EXCLUSIVE: Actor James Marsters Talks to the PoG about Villains, Star Wars, How He Could Play Spike Again, and DUDES & DRAGONS
The Point of Geeks recently got the opportunity to speak with television, film, and voiceover actor James Marsters. Marsters has a long history with geek culture, ranging from his iconic roles in Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Torchwood, Smallville, and he even voiced Lex Luthor. His connection to the genres we love runs deep and we got the chance to pick his brain while promoting his latest movie Dudes & Dragons.
Dudes & Dragons is a comedic fantasy romp written and directed by Maclain Nelson and Stephen Shimek, starring Marsters, Kaitlin Doubleday, Adam Johnson, and even a cameo from Luke Perry. It centers around an evil wizard, played by Marsters, who unleashes a deadly dragon on the land. A team of bumbling heroes must band together and stop the evil Lord Tensley’s reign of terror. We sit down with Marsters and talk Dudes & Dragons, as well as his interesting journey through geek history. Enjoy.
You have been closely connected throughout your career with fantasy, sci-fi, and comic book worlds. What were the early influences on you that brought you into the Geek world?
The first thing was probably Rod Sterling’s Twilight Zone, they were on reruns on TV and they were extraordinary. Really unsettling, good acting, weird concepts and a horrible ending for everyone involved. Now looking back on it, I realized Rod (Sterling) was really trying to tap into the stress and angst that the population was going through at the time with the Cold War.
Then it was Planet of the Apes that got my attention. I first saw Beneath the Planet of the Apes. That was a more nihilistic, bleak kinda viewpoint that I’m not sure I should have seen. (Laughs) “Give up man, don’t even try.” Maybe that’s not the kind of message a young kid should be ingesting. Haha. But now I really think those first two films are really good art. Then I got heavily into Star Trek, the original series because there was nothing else at that point. Then Star Wars came out! I was actually in the audience for the very first public showing or test screening of Star Wars, nine months before it came out. No one told me it would be awesome. No one prepared me for it. It just came out of nowhere and had a huge effect on me. And I was kinda off to the races at that point.
The movie is called ‘Dudes and Dragons’ and it certainly didn’t skimp on the dragons. You have experience on the stage, TV, and film. How was it working on such a special effects heavy film?
I’ve done green screen in the past, but I’ve never done complete green screen. Where everything except for the props, costumes, and couple pieces of furniture would all be green screen. But…that is pretty much what the stage is. When you do a play, that’s all you really have. You might have a back wall. But that’s really it. I’m really comfortable doing that. Frankly, I prefer that. Because in acting you’re supposed to have fun. We are called Players, we aren’t called Workers. And it’s important that audience watches someone having fun. They don’t pay to watch you “work.”
When you are doing theater, you are indoors in a temperature controlled environment and its easier to have fun. In film, you could be in the middle of a blizzard, 115 degree weather, there is just all manners of discomfort that come to you when you film outside. Like The Revenant, can you imagine? Leo is like “I gotta have fun… I’m a player (shivering).” In that one, we all had fun watching him be miserable. So when I read the script [for Dudes & Dragons] I thought, “This is really funny, but it’s going to be hellacious to film.” Then they told me that it was going to be all green screen. So I love it! There was no drawbacks for me. It was only a plus.
You have a history of playing off-kilter, yet relatable villains. What is the key to making a villain connect with the audience?
You don’t really think of them as a villain. I think the truth in the world is that there are no heroes or villains. It’s just some people are helping each other and some people are each hurting other. We often do both. We all do both. At different times of our lives or times of the day. When I’m playing a villain, I’m playing someone who is hurting someone at that point. Will they turn around and start helping people in ten years? I don’t know. With any character, you have to find what is motivating him and why he is doing that. If you do that correctly you really start to fall in love with that character. Even if they are acting out. You know like a baby throwing a temper-tantrum, they still deserve love. A 50 year old baby having a temper tantrum, even though its ugly to watch, you can say he deserves love as well. Hopefully if you can key the audience into what is going on underneath, so they won’t just write you off.
With Dudes & Dragons, Lord Tensley, he is having a dragon light people on fire who fall in love. That’s messed up. But he also struck me as vulnerable and kinda pathetic, in a way that struck me. I thought if you can get all of those together for the character, that’ll be a cool ride!
You have been fortunate enough to participate in projects that helped to set the template for the current superhero renaissance that is going on right now. You appeared in ‘Smallville’ and ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer,’ which helped to set the table for what is coming now on TV. What do you think about all the current shows and do you follow them?
Yea! I think that computers are getting cheaper to use. So you can have some of the effects and bring some of these characters to life on the budget that television needs. Now there was The Flash way back when. But it looked cheesy because they didn’t have the computers to make it look cool. So those type of projects didn’t attract serious actors or writers, because everyone knew it wouldn’t be believable, to begin with. But now we can bring up the visuals and you’ll buy it. So serious writers can sit down and say something that they really want to say through that kind of story. And it attracts pretty much everybody. But…I worked with Joss Whedon. And he pretty much did it before computers. So, go Joss!
I like superheroes stories because they are celebration of heroism. There are a lot of heroes in the world, but they don’t wear capes. Because they are parents, firefighters, cops, political action people, people that give up their time to help others, but these people don’t get a lot of credit. They are often kind of invisible. So it’s good to make a film that celebrates them. With an artist kind of looking through the screen to say “I see you. I value what you do and sacrifice to make something better.” And if you are a parent or struggling and sacrificing, its really rewarding to go to the movies and imagine yourself to be Spider-Man. It can give you a lift or that “cape” for an hour and a half.
What other upcoming projects do have that you can tell me about?
I have film called Abrubtio that’s in post-production…Which is really dark ride with a point. And they are going to be doing it with puppets and it will be real gory. I’m really looking forward to seeing that… Also in some months there is a romance called Nouvelle Vie, where I get to play a good dad who is a hero to his son and no one else. I just get to be supportive and not villainous.
My band is back in the studio recording our fifth album. It’s all available on iTunes, the band is Ghost of the Robot. We have been touring all over the world and are hitting the west coast this summer. I go back into the studio to record another Harry Dresden book soon. It’s a series of books about a private investigator who is also a wizard and are hugely popular.
We are almost at the twenty year mark for ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ It would make sense for them to reboot it and bring it back to the big screen eventually. Have you ever thought if that happens, who you would like to see recast as Spike?
Oh man. I think he is awesome character. I think there are a lot of actors that could do great in that role. I haven’t given thought to it. But I’ve always said that if you do it, you going to have to find a new Spike. Because that’s the one character that can’t age.
But…now movies have digital correction. Some actors have it in their contracts to go into the computer take out the wrinkles and fix their face. Haha. It’s a whole different world. My only concern before was being able to hold to the reality that Spike is a vampire and the other characters were human. There’s a difference there. Spike’s not going to be aging. If that could be achieved…I would be down for it in a second. I just don’t want to take away from the character just because I want to play him again.
Dudes & Dragons is available now on VOD, DVD, and Digital HD.
When a powerful wizard (Marsters) vows to rid the land of love through the use of his fire-breathing dragon, a brave team of eccentric warriors embark on a grand quest to break the curse, defeat the wizard, and slay his terrible beast.
What is your favorite James Marsters’ role? What did you think of Dudes & Dragons? Let us know on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Reddit! Make sure to share our stories on your favorite social media by clicking below.