on 03.05.10 at 7:20 PM
James Marsters loves science fiction, possibly as much as fans love him.
From playing Spike on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel," to Brainiac on "Smallville" and Captain John Hart on "Torchwood," the Englishman has become one of the most beloved actors in the genre-verse. And he has no fear of being typecast as devious sci-fi characters.
"What, as the cool guy? Yes, I fear that everyday," he joked when asked about being typecast. "Seriously, if I was playing Urkel then I'd have a problem being typecast. But not when you're typecast as the cool guy or the tough guy or the potent character or the jerk who mixes things up.
"I think if you're going to get typecast that's the one you'd want."
He wants to take the Soldiers of the One into an entirely different, more violent direction than Clarice Willow (Polly Walker) does. Barnabus really loves bombs.
"Every revolution has a lot of different factions and people that have different ideas about how to achieve the revolution," he said. "I play a man who wants to change the world and is willing to break however many eggs he needs to achieve that."
This week Marsters chatted with reporters during a conference call, talking about his working with "Caprica" and "Buffy" writer Jane Espenson again, playing such menacing characters, his love of sci fi and what he thinks of the "Twilight" vampires.
Could you talk a little bit about your reunion with Jane?
You know, I haven't seen Jane. My reunion was on the telephone. She's making a universe man, she's winding up "Caprica" and she's very busy. And unfortunately I am too. There's like a week that we were talking about getting together and then I got ripped into rehearsals and then I had to leave to London. So our reunion ... is exactly like it was on "Buffy." We communicated through the scripts. I like to say that we make love to each other through the scripts and through the dailies, because I tried to take everything that Jane gave me and then just add my own layer to it so it would be just a little better than she was imagining.
Was it through her that you got the call to appear in "Caprica?"
Very much, yes. She fought for me for along time to get me on the show.
Having played Spike, what do you think about all the new vampires out there in "True Blood," "Twilight," "The Vampire Diaries?"
Oh I like them, man. They got my niece to read. She wasn't reading a lot and she hit "Twilight" and she just ate them up and read them like 5 to 10 times. Now she's onto other vampire romances and she reads like a novel a day. So go Stephanie Meyer.
And a lot of the rougher edges of the more traditional vampire story have been kind of softened or taken away. And that's a refreshing new look. But that was not what Joss was going for with "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." He really wanted the vampires to be ugly when they were vampires and then very quickly dead.
He was talked into the character of Angel by David Greenwalt, who is his writing partner. And he fought it. I don't think he was too excited about it but he allowed David to do it. And then the character just took off through the clouds, you know.
And I think that he always remembered that he was only going to allow one Angel-like character on the show; that all the other vampires were going to remain in some way hideous.
And what would Barnabas say to Spike if they met?
You want to make some money? Yes, he would ask him if he wanted to make some money.
How do you feel playing such a devout character after playing so many anti-religious characters?
I love anybody who has convictions enough to make mistakes because only people who make mistakes get into enough trouble to be called drama, I think.
In Rome it was called the Coliseum and on Caprica it's called the V-Club. But it has the same psychological effect on people. And he's seeing society rip apart and he sees that the religion is not being helpful in spearing people toward moral behavior. He wants to have a religion with one god that's going to tell people exactly what to do and exactly what the punishment is if you don't do it, and what the reward is if you do. That's a very comforting thought and he's willing to try to make a revolution and make that happen and he's willing to hurt people. So yes.
You recently mentioned that "Caprica" scares you because it's a look at where humanity is headed. Can you expand on that?
Well I don't want to get too morose about it. But we are much like Rome, you know? The cycles are going faster now because of technology. Rome had an empire for thousands of years where ours seems to have lasted about 50.
I think that being Caprica--the sci-fi, you know--you can call it Caprica [and] you don't have to call it America; you don't have to call it the world. You can be an audience member and say their world is about to end and they don't know it and I'm going to watch because we've seen "Battlestar Galactica," so we know what's going to happen.
They don't. And there's something amazingly dramatic in that. But also it kind of reflects where we are. It gets pretty depressing if you really go there. But if you talk to climatologists, if you talk to the people who are providing energy for the world, if you talk to the food production, you talk to people who are experts on water, fresh water supply, it just gets depressing, you know.
Like, you've got to watch it when you watch the Discovery Channel these days, it can just trip you out. So, yes, the people who do sci-fi and fantasy can address these issues fairly directly because we just change the name and we give you some spaceships and laser guns and robots and stuff and we can all think about the stuff we don't want to think about but need to anyway.
What sorts of things attracted your interest when you were 5- to 10-years-old? Did you daydream a lot or write any short stories as a child?
Early, early on I was into genre. One of my favorite books was "Fahrenheit 451." I was also into "Animal Farm," the Orwell. I was so blown away by "Blade Runner" when it came out. I thought "2001" was just incredible and bottomless. I was drawn to science fiction, but stuff that had meat on the bones, stuff to think about.
So I got very much into the gritty kind of late 70s Hollywood movies--"Dog Day Afternoon" all the way through the 80s with "Sid and Nancy." There's a lot of that stuff that I was very into.
I was just wondering if you've talked to Russell Davies about coming back on "Torchwood" in the fourth season.
No but he knows I'm his bitch. I'll come wherever he'll call, I've told him wherever. If he has work anywhere at anything, five lines or the lead, whatever he needs I'll come.
Did they have to ask you more than once to come on "Caprica"?
Hell no, no. I follow writers. In my little mind I cast my own group of writers around Hollywood, the ones that if I was forming a production company the ones that I will call and try to get together. And if any of those people call me and they're writing for something I'll come there.
How do you see Barnabas? Is he a terrorist or a criminal?
No man, he's a revolutionary. How I see him is how he seems himself. Well it's a complex question ... I'll answer as an actor who's making the guy.
There is a difference. The terrorist is trying to instill terror in a civilian population and they're definitely expanding the battlefield to civilian populations and that is also something scary. But in my mind, in Barnabas' mind, he is trying to save the world. He's trying to give the world a new religion that will give guidance to people.
He recognizes that some people--not all but some people--really do need a superman to tell them, "You will not pee in the pool and if you do I will kick you out." They need a god and they need the 10 Commandments. They need "Thou shall do this" and "don't do that" and "You'll burn if you don't" and "You'll go to heaven if you do." They needed a daddy figure.
Without that you really face what Rome faced, which is people giving into sensual desire to the point that the whole society wrecks. That one's true. You know, the Roman society [has] the same religion that they have on Caprica, which is a multi-deity mythology.
All the Roman mythology had nothing to do with what you should do or what you should try to become. It was just trying to explain human psychology; the gods behaved in very human ways. It was really just exploring why we are the way we are, but that doesn't give guidance.
And you can argue that that's exactly what you should do, but Barnabas sees it differently because he's going into these V-Clubs and he's seeing best friends shoot each other down for fun.
Did you watch any episodes of "Battlestar" or even the beginning episodes of "Caprica?"
I had seen some of "Battlestar." Everyone has. I hadn't watched all of it but I've seen good chunks of it. But I really had to try to forget that because we were doing a prequel kind of it and it was really important that nobody understands how serious it's about to get.
As soon as I grow the balls I've got to finish watching that. It was fabulous, I loved it and it terrified me, which I think is gold, it's fabulous.
How many episodes are you going to be in "Caprica"?
If I have my way? I think I've filmed five so far and then there's a bit of a hiatus. They were hinting that they wanted to keep the option open of having me back ... They've left the door open for doing that and I hope they do.
Do you think there's ever going to be a possibility of you reprising Spike?
When Joss [Whedon] came to me and asked me about that. The writer of "Angel" was coming down and I told him what I tell every great writer, which is "I'll follow you to hell, I'll follow you to heaven. Just give me a call. I'll do one line for you; I'll do 10. Sure I'll do Spike for you, of course I'd do Spike for you."
It's now been seven years. But I look in the mirror and I've got to say if I'm rested I look OK with the proper lighting. But as the years go I get more and more nervous about that, so I'm thinking well let's just do a screen test and see if we can light this character so we can actually say, "Look I haven't aged." If we could hold that that'd be cool.
What percentage would you say is you seeking out that type of genre role because it's something you enjoy and what percentage is people seeking you out because you are such a known entity in genre entertainment?
I guess about 50/50. I was in London doing a music tour and I couldn't get the tour manager to come after the show and have dinner with me. And she said, "Have dinner but come up to my room because "Doctor Who" is on. And she just went off about Russell T. Davis how he's taken "Doctor Who" and re-imagined it. [She said] he was the guy who had done the original "Queer as Folk" in London. She just went on and on about him.
In that way I kind of follow the writer. Yes, like all the other writers at "Buffy"--David Fury will often make sure I'm seen for "24." I haven't gone in that yet but we always are dreaming that we'll work again together.
But, yes, other roles just kind of come to me; other roles I have to audition for.
Is Barnabas alone and what is he driven by? Is it just his convictions or is there some other more human side we'll see?
He is not alone at all. He is able to gather people to him to help him try to change the world. There are a lot of people around in the world that had the same frustrations and concerns he does. So he just needs to find them and gather them into a unified force.
Does he have any sort of personal relationships with anyone or is this all driven by this one purpose?
He does have relationships but he uses everyone around him for his goal. But his goal is motivated by the fact that he lost his father to this. He used to respect his father a lot but his father has become addict to these V-Clubs and he found him in there doing things that he doesn't even want to remember.
Would Barnabas living in our world be acting exactly the same or how would you see him acting?
Oh yes, man, he'd be spiking trees, he'd be blowing up hydroelectric dams. He'd be the one getting arrested outside the WTO conferences. Yes, oh man if he could get inside the World Trade Organization ... Can you imagine what he'd do to the World Trade Organization if he had a gun? Yes, Barnabas would probably take a whip to the temple.
I liked you on "Smallville." Would you come back?
Oh yes I'd love to. They are just a really good group of people. Only Tom [Welling] could play this character this long. That's just fabulous. Love it that they're getting another season.
Who's your favorite character and/or star of "Caprica"?
My favorite star, my favorite actor would have to be Eric. It's all I can do just to remain professional and not gush when he comes in. So it was just horrible; he directed me in the final episode I was in and I was just trying not to embarrass myself. I think he just rocks on so many levels.
My favorite character on the show is Barnabas. I think he's the most interesting character. He's the monotheistic terrorist, I mean, what are you going to--how can you get better than that? I don't think you can get better than that.