Of Vampires and Ghosts (of the Robot): A Talk with James Marsters
Former Buffy star talks about comic-cons and earning respect as a rocker
When the Wizard World Chicago Comic-Con takes place in Rosemont, IL this weekend, the convention will be sporting stars of comics, television and pop culture. Among them will be James Marsters, who is known for playing the role of “Spike” on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, and the Buffy spin-off “Angel.” In addition to appearing at the event, he will also be playing with his band “Ghost of the Robot” in a very rare appearance in the Midwest.
Prior to his trip to Chicago, Marsters spoke with me about his role on Buffy; what he loves about comic-cons; his band Ghost of the Robot; and what his teenaged daughter thinks about the Twilight series:
(The following is the unedited transcript of the interview that ran in REDEYE August 8, 2013.)
Geek To Me: It’s been ten years since Buffy the Vampire Slayer has been on the air. What’s the first thing you think of when someone says “hey it’s been ten years since Buffy’s been on the air?”
James Marsters: I think, man I look really good! [laughs] I think man, everyone should go and order the Cindy Crawford moisturizing line like I do. It works great.
Whenever I hear anything about Buffy the Vampire Slayer I just feel very lucky to have been part of it. I came to Los Angeles with my nose in the air, having come from theater. I only came down to L.A. because I became a father and actually had to try and make money acting. And I came down here willing to be Alf’s sidekick. Willing to be the new Urkle. I really didn’t care. I had already proven myself to myself about acting and I was coming here to sell myself like a whore if I had to. And I ended up doing a series that I’m very proud of, that I think had some of the best writing that I’ve ever had in my mouth.
It’s kind of hard to remember back ten - it’s been seventeen years since it started - but back then it wasn’t so common to have a female character that didn’t need help taking care of herself. And as the father of a sixteen year old - who hates the show by the way, she’s a Twilight fan - nevertheless, I think it started a whole lot of new thinking about female characters and stuff. About empowering half of the population.
I think I got nine writers, who are all scattered to the winds in Los Angeles, all show runners, executive producing television shows. They’re all very powerful. But I got them when they were all poor, hungry and in the same room together, working on scripts. And I think it’s amazing that Joss found that much undiscovered talent and got them all in the same room. And I definitely benefited from that. I really feel that I stood on tape, where they told me, got the lines right, and they made me look very good.
Geek To Me: I have to follow up on your daughter being a fan of Twilight…
James Marsters: The books. In her defense, the books!
Geek To Me: And you yourself have played a vampire that had a questionable relationship with a woman-
James Marsters: [laughs]
Geek To Me: Have you ever said “hey, I’ve been there, you know. You should know better.”
James Marsters:: [laughs] She just really feels that vampires are not supposed to be evil, and does not buy it when they behave in an evil way. So the kind of ambiguity of Spike’s behavior does not sit well with her at all. She’s like “be a gentleman for God’s sake!”
Geek To Me: You’ve done a lot since then, of course. You have a role on Warehouse 13, correct?
James Marsters: Yeah, that is a fun gig. A lot of good people there.
Geek To Me: As far as the show goes, how do things sit with your character?
James Marsters: I am coming back on the show. I’ve just gone through all sorts of drama with Anthony Head, - I hope that hasn’t shown, or maybe it has recently shown - the two episodes around Anthony’s character, who plays my older brother, and a real jerk I may say so -
Geek To Me: [laughs]
James Marsters: Not Anthony, the character. And I just had a marvelous time. I’m not sure what the future holds but I haven’t pissed anybody off yet, so if there’s a future I think I’ll be part of it.
Geek To Me: When you go to a convention - like Wizard World - what is it that you look forward to the most?
James Marsters: I look forward to meeting someone that I may have met a few years ago, who was new to conventions. And I always give them the same advice, which is meet people. There are very little places left in our culture where we come in large numbers to talk to each other. We’re all online or we’re in our cars, or we’re just with our families. But to be with the people, with a common interest where you could strike up a conversation with people that you don’t know, that’s becoming I think too rare.
And so there’s something beautiful, something communal, about conventions. About everyone being excited to be there. And I tell them make friends. Don’t leave here without getting a couple phone numbers or e-mail addresses.
I like to tell them the story about someone who told me “two years ago I only had three friends but last week I was couch surfing in Lithuania. And I have more friends than I know what to do with.”
Buffy and the other genre shows that are at conventions are very popular, all around the world. Especially because of the internet, you can make connections with people all over the world. If you look into the group. So I really enjoy seeing people meeting each other and get a larger social life.
Let me add that I also love the babes, in the innumerable bikinis that you see. The metallic bikinis, it’s like Halloween and they all get dressed like they want to. And no one is going to call them any names, where they can just be beautiful and show that they have it. And I’ve gotta say man, the girls have been getting steadily hotter at conventions over the last few years. It’s fabulous.
Geek To Me: You have a bit of a social component after your concert in Chicago. You have a bit of a meet and greet. How does that work for you?
James Marsters: You know, I don’t always do that, but I am going to be doing that in Chicago. And it’s lovely. People that I think are attracted to some of the projects I’ve done, I find that they have a great sense of humor. They don’t take themselves overly seriously. And they give great presents. I always have a lot of fun when I talk to people that have enjoyed the shows that I’ve done. The only problem is that I feel like I never have enough time for each person.
I have a friend at the jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena who helped design the Mars Rover. I’ve got a couple friends at NASA. A friend at the FBI, the CIA, NSA, although they’re not so popular anymore. But the people have really interesting jobs and they often come to these conventions. They come to get my autograph, come to meet me. And I’m fascinated, especially by scientists. Love scientists, they’re the really smart geeks.
Geek To Me: Twitter follower @JeanbugC asks “When will Ghost of the Robot record ‘Best Friend Magic Dance’, ‘Don’t Worry Son’, and ‘Dance Show’ on an album?”
James Marsters: [laughs] Jean I cannot guarantee that those will make it on our next album. We have at least three albums worth of material jockeying for position on our next album. But we are going back into the studio in the next few months beginning our next album. So there will be fresh music soon. I can’t guarantee you which songs will be on the album.
Geek To Me: Finally with social media, where can people interact with you online and on social media?
James Marsters: Go to GhostoftheRobot.com or GOTRMusic.com. You can get me on Tumblr on GOTRMusic on Facebook.
And I just wanna say, come to the concert guys. The band is gonna be together. I often come when I’m on the road I perform solo. But the band is actually free. It’s quite rare that we make it any further (East) than California [laughs]. It’s terrible. We’re actually coming to Illinois, and we rock pretty hard.
What I love is whenever we play a club the sound guy, when we come in to sound check, is like “oh hi mister TV and your band.” They’re a little bit derisive, but they’re polite about it. And then after we sound check the guy comes and goes “hey man, those are actually pretty good.” And we’re always like “thank you, thank you.” And after the show, without exception, they’ve got their fists pumping in the air and saying “YOU GUYS ROCK! YOU GUYS RULE!” I always enjoy that a lot.
We do bring it. We’ve been all over the world. We haven’t played Thailand yet., that’s about all I can think of. We have sold tens of thousands of albums. And we will not let you down. If you like rock and roll, if you like guitars, we do all original stuff. You can check us out on iTunes. Our last album (“Murphy’s Law) debuted at 98 on the Top 200. And it’s a good ticket to buy.
Learn more about Ghost of the Robot at GOTRMusic.com.