James Marsters on CAPRICA, And, Well, Everything Else
By Jenna Busch
posted: 07 March 2010 03:47 pm ET
posted: 07 March 2010 03:47 pm ET
One of the things that really grabs you about a character is when you never really know if they're good or bad. It worked for Raistlin in the Dragonlance novels, right? And it certainly worked for Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. James Marsters, a self-proclaimed science geek, has the genre crowd in the back pocket of his leather pants. Buffy, Angel, Smallville, Torchwood...this guy has taken the cool and edgy with a heart of gold to new levels. And now he's joining the cast of Caprica. Marsters plays Barnabus, a religious terrorist who we first meet in a warehouse with barbed wire wrapped around his arm. We recently got to participate in a conference call with Marsters where he told us about his fanatical character and his motives and convictions. We also got him to talk about his iconic vampire role, how he feels about Twilight's sparklie vamps and whether or not he wants to revisit his role on Smallville.
Marsters' first Caprica episode, 'Know Thy Enemy' aired Friday night at 9/8c on SyFy.
Question: I watched the clip where you're mortifying yourself with barbed wire and stuff. What do you feel like you're playing such a, you know, devout religious character after playing so many kind of ant-religious characters throughout your career.
James Marsters: 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...So, you know, I'm playing the character so actually I feel like I understand why he's doing what he's doing. He's living in a time which is coming apart at the seams just like the Roman Empire did. And...in his world people are committing human sacrifice and mass executions and mass orgies, friends are shooting each other in the head for fun. And, you know, 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 towards moral behavior and so 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. And that's a very comforting thought he's willing to try to make a revolution and make that happen and he's willing to hurt people. So yes.
QUESTION: Now you recently mentioned that Caprica scares you because it's a look at where humanity is headed. Can you expand on what you meant by that?
Marsters: 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 so Rome had an empire for thousands of years where ours seems to have lasted about 50.
And I don't know if our culture has gone through - they say civilizations go through barbarism and civilizations in decadence. I don't know where the civilization part happens maybe it was the 60s, I don't know. But it may be true though we are starting to become decadent as a society. And this cycle is repeated in all societies that dare to call themselves empires I guess.
And I think that being the Caprica - the sci-fi, you know, you can call it Caprica, you don't have to call it America, you don't have to call it the world. And you can examine - 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.
Marsters: They don't. And there's something amazingly dramatic in that. But also it kind of reflects where we are. And, you know, 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, we - the people who do sci-fi and fantasy we 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.
QUESTION: And what was the deal with the barbed wire around the arm, like is Barnabas a pain freak or something?
Marsters: No man, it's flagellation. It's got a long history in the Christian church. I don't know man, it may have history in other religions as well but I know it from the Middle Ages. The flagellants thought that the Black Death was the curse; the black plague was God's punishment for human sin. So they were punishing themselves going town to town being themselves with whips that had these metal pieces in them and they would just spray their backs and their blood all over each town as they went trying to lift the plague by suffering. And they were probably besides the rats they were more responsible for spreading the plague because of all the blood. But it's this idea that, you know, if the bible says that I should be like Christ and Christ suffered on the cross then I should do that too.
QUESTION: Well you worked in a lot of genres and we loved seeing you in sci-fi projects and Caprica and Torchwood. But I'm wondering about the sorts of things that attract your interests when you were a lot younger like when you were 5 to 10 did you daydream a lot or write any short stories as a child? Like what was your original like genre choice as - before you got into the actual industry?
Marsters: You know, early, early on I was into genre. One of my favorite books was 'Fahrenheit 451'. And 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, you know, stuff to think about. Then later on once I hit puberty I got into acting, I was like really into acting. So I - for a long time I was just into Robert DeNiro and John Savage, like anybody that was in Deerhunter I was totally into anybody that was in that cast and followed their careers. And so I got very much into the gritty kind of late 70s Hollywood movies, Dog Day Afternoon, I don't know, all the way through the 80s with Sid and Nancy, there's a lot of that stuff that I was very into.
QUESTION: So Caprica is actually pretty good fit for your original interests...
Marsters: Oh man...
QUESTION: I mean, it actually goes right along with that type of thought-provoking what's going to happen in the future kind of things.
Marsters: Yes exactly. Yes...
QUESTION: I was just wondering if you've talked to Russell Davies about coming back on Torchwood in the fourth season.
Marsters: 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.
QUESTION: I watched the episode and I'm wondering how much your character knows about Zoe's (Alessandra Torresani) involvement. And I know that Clarice (Polly Walker) sort of talks about the dirty work that you character does for the church. And I'm wondering what sort of from that'll take.
Marsters: I don't do a whole lot of work for the church. I'm - well I'm kind of trying to take my little wing of the church over. So I'm kind of at odds - I'm kind of at odds with Clarice. Every revolution has a lot of different factions and people - that have different ideas about how to achieve the revolution. And Clarice and I see things a little differently. How much I know about - I don't know a whole lot about Zoe. I probably know anything that Lacy (Magda Apanowicz) has told Keon (Liam Sproule) about Zoe if that helps. I'm being a little bit opaque about it, I'm not supposed to reveal too much... I play a man who wants to change the world and is willing to break however many eggs he needs to to achieve that.
QUESTION: It's kind of funny Battlestar and Caprica both seem to have one major thing in common besides their storyline which is the fact that they bring in icons, you know, from other shows that are just big with fandom and just they drop accents where, you know, both went back to their natural accents where we had Lucy Lawless did Battlestar Galactica and now it's kind of just sort of seeing this episode and actually seeing you just, you know, with your natural accent.
Is that kind of a way where maybe, you know, people might be able to kind of take away some of - everything they bring into the show and what they know you from and see you as this new character?
Marsters: Yes, yes, I've always been really thankful that I got to play a character that got to wear so much makeup and bleach his hair and have a cool Euro accent, English accent. But I was also really aware that I needed to get beyond that if possible. So actually I cut my blond hair off the day after Angel went down and I cut it off for the Elizabeth Glaser Aids - Children's Aids Foundation on the Ryan Seacrest Show. Ryan shaved me bald on the show. But, yes, I think that anytime that you have writing that is this good and, you know, they scored Edward James Olmos for the lead for Battlestar. As soon as you do that you're going to get almost any actor that you want because everybody wants to work with him. And so you have that - the tradition and so the producers have had so many good actors on that show that when they do a spin-off they, again, get a lot of good actors to choose from. And they got Eric Stoltz, man, so again they're going to get anybody they want.
I'm glad Jane Espensen...worked with me on Buffy because she enjoyed working with me and she fought to get me on Caprica and I'm just very lucky to be working with them frankly. They're insane. They come up with wild ideas and then they just change their minds, say no that sucks, let's do something else, let's think of it in five minutes and go - and they do and it works and it's fabulous. It's like being at the circus.
QUESTION: And did they have to ask you more than once to come on the show?
Marsters: No - hell no, no. I follow writers. I like...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. And Jane is on the top of that list so she had called me for a different role on Caprica and I was auditioning just five, six times for that role and they finally - they said no you're really not right for that and Jane's like, no, get him on the show and so they thought of another role which I think is a lot more exciting actually. I like playing a monotheistic terrorist it's just - it's great. Yes.
QUESTION: I wanted to know how you saw Barnabas. Is he a terrorist or a criminal? What is he?
Marsters: No man, he's a revolutionary. I mean, how I see him is how he seems himself, well it's a complex question, I mean, if I'm going to ask - I'll answer as an actor who's making the guy. You know, you could say that George Washington was a terrorist. He was using different battle techniques, I mean, if you compare the English who were just coming at them in formation standing people up in open fields and just marching forward and he was just hiding in the bushes and shooting. mean, that's a little bit like, you know, the new tactics that we're facing in Afghanistan and Iraq...so, I mean, there is a different - 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's 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 and they needed a daddy figure. And 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 - it's the same religion that they have on Caprica which is, you know, a multi-deity mythology. And in Rome they didn't - that 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 and 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.
QUESTION: In preparation for your role as Barnabas did you watch any episodes of Battlestar or even the beginning episodes of Caprica including the pilot or no did you just start...
Marsters: No I had seen stuff - 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. You know, we're still in the time when we think, you know, that the fight with the girlfriend is the most important thing that week, you know. And so I did watch the pilot and I have to say within the first ten minutes I got so shocked and horrified not because there that was much gore on the screen but just the ideas that were presented were so hard for me to watch being a parent myself; I turned it off and thought after 30 seconds - I just stared at it for about 30 seconds and then I just went that is incredible. 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.
QUESTION: How many episodes are you going to be in Caprica?
Marsters: Well if I have my way? I think I've filmed five so far and then there's a bit of a hiatus and I'm hoping - they were hinting that they wanted to keep the option open of having me back. They want me to be excited if they want me back they want me to be excited. And they've left the door open for doing that and I hope that they - I hope they do.
QUESTION: Do you think there's ever going to be a possibility of you reprising Spike?
Marsters: You know, when Joss 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 ten. You know, sure I'll do Spike for you, of course I'd do Spike for you...(but it's been) seven years...yes, seven years because I'm aging, Spike's not supposed to and I don't want to do some lame line like oh he's drinking pig's blood right now so he's aging slowly or some stupid thing like that. And it's now been seven years. But I look in the mirror and, you know, I've got to say if I'm rested I look okay with the proper lighting I don't know. But as the years go I get more and more nervous about that so, you know, 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.
QUESTION: So I wanted to hear a little bit more about the reunion with Jane. How was it?
Marsters: 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. But so our reunion - well you know what that is exactly like it was on Buffy. You know, we communicated through the scripts. I like to say that we tried to 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.
QUESTION: All right. And then this is a little off topic but it's kind of fun. You having played Spike what do you think about all the new vampires out there, True Blood, Twilight, Vampire Diaries.
Marsters: Oh I like them, man, they got my niece to read, you know, she wasn't reading a lot and she hit Twilight and she's just - ate them up and read them like 5-10 times and now she's onto other vampire romances and she reads like a novel a day now. So go Stephanie Meyer. I think in general it follows the tracks of Interview with a Vampire. It's into - it follows Anne Rice which Anne Rice really doesn't explore vampires as hideous monsters of the night, they're ancient creatures with a heart. And they want to be loved and they want connections just like we do. 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.
QUESTION: All right.
Marsters: 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 on Angel-like character on the show, that all the other vampires were going to remain in some way hideous.
QUESTION: Now you say that you follow writers but you certainly have found yourself in a lot of genre roles and I'm sure that not all of those have been, you know, really tied to specific writers. What percentage would you say is you seeking out that type of genre role because, you know, it's something you enjoy or - and what percentage is people seeking you out because you are such a known entity in genre entertainment?
Marsters: I guess about 50/50. You know, like I remember, you know, 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, you know, 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 that he was the guy who had done the original Queer as Folk in London. She just went on and on about him. She said come check him out, come check this writing out, you'll just be amazed. So I went, had dinner her in room and watched Doctor Who and just fell in love with this writing, just amazing. And so we called to Doctor Who I just - like I want to work with Russell. I want to work - and Russell's like I don't really need you on Doctor Who but there is a great role over on Torchwood which is a spin-off you want to come? And I was like are you writing it? Are you producing it? And he's like yes. So I - jump on board. So in that way I kind of followed the writer. Yes, like all the other writers at Buffy, you know, 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 like... God I don't know...who's that director? Such a good director, he's an English guy. We did the Apollo 11 project together, the moon shot thing for the BBC and the History Channel. I got to play Buzz Aldrin. But, yes, I had to audition for that. I got the role and I just turned to him during the audition and said oh I'm getting bored want to particle physics, you know.
QUESTION: Richard Dale.
Marsters: Yes, yes. Richard was fabulous. He was always dressed really smart. He always dressed in this - like the first day he was a in a full suit. And even when he wore jeans they were pressed and a good crisp white shirt on top. And he would always - he would always - like he had to take us like actors. And we actors we're touchy feely guys right? And he had to make some steely space fighting astronauts. He had to make some, you know, some fighter pilot guys. And, you know, he didn't say you pussies, man, every day he would say hello my heroes, time to get in the capsule, let's go, you know. And he would always be over the speakers, that was a great take, very steely, very steely, go again, more steal. Yes, he had a wonderful way to bring out the guy guy in us. Yes.
QUESTION: I wanted to know I guess if you can tell without spoilers is Barnabas alone or what is he driven by, is it just his convictions or is there some other more human side we'll see?
Marsters: 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.
QUESTION: Now does he have any sort of personal relationships with anyone though or is this all driven by this one purpose?
Marsters: The relationships - he does have relationships but he uses everyone around him for his goal. And - but, you know, 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. So it's a very personal, you know, it comes from a personal place but it has become a very large thing in his mind.
QUESTION: I'm sure you're going to say yes but would you be interested in coming back to Smallville at any time?
Marsters: Oh yes I'd love to. They are just a really good group of people. And I...like only Tom (Welling) could play this character this long. That's just fabulous.
QUESTION: Oh yes, yes.
Marsters: Yes. Love it that they're getting another season.
QUESTION: Yes, for me he's superman. I mean, just simply because he's been doing it now for a decade, you know.
Marsters: Yes, without ever putting on the cape either.
QUESTION: That's right.
Marsters: Yes, and I think that he's going to have a career after Smallville because of that, yes.
QUESTION: One last little thing any chance on the James Marsters Doctor Horrible cameo?
Marsters: Hope so, that'd be fun.