Prior to hitting the Calgary Expo this weekend, the actor-musician talks about fans, music and Buffy — lots of Buffy.
To fans of the TV show Smallville, he’s Milton Fine. In Torchwood he’s Captain John Hart. And for Buffy the Vampire fans he is, of course, Spike.
James Marsters is once again en route to Calgary for the Comic and Entertainment Expo this weekend, which includes a solo musical performance at Cowboys on Friday night.
Considering his impressively long list of accomplishments, he remains refreshingly enthusiastic about his many roles, his music and his fans.
He was able to talk with theYYSCENE prior to his appearance at the Expo, and I did my best not to fangirl all over him. Let’s see how I did.
Q: You’re quite familiar with the Comic-Con-type circuit, which seems like a lot of fun. Do you find that there are certain things that distinguish the shows from city to city?
A: Each city has its own flavour … My favourite conventions are the ones where the fans take over the convention and make it their own. I feel like my job is kind of to lure people into the room so that they can meet each other — I’m kind of the excuse, but the real show happens between the fans when they start taking pictures of each other and start talking to each other. That’s when it really takes off. That’s what I’m hoping to do all of the time.
Q: Has the fans’ reaction to you changed over the years? Are they still rabid and gushing or more quietly appreciative and chill?
A: (Laughs) It depends on what they’re fans of. I think that it’s weird because I do some audio books called The Dresden Files that are very popular, so I get people dressed up in those characters, but they’re fairly reverent. It’s just kind of fun. I get a lot of very young Buffy fans who are just watching it for the first time, and of course they are quaking and shaking and crying when they meet me and that’s just also very fun. I think it’s across the board.
Q: Not all of your fans are Buffy fans, although I suspect most of them are, and I’m sure you encounter people who are more fans of your other roles. Was it difficult to leave Spike behind and move on? Were you ever concerned about being typecast afterwards?
A: Well that was the great thing about being able to shave my head after I did that it grew out brown and I looked very different, and just also dumping the British accent. You know the thing is I kind of had to go back to square one in Hollywood, almost like I was just coming to town and building another career just because I didn’t remind anyone of Spike at all at that point. It was kind of easy.
Q: Music has been a huge part of your career, aside from and in conjunction with acting. Do you find it easy to balance both acting and being a musician?
A: Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s not. I’ve kind of lived my life by having my cake and eating it, too, you just have to forego sleep sometimes. Like right now I’m shooting a movie and I’m going to be coming to Calgary to do music, but it’s a solo show so it’s very easy for me to get the band together, just kind of pick up my guitar and start. But (his band) Ghost of the Robot, we’re recording our next album in Sacramento, but … getting everyone together for that is harder especially since I am often in a different time zone, so there’s more balance in trying to get that done, but worth it.
Q: You’ll be performing at the Calgary Expo after party on the Friday at Cowboys — what should fans who aren’t as familiar with you as a musician expect?
A: No drums, I would say would be the big thing. (Laughs) I do blues, I do folk music, I do good straight-ahead pop, rock and roll — kind of like Weezer or Ben Folds Five. I switch it up quite a bit. They’re all original songs, each song is fairly quick, so there is no interminable guitar solos, you know 50 repetitions of the chorus, I like to keep things moving. I do like 20-25 songs and I’m happy.
Q: What are you listening to these days? What’s your music go-to?
A: Phantogram is something that I’m really digging right now. I always go back to Modest Mouse, Alice Cooper always works, Arcade Fire is awesome … Black Keys … I’m just going through my iPhone, my iPhone is mostly music. Oh my god, Buena Vista Social Club! I cannot listen to that enough, like, I’ve listened to that like a billion times and I always want to go back to it. Citizen Cope is awesome, Crowded House always works, see I’m only up to E here … Elvis Costello is great, Everclear, oh, if you want to just clear out the cobwebs in your head just listen to Everclear, Gorillaz is great, Iron and Wine…
Q: (We could go on all day with the music, but I’ve got to ask some more Buffy stuff, because, well, Buffy) Considering that Spike evolved pretty much from episode to episode, season to season, which was your favourite version of him?
A: Um, well I’m lazy so it would be Season 2, my first season. Like, when you play a hero it’s really hard work, you have to care about everybody and try to save everybody and, like, dredge up all of these feelings of guilt and you have to be vulnerable and you’re always huffing and puffing, running from A to B and trying to save everybody. When you’re a villain, however, you just get to lurk in the shadows and wait for the hero to come running by, sweating and feeling guilty, and then pop out of the shadows and you get it in the face and then you go home. Emotionally it’s much less of a roller coaster ride to play a villain I find, and frankly I like to pretend to myself that I’m a nice person, but what that means is that I have to sublimate all of the evil impulses that I have and not yell at people, and I’m probably not the only person that’s like this. And when you play a villain you just gotta take that cap off and let all of the bats out of your heart, so yeah, I enjoyed that very much. And then the season of Angel was awesome, I just got to be a jerk to Angel which was so good.
I didn’t have a bad time, there was not a bad day on Buffy, I lived for the word action. It was heaven, as soon as they called that word it was like entering heaven every single time, no matter what I was doing or what season it was.
Q: Buffy was pretty groundbreaking at the time, the clever writing and fantastic storylines placed it in a whole other league as far as TV shows went. Do you think that if it were made today it would have the same impact, garner the same kind of cult status?
A: Uh, is Joss Whedon writing and directing it? Then yes! (Laughs) I think that it is a little bit unfortunate that that’s true because there have been other shows that have been as subversive in their theme, when we were doing the show it was actually subversive to talk about the fact that women could fight and protect themselves. I think that that in some ways it’s a little less surprising these days, but still it’s something that has to be hammered home, and having fought a lot of stunt women I’m here to tell you that women can fight just fine. (Laughs) I think that any time something is executed really well, especially the writing like that, is gonna hit.
Q: Any amazingly awkward fan encounters?
A: I, no, I don’t really have them, that’s the weird thing is that Buffy fans tend to be intelligent and funny and don’t take themselves too seriously, and that has been across-the-board true. And so I tend to have really kind of interesting conversations with cool people that don’t take themselves too seriously. I think if you take yourself seriously you’re probably watching another show, you’re probably watching Jag reruns or something, I don’t know … I tend to have a good relaxed time with the fans. I still get teenage girls that burst into tears when they meet me, and that’s always nice, but they’re always very polite about it. It’s weird, it’s wonderful.
Q: Are you looking forward to coming back to Calgary? (you’re not going to say no, but…)
A: Very much, I always have a really good time in Calgary and I’m really happy that I’m doing music. Calgary is an area of the world where you people still appreciate guitars, which is not everywhere anymore and which is really too bad. Austin, Texas is also a great place to play guitar music, Barcelona is a great place to play guitar music, Paris actually is a great place still … You know, like my hometown, Los Angeles — it’s hard to get people to listen to guitars, they’re just into drum machines and keyboards and so I’m looking forward to it very much actually.
James Marsters will be at the Calgary Expo until Sunday, available for autographs and photographs throughout the show. He will be featured in a panel at 5:30 p.m. on Friday in the Stampede Corral, and will perform at 8:30 p.m. at Cowboys Dance Hall. Tickets and info available at calgaryexpo.com.