James Marsters Interview

Actor James Marsters has gained quite a following with his portrayal of the vampire Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. This month, he turns to comics with Dark Horse's Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike & Dru, co-written with Christopher Golden. Worlds of Westfield's Content Editor, Roger Ash, recently spoke with him about the comic and the TV series.

Westfield: How did you become involved with the Spike & Dru comic?

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Spike & Dru James Marsters: Chris Golden was writing a Buffy book, The Watchers Guide. He was on set interviewing all the actors, Joss [Whedon, the series' creator], and the producers about it. We started talking about writing, Shakespeare, different books that he's written, and the projects that I've been writing for stage and screen just for myself. I don't have anybody interested in my scripts, but I enjoy writing them [laughter]. He came up with the idea. He said "If you ever wanted to toss around some ideas, I think it might be interesting to have the person who plays the character write something for the character." It sounded very exciting. I've loved comic books all my life, collected avidly when I was much younger and stayed in light touch with the industry ever since. I thought it'd be really cool. I don't know if I'm going to get an action figure out of Buffy, but damn, if they can make me look good in a comic book, that's just as good [laughter]. I want to see Spike kicking some major ass. I like scenes where he just clobbers hundreds of people. It's great. [laughter]. Actors spend their time going around to the producers saying, "Can I have a scene like this? I'd like to see Spike be the coolest guy in the world," etc., etc. And they're like, "Well, we'll try to fit that in." But when you're writing, you can do whatever you want. So that sounded really interesting to me. I think at that point in Buffy I was in the wheelchair, which I just loathed [laughter]. I wanted to see the character get the hell out of the wheelchair, so I figured the easiest way to do that would be to write it. Joss was very magnanimous about letting me go ahead with it and the people at Buffy have been really supportive of it and never laughed at me, which is great [laughter]. I think the end product is really good. Between Chris and I, we were able to keep true to the universe of Buffy but also give Spike and Dru a little more stage time just to sit down and talk with each other.


Westfield: How did you and Christopher Golden work together?

Marsters: Over the phone and through fax. Our first conversation was hours and hours and hours long where we laid down the basic plot. First we just kicked around different elements that we might be interested in. I was interested in having the characters torn apart in the beginning, have them not be together, and then have them discover through the book that they do need each other and that they are good for each other. It seemed to be kind of where the series was going as far as having their relationship being very complex with Angel. I was thinking "Let's go all the way with that. Let's just split these two people up." It's kind of what Joss does actually. You show the audience something that they want, then you deny them that [laughter]. So they're going to tune in or hopefully read on hoping to get that.

?We threw around a bunch of elements. My best idea was that Spike would just try to murder Dru [laughter]. He'd just throw her out of a window and try to kill her. And then, through an adventure, find out that he needs her. Chris came up with a wonderful villain, a necromancer, who is someone who can control dead body flesh, which is basically the central tenant of witchcraft in the Shakespearean sense or the medieval sense. There were a lot of people who would go to battlefields, to executions, to shipwrecks, to try to find bodies that had not been given last rites which meant that they were damned and their body parts could be used for magic. At any rate, he thought, "Wouldn't it be cool to get one of these sorcerers who could manipulate dead body parts, damned body parts, because Dru and Spike and all vampires are in fact dead. So at some point in the book we could discover that this guy could actually control their bodies." I'd never really heard of that before, and that seemed like a really cool thing, so we ran with that.

We came up with the basic plot, we broke that down into scenes, and then we each took half the scenes and would write them. He took the first two just so that I could see the format of what the writing of a comic book looks like on the page, and then I took the next couple of scenes. We'd fax each other our work and I'd put my ideas into it and change it. It's kind of funny because we each had our own ideas and he would send me his fully written scene and I'd change it all around and then fax it to him and he'd change it back to the way he wanted. It was easy work, actually. Chris is really wonderful and he was very helpful and very patient with me, both in teaching me comic books and also just really listening to my ideas. I think he's one of the better known comic book writers in the industry.


Westfield: Is there anything else about the story that you haven't mentioned that you want to talk about?

Marsters: Let's see - Spike kicks major ass. Dru gets to be very sexy. Dru, when we met her on the series, was in a weakened condition and then, at some point she got strong, but the plot had to revolve elsewhere. I always wanted to see her really kick ass too, frankly. I wanted to see her stand up and be the full Dru that she was without being weak. So, one of the things that I wanted to do was present Dru both as very strong physically and mentally. I wanted to see her kicking ass and I wanted to see her be real sexy, so we've got her almost naked I think [laughter]. That's the only way I'll ever see Juliet Landau naked [laughter].


Westfield: Have you seen any of the finished pages yet?

Marsters: No I haven't. But I think Dark Horse in general has a whole cadre of artists that I really like. They tend to go for a very graphic look; they tend to put a lot of ink on the page. I think that that plays with shadow and light really well. I'm really interested with the way light plays on images and one of the artists that really reawakened my interest in comic books was Frank Miller and his treatment of Daredevil, and then Wolverine and, of course, Batman. So I really like that kind of style which is not so much realistic as very graphic. Really bold lines, a lot of different thicknesses of lines. In some comic books it's all very thin lines, which is fine and there's some fantastic work that's been done with that, but I'm more drawn to hard edges and more dramatic looks. They faxed me over some of the stuff that the artist who's working on the book right now did before and it looked very much like that. I was really happy with it.


Westfield: Now that you've done this, would you like to do it again?

Marsters: I think so. It depends. If it's any good. I've never done this before. I have a feeling that it'll be pretty good because Chris is attached to it and I felt good about the way it had played. The people at Buffy ok every word of every comic book and every book that goes out about Buffy. Chris told me that for the first time that he can ever recall, they sent the script back with no changes whatsoever, so I think that they're pretty happy with it too. I certainly had a good time doing it and it would be fun to see where it goes. Writing is fun. Writing is very fun. It's fun to create a whole universe. Well, I didn't create this universe, basically I just ran with characters and situations that had already been given to me, but still, there's a lot of freedom in it. Yeah, I'd like to do it again.


Westfield: Would you recommend others on the show do it?

Marsters: Yeah! I think that any time you live with a character for months and months and months and months and years, the character can grow inside you and take on a whole life apart from the series. There's not always time to give each individual character everything they're capable of doing. There's a whole world inside Xander that has not been explored. There's a whole world inside of every one of the characters that hasn't been explored. I'm sure that every cast member has ideas for the show and they'd like an episode that their character could do A, B, or C, and there's just not time. Even with 22 little movies a year, there's not time to give everybody those kind of story arcs. I think it would be a good outlet.


Westfield: How did working on the comic compare to working on the show?

Marsters: My real concern working on the show is that what's on the page gets on film. It sounds kind of easy, but sometimes it's hard. You read a line, you read a scene, and you read the directions of the way the line should be presented and it reads really well. Then you film it and you think "Man. I didn't really achieve everything that the script was asking." My basic concern is when we finish filming a scene, I go back and read the scene and think "Did I miss anything?" That's basically what I do when I'm filming.

But when I'm writing, all doors are open. Basically the artist is going to be doing the acting. They're going to show the characters in action. My whole thing was just trying to provide a good springboard for him; hoping to catch his imagination as he's drawing.


Westfield: Is Spike coming back?

Marsters: Yeah. I have no idea when or how he's coming back, or if he's going to be drunk, or in a wheelchair, or in a tutu, I have no idea [laughter]. But I love doing the series and they've said that they do want me back this season and either in Angel or Buffy or both next year. It's a lot of fun. The whole crew and cast are wonderful to work with and there's a lot harder ways to make a living than being on Buffy.


Westfield: I really enjoyed the episode where Spike returned this season. The ending cracked me up. [For those who may not have seen it, it featured Spike driving down the highway singing along with Sid Vicious' version of My Way.]

Marsters: Oh man, yeah. To sing Sid Vicious, man. That's the best. David Semel who directed it, he's one of the producers over on Dawson's Creek, and who is absolutely wonderful by the way. He took it in one take. When I read the script, that was my favorite part because I love Sid Vicious and the Sex Pistols. And they're going to let me sing My Way. I used to sing it on the set all the time. I don't know if they heard me. The whole Sid thing was a bit of a touchstone that the character started with. Joss wanted the Sid and Nancy of the vampire set. I'm not sure if he got that [laughter]. People keep saying that he got Billy Idol, but you do your best. But I'd often be hanging around the sound stage singing My Way, so when I got that in the script, I was really happy. Then we got to film it. It was like "Take one. Ok, let's move on." I'm like, "Nooo! I want to sing this all day."


Westfield: Any closing comments?

Marsters: Look for the comic book. I think that people will be very pleased with it. I think that the writing is exceptional [laughter]. It's a good first stab and Chris certainly kept it good quality so I think it's going to be really good.