Wish You’d Been There 2 – Fangoria Convention Report – Pt. 1

Fangoria’s Weekend of Horrors (organized by Creation Entertainment) deals with, well… less Mr. Gordo and more Scare Bears, if you catch my drift. There’s horror everywhere, and blood and guts, and zombies, and vampires, and werewolves, and did I mention zombies? Yes. But, it’s still a lot of fun, especially when you arrive at the hotel and start bumping into people you know from past conventions that have featured James Marsters. Anyway, since we were there to cover his appearances, heres the first one.

 

Friday Panel
 

 

James’ panel was the last one of the day, but we’d already had a chance to see him at the photo ops right before the panel. James was in a great mood, which he attributed to 14 hours’ sleep, and was just fantastic to all the fans that met with him in the photo room (with the always wonderful Chris Schmelke behind the lens.)

The photo ops ran a bit late because James took his time with each fan, and the Q&A eventually got under way with a great introduction by Steve Himber (James’ manager) who joked about their photo op earlier in the day, saying James’ tongue “had been to places he didn’t want to know” and promised proof of that on Sunday. James, being his silly self, blew his entrance, but laughed about it and told Steve he could “spank me if you want.” The stage was set for questions, and James was game to answer anything, “the more embarrassing, the better.”

For some reason, people in NJ seemed oblivious to the fact that there were two microphones at each side of the stage, and proceeded to scream their questions, which James then had to repeat on the mic. (This was later corrected both by Steve moving a mic around the seats and people finally noticing the side stage mics.)

The first question was about the status of the Spike movie. James said Joss had approached him with the idea during his time on “Angel,” and that he’d said he’d definitely want to do it but that he had seven years “because then I’d be too old” since Spike, a vampire, doesn’t age. “We’d have to come up with something like, ‘He’s drinking pig’s blood, and so he ages more,’ but I don’t know… He’s so much fun to play! Part of me wants to call Joss and say, ‘Ok, *censormode* the seven years, man, let’s go. I’ve been moisturizing, we’re OK.’” The problem is that Joss told him he’s through with TV, and when they tried to take the project outside of the WB, nobody else was interested. “I think the CW would be ecstatic if they could get a Spike movie, especially after ‘Smallville.’” James added that he doesn’t know whether they’d want to do it without Joss, but his personal feeling is that “most of the writers who had most to do with Spike weren’t Joss. They were Doug Petrie and everyone else. Joss is a fabulous writer who didn’t necessarily want me in the show.” He further elaborated that Joss probably “considered Spike an interloper in his whole theme, and that in trying to marginalize Spike, he created the underdog of all underdogs, and since his show speaks to the underdog in all of us, he created the über outsider and didn’t realize what he was doing… but it’s okay with me!” James said the last time he’d spoken to Joss about it, he’d told him he wanted to use a line from “Lord of the Rings” about the sacrifice of being good, “which is great, but it’s not plot,” and then proceeded to tell us his idea for a Spike movie: “Spike has never won anything for himself proactively, but I want him for once to be that way. So, since Spike has been the outsider for so long, maybe we should develop a story where he loses to the bad guy, gets his ass kicked by the bad guy; meets the woman of his dreams, she finds out he’s a vampire and totally dumps him—BUT in the beginning of the story, he’s walking around in this old pair of boots (it’s an inside joke, because I only had one pair of boots all the time on ‘Buffy’) and they’re finally falling apart, and he can’t fight anymore, but he notices a beautiful pair of boots on a window which he can’t afford to buy, so at the end, he finds a way, without stealing them, with out lying, without having to pay for them, to get the boots for himself. So he loses to the bad guy, he loses the girl but he gets the boots. And Joss was like, ‘I like that! Cos it’s cheap to film!’” James thinks they need to do a screen test, “We need to bleach my hair, put the coat on and see if I can still do the character. I just don’t know if that’s gonna matter…” This last part was greeted with cheers and several screams of “We don’t care!” to which he responded that he knew that, and that he just hopes Joss “doesn’t see me as an ingénue anymore, because he said that when I was on ‘Angel’ and I’m still trying to forgive him.”

The next question was, according to James’ summary for the audience (due to the person not asking it into a microphone), “What the hell happened in ‘Smallville’?” The answer is that he “was fat”, a response that created a generalized “WHAT?!” James explained that they got him on the show thinking they could turn him into Zod, but that he went into contract negotiations saying he didn’t want to take off his shirt “because I was like 20 lbs overweight and I didn’t want anyone to see my… fat and what happens on the first scene?” (His character shows up naked.) He went on to say that they wanted to see if they could use him for the plot they had in mind, “and they thought they were getting ‘James Marsters from ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ ripped-James Marsters’, and instead they got ‘James Marsters from ‘Buffy The Vampire Slayer’ ripped-James Marsters… 20 lbs overweight’. “ This is why they decided to turn Lex Luthor into Zod, only they didn’t tell James about it. James also quipped, “Acting is all about abs. Acting ability is a plus, way secondary to abdominal muscles. I’d love to tell everybody in acting school, ‘*censormode* this shit! Do sit-ups!’” He loved the first part of the season, because he was the mysterious character with a secret, which he thought he knew “and that was just delicious,” but when the second part of the season came, they decided not to make him Zod, which he didn’t care about. “I just wanted to know what my character wanted and how he was going to achieve it.” As you can tell, he was using rather colorful language, which prompted a funny self-correction on his part when he realized there were some children in the audience, as he was explaining, “As an actor, I’m not a *censormode*. I don’t sit in a *censormode*ing chair… I’m very, very sorry. I don’t sit on a darn chair. “ When people laughed about it, he stressed that he has “kids. It’s important.” He further elaborated that, when he acts, he doesn’t “think about what I have to do. I just go do it, and if I make a mistake, I pay for it and do it again. I do something else, but I act. I don’t think. It’s exciting to watch people just do something and get their asses kicked for it; it’s called drama.” The problem comes when the producers don’t te
ll you what the character wants, and then the actor just “becomes a poseur. I could pose as a bad guy, I could pose as the dangerous guy, I could pose as the guy who’s gonna mess up Clark’s life but I had no idea how I was gonna do that.” He added that whenever he watches acting that’s posing, “I turn it off. It offends me.” He then realized that he wasn’t gonna be able to continue working with them beyond that season if that was the way they were going to run things, and so he left. He then starts to mention different things he did on the plane without being given a reason, like flying a plane and talking to a girl in a field (Lana) “who was a nice person, but I had no idea what I wanted from her,” or preparing Lex. Even though he was paid “really well, and as a father it was difficult to turn my back on the contract. I don’t think there’s a career in posing.”

 

His upcoming appearance on “Torchwood” was brought up next, and James couldn’t tell us anything about it. “It’ll offend some people, and it’ll excite some people to the point of… self-pleasure. But it’ll require an open mind, because this is an English show, not an American show, and they have a little broader perspective about sexuality. “ He added that when he read the script, “I went, ‘Oh, *censormode*, yeah!’” and he thinks that they tried to make his character the coolest they could think of, but it still wasn’t cool enough, so “they’re re-writing it now, and it’s gonna be just *censormode*in’ great!”

The next question was about “The Dresden Files” TV show and whether he’d play Thomas Raith on it. James replied he would “take any role in the “Dresden Files” series, because I consider it comes from a really good source material that has an eye towards the truth and it’s a good metaphor for saying it.” He explained he’d declined auditioning for the lead because the show films in Canada “and I didn’t want to uproot my kids.” When the fan pointed out our disappointment that he’s not TV Harry, he said he knew that, and added, “Shoot it in L.A., you know?” The problem comes with what would have happened if he’d taken his kids out of school and gone up there and it turned out to be just for a pilot or six or seven episodes, “What then? You’ve got to be a father at some point, you know? But, go there for a few episodes? Hell yeah! Hell yeah…”

Next, James was asked whether he’d do more audio books. He said that so far he’d only done the “Dresden Files” series, and added, “I’m so egotistical… I just hope that people notice that I did them OK and then they’ll ask me to do all of them.” He said he’s into audio books because he has to drive 6 hours back and forth to see his son, and that he’s gone through all the nonfiction that he knows of. When asked if he’d done other audio books outside of “Dresden,” he said he “might have, I don’t really remember!” He then resorted to a fan to double-check, and was then reassured the only audio books he has done were “Dresden.”

The following question was whether he’d make a cameo at Comic-Con San Diego. James said he hoped he is “able to be there. I have a couple of projects that would like me to be there, and so we’re working on the schedule. I have a couple of things that might interfere. It all depends on whether the producers of what I’m working on now are willing to take “second position”, which means they don’t get to dictate my schedule. I would put it at a 10% chance because… they’re offering me money!”

 

Next, James was asked about fear and courage. Unfortunately, no one could hear what the fan was saying (except for James, as she was in the front row), but he told her that she was right in her thinking. “Courage is overcoming fear, isn’t it, and simply feeling it is just foolishness. But I’m a fool… I don’t know why, but when I get into situations that I know my intelligent brain says, ‘Be fearful, be careful’ I go in the opposite direction. And it’s got me beaten up; it’s got me in the hospital… I don’t think I ever gained anything by that, but there’s this voice inside me that’s not logical… I don’t know; I’m an idiot. Like the guy has a gun, against my head. ‘Give me your wallet!’ And what do I say? In the movie, that’s the idiot who deserves to die.” He pointed at the scar over his left eyebrow which Spike used to show off so well, and quipped, “That’s one F*U too many. That’s a pipe to the head, right there.”

The next question was (again, according to James’ summary) “What does love mean to me being a man who’s able or willing to barf out his inner life, for better or worse.” James shared his theory with us (which came back to bite him in the ass during Sunday’s panel), starting from the premise that he’s now “almost 46 and so I have a pretty good idea about sex. I think men are like trains and women are butterflies. Women are charged by nature to choose the right partner to have children with, and if they make the wrong decision, they’re gonna mess up the human race in one generation. So they feel the weight of this very strongly.” He clarified he was coming from a biological perspective, elaborating further that he thinks “human beings are animals and their behavior can be explained through basic needs. Women had to be forgiven for the fact that they can be totally in love with you, and then it’s off, and that’s completely confusing to us guys, big time. When you think about it, it’s the psychology that’s developed to change your mind if you’re in the middle of a relationship and you decide the guy is not the one you want to have babies with. You have to be able to close the chapter and move on. Guys have a very different job. I ask myself, ‘Why guys? Why did nature create us? With such high infant mortality rate, why are half of us infertile?’ There has to be a good reason why half of us can’t have babies, when so many babies die every day around the world.” His position is that “Women are just as strong as men, pound for pound. If you meet a woman and she’s just as heavy as you are, and she’s trained, don’t fight with her! You might get your ass kicked!” He mentioned he’s had enough fight experience with women who weighed less than him and “who could still kick my ass, you know? But from the second trimester of pregnancy through the age of 7, when the child can run effectively by himself, the woman needs backup because she has an extra person to account for.” He then offered some insight into the way guys’ minds are wired, from his perspective: “I will die for you. If the boogieman, or the saber tooth tiger comes, I’ll die for you. I won’t ask why, I won’t have a problem with it; I’ll go into my death with a smile on my face, feeling proud of myself, bleeding to death. And the only reason that I’ll be fighting to death for you, my woman, and for that baby in your arms that you say it’s mine is your word.” He remarked that that mindset requires a deep level of commitment, “and that
’s why I say that guys are like freight trains, and it’s hard to get us going. It’s hard to get guys to commit, but once a guy commits to a woman, he’d be in love will her for the rest of his life. I’ve had lots of girlfriends… I’m still in love with them. I’d never touch any of them but my girlfriend now, but if any one of them calls me and tells me, ‘I’m in mortal danger right now,’ I don’t think I can help to try and help them.” He kept on saying that basically both men and women have the same agenda, but he stopped himself and asked us, “Am I going too deep into this shit? Yes!”

 

Mercifully, the microphones came into play at this point in the panel, and boy, were our ears happy for that! The first question was whether James thought people had evolved, not just biologically but as human beings. James replied that “it was a question of time” and that as far as he was concerned “we’re still the same people that crawled out of Africa… with less hair.”

Next James was asked whether he considered being an actor a job, a craft, an art, all of them at the same time, or each separately depending on the job. The fan stated that to her, James is an artist, but that she’s certain that, at times, to him a project is a craft. James replied he considers being an actor “playing. Meryl Streep calls it “the playpen,” Sean Penn calls it “the box.” I call it “the sandbox.” It’s where you don’t wanna go, like you have to define where is too far. Once you’ve defined your parameters, once you know where your character is willing to go, then you just play in the sand. You can’t make a mistake.” He equalized acting with “the same games you played in your childhood: house, king, knight, damsel in distress, whatever we played, it’s the same thing. This is why good directors say, ‘It’s your show now. You gotta have fun. I won’t give you any more notes, it’s just you with the audience now, but the main thing to do is to have fun.’ And that’s why we call it ‘a play,’ why actors are called ‘players’, and frankly, in Hollywood, it’s ‘Have fun right now, or you’re fired.’ So if you can do that, you have a career.” He concluded by saying that, in order to act, you have to bring up the little kid inside.

The next fan wanted to change things up, “because it’s been getting a little too deep,” and wanted to know whether James reads comic books written about Spike, such as Brian Lynch’s “Spike Asylum.” James replied that he hasn’t “had any control over it, so no” except for a Spike comic book where he goes back in time, to the time of the Black Dahlia murder, “which I thought was pretty good.” (He’s referring to IDW’s Spike: Old Wounds, written by Scott Tipton.) He then repeated the story about his bad experience writing a comic book for Dark Horse with the twisted Spike & Dru romance idea that developed into grotesque illustrations. As he was telling the story, he realized he was “going too deeply again… *censormode* it!” and the fan just quipped, “So the answer is ‘Not really’.”, to much laughing and cheering both from the audience and James, himself. He went on to say, “Emphatically, no. Emphatically, Dark Horse: Kiss my nipples!” and shared again the problem this had caused with Juliet Landau, who was horrified by the way she had been depicted.

It was my turn at microphone, and I reminded him that IDW is in charge of the Spike comic books now, and that they’re very good, to which he replied “Right on!” I told him that I’d seen ”Shadow Puppets” in L.A. the previous week, and that I’d liked it because it was fun and scary, making people “turn into Kenny from “South Park” around me”, which caused him to laugh. I had a two part question- part one was what process he goes through to act with stuff that isn’t there, as he did in “Shadow Puppets” and also what was his frame of mind to shoot the fight scene with the Angel puppet in “Smile Time”, as well as how many takes he’d blown while shooting it. “The puppeteers were so good that it was easy to believe that Angel was actually trying to kick my butt. I blew takes by laughing too much, actually… yeah…” For the first part of the question, his answer was again going back to “when you were a kid, and you played house, or played queen or played knight, or whatever you played and you’d get lost in that? It’s a very basic human ability to put yourself in the shoes of other people and live their life. It’s part of what makes being a human being worthwhile, and it goes back to the first time we made fire and started telling stories, to explain the night, or the stars or whatever.” He further compared stage work “that allows you to lose yourself in that fantasy at 3-1/2 hours a pop, in the flow of the play, and then you bow and it’s over, and you’re back in the 21st century. When you’re filming, you do it for 15 seconds at a time, and the challenge is to completely lose yourself in the fantasy without any warm-up and that’s where the method comes in.” He explained that, “method acting is creating an imaginary world for yourself that’s as deep as the real world, or as detailed as you can make it, so you can get into it and start improvising. Once you have the character and the world you’re getting into, you really can’t make a mistake. But the process is still the same as when you were 5 or 10 years old, playing house. That’s the secret. And have fun!”

 

The next question was what story he’d like to narrate if he were on the Discovery Channel, one of the things he watches on TV most frequently. James said he’d like “to examine the birth of the desert religions. I’d like to examine the matriarchal religions that came before that, and the Christianity, Judaism and Islam that all happened very quickly in the same area of the world in response to a matriarchal society.” He pointed out that “90% of the original texts in the desert religions are all about controlling women, and keep them under control, and I’m interested in the psychological landscape that brought that about.” He further elaborated on the time when the first townships developed “and they run out of land, so the hunters (the men) had nothing to do, as food was being provided by agriculture, which was the women (the gatherers, the farmers). If you have a couple of hundred years with the guys having nothing to do—and, by the way, we had no idea about genetics or anything, so they don
’t know about the whole thing about babies so… What I think happened was, the matriarchal thing went too far, and the guys said, “Screw this!” Then you have all these armies come into the townships and say, “Give your fields to me, bow down to my god and I will give you control over your township,” and the men, with no sense of where their place was anymore, said yes to that. I’m not blaming them, I’m just saying it’s an opinion.” He pointed out that now the pendulum has moved all the way to the patriarchal side of things, but that it’ll undoubtedly move back, and the trick is to try and keep it in the middle. He concluded by saying he’s interested in “how the patriarchal messages became so listened to? What was the fertile ground that these male-dominated ideas took root on?”

At this point, Steve told James he had to kick him out of the stage in about 10 minutes, and that there were four or five nice people waiting “and I’d like for you to get to all of them.” James quickly moved on to the next fan, who asked him about his recent appearance at Collectormania in the UK, where he’d signed 1,500 autographs and taken possibly 1,000 pictures, and he was “as nice and charming to the last fan of the day as you were to the first fan of the day.” James replied that, “they both had paid the same money.” The question was actually how does he manage to do that after an incredibly long day. “I don’t know; I’ve had worst jobs! It occurs to me that I’m very lucky that people want to come out and see me, and the least I can do is be nice.” He mentioned that there’s a simple mathematical formula to doing pictures, and that is the fastest you can put people through the line, the more money you can make, but you have to have balance. “You have to take the time to say hi to the people, to look them in the eye and sincerely thank them for coming, and to try and give them a sincere piece of you, even if it is a small piece.” He mentioned an incident where William Shatner tried to put that many people through his line “and they threw eggs at him, because he didn’t give anything sincere”, and at this point he imitated Shatner looking down and signing automatically, never looking up once. “You can go quickly, but you have to step up and give some of yourself too. It’s a rip-off if you don’t. It’s my job, you know?” And then he cheerfully quipped, “I can’t wait for autographs!” (which were coming right after this panel).

The next question was whether he preferred to act or sing. James said he’s “better at acting,” and that at age 13 he’d had to make a decision between singing and acting, and he went with acting. He went to college for acting, learned all the ins and outs of acting, and forgot about singing. “When I come and act, I have no fear. To be in front of people doing a monologue feels great. But when I sing, I always have this voice saying, (in a higher pitch) ‘You’re not ready yet!’”

The next fan said she was going “to lighten things up a bit” and brought up House on Haunted Hill, more precisely the scene where the elevator is crashing down to earth and James’ character is jumping up and down. She wanted to know whether it was in the script that he jumped up and down, or he’d come up with that. James replied it’d come from his favorite Bill Cosby monologue. “You’re in an elevator that’s crashing down, and you jump up and down. To me, that moment is not rational, and there’s no hope, but he’s really just going to hold on to whatever hope he can find, so he’ll do whatever it takes to save his life.” The fan said she’d discussed this with her boss, who’d call her an idiot for jumping, but that she’d do anything to save her life. “Totally, you don’t want to die hopeless! I thought it was funny, and Geoffrey Rush was standing there… My God!”

The next question was which “Dresden Files” character he relates to the most and why. “I’d have to say Harry the most, because I read it from his perspective. I don’t know why, maybe it has elements that relate to me personally, but I think he’s just a tired guy who’s trying to do well in the world, but he’s just too overloaded to do as well as he wants to. I apply that to me, I always feel like I’m trying to keep my head above water.” This is due to the fact that he has kids, and he’s always afraid of some great tidal wave around the corner that he won’t know how to swim in, “much like Harry.” He then asked about “the big guy with the sword” in the books, Morgan, and even put on his voice to say, “You’ve broken the law!” before motioning with an invisible sword. “I love that! So Morgan too…” The fan noticed James’ bracelet and asked him if it was the Dresden Shield Bracelet. James said no, as he’d had it for a few years.

A kid came up to the mic and inquired whether James’ character in “Torchwood” would have a British accent. James said he didn’t know yet, as he’s yet to film it, “but I want to use a British accent because it occurs to me that “Torchwood” is primarily for England, and if I have an American accent, the perception is that the character will have an accent, where if I use my British accent, the British audience will just accept me as another character. My instinct tells me to go with the British accent.” The kid then asked James to show off his British accent, much to the audience’s delight. James said (in a more Spike-like accent) that he had “two basic British accents, this one for people who didn’t have the chance of going to college” and changing into a more proper, William The Bloody Awful Poet accent, “and this one, for people who did have the chance of going to college, who think they control the world and, from their perspective, they do.” He reverted to his normal voice to say he’d “rather do the character in a more (grabbing his crotch) lower class voice. So, if I have my way, he’s gonna sound a lot like Spike.” At this point, Steve demanded the picture of James grabbing his crotch, but unfortunately he did it from a weird position and cameras had been focused on James’ face, so nobody had it. James quipped, “That’s the thing with you, Steve. Always dignity!”

 

The last fan was up and offered James the chance to pick between her two questions, a shallow one and a deep one. James, being James, picked the deep one, which was whether or not he considered “Buffy The Vampire Slayer” to be horror. James replied that, “the good thing about ‘Buffy’ was that it straddled so many different styles, from horror, to melodrama, to farce. Those were the three main ones.” He pointed that even though they didn’t have “seven doors going on at once like in farce, there were other elements supporting it and you could almost feel the flip, sometimes almost in the same scene; You’d start in melodrama and then go to farce, and you never really knew where it was gonna come from.” He sa
id this was mostly due to the best writing possible, that reminded him of his favorite Irish playwright, Brendan Behan, who always thought that “if you get the audience laughing, when something really sad comes up, you really get them, cos it comes from the back door. And if you get them crying, and you let something farcical come in, or funny or weird, that gets them laughing more, because they really don’t expected. That’s what I liked about ‘Buffy,’ and all the actors and directors working on it; We had to be good at a lot of different styles.” He further explained that, “On TV, most of the style is naturalism. But, we were brave; we did melodrama, we did horror, we did farce, and in the confines of TV, we had to keep it real. So, despite the things I may say about my cast at these things, I think they were very brave and they were very good.”

The panel ended on this note, with James saying he loves the fans and that he couldn’t wait to see us at autographs.

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