JAMES MARSTERS Masters Yet Another Anti-Villain On MARVEL’S “RUNAWAYS”
By Andrew Cristi
Every so often, an actor comes along who is so convincing that they can truly suspend disbelief to the extent where the audience is shocked to learn that the performer is in fact nothing like the character, and while the chameleon of an artist James Marsters has sucked viewers into worlds where he has shape-shifted into the likes of vampires, warlocks, and super-villains without ever missing a beat, it is the flawless British accent that he can possess that quickly sends fans jolting into reality when they hear him speak without it. Yes, it’s true; Spike from “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” does not really have a British accent! And just when you can begin to wrap your head around that, it turns out that the actor playing his new on-screen son on “Runaways,” Gregg Sulkin (another star covered by Wingman Magazine!), is British- and has fooled even Marsters with his impeccable American accent! Looks like it would have been easier to believe that they were vampires and werewolves, respectively!
After a hilarious exchange with the spirited star about him and Sulkin perfectly swapping dialects, the genre icon then goes on to praise the new hero for remaining grounded in not only a tough business and town- but also a tough day and age where the spotlight is even more intensified on an artist. It immediately becomes ardently clear that Marsters, a distinguished theater veteran who represents humility at its finest and proudly states quotes likes; “projects make stars, stars don’t make projects,” has little time for Hollywood phonies, or actors more interested in their own fame than they are in the work- work that he is glad that Sulkin is so game for. But, before any picture gets painted of a moody pretentious theater actor that walks around with some holier than thou attitude- rest assured, that couldn’t be further from the case, and Marsters would most likely mock that kind of performer also. Instead, the California native is completely without pretense and charmingly jovial as he talks about his impressive career, remaining astoundingly nonchalant about his pop culture icon status as he shrugs off applause with a genuinely modest laugh. While to every fan boy and fan girl out there Marsters has been a staple in genre television now for twenty years- a legend- as far as the actor is concerned, he’s just a dad trying to put food on the table and feed his children- which is precisely why Marvel’s new show “Runaways” is the perfect expressive outlet for the provocative star.
A self-proclaimed subversive artist, the ever-intelligent Marsters admits that he is drawn to projects that can mirror societies truths and get away with it without being at fault- and genre television has always had a way of being able to toy with the audience while blaming it on the supernatural as its most clearly a work of fiction. With “Runaways,” the clever actor claims he can address tons of societal myths from “Women can’t defend themselves,” to “Old people are boring,” while even examining his own relatable issues of the disenchantment children feel coming of age and learning their parents aren’t perfect. Clearly a regular pro at offering up juicy anti-villains with depth, Marsters is thrilled to have found a home at Marvel where he feels they offer these type of humane characters with so many shades of grey and layers in them, not to mention the talented on-screen family they have paired him with. While Sulkin plays the anti-hero (and accent-less) son of Marsters’ anti-villain character, Victor Stein, his wife is played by none other than Ever Carradine, talented “Shameless” alumni, and a member of the famous royal Hollywood Carradine family.
Just listening to the knowledgeable actor discuss his new Hulu show, his career and his craft is as enjoyable as any project he’s ever been in as the famous former Vampire never fails to make his listener laugh or think, which, as an artist, seems to be one of his main goals. The other? Making sure he is a good father that is supporting for his children- even if that sometimes means selling his soul to Hollywood in order to do it. Hmm…does it seem like Marsters might be trying to tell us a little something with his compelling new character? Read below to find out!
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: [Upon hearing MARSTERS say hello] Wait a minute- you’re not British?
JAMES MARSTERS: No. [Laughs] I guess I fooled you!
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: You do an amazing British accent. That, and the fact that you’re playing Gregg Sulkin’s dad on “Runaways.”
JAMES MARSTERS: So?
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: So…Gregg is British.
JAMES MARSTERS: [Utterly confused] No, he’s not!
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: We featured him in the issue of Wingman Magazine that is currently out! I recently spoke to him! He’s British!
JAMES MARSTERS: [Shocked] He speaks with a perfect American accent!
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: And you speak with a perfect British accent! Why would he speak to me in a British accent if he wasn’t British?
JAMES MARSTERS: [Cracks up] I don’t know! Maybe we’re in on one big gigantic plan to fuck with your head!? [Keeps laughing] This is wild!
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: Okay, so, this is really shocking that you don’t have a British accent. You do the best British accent of all time.
JAMES MARSTERS: [Laughs again and launches into a flawless Russian accent] Actually, we’re both from Georgia. There’s not a lot of work for people from Georgia, so we must both be pretending. Try to make money. [Cracks up]
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: Did you and Gregg do any prior work in getting any back story or father son mannerisms down? Clearly, you have it down pat!
JAMES MARSTERS: You know, Gregg is such an incredible actor, and he has always been really down to take risks and try anything- he’s just the most amazing person to share these scenes with. He’s so committed to the work. I think all the credit goes to Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage who are producing and writing the show. The truth is, we just get along so well and we text one another all the time- and I really respect him. I have to say, that it’s not easy becoming a superstar in any day and age, let alone this day and age. The theory is that even if you are a good, normal, stable person and you become famous you will go crazy for at least two years- that’s the best that could be hoped for, and Gregg, much like the guys over at “Supernatural,” seems to really be an exception to that- they never really went crazy at all. They remained humble and grateful, and consequently had one of the happiest sets in Hollywood. But, I hope we’re on track for giving those guys a run for their money, because we have a really happy set- nobody is peeing in the pool, so to speak! [Laughs] We both want to have fun on action. Neither of us really pull a lot of pranks after cut. We’re very personable, but we’re really more focused on trying to get our rocks off when the camera is rolling- that’s when you get to play. So, we’re both really focused on knowing our lines and studying which moments are working and which could work better. It’s really fun to do stunts with Gregg- he’s very specific, and game for stunts, and that’s really cool. They gave him some stunts that you normally don’t give actors and he was just all about it. He didn’t even hurt himself at all- and that’s the mark of a good stunt man! [Chuckles]
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: And…these characters do not have British accents, I take it?
JAMES MARSTERS: [Cracks up] NO! Not at all! Chase Stein is born and raised in Brentwood California! I play his father; a rich industrialist engineer. Sort of like Elon Musk- if Elon Musk lost his soul! [Laughs] Both without any British accent!
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: Can you tell audiences who aren’t as familiar with the story a little more about what they can expect from Hulu’s new Marvel show?
JAMES MARSTERS: “Runaways” is about a group of teenagers who are finding out that their parents are super-villains. In that way, they’re not too much different from normal teenagers; they are growing to have to accept the fact that their parents are not the morally perfect people that they thought they were when they were younger. That happens to everyone, it’s just that this show takes that to a heightened level. Many teenagers wake up to the fact that their parents might be...douchebags? [Laughs] They might lie, or not have lived up to their own moral code in some way. Even my kids have gone through this to some extent. But, these kids in “Runaways” realize that their parents might destroy the world.
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: You’re already such a fandom icon. How does it feel to be joining a franchise like Marvel?
JAMES MARSTERS: Terrifying! [Snickering] Absolutely terrifying! I’m sweating bullets right now even talking to you. Marvel has these people on set called “Marvel Security,” and I made the mistake of talking to one of them and asking if they were there to keep us actors safe. They laughed in my face and said; “No, no, James. We’re here to keep you from tweeting.” [Cracks up] As it might turn out, Marvel does not need any help selling the show! They don’t need my twitter feed, however many people I might have on it. So, they’re really all about controlling actors who have big mouths. So, I joke, but I do try and be very careful to not spill any beans and let the storytellers tell this story in the most exciting way. But, otherwise, they’ve been really nice. My primary contact has been with a woman named Emma, and she couldn’t be cooler- she’s like a rocker chick. She’s always friendly. I remember I told her how friendly I thought she was and she told me; “Well, you guys are being really good.” [Chuckles] I don’t want to see the other side, but we’ve been on time, we know our lines and we’re all happy to be there. And Jeph Loeb, the head of Marvel television, couldn’t have been more supportive and kind. I think they’ve also been nice because we’ve been really good- they have the ability to spank us pretty well, but that’s a good thing. I believe shows are best when producers are in charge. I think it’s good that we’re all a little intimidated. And Marvel as a property is fantastic- so many of their characters are rooted in such vulnerability. They all seem to have some kind of weakness, or humanity to them. Captain America is a fish out of water and very confused by the modern world that he lives in, The Hulk is constantly afraid of himself and his own anger, and Spider-man is really just a teenage boy trying to grow up, which of course makes him vulnerable to everything. Other properties have iconic, bigger than life characters, and that works very well, but Marvel really tries to humanize these characters that have superpowers, and their stories are stories I can relate to easily. It’s hard for me to relate to Superman, but it’s very easy for me to relate to Wolverine, frankly.
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: You’ve done so much science fiction, fantasy, and superhero work from voice over to live action- are you a huge fan yourself?
JAMES MARSTERS: Yep- very much. Since as long as I can remember. I was going to “Star Trek” conventions in the 70’s as Spock. I had a friend make me some really great pointed ears. My sister helped me sew a full uniform. And…then I had a big blond afro, because I just couldn’t control my hair! [Laughs] But, I can tell you, I was cool for the first time in my life and everyone wanted to talk to me because I had the best phaser at the convention. Back then, you could only be a fan of one- there was “Star Trek” and “Space 1999”– this was before “Star Wars,” And us Trekkies hated “Space 1999” and thought it was so stupid. It had horrible special effects! So, I really was always a fan. After college, I started producing theater and started doing subversive theater and I gravitated in that direction. With subversive work, we’re not trying to make the audience angry or uncomfortable, but when the audience does get uncomfortable then it’s clearly working because subversion is really trying to expose lies that people get taught in childhood, or get taught when they don’t know they are getting taught these lies. Lies like; “Women can’t defend themselves,” or “Old people are boring,” or “You can judge someone by their material wealth,” or “Gay people can’t be heroes.” There are so many. There’s this social programming that subversive artists really try and poke through, and when it comes to genre it’s like the jester in the medieval court who is the only one who can get away with calling the king an idiot- as long as the joke lands and it’s funny, it’s allowed. So, genre has this deniability where you can blame it on the supernatural and say; “We’re just talking about vampires, superheroes, or dinosaurs,” or what have you, when really we’re holding up a mirror to modern day culture in the way a cop show, or medical show really can’t, or doesn’t dare to. So, as a subversive artist, I’m really excited to be in genre projects. One of the elements I really enjoy about “Runaways” is examining this gulf that happens between the generations. I’m a father myself, and there are so many things I can’t tell my kids. They’re grown now, so I can talk more openly, but when I’m asked questions like “Dad, why are you upset today?” I can’t tell my daughter for instance; “I’m running out of money, and I don’t know if I can keep this house.” Or “I just came from the doctor, and I may or may not have cancer.” These are hypothetical situations, but the idea is that there are things you protect your children from. And it creates lies, or walls that get put up. Parents sometimes do things that they are not proud of, but they do them to put food on the table. I was this fiery subversive artist before I came down to Los Angeles, and then I started making television- which is one of the major heads of society that I was trying to poke a hole in for, and of course now I’m on television making money for my family, and if my children do go through rebellious phases they probably don’t see me as a subversive, but, I hope they see me as a good dad. So, I’m really playing a character that does have a story that at the core is relatable- he is trying to feed his family and he makes a deal with the devil and he gets in over his head and can’t get out. So, it’s kind of a metaphor for my own life and maybe the life of every parent who has to prioritize children above everything else.
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” is having its twenty year reunion this year. What really worked when you came on was what worked with Shelley Long and Kirstie Alley on “Cheers” where you were so tremendously different from David Boreanaz, and Spike was so different from Angel, offering the audience something new and fresh instead of trying to replace anyone. Can you touch on that?
JAMES MARSTERS: [Pauses and laughs] That’s a really good question, and no one has ever asked me that before. I have a lot of stock answers saved because the “Buffy” questions continuously recycle.
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: You see- I can surprise you the same way you can surprise me with your non-British accent!
JAMES MARSTERS: [Cracks up] You stumped me! [Takes a beat] Okay, so, Angel was a character that Joss Whedon got talked into. He’s not into portraying evil as “cool.” Evil is not cool in Joss’ eyes, and I agree- we both think that evil is pathetic, and laughable if looked at in the right light. He would always say that he didn’t want people feeling for the vampires, and he didn’t want it to be at all like Anne Rice. But, he got talked into one moral vampire character, and in doing so, he made sure that vampire felt really guilty for everything he did wrong. So, I think David Boreanaz had to play a character that felt oh, so guilty, all the time! [Snickers] Which is actually a really hard character to play. There’s a saying in theater that actors are not paid to work, they’re paid to play- people won’t pay money to watch an actor work. So, it’s really important for me to have fun, and I think many actors agree with that. And, it’s really hard to have fun playing a character that feels bad about everything and is drenched in guilt the entire time. And then, I got exactly the opposite- I got a character who was having a blast being a serial killer. Spike was initially designed to die in five episodes, and Angel was supposed to kill him. Angel was supposed to turn evil, break Buffy’s heart, and his first act of villainy was supposed to be to kill me and take up with Drusilla. Unleashing a character that was having so much fun killing everyone in his path was something Joss was comfortable with for a short amount of time, but then, for reasons I don’t really understand, he decided not to kill me and he had to deal with that. So, the characters are really very polar-opposite, and I guess it just worked and that’s a really good question and good insight into why it did work.
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: It did work- the only way to invigorate an audience is to offer them something different, or else they would throw their hands in the air and say “I like Buffy and Angel together” and grow angry at the show.
JAMES MARSTERS: I think that’s part of the brilliance of Joss- he’s always doing the 180, and always going in the opposite direction than what people might decide to go in. He was always surprised that I had a knack for knowing what the plot would be in the next episode, and he asked me how I was able to predict what was coming and I told him; “It’s easy. Take the idea that any normal good writer would come up with and do exactly the opposite- and make it excellent.” That’s Joss.
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: Speaking of new life and reboots, everything seems to be set for a reboot these days. They have been talking about a reboot of “Charmed,” and “Roswell” fans have just learned that The CW is bringing that show back as well. How would you feel about a “Buffy” reboot?
JAMES MARSTERS: It all depends on whether or not Joss is heading it. Joss is the secret sauce on the burger- if he’s heading it, I’m all in. If he’s not? I have no interest at all.
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: Right! The “Roswell” reboot is not bringing back David Nutter and Jason Katims! Even if you try and bring aboard a fresh cast, how do you not circle back to the colossal giants who created these projects?
JAMES MARSTERS: Definitely, the most important thing is to have the same people pulling the strings behind the scenes- I think the actors can be replaced.
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: Well, not for the fans that love them.
JAMES MARSTERS: I truly believe that projects make stars- stars don’t make projects. But, I will say that I was really against a “Blade Runner” reboot as that is my favorite film of all time. It’s genius down to every frame, and I thought they would ruin it. But, I just saw it and it was awesome- it really worked.
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: You have “A Bread Factory” coming out with an actress we just love- Jessica Pimentel. Tell us about it
JAMES MARSTERS: Working on that movie was a wonderful experience. It’s about an art center that really exists in Hudson, New York. The area had gone through a lot of trouble and become a depressed area, and this art center really helped revitalize it. These two women held on to it year after year and made it work through good and bad times, and it became a hallmark of the town, so, they decided to make a movie about it and about how hard it is to keep an art center open when it’s not in a metropolis. It was shot by a director, Patrick Wang, and he really likes to work with actors that can memorize a lot of lines and deliver with good consistency. He likes to do one shot- and that’s the cut. [Laughs] He wants to do a shot that encompasses all the action, and he expects the actors to be on their game the entire time. It was really challenging, and yet, exhilarating, and the cast that he got was masterful. I was so happy to be in almost over my head! [Laughs again]
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: Then you’re leading “Abruptio” with Jordan Peele and Robert England! Talk about that.
JAMES MARSTERS: [Immediately start laughing] That is a sick movie! When I read the script for that one, I thought; “That is too gross. I can’t be a part of that!” It’s about a world where someone sneaks into people’s rooms and does things like put an explosive device into the carotid arteries of people and they become forced to do heinous acts against one another as the world falls apart. I remember being disgusted and then, when I finished the script, I was told this all would be done with puppets! One of my favorite movies is “Team America,” and that’s done with puppets, and I think you can get away with more when it comes to puppets. So, I thought it would be fun to take that risk- I like that sense of jumping off a cliff. We’re going to fly, or we’re going to go splat- so, we better start flappin’, man! And usually when I have that sense, most of the time it works out.
WINGMAN MAGAZINE: You’ve certainly already had a career filled with roles that have created a devoted fan-base. Who else would you love to work with, and what other roles would you like to play?
JAMES MARSTERS: You know, I’ve stopped trying to think about what I might want to do next. I find that the universe doesn’t reorder itself every morning based on my expectations. I guess I would love to work with Anthony Hopkins. He has found the power in really being, and he is so simple in his delivery, but he really owns it. He does not lie- and there’s a power in that honesty. If you ask any actor what role they want to play, you’re most likely going to get an answer that makes them want to sound cool, or that makes them want to feel like a great actor. I feel like the roles I’ve played have come to me, stretched me, made me feel vulnerable, and also a little frightened- and that’s so much better than trying to look cool.
Marsters better watch out- for an actor that seems almost annoyed by pretentious actors trying to appear “cool,” and having such disdain for the adjective, it seems the gifted new Marvel star has become the very epitome and definition of the word without even trying- even without the British accent.
Marvel’s “Runaways” is now streaming Tuesdays on Hulu.