Q&A: James Marsden On Watches, Style & Playing JFK
James Marsden has been very busy lately. Aside from playing the starring role in this very magazine’s fall fashion preview, the actor has a total of four films coming out in the next four months. Oh, and he’s also teamed up with the good folks at Casio G-Shock, who celebrated their 30th anniversary last night with a party (featuring a performance by Eminem) and the unveiling of their new premium line of MT-G — Metal Twisted G-Shock — watches. While we waited for Marshall Mathers to take the stage, we sat down with Marsden to talk NY vs. L.A. style, why he’s been taking risks on the red carpet of late, and what it’s like playing the ultimate style icon — JFK — in the forthcoming film, The Butler.
Esquire.com: First off, congrats. You’ve had a very busy summer with promoting multiple movies and showing up in our August issue. How’d you find the time to partner with G-Shock?
James Marsden: Thanks. Yeah, it’s been a great few months. Casio approached me about this celebration after somehow finding out that I was a watch man. I’ve always loved watches, my whole life. When I was growing up I always thought of having a great watch as that next step — of making it, of a rite of passage. My first watch was a Casio, one of the basic models. I think it was around junior high. I’m aging myself here, but I remember how awesome that light-up feature on your wrist was… it was like having an iPhone back then. Very fancy.
ESQ: So what is it about G-Shock, in particular, that you like?
JM: For me, I need something a little tougher. I’m not the best at taking care of my nice things. If I own a pair of $300 sunglasses, they’ll be gone the next day. Same thing with watches: I tend to be rough on them. I bang them up against things and whatnot. I’ve just found that the G-Shock is the perfect watch in that I like it aesthetically and it can also take a beating. They’re both elegant and innovative. I guess it just fits my lifestyle.
ESQ: Are you a by-occasion kind of watch guy? Do you have one for the red carpet and another for every day? Or do you like to wear the same watch all the time?
JM: I’m not a “collector,” but I definitely have a few. But just a few. I think this watch [a stainless steel MT-G) is a great compromise, somewhere between dressy and casual. Like, I could wear it to a premiere, but also to travel.
ESQ: OK, enough watch talk. Seeing as you starred in our fall fashion preview: Any trends you’re really looking forward to that you liked or maybe were introduced to on set?
JM: Man, that shoot turned out really great, thanks. My thing is fit. So the main thing I take away from those experiences is how clothes should fit me, the precision of the tailoring. Over the years I’ve learned that you can have fun with the fabrics and other elements but if it’s not tailored right, you’ll blow it. So I love being on set with folks like you, and watching how the care that goes into the details, and into making sure everything is spot-on and fits me exactly the way it should.
ESQ: We’re big proponents of mastering fit. It’s the foundation of men’s-wear. We also fully support the turtleneck for fall, of which you wore in the opening shot. Would that look ever translate to your real life?
JM: I definitely liked it. I mean, I would wear one here in New York, but no one really dresses up in LA. I come here and I get inspired and I get to take the chances I don’t get the opportunity to take in Los Angeles. Part of that is weather-related, but it’s also the vibe in general. I honestly think that I up my fashion game when I come out east.
ESQ: I saw you recently at the 2 Guns premiere in a pretty advanced patterned suit — I think it was a Prince of Wales check. That was legit. Definitely impressive.
JM: Yeah, just a little Dior Homme number. I impressed myself! I am starting to get into this whole idea of caring about what I wear. There was a time in my life when I could not care less about fashion. And, I mean, I am still pretty classic when it comes to style — I certainly can’t keep up with these NBA guys who are ripping it up and blazing the trail.
ESQ: Still, you could have easily gone with a solid navy or black suit for that premiere, but you went that extra mile. As we say here at Esquire, you gave that extra 10 percent.
JM: Yeah, the expectations for men, style-wise, have definitely been elevated, and I’m just trying to stay caught up. It’s not uncommon for guys now to check each other out, in the sense of what you’re you wearing, in the way women have always observed each other.
ESQ: Any style advice for the everyman looking to elevate their style?
JM: Well, fit is my number one tip and can be applied across the board, even to more casual things like jeans and T-shirts. I mean, I’ve been wearing terrible jeans most of my life and finally someone showed me the way. And it made such a difference. So for me, the three things a guy should concentrate on for an easy fix are shoes, good-fitting jeans, and a nice watch. I think everything else can kind of fall into place around that.
ESQ: I would agree with that. Especially the jeans part.
JM: Oh, also, follow your instincts and not the trends. A lot of guys I know are into this whole scarf trend. Not my thing. I prefer to update and personalize my style with the smaller things, like a pocket square or, again, with the shoes. All in the details.
ESQ: Agreed. So in Lee Daniels’s The Butler — which I can’t wait to see — you play JFK. Daunting, no? Talk about a true style icon.
JM: It’s pretty special… and terrifying. But also one of the things I’m proudest to have been a part of. There are a million great performances in the film and to to play someone as iconic as John F. Kennedy, I just didn’t want to mess it up. More than anything I wanted to make sure I nailed that accent. I didn’t want to sound like an impersonator or a caricature of someone so historically significant. I knew the costume designer would nail the wardrobe. It was such a special era in men’s fashion — a time when men were really paying attention to their clothes.
ESQ: Yeah, we were just talking about that at the office, the waves of good and bad time periods for men’s fashion. The ’50s and ’60s were definitely high points, even into the ’70s, then it took a tragic dip into the ’80s.
JM: Oh yeah, I just witnessed that first hand filming Anchorman 2. Talk about great suits, but in a totally different way. Guys were dressing so flashy back then. It’s really great from a costume standpoint, but not as aspirational as, say, JFK. But I can’t wait for you guys to see that movie, too.
ESQ: For sure. Seeing Anchorman 2 is up there in terms of things we’re looking forward to. Second only to seeing Eminem perform tonight. Are you sticking around for that?
JM: Oh yeah. Totally hoping for an iconic moment like that time he came in to the VMAs with an army of lookalikes in white T-shirts. Either that or maybe I just stand up and start rapping with him.
ESQ: Please do that. I can’t believe Eminem is 40 and we’re sitting here like high schoolers again waiting to get our Slim Shady on.
JM: Totally. It’s like his song “Without Me,” where he raps something like, “kids feeling rebellious/embarrassed their parents still listen to Elvis.” That’s us. Only change Elvis to Eminem. He’s rapping about himself now. How crazy is that?