Angel (1999-2004) Season 5 – Q&A with James Marsters

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James Marsters plays the role of Spike.


Acting careers are all about ups and downs. Can you tell us what positives you can take from the cancellation of ANGEL?

JAMES MARSTERS: Oh, my God. Well, first of all, the chaos is really potential if you’re willing to look at it that way. Change is good if you’re willing to be proactive about it. And this is a big change for me. I plan to take full advantage of it. I’ve been telling people for a long time that I’m an actor who can do different roles, and now I have a chance to prove it. Basically.

So, what’s your immediate plan then?

JAMES: Find an agent.

[Laugh] You didn’t have one?

JAMES: No, man.

How can you survive in LA without an agent?

JAMES: I was already employed, you know. [Laughs] Why give ten percent to an agent if you don’t have time to audition? We got to a point of renegotiating a contract without an agent. And the thing was is that I had fired the two different agencies during contract negotiations, because I didn’t think they were fighting correctly. It became apparent to me that I was manhandling my representation, telling them exactly what to tell the other side, day to day. Finally, it hit me, “You don’t need an agent.” Or at least, if I need an agent, he needs to be better at this than I am. There is an agency who will believe in me. And I will find them. But I haven’t found them yet.

Are you trying to stay clear of the big ones to avoid like getting swamped, ’cause they represent all the twenty million?

JAMES: That is a definite trade off. But it really depends on who you meet. If you’re in a big agency, and you really do have a connection with your specific agent in that agency, that doesn’t matter.

Is type casting one of your concerns?


Never? Never was? Never will be?

JAMES: No. The, the, the big-see, I stammer, I’ll never write about these things. The big thing that I’d be coming into is it may be a few years of people finding out who I really am. Because I’m going to have to go out there with brown hair, looking the way I do now. And it’s really like coming to LA fresh. So, the positive side of it is, that I can be fresh again. I can probably even go in all stealthy. I could probably take Spike off my radar and not get spotted. But then I’d have to pass myself off as someone who’s not done much television. So, I imagine it’ll be a couple a years, where I do a couple of guest spots. Do a couple of smaller roles. People will say, “Hey. He’s that guy. Wow, he’s very different, now.” I sound a little cocky, but I’ve only failed a couple of times with acting. I’ve only really sucked a couple of times in plays. And so, I feel pretty confident that I’ll get out there and do it. Usually when I get on a show, everyone starts talking about putting me in the cast anyway. That’s what happened with BUFFY. It’s almost happened with every show I’ve been on. They wanted to do it in NORTHERN EXPOSURE [TV series].


JAMES: Yeah.

Is there another show on television that you’d love to be a regular in?



JAMES: Take that Rob Lowe part, thank you very much. [General laughter] What is he thinking? [Laughing] Nothing against Rob. He’s survived longer than I have.

What was the difference between ANGEL and BUFFY?

JAMES: Oh man, they’re just so different. To tell you the truth, it’s much the same experience working on ANGEL and BUFFY. The writers are the same, the producers are the same, Joss is there, many of the directors are the same. I worked with David over on ANGEL, and I pretty much worked with everybody else over at Joss’s house doing Shakespeare for fun. So, coming on ANGEL, it’s not much different. The only biggest difference for me is my trailer is much further away here than there, so [laughs] it has a profound effect on whether I can get some rest. But other than that, it’s about exactly the same. Yeah. It’s the same toys, it’s the same fun factory. It’s the Joss Fun Factory.

Was there a point where you knew that BUFFY was ending? That you just thought, that’s it – that’s the point where I should just let that role go?

JAMES: Well, Joss came up to me in the very beginning of the last season of BUFFY, right after we shot the big church scene, where Spike goes on the cross, and I had just poured my heart out. And he said, “James, first of all, your episode sucks. Second of all, we have no idea what to do with you for this year. The only thing we know we want to do with is we want to kill you.” [Laughter] Then he said, “But [laughs] I don’t want you to remain dead. I want to bring you back.” So, the whole year on BUFFY was all about experimenting with different ways to continue the storytelling with this universe. There was going to be a spin-off, which didn’t work out. I went through the year knowing that something was going to be continuing. When it didn’t work with the spin-off, taking me over to ANGEL was talked about, and it seemed like a good idea. I wasn’t really thinking of it as ending, so much as progress.

For you.

JAMES: You know, I miss doing the romantic stuff, but the thing is that you really can’t do romantic stuff if you’re a secondary character, or of course if you’re the same sex. ‘Cause you just… [Laughing] Well, if you think about it, I mean, the secondary characters just don’t really get romantic, because you have to go in there and develop that as a plot.


JAMES: And it takes away from your ensemble cast. If you hook up with the main character, then you can have the love story. If not, it just flattens everything out. What I enjoy about being over on ANGEL frankly is that I’m no longer a danger to the theme. They’ve really uncorked me. And I’m really kind of a doppelganger for Angel in a way, which is to say that he’s a bit of a mirror image, not exactly, but enough, so that you gain insight into Angel by watching Spike. That hooks me in directly in line with the theme, as opposed to always kind of bumping into it, and negating it, and “Oh, let’s keep Spike away from this episode.” Being uncorked is fun, but it is more hours, I have to say.

How did you feel when you heard the series was being cancelled?

JAMES: Very surprised, very surprised. It bespeaks the complicated nature of Hollywood. It makes absolute sense for Warner Brothers to do what they’re doing from their perspective. From our perspective it’s weird to get on two TV Guide covers. We’ve had a very successful season, the numbers are up and we’re still getting cancelled. I’ve examined it from their side, and it makes sense on the business end. If you really want to go into all of the business details we can. But let’s not. So, no hard feelings but, wow.

There must have been some bitterness?

JAMES: No. I used to produce theater in Chicago and Seattle, and I hated having actors come up to me asking “Why haven’t you cast me yet?” I’d have cast them twice already last year and they’d tell me, I need more work. I’m not going to dis on the WB who gave me gainful employment for years, just because they don’t want to keep employing me. That’s not the way to go.

First BUFFY ends and now this ends. Are you jinxed?

JAMES: No, no. BUFFY ended because Sarah wanted out. BUFFY could have gone until the year three thousand but, but Sarah and I don’t-look, I have no hard feelings for her either. If I were her agent I would say the same thing: go on, move on. Seven years was enough and we all knew that for a long time. Sarah was very clear about that.

You guys found out that the show was ending when you read “Entertainment Weekly”.

JAMES: If you wanted to fool yourself. If you wanted to really not pay attention to any of the clear things being said on a daily basis on that show for years, yes that article would have surprised you. But it did not surprise me at all. The official word had not been given but the unofficial word had been given, hundreds of times and it was not hard to miss.

Were you not concerned having that show come to an end it was just time to move on anyway?

JAMES: Hell no. Joss is still in the driver’s seat. Joss and David Fury and Steve DeKnight and Drew Goddard. All those guys were responsible for the best Spike scenes over on BUFFY and they’re all here now.

Will there be a Spike spin-off?

JAMES: I doubt it.

Would you be up for it if there were?

JAMES: Hell yeah! But I don’t see it happening. I think the WB is getting another vampire show on the air right now and pursuing more reality based programming. In that environment, I don’t really see them greenlighting another vampire show. And I don’t really see the new people at UPN being excited. Well I might be wrong about that, but the man that heads UPN is a great businessman who did not feel that we should have come to the network at that price. He may have been right. He may not have been so happy that we were there. I don’t blame him for that either. At the same time I think any network would be very well advised to get Joss in their camp. He’s got a very good track record and I think that you can’t miss with him. I am not a television executive. The one thing I will say about the WB is that they have, since the very beginning, thought like the big boys. They have advertised, they have done it all correctly and they are on trajectory. They’re going to be in the Fox lot. They’re doing everything right, and I failed at business. I ran an omelet shop into the ground once, so I’m not going to tell them how to do their business. I can sit here on the sidelines and kibitz but it’s just like talking to any other guy in the street.

So you’re fond of Spike.

JAMES: Oh, believe me. Spike is the best role I’ve ever had.

Is that a daunting thought knowing that it’s the greatest character you’re going to have?

JAMES: Sure.

Is it as good as it’s ever going to get?

JAMES: Yeah, basically. And you have to be at peace with that. I was very happy acting before I met Joss. I was part of a lot of projects that tickled people’s fancy and that were really fulfilling. That’s most likely what I’ll go back to now. I was never a part of anything that touched the world but I was still happy, still fulfilled. Now I’m a person who was once part of something that has touched the world. That’s something.

Are you going to take any of the props home or any kind of memorabilia?

JAMES: When I produced, I used to really not like it when people did that. They told me I should take my coat from BUFFY and I didn’t because I don’t do that. I was told that it had been bid on, for some outrageous amount of money and I thought, well that’s not my coat and if it’s worth that much money I don’t want to steal that from the people that have just been signing my checks for five years. Then they turned around and sold it for two hundred thousand dollars or something like that.

I have this silly question. Do you believe in the supernatural and ghosts?

JAMES: I believe that we don’t know. I believe that we must be careful of the things that we want to be true because we’ll tend to find that. And we all want there to be something after death. So, we tend to see that. But it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist. It just means that we have to be careful in the search for it. I read a great book called “Eighteenth Century and the Madness of Crowds.” It was actually written in the nineteenth century but it said that there are four things that human beings will never be able to over come. Three or four. Ignorance of the future. Toil. Death. Three. Those three things. And people have been selling snake oil to people throughout the centuries based on the idea that somehow, you can get past those three things. A lot of our beliefs are just based on needing to believe. The things that physicists are finding out about the universe are so mind-boggling. That you have to admit that we’re wrapped up in something much more complicated than we understand. To say that there’s not a metaphysical part of life is pretty arrogant. It’s just as arrogant as saying, I know everything about God. It’s just that I believe in the saying, you know what? We really don’t know much. We really don’t.

The more we know, the less we know.

JAMES: Yeah. It’s like going to college.

You have loads of female fans who’ve written, I suppose you know.


What do fans do when they meet you?

JAMES: They’re very polite.

What, you mean those ladies?

James: Oh yeah. Well, no, in general they’re a little scared of me. Because I play a character who’s bound to say, you know, “Eff off. Leave me alone, I’m going to get a cookie.” I don’t play Willow, and I didn’t play Tara over on the other show-do you get me? I don’t play a character who has any sympathy for anybody really. So they tend to apologize (laughs) which is kind of funny.

I read that some 80 year-old woman was quite rude to you. Pinched your bottom.

JAMES: Yeah, that gets old. At first it was kind of like, “Wow, now I’m a sexual object.” But that’s a boundary that’s been pushed so much at this point hat it really does rankle.

What, people treating you like that?

JAMES: People just coming up and…

Do they really?

JAMES: Yeah, some people don’t have the same sense of boundaries that most of us have.

So what do you do?

JAMES: Leave.

Do you say anything to them?

JAMES: Usually I say “That’s it. I’m no piece of meat.” I’m a public figure now so I can’t react the way I’d really like, so I’m going to leave. [Laughs]

But is it good to appear on things like…

JAMES: But that’s very rare. I have fan interactions everywhere I go. I have to say, 95, 99 percent of them are really positive.

Is it good to appear on those kind of Most Fanciable Men lists?

JAMES: Sure, I mean…

It’s not going to be bad, is it?

JAMES: Hollywood runs on sex. There’s only seven stories ever told. One of them is young love. That’s the only one we’ll tell here. So, if girls want you, you get a good job. I’m never going to run away from that. At all.

Do you think it’s because Spike’s bad, that’s why, that women like that?

JAMES: I don’t think that just being bad is enough. I don’t think…in this universe that Joss is writing, and all the people working for him are writing, bad is not cool. Evil is not fun. It’s stupid, it’s banal, it’s not supposed to be sexy. And that’s why vampires, when they become vampires, are hideously ugly. That’s why he doesn’t allow us to have the fangs with normal faces, because that’s so sexy. And so Spike was kind of an ill fit over on BUFFY actually. He kind of endangered the theme.

What, because he was so fanciable?

JAMES: Yes, because he was both purely evil and people were responding to him a way that I don’t think they expected. I think that had to do with just the fact that I was having a lot of fun. In my personal life I really felt sexy [laughs]. So that came out. And, so…

You’ve never taken advantage of your image with fans?

JAMES: Very rarely, actually.

But you’ve had your moments?

JAMES: Yeah. But in general, with fans, if you hook up or if you get intimate with them at all, they have an agenda and a fantasy, and there’s no way you’re going to get out of not smashing that at the end. So at the very end of the experience, no matter how hard you try, there’s going to be tears. You don’t want to break someone to have a couple hours of fun.

Have there ever been?

JAMES: It’s not like I’ve never done it, but…

You speak so wisely about it, that’s why [laughter]…

JAMES: Well, you know. Hollywood is not a place where people usually keep their souls very long. And I’ve tried very hard to keep mine.

[Laughing] From the fans letters and the mail you’ve got, I guess you must get quite a lot of them as Spike, do you grasp what the fans were getting from the show, most of them teenagers or young adults. All the struggles that all the demons and vampires and all these people are going through, would that help them with their growing up?

JAMES: Not just young people, older people too. I’d get just as many heartfelt letters about connections from older people too. Definitely, from younger people. That really speaks mostly about the writing. The writing is about trying to be a good person in this world, and how do you do that? Because it’s not really that easy, if you really talk about it honestly, that easy. And these writers do. There’s a real honest attempt to talk about heroism. And the pitfalls of heroism. And how you can become a total jerk if you try to screw it up. I’m proud of being part of stories that are told with passion and with sincerity. We really believe this stuff. This is not just crap to us. This really means something.

Plus it meant to you then.

JAMES: Yeah.

But when have you…

JAMES: Well, with Buffy, it was really like “Hamlet.” Which is Joss’ favorite play. “Hamlet” is about being a young man who comes in to contact with all the fucked up parts of the world. He came into his own as a man, with the world totally screwed up. How do you continue walking? How do you move forward when you know that the whole world is messed up? Do you give up? Do you kill yourself? Do you fight against that? How do you fight against that? Shakespeare is, really in the mature way, examining how do you do that. “Catcher in the Rye” is talking about the same thing. It’s a period of adolescence. How do you get over disillusionment? How do you remain active and proactive, and not give up? That’s what he was talking about with Buffy. She’s coming into being a woman, and with her, it’s vampires that she’s fighting. That’s just the metaphor. It’s just a sideshow.

Little demons.

JAMES: Puppet show. It’s really about becoming an adult. With Angel, it’s really about remaining a good person, and dealing with regret. Dealing with the inevitable part of human life when you’ve grown into adulthood, and you’ve made big mistakes in your past. How do you come to grips with that? How do you move forward from that? And, so, that’s what we’ve been talking about. In my mind, that’s what I’ve been talking about.

Talking about moving forward, I’m interested in knowing why you decided to go back to the brown hair as you sort of audition for new parts? Wouldn’t your new agents sort of tell you, hey, you have much more chance if you stick with the…

JAMES: Hey, I’m not coming from any agent…[Laughter] There is quick money to be made with blond hair.

Seriously though.

JAMES: English accents and vampire shows.

[Laughing] You have to play the long game, and just wait…

JAMES: Definitely. I have to. If I have a long career in this town…it’s going to be playing human beings. I went out on auditions for a long time with this bleach blonde hair, and people were like, what’s your hair really like? I’m brown, like everybody else in the world. Without a bottle, you know. They can’t get over the blonde so I just get called for rock stars. A lot of rock stars. A lot of drug addicts.


JAMES: Yeah. Stuff like that. You recognize it as limiting. You don’t want to get too bulked up with muscle. You want to look like you could move in a lot a different directions. And you want to look like you’re a real person.

You want to wear a suit. You want to play a role where you wear a suit for a change?

JAMES: Sure.

How often have you had to dye your hair?

JAMES: Every episode. Every eight days, yeah.

Does your hair fall out?

JAMES: No. My hair doesn’t fall out. My scalp doesn’t like it but they’ve gotten better and better about putting stuff in the bleaching solution to save my poor hair. It’s such a marathon. Plus, I have very curly hair so this is kind of nice, it straightens it out.

What would be your dream job if you had one? What dream part? Not Hamlet but…

JAMES: Macbeth. Macbeth is serious stuff. [Laughing]

How in the world did you fight a Muppet?

JAMES: Oh, they wired it to my body. I rolled around, and moved it as if I was trying to get it off my body, but in fact, made me look like it was attacking me. Stunts in general, there’s so many tricks and stuff. Especially stage. Stage stunts are really so fun, because at all times, the two actors are actually protecting each other. There’s actually thousands of little things going on that they’re protecting each other with. Like, if an actor falls, hitting another actor on the ground, he’s actually spotting the other actor as they fall. So that no one gets hurt, but it looks like they’re getting killed, and I love that.

All right. Your stunt work is just great.

JAMES: Thank you.

It gets better all the time.

JAMES: Thank you. Yeah, well, they’re letting me do more and more. Which is nice. It also makes you good at playing with kids. I’m so good at wrestling with kids. [Laughing] They never get hurt. But they have a great time.

You enjoyed your time in Germany?

JAMES: Totally. Played some rocking clubs. Played some hot clubs. Damn, you guys need some AC in some of those clubs. Where the hell was I, was that Bonn? And it was 115 degrees on the stage. Our drummer, who never gives up, signalled that “I have to quit. That’s it. Don’t go with the encore.” Signalled to the bassist, and the bassist was so tired he kept going. And he got off stage, he thought he killed Erin, our drummer. Thought he was dead. “I killed him, man! I killed him!” At one point, our lead guitarist, who also never quits, just went over and dumped water on his head. But the Germans rock heavy. They really rock. People in Wales, they rock too. We had a good time in Wales. We didn’t get to see enough of Germany; it was more like a rock tour, where you play, get on a bus, drive, roll into the hotel, sleep, go to the sound check, have about an hour and a half to eat and check stuff out, and then you play again. It was a lot of like looking out of a window, like that.

Are you planning to come back?

JAMES: Oh, hell yeah.

Do you know when?

JAMES: We’re going back to Europe in the summer. I was trying to keep it a shorter tour, but I’m starting to change my mind and think that I want to expand it. So we were going to just the British Isles because there’s a lot of markets right there, but we would love to go back to Germany. We’d like to check out Italy too.

Do you get groupies?


Do you take advantage of the situation?

JAMES: No, no. See, half the band is twenty or younger, so there’s a lot of peeking behind doors and laughing. But we’re there to do music. We have found a way to express ourselves very openly, saying things about ourselves that we don’t say to our mom or to our lover or to anybody. You find a way to put chords to it and you can just stand in front of hundreds and thousands of people just singing it. Once you start being really courageous about your song writing, and really talking about things that matter to you or scare you, groupies become very much less important to you. That experience is – I don’t even have words for it. What it does is, it reminds you that you’re not alone. Which I think is what all art is really trying to do. Remind you you’re not alone.

Are you going to miss your character?

JAMES: Definitely.

What are you going to miss most about him? He must be such a part of you, as well.

JAMES: The character seems to inspire the writers. For whatever reason, they like to sit down at the computer and pretend they’re Spike, as much as I like to stand on tape and pretend I’m Spike. I feel like I get their best stuff. I think that has to do with the fact that over the years, the writers watched dailies, and over the years I tried hard. Really hard. That’s apparent in dailies, so they got excited too, “Oh, he really did that,” you know. I guess that’s what I’ll miss the most, is that sense of building a character with other people, the collaboration.

And what do you say to the fans? ‘Cause they’re going to be devastated that there’s no Spike any longer.

JAMES: Yeah, I know. I don’t know what to say about that except that all good things must come to an end. And this will, eventually at some point, come to an end. But it’s not ending yet.

Your accent is really convincing. People in England think, lots of people think you’re English. Gwyneth Paltrow can do a fantastic accent…

JAMES: Well… [Laughter] Her rhythm needs improvement.

Oh, I see. You could give her some coaching.

JAMES: Yeah. That’s the final stage of an accent; getting the rhythm. And that’s really what sells it.

Used to be Meryl Streep could just do accents.

JAMES: Meryl Streep is the best at accents. In fact, I believe that Meryl Streep, her and Judi Dench are the two best actors in the world.

Who do you think is the worst accent?

JAMES: There’s too many of them to name.

Shall I just say Harrison Ford [laughter]…

JAMES: Yeah, but Harrison Ford inspired me to do stunts, so I have to give him that. Harrison Ford gets his butt kicked better than anybody in the world. Really. And they say that he’s as good as any stuntman. I remember when I was growing up, watching him getting beat up, going “I want to do that.” Because there’s something heroic in standing back up after you’re so beaten and so frightened and you admit that humanly. Like in BLADE RUNNER when, who’s that guy, gets him in the alleyway? Not Rutger Hauer, the other dude. But anyway. Harrison Ford is the reason why I take my hits so hard as Spike and let him get beat up and let him get totally trashed. Because I think that’s cool.

What was your dark period about and how did you turn things around?

JAMES: Therapy. Which dark period are you talking of? There’s been many of them. I have had many, many times in my life when I was not happy, and I was hanging out with people who were interested in creating chaos and violence and I was too. I never hurt anybody that didn’t willingly enter into those kinds of situations. We didn’t roll any old ladies or any innocent people. We protected our turf. I did that out of choice, not out of necessity which makes me very ashamed in hindsight. But I think I needed to do that, to try to find myself I guess. I don’t know. That’s a long time ago now. I’m better now.

How did you find a way out of it?

JAMES: If you do that kind of thing then eventually, things will happen that you have a hard time reconciling. The weight of that can force you to stop caring about those kinds of things, about who gets hurt. Macbeth talks about this, about having to cut yourself off from your own feelings in order to continue to do this. You either do that or you recoil from it. You just recoil from it. “I don’t want to do this anymore,” that’s kind of what happened to me. Things started to happen that I really couldn’t really live with. That’s as clear as I’m going to be about that right now.

We have a regular feature where a celebrity recommends a favorite book or DVD or album of the moment they really love. Have you got a particular book at the moment?

JAMES: “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.” I forget the author right now. It’s about American politics and how corporations can buy politics. And it starts with the last election, and exposes some problems that we have in the country right now. It’s very well written and very compelling.

Have a favorite DVD at the moment?

JAMES: The last great one I got is TWO TOWERS, I guess. You know, everyone says that, but really Peter Jackson-I used to have a theater in Chicago and Seattle, and a lot of what we used to do were classics, and taking source material from short stories or other material and putting them on stage. Frankly, there’s no royalties to be involved in either of those things. Or original pieces. I think that those three movies are some of the most successful adaptations I’ve ever seen. Those are incredibly complex books, and he puts so much information non-verbally on the screen. I’ve gone back and I’ve re-read the books, I’m in the middle of them right now, and just kind of taking notes about “How did he do that?” Because I used to do it. I really want to know how the hell he did that. He took liberties. He smashed that story. He ripped out components like that, pfft! but he stayed so true to the meat of what the author was talking about, which was really the author’s experiences in World War I, and knowing that, and being true to that, and getting at what’s universal in that experience. And I know it’s popular to say so, but I’ll just stand up and say it: artistically, that is just awe inspiring.

Who are you going to miss the most, coming to work every day?

JAMES: Joss Whedon.

Why is that?

JAMES: Because I don’t feel like I can get to my potential as an artist unless he’s directing me. He’s directed me, and I know how good I can be, like you feel it when you’re really plugged into the words and it’s working. I mean all the other directors around here are great. But I will miss that feeling. There’s a part of myself I can get to with Joss that I can’t get with anyone else in Hollywood that I’ve met. There’s a couple directors out in theater that I have, but really only a handful. And that’s out of like a hundred plays. So I’ll miss that. It’s tough to give that up.

So is it a case of whatever Joss does next?

JAMES: Anything he wants, yeah. As an actor, you have to cull good people. You have to remember the good writers that you work with, and try to work with them again. You have to remember the good directors, the good producers, and work with them again. Joss is amazing. It’s not like I’m the only one who thinks so. I’d be stupid to say no to him. Don’t tell him that, because he’ll know I’ll work for free! [Laughter] The truth is, if he’s directing one of his projects, I’ll work for very little money. If he’s not directing, he’ll have to pay me. And if he just wants to write it and have someone else direct it, I’ll have to get paid. [Laughter]

All right. Thank you.

JAMES: Sure.

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