For 'Buffy' star and Wizard World guest James Marsters, it's all about the fans
Posted: Thursday, October 20, 2016 12:00 am | Updated: 12:40 am, Thu Oct 20, 2016.
The celebrity you want to meet at the convention isn’t the one who deigns to let us bask in the marquee lights of his big name; it’s the one who finds warmth in your fandom.
James Marsters is the latter kind of celebrity guest, and he’ll be charming new and old fans all weekend at Wizard World Tulsa. The star of cult favorites “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” Marsters made viewers swoon as the bleach-blond Brit vampire.
But when you meet the man behind the fangs, you’re not thinking about Spike. Mostly that’s because you hear Marsters’ voice with its natural California accent instead of the English snarl. But it’s also a lot to do with the fact that Marsters is a down-to-earth, personable man who’s great at making you feel at ease. He genuinely wants his fans to have an amazing experience when they get to visit him at a convention.
Many, including myself, got the chance to meet Marsters when he visited in 2014 for the inaugural Wizard World Tulsa, and he spoke to the Tulsa World for an interview ahead of this weekend’s convention.
For Marsters, his first concern is the fans. When asked whether he’s tired of hearing the same questions at panels and events across the country, he can’t say no fast enough.
“It’s like a first date,” he said of convention panel appearances. “You give all your good stuff and really appear like a fascinating person ... and all the jokes you know work, and it’s kind of fun.”
It’s only when you move beyond first dates that you start to run out of the quality material, he joked. Marsters said he would never tire of giving the good stuff for his fans.
“I have to trust that even if I’ve answered the questions many times before, people haven’t heard the answers,” he said.
Lots of people are curious what’s going on these days with the man who played Spike, and the only short answer is “plenty.” Marsters, known for narrating the Jim Butcher “Dresden Files” novels, has just recorded audiobooks for another author, Clay Griffith, whose “Vampire Empire” trilogy features a female protagonist.
“It was a bit of a challenge, but frankly, I found that if I just pitched my voice slightly higher and played myself that you get a pretty believable female,” Marsters said in an explanation that referenced the 250 characters he reads for the “Dresden Files.”
He said he always wanted to bring an actor’s sensibility to the work.
“I’ve listened to a lot of audiobooks and gotten frustrated at the person reading who is mainly concerned with how their voice sounds, and it’s like ‘You don’t care at all, man!’ I have ripped CDs out of my dash and thrown them out the window — it’s too frustrating to be exposed to that level of apathy.”
Fans seem to have taken to Marsters’ approach; when one of the “Dresden Files” audiobooks had to be recorded by another narrator, the masses mutinied and got the novel re-recorded when Marsters’ schedule finally allowed.
Also keeping the actor busy these days is a web series he created called “Vidiots.” It also stars Mark Devine, who travels with Marsters and helps at conventions, and they got the idea from unwinding after work with video games.
“He is hilarious at all times. And also he is the worst video gamer I’ve ever gamed with — just inexcusably bad,” Marsters said. “He has me in stitches between his great jokes and funny frustration with being slaughtered. I just have a great time being with him and thought we need to share this with the world.”
He said he had seen videos of gamers online who try to crack jokes but are good at gaming, not being funny, but have millions of viewers.
“I thought it’d be fun to flip it, with people who are very bad at video games but good at the comedy,” Marsters said.
He and Devine started filming “Vidiots” in Paris — with the shades drawn in a hotel room, playing a video game set in Paris — and they bring “An Idiot Abroad” sensibility to the series.
“I’m playing a character named James Marsters who’s an idiot, and Mark is doing the same,” he said. They traveled to Hollywood Cemetery — the Confederate graveyard in Richmond, Virginia, where Jefferson Davis is buried — but they called it the cemetery of the stars, “and we acted all excited to see Bette Davis’ grave.”
“Vidiots” also features the stars’ celebrity friends — “especially if they’re funny,” Marsters said — and will be released biweekly on paid streaming services. Two episodes are available now, including the premiere with guests Eliza Dushku (another “Buffy” alum) and Billy Boyd (“Lord of the Rings”).
Marsters also recently had a turn in a “Once Upon a Time” DVD extra as a knight of the round table who’s now an underworld bartender. It was “Buffy” writer Jane Espenson’s first time as a director, so she asked him to play Mordred in a one-off scene with Cruella de Ville.
“We shot in a day, and I was happy with how it came out,” said the actor who, so many years after Spike, once again had to affect a British (though different) accent for the TV role. “I would love to do more; they haven’t called to do more.”
As for other possible forthcoming projects, Marsters said he’s in the preliminary stages of bringing a modern-language adaptation of “Macbeth” to the small screen. It’s a passion project he’s talked about for years, and a possible producer role seems closer on the horizon.
He calls it Shakespeare’s low-hanging fruit, one of his best plays but one that because many mistakes have been made in its production, makes for a “less-than-exciting” play or movie. Marsters said he got a spear-carrier role in the play at a Seattle theater years ago, and he saw plenty that went wrong.
“A very good actor got laughed at every night, and I held my spear and took mental notes like, ‘Don’t do that.’ A year and half later, I got to play Macbeth himself in smaller theater and did research and made different choices and got standing ovations every night, so I have this sense of how that engine works scene to scene, what’s not been done before.”
Marsters can answer questions about all those projects or whatever you’d like to ask him about at his Wizard World Tulsa appearances and panel at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Quick bites from James Marsters
On what skill he'd like to learn for a role:
"Horseback riding. I always thought I would like to know how to work with and be comfortable around them. And I also would like to ride, maybe do a Western to have an excuse to do that."
On what he's nerdy for lately:
"I am nerding out about video games right now — 'Mafia 3,' set in 1968 New Orleans, and you play a black man. The world treats you like a black man was treated in 1968 — and I get so frustrated — and what a great game! I can get a small taste of what it feels like — the most infinitesimal taste."
On playing Buzz Aldrin in "Moonshot" and what a time it is for space and science nerds:
"We should not go to Mars, it's ridiculous. Elon, you're wrong. We should mine the moon for helium-3, which is a version of helium that if you use it for fusion power you get a clean burn ... but we don't have it on Earth.
"We should just mine the living heck out of the moon — (laughs) the dark side so we don't see it. It's a short trip. My god, when people are up in space, the zero gravity does so many things to the human body — eyeballs deform, retinas detach, they don't know if they can do anything about that. As far as we know they'd be blind. And (protection from radiation), you'd have none of that in a spacecraft for long periods and years at a time. Not a big believer.
"Sorry Buzz, sorry Elon, I don't think Mars is a good gamble."
You know him as: Spike from “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”
The British accent was phony and the blond from a bottle, but there was nothing fake about Marsters’ talent as the hunter of slayers in “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Spike came back from the dead when Marsters joined the spinoff “Angel” in its final season. The California-native actor has since played a time agent in “Torchwood,” a demon king in “Dragonball: Evolution” and a villainous lord in “Dudes & Dragons.”
Why we like him: Buffy was supposed to slay Spike in short order, but Marsters brought so much magic that his character became a series regular and eventually the slayer’s paramour. Millions of “Buffy” fans are ardent in their allegiance to Team Spike.
Random factoid: Marsters sings and writes for the rock band Ghost of the Robot, in which his son Sullivan plays guitar.
Wizard World Tulsa appearances: Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Q-and-A panel at 4 p.m. Saturday
Tulsa will be a Wizard World tour stop for the third consecutive year. In addition to comic creator guests, celebrity guests are booked for Wizard World cons and they often participate in Q&A panels that are free with paid admission, but autographs and photographs come with an additional charge.
When: Oct. 21-23. Hours are 3-8 p.m. Oct. 21, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Oct. 22, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Oct. 23.
Where: Cox Business Center, 100 Civic Center.
Tickets and info: wizardworld.com.