VERSATILE PLAYER. James Marsden is one of Hollywood’s hottest leading men at the moment, appearing in a wide range of TV and film projects at any given time. He talked to DA MAN about straddling the line between drama and comedy, his competitive nature, and the difficulties of acting with tennis balls.
James Marsden has been climbing the Hollywood ladder for quite some time. He first entered the public consciousness with his role as the superheroic mutant Cyclops in the X-Men series, and followed that up with leading roles in a number of extremely diverse projects, from kid-friendly flicks like Enchanted and Hop to serious and disturbing adult dramas like The Box and last year’s Straw Dogs. At the moment he can be seen in Asia on the FX network sitcom 30 Rock, where he stars opposite Tina Fey as her character’s charming but directionless boyfriend, Criss. And later this summer you’ll be able to see him on the big screen once again in the films Bachelorette and Robot and Frank.
DA MAN: On 30 Rock, your character Criss is sort of a loveable free spirit. You’ve played similarly kooky characters in the past, such as your memorable guest spot as princess castle squatter Barry in Modern Family. Would you say those sorts of character are closer to your actual personality than say, intense, straightlaced fellows like David Sumner [from Straw Dogs] or Scott Summers [from X-Men]?
James Marsden: Yeah, I’m not sure what that says about me but I definitely am drawn to characters that have a specific comedic “hook”. The more I step outside myself the easier it is and the more fun I have playing with a personality that might be quite contrasting to my own. Also, comedically, I like the characters that are just a bit off upstairs but are the most sincere.
DA MAN: What is it like working with Tina Fey? How much do Tina and the 30 Rock crew tend to improvise onset?
James Marsden: In my opinion, 30 Rock is a prime example of a show that is designed around the writing. The dialogue is incredibly well-crafted so it does not need to be tinkered with. That said, the show allows me plenty of creative latitude. They are always open to whatever extra contributions you might make to the dialogue or specific ideas. But I know my ideas better be funny or it won’t make the edit. The scenes between Tina and I are usually very playful and it is great to be on set with her. Comedy is so tough but when you work with the greats it just makes you better.
Shirt by Band of Outsiders
DA MAN: You have had quite a few roles that showcased your singing talents. Are you a trained singer or just a natural? Would you ever consider starring in a Broadway musical?
James Marsden: Singing was always something I just did for fun. I would say that I’m more of a mimic with a good ear and a decent voice than a trained singer. I’ve been lucky to be able to showcase my singing abilities in film and would definitely pursue a musical if the right one came along.
Gray shirt by Vivienne Westwood
DA MAN: Last year you had two movies from extreme opposites of the spectrum. In Straw Dogs, where you played a character pushed to the brink of homicidal rage, and Hop, a family flick starring an anthropomorphic bunny. In general, are you drawn more towards dramatic or comedic projects?
James Marsden: Every film I end up being a part of satisfies a specific creative interest. I am drawn to interesting characters, whether they live in a comedy world or a dramatic world. I guess you could say I’m the guy who’s pretty good, not great, at a lot of things. And so I have no genre preference.
DA MAN: Now that you’re quite well established, what does it take for you to get interested in a project? What are some of the things that have inspired your recent choice of roles?
James Marsden: I look at the role. And I look at who is directing and I look at who is, or may be, involved. As for the role, I always look for a character I’ve never played. I have no interest in doing the same thing over and over again.
DA MAN: You’ve been in quite a few movies that ask you to act with a non-existent presence, like Enchanted and Hop. What is the usual process for those kinds of shoots? Is there usually a stand in or something give you a sense of what to be looking at and reacting to?
James Marsden: As an actor it’s always better to have something or someone you can see and hear rather than having to imagine. Doing scenes opposite tennis balls on tripods or little pieces of green tape doesn’t really satisfy the artist in me. And it makes you feel a bit crazy, talking to nothing. But it’s a skill set that we have to have these days as more and more films incorporate digital elements.
DA MAN: Do you consider yourself a ‘stylish’ person?
James Marsden: I think I can be a stylish person when I choose to be, but I usually don’t make that choice. Although, even with my basic style, I try not to look like a bum. Good jeans, good shoes, good watch. As a guy, that’s all you really need to concentrate on.
DA MAN: You participated in the Nautica South Beach Triathlon in April to raise money for St. Jude’s Research Hospital. Congratulations on your team coming in first! How hard did you train for that? Are you a naturally competitive person?
James Marsden: Thank you. I did not train much because I had been working in Vancouver for two months prior. But I was only doing the bike leg of the relay so it wasn’t too taxing. And I had some world class athletes on my team. That always helps. I like to say I’m not competitive until the gun fires, and then I’m the most competitive person you’ll ever meet.
White button down by Salvatore Ferragamo
DA MAN: Besides participating in triathlons, how else do you keep in shape? Are you pretty strict about your workout regimen?
James Marsden: I usually run or bike to stay in shape. I don’t eat junk but I don’t have a strict diet either. I drink mostly water, go for a run 3-4 times a week, and eat moderately healthy. That’s pretty much it.
DA MAN: Do you have any other upcoming project you could tell us about?
James Marsden: I am currently working on 2 Guns with Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington. Again, it’s been great to change gears and always try and do something different. I haven’t done an action film in a while. Father time does not wait and I definitely feel the pain of those “I can do my own stunts” moments now. But it’s been cool working with Mark and Denzel.
Photographs: Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
Styling: Jeff Kim @ Margaret Maldonado Agency