Exclusive Interview with James Marsters!
The argument can be made that modern geek culture started with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. It was the first show to see a fandom grow online, built in forums and connecting the creators with the followers, whilst setting a new standard for genre television. One unexpected fan favourite was the character Spike, the punk rock British vampire who became a series mainstay. This weekend we had the pleasure of sitting down with the actor behind the bleach, a talented musician and performer on stage and screen, James Marsters!
Enjoy the audio or read the transcript!
G-Funk: We are at Supanova Perth, 2016, and we are super excited because we have James Marsters! Hello!
James Marsters: Hello, hello.
GF: I’m going to freak out, I’m a huge Buffy fan!
JM: Don’t worry, I don’t bite. Unless you pay me.
GF: How much?
JM: A lot, actually…
GF: (Takes out wallet) Let’s see…
GM: I’m a wee bit disappointed, you don’t have Spike’s accent.
JM: No, I don’t. I was lying to you the whole time. It was an act of subversion the whole time.
GF: Alright, stop the interview. We’re done. Was it a challenge getting into that aspect of the character? Had you done it before?
JM: I had watched a lot of Monty Python when I was a kid, so I had an English accent in my back pocket even before I started acting. I came from theatre and when you do theatre it’s really not abnormal to do accents. You can work more if you can do accents. So I had a functional accent for most things I would be cast as. I mean, I didn’t have a Japanese or Congo, but European accents I had a functional start for. When I auditioned for Buffy they had their backs against the wall, they’d been looking for someone for a few months and they hadn’t found anyone and they were three days away from filming. Joss (Whedon) decided to scrape the bottom of the barrel and call in all these actors you wouldn’t normally call in and he found me! But the thing was, we only had a few days before we started filming. The beginning of the accent is really not that great. The first line with Spike was (affects bad English accent) “you were there” – and what the hell is that? What accent is that? I don’t think that exists on Earth.
GF: No, no, no…
JM: So horrible. I remember when Spike said the word “bollock”, but in the script is was spelt “bull-ock”.
GF: That’s not right.
JM: No it’s not. We were moving fast and I said “bullock”, and Tony Head came in after the show aired. He said, “ok…we don’t say it like that you prat. I’m going to help you know because I have to go home and hold my head up and you’re embarrassing me.” He schooled me, man. He gave me free tutoring by choice. He saved the characters. I owe him a lot.
GF: You say he saved the character, the character was supposed to be…after what, twelve episodes? Bumped off, knocked out?
JM: Yeah, the idea was five episodes. They said it could go ten but he was definitely dying. I remember after two or three episodes the character was getting popular and Joss backed me up against the wall, got me right in my face. He said, “I don’t care how popular you are, you are dead, you are DEAD, YOU ARE DEAD!” It’s like, dude, it’s your football…ok!
GF: He doesn’t strike me as an intimidating man…
JM: Oh jesus, yes! He is!
GF: But you’re Spike!
JM: He is the kindest man. He is the best boss in the world, but he’s like a mad scientist and he can get very intense. Very intense. He’s fabulous.
GF: So you should have done five episodes but you ended up doing…how many years?
JM: Six? Six and a half? Something like that.
GF: Didn’t do season 3…yeah, six.
JM: Did one episode in season 3, I did half of season 2…ten of twenty-two in season 2…and then one episode in season 3, then 4, 5, 6 and 7 and then one on Angel.
GM: The character was so distinctive, you have the coat with the red jacket underneath, you had the blonde hair…did you find it hard to get away from your reputation as the character following it?
JM: No, no…actually it was fabulous. All I had to do was shave off the blonde hair and speak as I normally do (laughs). It’s like they didn’t even catch it.
GF: There you go!
JM: Yeah! In fact, my agent told me I would make more money if I were to keep British, keep blonde. He said “you’re starting from zero again, James. You’re now an unknown”. I was, like, cool. Let’s do that.
GM: Why be dull?
JM: Yeah. Well, I can’t pretend…can you imagine if I came in here and pretended to be British when everyone know’s I’m not. It’ll be pathetic.
GM: Like you’re an actor!
JM: (with British accent) No, no, I swear to God, all my birth certificate and stuff is all I lie. I was born in London, really.
GM: Well I’m British and I don’t sound it.
JM: No you don’t. Good job, great accent man!
GM: I’ve been here a long time. But I don’t know if I’m British or European or what any more but that’s a whole other thing.
JM: (Laughs) That’s a looooong conversation! Two trillion dollars the world market lost yesterday. Two trillion. Thanks guys.
GM: Holy crap. Well, you know why you can’t trust the promise of a British person? He ‘Brexits’!
JM: (Laughing) Oh, wow!
GM: I’m sorry. Do you want to continue, is that all right?”
JM: Yeah, let’s do it.
GM: There’s a huge number of people here just to see you as a Buffy character, all these amazing Buffy fans. Are you surprised that they’re still coming out?
JM: I hate to tell you: no. The one thing that I’m proud of is that I recognised the writing to be exceptionally good from the very beginning. I was doing Buffy in my mid-30s and it wasn’t my first time at the rodeo. I recognised that this was much better writing than you normally get. I kept telling the cast that were younger, “we’ve got to bring it, guys, because if we really bring it this show could last…we could be the next Star Trek“. And if we get to be the next Star Trek, I’m Spock. Spock, Spike, Spike, Spock. Same thing.
GM: Makes sense. Have you said ‘hello’ to the Dragonball Z actors (Sean Schemmel and Christopher Sabat, guests at the convention) out here?
JM: Oh yeah! Oh, I went and begged forgiveness from Sean right away! That wasn’t even this convention. He said he forgave me. I’m a big Dragonball fan, Dragonball helped me raise my son. And I am the first to tell you that Dragonball the movie is HORRIBLE. They should rename it, if it wasn’t called Dragonball people wouldn’t even get that. Oh, god, so embarrassing. They told me it was a $120 million picture and Stephen Chow was producing. Stephen Chow did Kung-Fu Hustle and Shaolin Soccer.
GM: Yeah, they were fun.
JM: Yeah. He was the perfect producer for Dragonball. I got out to the desert of Durango, Mexico, and it was $30 million picture and Stephen Chow was paid to use his name to fool us down to the desert. It was depressing.
GM: It’s a shame. I’ve gotten the wind up signal over here so my final question for everyone: you’re very well known for a particular character, is there a role you wish people knew more about?
JM: No, man. I don’t really about what people know about, I just try to have fun while I’m working! (Laughs) Frankly, I’ve gotten to work with some of the best writers in Hollywood on Buffy. Joss is one of the best the people the hired or the best. They’re all doing the biggest shows in Hollywood now. I had them when they were young and hungry and all working together. That doesn’t really happen very often so if I’m known for Spike, that’s fine.
GM: I’d be happy if I was known as Spike.
JM: You know what? You’re right.
GM: Can I be Spike?
JM: No. He’s mine.
GM: Thanks for coming down, that was absolutely brilliant.
JM: Thank you!