Wish You’d Been There…Whedonopolis.com Visits Grand Slam Sci-Fi Summit: Conclusion

James Marsters’ Panel – Sunday Afternoon

 

James was asked which book of "The Dresden Files" was his favorite to record, and he said probably the first one, "only because it was my introduction to Jim (Butcher) as a writer, so it was more of an event. There was a scene where a woman is talking about her abusive husband, and it was written so deftly about noticing things in the kitchen, and noticing a clock on the wall, and the silences and it made me think he really understood that." He, then, was asked who was his favorite character to voice, and without hesitation he said it was ‘Bob the Skull’, "because he’s such a jerk."

The next fan mentioned that some of the people there who were James’ fans had become so before he’d done "Buffy" and that he had a two-part question about "Northern Exposure." James right away said his experience in "Northern Exposure" had been "great." The question was whether he’d asked his father for any advice to help him portray that character on the show, and if his father had ever seen the episode. "My father had been a minister for many years, and no, I didn’t ask him for advice, but I knew what it was like to go into your father’s church as a little kid, and find that everybody thinks your Dad’s so cool. Really, he’s just like a god. "Oh, you’re Jim Marsters’ son!" So I played a character who was a minister because his father was the best minister anybody had ever heard of, so he just had to do it and he’d get all sweaty and have all sorts of problems. But no, I basically tried not to overact. I was coming from theater, and I have to say that the first show I ever made was with Joel-what’s the cat’s name?" The fan volunteers Rob Morrow, and James goes on to explain Morrow’s physical reaction to James’ initial portrayal of the character. "He went… ‘o… kay!’ So I thought the character was too whacked-out, but it was a lot of fun." As for his father ever seeing the episode, James said he was "sure he did, but I didn’t watch it with him. I played it as the son who couldn’t do it, and he was pretty cool about that."

James can be a bit naughty, and he’d been telling fans (mostly girl fans) all during his panel the day before to "kiss the microphone," as a way to get them to come closer to it so everybody could hear them better. The next female fan up literally approached the microphone before asking the question and air-kissed it, much to James’ delight, "because that’s what you told me to do yesterday." However, she still moved backwards, and just as she was about to ask her question, and James told her, "Walk up to the microphone, darlin’, make looooooove to it," which caused a major eruption of laughter and the fan to blush. She did move forward, and asked if it was OK. "Yeah, that’s great. Makes you feel goooooood, don’t it?" He seemed to enjoy the whole bit, as seen below.

 

The fan took things into Shakespeare territory, mentioning his plays "Julius Caesar" and "Antony and Cleopatra." She wanted to know whether James had read them, and how accurate he thought Shakespeare had been in the portrayal of those characters. James pondered the question for a minute, and went on to say he didn’t think "there was enough known about them for sure, and Shakespeare’s primary historical documents he kept referring to was more about European history, and not so much about Roman history. I think he tried to be true to it, and he tried to present Brutus as being on the fence, and to portray Cassius as much more committed, and obviously that Caesar was an emperor that was subverting democracy. What Shakespeare is talking about it, ‘In order to save democracy, it is okay to stab a guy in the heart who never did you any wrong." His only crime was to be so damn popular. It’s kind of an un-winnable argument, and I think that he painted that really well. Nobody would ever really know if Brutus was such a nice guy, or if Cassius was not such a nice guy. My favorite scene is actually the one between Brutus and his wife, where she’s going, ‘You guys just don’t get us. Here’s the secret about women: We’re human beings!’ I love that, yeah!"

The next question was whether James was the type of person who hangs on to things that happened in the past and dwells on them, or if he just lets them go, or if he worries about the future. James said he "tends to hang on… I have some people that I think treated me really ill, that I’ve allowed to treat me really ill and that I don’t take enough responsibility for my part in that. I have four or five people that I keep being angry at… I’m trying to get more mature; I hope that it happens at some point. If I worry about my future? I’m pretty good about that. If I break down my life, I have real good reasons to freak out about. I have real reasons to worry about money and the future. I have kids and I’m an actor, so… I’m really good at really compartmentalizing and not letting my mind go to worry, because if I let myself worry, I’m not gonna audition well, I’m not gonna be good at acting, and I’m not gonna be able to provide for my kids, so it’s really good if I’m totally responsible, don’t spend a lot of money, and just don’t worry about it."

The next question was about James working with Michael Winnick and Tony Todd in "Shadow Puppets." James said that Michael Winnick is the writer and director of "Shadow Puppets," and that he’d "had a really good time working with him. He’s a guy who really knew what he wanted; he didn’t have a whole lot of money or time; he spent most of his money on me, and so I was impressed by his intelligence and his ability to deal with a lot of frustrations and never lose his cool. Tony Todd (gets on his tippy-toes and extends his arms way up over his head) is a really big guy. I think that because of his work on film everybody is afraid of him. I think he has deep reservoirs of anger and he’s dealt with them as a mature man and uses them as fuel for his art. There were some hard days when he could have just lost it, you know, and he’s the kind of guy you just wouldn’t want to mess with, but a really nice guy."

 

Next, James was asked what first got him really interested in acting. "It was in the fourth grade, I was in a production of ‘Winnie the Pooh’ playing (doing the character’s voice) ‘Eeyore.’ I thought I brought a sense of ennui to the character… (the audience laughs) No, really! I was really serious when I was young, God! And to be really honest about it, I had a really chaotic family environment. Family dinner for me was like… (groans in dread) So, I was amazed by the fact that there were a bunch of people who were kind of freaky in theater, mainly outcasts, who would get in fights, but at the end of the day we could put aside our differences and make something beautiful, and it kind of became, for me, my new family. And so when my family would be fighting, I’d go, ‘I’m off to rehearsal. See you later, after you guys are in bed!" And those were, pretty much, my teenage years. ‘I’m off to rehearsal!’ So b
asically, what got me into theater was to be part of a group that was pushing in one direction, and to this day it’s what really gets me excited. And also the fact that we’re all in on this, we’re all doing this magic trick that’s gonna fool everybody else, and I like that a lot."

The next fan mentioned her favorite fantasy would be to see him play the role of Thomas Raith, the White Court vampire on "The Dresden Files" TV show. The mere suggestion caused major cheers from the audience. The fan went on to say they’ve conveyed this suggestion to Robert Hewitt (producer of "The Dresden Files") and that it’d been posted in some of the boards. Her question was whether he was afraid to be typecast by playing another vampire role or if he’d really enjoy taking it on, in view of the differences in the character. James replied he thought he’d "taken one enough other roles now to be able to play another vampire." (More applause) He added that "if this had been a few years back, you’d have gotten a different answer."

The next question was how James felt about psycho fans who have cool tattoos of Spike on them, and whether he’d like to see his own cool tattoo of Spike. "I love psycho fans with tattoos of Spike!" was the answer, amidst laughs and cheers from the audience. He was awed by the quality of the Spike tattoo the fan had on his leg, calling it "incredible! That’s really hot!" James mentioned, again, that he "used to come to this thing in full Spock costume, with the pointy ears, and I’d raise my eyebrows with soap and I’d never had a better time or met more cool people than when I was full costume and fuzzy hair. Love it!" He then turned around, and as he was walking to face the other side of the stage and a new question, he suddenly raised his arms like celebrating a touchdown and went, "I’m immortal, now! I love it!"

The fan on the right-hand side of the stage sighed, "It’s hard to follow body art now!" Her question had to do with James’ music, as the evening before, at his concert, James had performed 25 songs, and 23 of them had been written by him. He’d told us he always has a little more fear with the music, because he’s sharing things with it he normally wouldn’t, so how does it feel to him when he stands in front of the crowd like he’d done the previous evening and he sees everyone in the crowd singing along to things he wouldn’t normally share. James chuckled, and said it’s "the most beautiful thing, that I feel the most intensely not alone, that I share something personal that I felt I was the only one feeling that, and then everyone else is singing along and I don’t feel so alone anymore."

The next question was about being a celebrity, as James had spoken in the past about it being a difficult thing to deal with. The actual question was how’d he see his career going into the future, either as a constantly working character actor, where he could walk down the street and still have his privacy respected, or to have more of a Brad Pitt existence. "I wanna be Michael Caine. I am as pretty as Michael Caine, so if I could have his career…" The fan promptly added she thought James was "prettier than Michael Caine." Not to be outdone, James thanked her and quipped, "I was fishing! Thank you!" to much merriment.

The next question was about James’ upcoming play, and how it came to be. (A special note needs to be made here – unfortunately, as of yesterday and from a statement at James’ official site, financial backing for the play "The Little Dog Laughed" that James was supposed to star in this coming June in San Francisco was withdrawn and the play has been permanently cancelled. ) James said they were willing to pay real money. He’d "known a few people doing Broadway in the ’80s and what they were paid was not nearly enough for me to raise my kids. I pretty much thought I was going to have to wait until they were done with college before I could go back and do theatre again. But they’re willing to pay me some money! So yeah, it feels really good to spend all that time working on that, but the artist in me is psyched! Art-schmart, you know? "Be a dad, earn your money."

Next, James was asked whether he’d seen "The Dresden Files" on TV and what he thought about it. "I haven’t seen it. I have to say, I can’t wait… 8:20, it’s after I’ve sang songs to my kid, and she went to bed, and I can’t wait to turn on CNN, or the Discovery Times Channel, or the Discovery Channel or the History Channel. Those are really such good channels, and I don’t really go about watching fiction. Steve, my manager, says, ‘You’re auditioning for this tomorrow. You need to know the acting style," and I go, "But-but Discovery Times is doing a thing on Al-Quaeda, and I really need to know about it!"

One of the rules this convention sets for the Q&As is, you can’t really make things personal (i.e., make personal questions, share a story with no question behind, ask for hugs, etc.) People sometimes are oblivious to the rules, as if they didn’t apply to them. The next question came from a woman, whose daughter is only interested in James as a man, so she asked whether he was attached. James said he was, he’d been for a few years now, and that his girlfriend was very good to him.

The next question was, since the previous day had been Sarah Michelle Gellar’s birthday, whether there had been anything annoying about working with her. "You know, I wanna preface this by saying how annoying I was to work with. I was one of those (mockingly) ‘method actors’ who internalized his role and who was so damn serious about every scene that he did-When he internalized a role that thinks that it’s OK to kill people and hurt people, that the whole world is a dark place that he has to protect himself from, that’s a dark place to go living in for seven years, so I was annoying. I’ll admit that. She was annoying too! (laughter) And Nick was annoying, and Alyson was… and Joss was (frustrated tone) annoying! We’re all beautiful people, and I couldn’t have hoped for anyone better to have gone through that experience with, to go through the fire with, and I gotta tell you, it’s a good job, you get paid good money for it, you get fame from it, but it’s hard! And I saw every facet of everybody; I saw every one of their ugly faces, and I love them all, and we annoyed the crap out of each other. It’s like being in a family, and your sister annoys you? Sarah’s like my kid sister, that’s why I couldn’t lick her! I know I talked about this yesterday, but I couldn’t lick her because, psychologically, she would annoy me. I mean, after 15 hours, Lord Jesus, anybody would annoy me! So I came to relate to her like my kid sister, whom I love but who drives me crazy, and licking your kid sister was too weird for words."

 

The following question (after another encouragement from James to the fan to "kiss the mike, luv…") was what James’ guilty pleasure was. "Let’s see… biggest guilty pleasure." Some smartass in the audience yelled "Licking Sarah!" to much laughter and James’ resignation and head-shaking. "No… Right-wing videogames! It’s interesting; you can tell some videogames are designed for conservatives, and some are designed for liberals. Any game with guns in it, any game with a robot protected by mechanized armor is a right-wing videogame. And if you look at the backstory, they’re all looking at saving the world from terrorists. ‘W
e gotta stomp these guys out and kill them all.’ Other than that… I don’t watch "American Idol," though… I feel like I’ve just gotten too serious now – (in pompous tone) "No, I read books about important things." So, yeah, videogames. Shooting people in the head."

The next fan told James she’d attended the concert the previous evening, and much enjoyed the lyrics, which she found really beautiful. James thanked her, and then she asked him whether he ever wrote poetry and would he ever put out a book of lyrics and or poetry. "I’ve written poetry before, but I’ve never done poetry for its own sake. I find it that I like to write poetry with music; that it’s a combination with the melody that helps me to keep writing, cos somehow emotionally, for me, it’s the combination of the music and the melody. That’s what the theme really is, and what you wanna write about is contained in there. For the lyrics, you have to be brave enough to actually talk about what you’re talking, and you can almost see me shy away from that. And I haven’t been brave enough to admit I might be worthy of printing my lyrics."

So it was my turn at the microphone, and I had to switch questions quickly as the one I had prepared about Thomas Raith had been stolen from me earlier. I told James that I’d interviewed Jim Butcher the previous week.

"He blames you for getting "The Dresden Files" on TV." (laughter)

(shocked) "Why?"

"Because he said that when you went to do voices for the "Spiderman" cartoon that was on MTV, you got praised for how well you moved in a studio, and you’d just done one of the audiobooks, and told them "Well, it’s because I just did this book…" so he blames you."

"Cool! I didn’t know about that; I’d just done the book, and I was just really on fire about how this guy should be on film. His books are really written to be made into movies."

"He also said that Thomas Raith is inspired by Spike, because Spike is, and I quote, "The epitome of the pretty boy vampire…" (major cheering and applause) "…and so I needed a pretty boy vampire, and I thought ‘Spike!’" This was James’ reaction to that:

 

"Jim is also dying to see you on "The Dresden Files" on TV, as Thomas, or Marcone."

"You know who else I think it’s based on Spike? The Gecko, from those insurance ads? (major laughter)

"So the question is – Spike as a comic book character has moved to another publishing house, it’s with IDW now, and so there’s a trailer going around online for the upcoming book, ‘Spike: Shadow Puppets’ that is Spike and Lorne vs. the ‘Smile Time’ puppets."

"There’s a book about Spike and the Shadow Puppets?"

"No, the book is called ‘Spike: Shadow Puppets’ and it’s Spike and Lorne versus the ‘Smile Time’ puppets… in Japan!" (more laughter)

"Oh! Oh! The ‘Smile Time’ puppets! Well, that’s really cool!"

"And there’s a trailer going around online for it – have you seen it?"

"No! Is it animated? (indignant) Who voices Spike?"

"No, there’s no Spike talking. It’s a trailer, kinda like ‘In a world, where both our cars were under water…’ (laughter) So, it has pictures of the characters and stuff from the comic books. Have you seen it?"

"No, I have not!"

"Look for it. It’s fun!"

"I didn’t know that; I’ll check it out. Oh, my God! There should be a cartoon Spike; I’m too old to play him now anyway."

The next question dealt with James as a parent. He said he hates "having to discipline my kids. Other than that, I think I’m a pretty good Dad. I’ve been talking to my niece about that, because in the beginning I had to be fairly firm with her, so I said to her, "There’s a whole ‘nother side of me; my son would be shocked at the way I am with you. I’m ‘Mr. Poopy Pants’ to him: ‘No, no, you can’t do that.’ Just do your homework and comb your hair." I just can’t be the guy that I want to be." So, now she does her homework and combs her hair."

James got asked about his guest spot in the new series "Saving Grace," which takes place in Oklahoma, and whether we could expect a new accent, Southern, from him. "A very, very slight one, because if you watch the news and see people from Oklahoma City talking, (in a very marked Southern accent) they don’t talk like this all the time. (normal voice) It’s more of a very subtle thing. That was fun, by the way. Holly Hunter-I almost had an out of body experience working with her; she’s so there. Like we were doing a scene, and I kinda looked away, and she went… (moves as if following his move to where he’d looked). It’s little things like that; you never know what to expect, what’s gonna happen. It was great!" The fan mentioned James has been working consistently with Academy Award winners, and asked how he does it. "I just ride in their coattails; I just go… (jumps as if on their coattails) right there!"

The following question was about James’ favorite scene to shoot in "Smallville". "The love scene between me and Clark…" (much laughter) "…when I told him who I was. No, actually, it’s the scene where I pretended that I gave a crap about him, and I was just trying to be world-weary and messed up, and that I cared about him. I thought it was delicious to play that a character was pretending to care. He’s just a robot; he doesn’t care about anybody; he’s pure intent. He’s putting on this mask like he gives a crap. I thought that was wonderful, because I could pretend like I care about Clark so much! (evil laugh)"

 

The next question came from a guy about a hypothetical guy with a girlfriend "a little too obsessed with the characters you play. I’m wondering if this is something that’s happened to you with your own girlfriend. "No. I mean, she’s an artist and she’d drawn a couple of pictures of Brad Pitt, and I went, ‘Who’s that?’ Truth is, I think she’s too smart to tell me about it anyway. I’m guessing this poor soul is you?" The fan explained his girlfriend had made him escort her to James’ concert in Newport in 2003, but only bought the one ticket and left him waiting outside. There were groans and laughs from the audience, and James looked genuinely surprised and sorry for the guy, so he started thinking about bad things about himself the guy could tell his girlfriend. "Tell her that when I go to the bathroom, I get a little… (makes wacky gestures) Tell her… tell her… bad breath?" The fan suggested maybe getting it on video, and James jumped on the idea, "Yea, then I could be really drunk in it. (slurring the words) ‘I love you!’" We could all tell James was feeling really bad for the guy, so he kept searching for bad things to say about himself. "The thing is, a lot of people say it’s okay to have a crush on someone cos then it’ll never really happen? In Hollywood we can’t have that, because you might meet that person. For instance, let’s say my person is Penélope Cruz, and your person is Tom Cruise, but we might meet those people! That sucks, dude! That sucks! Tell her I’m 45 years old, dude. Tell her I d
ye my gray hair, and that I have gray hair coming out of my nose. Cos it’s true!"

James was then asked about "the head tilt" and whether it was a James thing, a Spike thing or just an acting thing. "That was just me; in fact, I’ve had a lot of directors ask me to stop tilting my head. And frankly, that’s a dog. It’s a thing dogs do, and I thought Spike would be a good dog." The fan then told James there’s tons of fan videos online made of just the head tilt to different kinds of music. James laughed, and explained that "you try to find an expression that doesn’t make your face twist and contort. You try to use your eyes- If you can communicate something just with a look, that’s the best, and I found that if instead of going like this… (makes facial gesture) …you go like this… (tilts head and uses just his eyes), it’s better. It’s a trick; it’s just a trick. I like that; I did it once and I liked it, and I kept doing it forever. It became a way of communicating for me. Sometimes I’d work with directors who’d come in and didn’t know the show very well, and I’d tell them,

‘Look, I don’t care about any of the people in this room. They could die and I don’t care.’
‘But you have to care about your cast!’
‘Normally, yes; in this case, no. So Xander’s dead? (shrugs)’"

The next question was about "Shadow Puppets," that played at the Brussels International Fantasy Film Festival. The fan wanted to know if he’d seen it, and how his role had come out on it. "I haven’t seen it, but I’ve seen parts of it and it looks really nice. It’s gonna be one of those you have to look for, because it’s a really good movie but it’s damn near impossible to get a distribution deal for that level of budget, which is one of the problems with this project. I think the film worked well enough to allow Michael to do another film, with a bigger budget next time." Asked whether Michael would hire him again, James quipped, "I hope so. But, I’m such a diva! No, I’m not."

 

Next he was asked about his role in the upcoming "P.S. I Love You." "My character’s name is John. The movie is based on the very popular book (by Cecilia Ahern); it’s like a diary of love letters written by a man dying of cancer to his wife, to be given to her after he dies to help her get through it. It’s directed by the guy who wrote "The Fisher King." "The Horse Whisperer" (Richard LaGravenese) and who just directed "Freedom Writers" with Hilary Swank, which was a fabulous movie. I play the best friend of the dude that dies of cancer…" (At this point, James decides to fully sit on the chair on stage, and as he sat with his legs open, people started to make him self-conscious about a possible hole in his pants or his fly being open… which wasn’t the case at all. Still, it freaked him out as everybody joined in the joke and was laughing. Someone told him he’d been just too relaxed, which made for a great shot.) "So my job was to be very in love with Gina Gershon, and just be the couple so in love that it’s driving the nail hard into heart of the character Holly, played by Hilary Swank. She has to watch her best friends hold hands and be so in love. So yea, it wasn’t a big role, but I was in it, and I got to work with Kathy Bates! It was great. The film has been in previews, and the audiences are just eating it up."

At that point, James announced his time was up, to the collective disappointment of everybody present. "I’ll see you guys at the autograph line. See you at the movies!"

Whedonopolis.com would like to thank the amazing folks at Creation Entertainment for granting us access to the Sci-Fi Grand Slam Summit, especially to Monica for being incredibly gracious.

Our next convention coverage will be Fangoria in New Jersey at the end of June. Stay tuned.

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