James Marsden tunes in, turns on for “Death at a Funeral”
Getting laughs can be a challenge when you’re starring alongside professional funnymen Tracy Morgan, Martin Lawrence and Chris Rock.
So what’s an actor to do? If you’re James Marsden, who stars in Death at a Funeral, opening today, you creatively lose your mind.
“I’ve never taken acid or any hard drug,” Marsden, 36, says. “My wife (former Days of Our Lives actress Lisa Linde) tried to get me to take a mushroom, but I was too scared. Instead I watched a documentary on the man who invented LSD. But the most important research I gathered was from the crewmembers. I asked them about their acid trips in the 1960s and 1970s.”
For Marsden, the role was liberating.
“In my most private moments I might show some of those facial expressions,” he says. “If I ever felt there was anything crazy in me, this was the opportunity to let it out.
“It was an interesting exercise to see how far out of your mind you could get while being sober.”
[b]An accidental dosage[/b]
A remake of the 2007 British film, Death at a Funeral is a farce about what can go wrong when an extended family gathers for a funeral.
Marsden’s character, a seventh-grade teacher engaged to the niece of the deceased, is nervous about encountering his future father-in-law. So his fiancée, played by Zoe Saldana, gives him some of her brother’s Valium — except it’s not Valium. It’s a homemade hallucinogen. Soon he’s sniffing plants and seeing coffins move.
“There were no boundaries for this character,” Marsden says. “So I told (director) Neil LaBute, ‘I’ll just throw myself out there. Some of it will work, and some won’t. In the editing room, please use it like salt. Use it sparingly or people will get sick of me.’ ”
In one scene, Marsden’s character wraps his head in toilet paper, removes his clothes and climbs onto the roof in full view of the mourners.
Before getting naked, Marsden went on a diet. “For a while I thought maybe I should be out of shape,” he says. “When you see Will Ferrell take his shirt off, it’s somehow funnier than when you watch Ben Stiller take his shirt off, because Ben’s in great shape. But ultimately if you’re going to be immortalized on film, you might as well look good.”
[b]’I like to shock people'[/b]
Marsden’s shift into silliness is quite a contrast from Cyclops, the sunglasses-wearing mutant he played in three X-Men films. “I like to shock people,” he says. “Actors can get stuck doing the same thing, but I’ve been really lucky. I don’t excel at one thing, but I’m pretty good at a number of things.”
He sang and danced in the musical Hairspray with John Travolta and Enchanted with Amy Adams. He played romantic leading men in The Notebook and 27 Dresses. Most recently he starred opposite Cameron Diaz in the box-office bomb The Box.
Next up for Marsden is Straw Dogs, a remake of the 1971 Sam Peckinpah film. He plays the role originated by Dustin Hoffman. And he will soon begin shooting I Hop, a mix of live action and animation about the Easter Bunny (voiced by Russell Brand). Marsden plays a slacker who injures the rabbit and must bring it back to his house to recuperate.
“The script is pretty subversive, cool and clever,” Marsden says. “It struck similar chords as Enchanted did with me. That had the potential to be God-awful but ended up being a success. And I know my kids (Jack, 9, and Mary, 4) will love it.”