James Marsden: Nobody Sets Out To Make A Bad Movie
James Marsden has made a career out of playing the guy you want the leading lady to end up with (think Enchanted or 27 Dresses). But in his latest film, Straw Dogs, he plays such a deeply insecure and unpredictable guy that you can’t decide if the guy with the dynamic cheekbones and killer smile is actually “good” for our leading lady.
Moral greyness is a major theme throughout the thriller, a remake of Dustin Hoffman’s 1971 classic — both of which proved to be major selling points for Marsden when it came time to sign on. The actor recently spoke with ETonline about his attraction to the project, why going a little mad sometimes can be good for an actor and why he still longs to slip back into his X Men uniform one day.
ETonline: What was it about this script that spoke to you?
James Marsden: It really was the role itself. There’s an actors feast there. I was very aware of the affection many people have for the original – specifically Dustin Hoffman’s performance. He’s about as perfect as one can get in that film, yet I couldn’t stop thinking about what a great role it is for an actor and at the end of the day, I couldn’t turn that down.
ETonline: There’s so much negative talk about remakes these days, at what point do you just tune that out?
Marsden: At some point you just have to in order to properly make your own movie. It’s the same basic story, but a different interpretation with different actors in a different time period. I watched the original to make sure it didn’t look like I was aping Dustin. I also learned what they did right and where I could put my own stamp on the role. The funny thing is, when you’re successful at the box office, everyone duplicates it – so you have all the same movies in theaters anyway.
ETonline: The movie didn’t quite live up to box office expectations, do you pay much attention to what happens with a film after you finish performing in it?
Marsden: My favorite thing is when people see a movie come out and say, “Why did he make that movie?” Well, nobody sets out to make a bad movie [laughs]. Nobody sets out for their film to do mediocre at the box office. You have to pay attention a little bit because it’s important to get in the heads of people who hire you. Obviously I want my movies to do well and for people to dig my work, but at some point it’s out of your power. It’s your responsibility as an actor to deliver a performance that you’re proud of. If people like my movies, that means more to me than if they do well at the box office. I can name a movie I did that made a lot of money at the box office, but I don’t think it’s a good movie. I think Straw Dogs is a better movie than that one, so creatively I’m prouder of this one.
ETonline: It’s fair to say this is the darkest character you’ve ever played — is it hard to separate from that when you’re filming on location?
Marsden: Typically, I’m pretty good at turning it on and off when I leave set. Just because a movie has intensity, doesn’t mean you can’t have fun on set. No matter what I’m doing – a dark thriller like this or Enchanted, I’m always having fun on set. That said, towards the end of the shoot, we were all tired and it was 100 degrees in Shreveport in August when we were doing all the fight stuff at the end. I’m not a method actor but this was the most psychologically intense I’ve taken myself on any performance. You do carry a bit of that with you when you break for lunch, but it’s also important not to get so cerebral. It’s important to know you’ve done the work mentally and are prepared, but this was a tough movie and I did go home exhausted. Everyone did. That’s why we went out drinking a lot in Shreveport [laughs].
ETonline: You’ve mentioned a few of your other roles — if you had the chance to revisit a character from your past and play the next chapter in their story, who would it be?
Marsden: Cyclops [from the X-Men movies]. It was great to be a part of those movies, people loved them – it’s still the thing I get recognized for the most — but I feel like because there were so many cast members in this 90 minute movie, there was never enough time to give him the depth that other characters had. The first movie was really Wolverine’s saga – and the second and third as well. If I had a dollar for every time someone came up to me on the street and said, “I would have loved to see more Cyclops..”
ETonline: You could finance your own spin-off?
Marsden: [laughs] Exactly. Yes. I don’t think his character was ever fleshed out as much as I would have liked. I may have also been a bit on the young side for those films. If I could go back and put on the glasses and suit again where we do a film to learn more about the character, that’s the one I would pick. He’s ripe for that.