it was a guest role. But will it be an ongoing role for you if the pilot is picked up?

Mmm-hmmm! Mmm-hmm. They saw me in a fight sequence and something about it made them think “Let’s keep him around for a little bit”. I’m like a poor man’s Jackie Chan. But I have to say of all of the pilots that I knew about this year, this one stands the best chance of actually making it to the light of day. So I’m pretty hopeful.

The Herald Sun last spoke to you five years ago, when for the first time you’d really dived head-first into pilot season. Have you been doing that every year since?

Oh every year, man. Every year you duke it out with everybody else and see what happens.

Hawaii Five-O is another villain role for you. What is it about you that makes people come to you for those roles?

I think frankly it’s because I got known for a villain early on. When I first came to LA, the only job on TV I’d had was as a very nerdish priest on Northern Exposure. I really lucked into that role. I was actually playing a killer on stage at the time for John Pielmeier who wrote Agnes of God, but I just happened to score this priest role on Northern Exposure.

So when I came down to LA the only thing I had on my reel was this nerd character, so I got put up for a bunch of nerds. I scored a couple of guest spots as people who were uncomfortable in their own skin. Then Buffy was looking for somebody at the last minute, and I don’t know why but they thought I could do accents, so they called me in. And I lucked into that role, and ever since everyone thinks of me as a villain. So, I’ll take it man. The villain is a good role.

Cos when you’re a villain, you’re standing in the shadows, not having to do much, then when the hero walks by you pop him a couple of times, big music sounds, and you go home. Whereas if you’re the hero, you have to have long scenes with guilt, and you have to be running around all night sweating, and then at the very end of the night you get popped in the face by the villain, who looks cool and gets all the credit.

You’ve found your niche and you’re sticking to it.

Oh yeah. Plus, you know, we villains, we age better. Who wants to be an ageing hero?

Five years ago, when everyone was asking whether there would be some kind of Buffy comeback, you told the Herald Sun that you only had a couple of years before you’d be too old to play Spike. Has that window of time passed?

No, you know, I’m holding up better than I thought I was (laughs). I’ve discovered wheat-grass and stretching! I dunno. It’d have to all come down to a camera-test, and is there a way to light the character so that he’ll be pretty much the same? I think it’d be possible, but it would be hard to tell without a real camera-test. I don’t want to play an ageing Spike. If we could really fool the audience into thinking I haven’t aged a day, that would be cool. But we’d need a lot of duct tape. Just kidding, I look gorgeous.

You’re coming down to Australia – is it all work?

No, I’m going to have a full week in Sydney to my own devices. I’m just going to try to keep out of trouble if I can, and see the sights. I was in Sydney years ago but I didn’t get out much because there was a radio station that ran a “Find James Marsters’ hotel room” contest, so I kind of bunkered down. The next time I came I spent about a week in Melbourne, I really liked that.

You’ll be talking to fans and performing your songs at the Supanova Pop Culture Expo events. Is the main reason you do these conventions these days to play your music?

No, you know, this is kind of a long winded answer, but the truth is I used to produce theatre, both in Chicago and Seattle. You’d have these meetings with other theatre producers and the conversation is usually surrounding “How do we create community? How do we take people who are losing contact with each other through computers and television, how do we bring them into one room and enjoy each other?”

And I ended up feeling like we were always preaching to the choir, like the people who came into the theatre were already kind of with the idea of having a community, were already comfortable with the idea of community.

The people we really needed to reach were not coming to the door. And I find that now that I’m doing these conventions I’m in fact building community faster and more efficiently than I ever did producing theatre. The fact that the people who come to these conventions are, as Jimi Hendrix said long ago, letting their freak flag fly, there’s something incredibly beautiful about that.

The fans that I meet, the ones that are interested in Buffy or Smallville or some of the other things I’ve done, tend to have a good sense of humour and tend to have a pretty high intelligence quotient. I have a friend who works at the Large Hadron Collider, the CERN collider in Europe, who is a big fan. Another friend works at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

A couple of people from NASA, a couple of people from the CIA… you meet really interesting people if you come to these conventions. They may or may not have a Vulcan costume on (laughs), but man, if you get to talk to them, there’s a lot of really funny and really intelligent people. And if you can be comfortable with people dressing up, then you can meet ’em. And I’m an actor, so I’m very comfortable with dressing up.

You would have stopped doing the conventions years ago if it was just squealing girls, right?

Yeah, that’s really not it. The thing is, there are a group of people who follow me around now, between 100 and 200. And I’m just like an excuse, I’m just a diving board – they’re really there to meet each other at this point. And that makes me really happy. I’m like a poor man’s Grateful Dead.

Do you feel that, simply because you were Spike, your presence alone brings people into any other projects you do?

Yeah, I do enjoy that actually. It’s good for the ego. But also hopefully it just means that people have noticed that I’ve tried my best over the years.

Where are you at with the music? Are you still just doing the solo thing?

Actually, I’m working with Charlie DeMars again, who was the guitarist and songwriter for Ghost of the Robot. He and I and my son are starting to work on an album together. I think it’s going to be a simple acoustic album. We’re just starting scratch tracks, but I’m very excited. I’m having fun again recording in the studio like I used to; like I haven’t since I stopped working with Charlie. So it’s started to turn full circle.

Why did the fun go away?

Oh, we lost our drummer, the band lost its drummer, and that’s really the heart of the band. We got a good guy to come in afterwards, but he wasn’t the same. We weren’t getting up to the mountaintop anymore every night. At that point, little differences and little altercations seem to be more important because there’s not that feeling of joy to wipe everything away. More than anything else, that was it.

Do you think at some point Sullivan will find a strange way to rebel against his cool actor/cool rocker dad?

He’ll start listening to Rush Limbaugh (laughs). Oh god help me. You’re right, I better play Republican for a few years. Everyone finds their own way to rebel, I just hope he doesn’t rebel in a way that will cost him later in his life. I hope he finds a good way to piss me off some other way.

What was your rebellion as a teenager?

I just left. At age 17 and a half I just got out of dodge. That was my rebellion: “Goodbye”.

Are you an actor for life? Will you still be doing this at 80?

You know, I can’t fix cars, man. So yeah.

Supanova Pop Culture Expo at the Royal Melbourne Showgrounds from Friday April 16-Sunday April 18.

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