Five Things With: James Marsters

Twenty-six years after he first donned his famous black leather duster as ‘Spike’, Buffy the Vampire Slayer star James Marsters talks to us about his acting roots, his vulnerability as a singer-songwriter and what continues to motivate him…

1. LOVE AT FIRST BITE

The child of a United Methodist minister and a social worker, Marsters is very proud of his parents “because they were both trying to be of service to the community.” He feels his parents’ work and their mindset rubbed off on him when he was first bitten by the acting bug. “It was a production of The Me That Nobody Knows,” he recalls. One of the earliest rock musicals on Broadway, the show was based on monologues of disadvantaged kids whose thoughts and sentiments were then put to music, says Marsters. It received both the Obie Award and Drama Desk Award for best new musical and was reportedly praised for offering an unflinching and poignant look at the lives of ghetto youngsters.

2. WHAT A FEELING

Marsters knew at a very early age that he loved performing because, while our lives may be ruled by ego, the theater afforded him the chance to lose himself in art. “So there’s little Jimmy Marsters singing some song in one of the first shows I was in and I was up in front of the curtain, on the apron, which is that part of the stage that goes into the audience, and I felt something between the audience and me,” recalls the 60-year-old Marsters. “It was this wonderful sense of connectedness and community.”

3. THE SOUNDS OF SILENCE

 When you’re doing a play on stage there’s this barometer to go by,” says Marsters. If your audience is engaged in the show and your performance, he explains, there’s a quiet that comes over the theater. It means they’re transfixed. “But if you hear rustling of paper, like they’re thumbing through their programs, it means they want to get out of there fast.” Marsters freely acknowledges he has experienced both. “I know I am capable of doing both compelling work and of sucking.”

4. VULNERABLE VAMP

 While a lot of actors also fancy themselves musicians, Marsters, who has been playing the guitar since the age of seven-years-old and writing his own music since the age of 12, is the real deal. He formed his band, “Ghost of the Robot,” in 2002 after years of playing solo gigs in cafes, bars and other venues. The group will be performing songs from their newest album at The Mint, on West Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles, California, on Tuesday evening, March 14th, at 7:30 p.m. Marsters, who has also released two solo albums — 2005’s Civilized Man and 2007’s Like a Waterfall—finds songwriting an intensely personal experience; that is why singing in front of a live audience is cathartic to him, because he can vent about topics he wouldn’t normally talk about. “Most people have to go to therapy to pay for that crap,” he jokes.

5. WHAT’S MY MOTIVATION?

A classically trained actor schooled at the Pacific Conservatory of the Performing Arts, who appeared with such companies as the Bailiwick Repertory Theatre, Marsters scored a Joseph Jefferson Award nomination when he appeared as “Robespierre” in 1989. When he picks up a script now, he says it is important for him “to be taken on a ride. I want to be entertained when I’m reading it.” That was never a problem playing Spike, he says, because (series creator) “Joss Whedon and the other writers were like God. They created the universe and I lived it.” However, he does acknowledge that, no matter how good the writing is, it’s still up to the actor to interpret the dialogue in a meaningful way. “You can say lines any amount of ways, but you’ve got to remember to make it compelling, otherwise, you’ll suck in the part.”

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