Hot Guy/Cold Drink: Tequila And Tenderness With James Marsden
By Justine Harman
OCTOBER 14, 2014
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been enchanted by James Marsden’s hyperrealized good looks: those striking cheekbones, the oversaturated blue eyes, and that “Hey, Girl” smirk. But when we meet at The Fat Radish, a sun-drenched farm-to-table eatery on New York’s lower east side, I realize what I always realize when I meet actors: James Marsden is just one man. He’s not some bizarre amalgamation of every out-of-reach hottie and chiseled screen star I’ve ever idolized. He’s just a guy who makes jokes that don’t land, gets worried that he’s hurt your feelings (when he hasn’t), and connects with whomever happens to be in his orbit—be she a microphone-wielding journalist or a drink-bearing waitress. (No wonder he was so good at playing Liz Lemon’s adorable hot dog vendor husband, Criss Cross, on 30 Rock.)
And yes, of course, he’s divine looking. But when he challenges you to a full-on beer chug—according to the actor, he and his dad both possess an uncanny ability to rocket back cold ones—you forget that he’s the star of Nicholas Sparks’ latest, The Best of Me, out Friday, and not just another frat boy teasing the hopeless competitor inside you. And therein lies James Marsden’s charm: No matter how old we get, he stays the same age. Save for a few salty flecks at his temples, he’s as arresting and youthful now as he was in 2000’s cult-loved Gossip (you know, the dark, sexy one with Norman Reedus and Kate Hudson).
Here, we grill the 41-year old on the curse of being born beautiful, his real-life high school sweetheart, and what it’s really like to play second banana to Gosling:
I wrote these questions on the subway this morning and now I’m a little embarrassed by my first one…
You’re squinting at your own handwriting! [Laughs]
Well, I wrote very small because once I did one of these with Michael Pitt and he started reading them and asking me all my own questions. And then time was up!
So you had to change your whole handwriting style ’cause of Michael Pitt? That bastard!
I’m gonna ask the question, anyway. Are good looks like yours a curse?
You know what I mean, though…
Oh, that’s a hard thing for me to comment on because I really never think about that.
You’re telling me that no casting director has ever told you that you were too pretty to play, like, a serial killer?
I’ve said this before, but I’ve always felt more comfortable playing the guy who thinks he’s the hot shot, or thinks he’s the greatest and is so far from it, you know? The misguided character. That’s always more interesting to me—especially with a comedy. I’ve always felt inside more like a character actor.
Question deftly avoided. Do you remember your worst hangover ever?
My 21st birthday was pretty bad.
Did you try to do 21 shots?
No, but I had a close number of Jäger shots.
And I haven’t touched it since. It was really a bad 21st birthday.
Once in college, I beer bonged Jäger.
That’ll land you in the ER.
Yeah, we weren’t discerning back then. We’d just funnel whatever we had laying around…
What’s the weirdest thing you ever put in there? Oh, no. Now I’m turning into Michael Pitt…
You’re a total Michael Pitt! So let’s talk about The Best of Me. It’s about high school sweethearts who reconnect, but who also look nothing like the kids cast to play them when they’re young…
[Laughs] Yeah, we’re kind of asking the audience to suspend disbelief there…
Yeah, I was like, ‘Oh, maybe I’ll do a ‘Hot Guy/Cold Drink’ with the young guy.’
Hey, easy! [Laughs] You’re talking to the old guy right now!
This is your second Nicholas Sparks project. Why do you think women absolutely fall for his films?
I think he knows how to write what women want to hear about the way men should be treating women.
Yeah, but then he kind of screws us with those unrealistic expectations…
Well, no. You should still hope for that, and that’s a possibility to find. And hopefully when guys are dragged to go see it—well not dragged, but you know—by their girlfriends, they’ll learn a few things. It’s nice. I open a door for a woman now and they look at me and ask me where I’m from—like that’s something unique.
Like, chivalry’s dead?
It’s not chivalry. It’s just sort of manners. I think he understands how much we desire to be desired. The guys in his books, they give everything up for the woman. And that’s attractive. I don’t know if I think that’s total fiction, though…
I don’t think there are real-life Noahs from The Notebook…
I think they exist! I would have appreciated it if you would’ve said Lons, but uh…
Well, actually there was nothing wrong with Lon. That was my problem!
I don’t think so either! People come up to me and they’re like, ‘Oh, you’re the jerk from The Notebook.’ I’m like, ‘How was he a jerk?’
If anything, he was too accommodating!
Right? ‘Yeah. Go back and sew up your old relationship, I’ll be riiiight here.’ The director, Nick Cassavetes, said, ‘I want this guy to be so great and so cool and so in love with her, that the audience will believe that had she met him first, that they would actually have been together forever.’
Interesting. Did you have a high school sweetheart?
I did. I was with a girl for four years. I managed to hook one. [Laughs] She was also into drama. We were very good. She was kind of a salt-of-the-earth Christian girl, and I was like, ‘Duh. Okay. Whatever. You, know? I’m in love.’ It wasn’t really an adult relationship, I guess I could say.
I looked up your high school picture. You had a mullet!
I’ll tell you a funny story about that. So I just did this comedy with Jack Black [D-Train], and Jack’s character is in charge of assembling everybody for their 20-year high school reunion. He plays the guy who was not the cool guy in high school—the guy who was teased. He was sort of overweight and they made fun of him. And I was supposed to be the cool guy, which I really was not. In Oklahoma, the girls like the big football players. Girls were more interested in those guys and I was, like, kind of a drama kid. For the movie, though, I’m playing the cool guy. So, the director said, ‘Send us some cool photos, like some old photos of you looking badass.’ I said, ‘I’ll send you what I have, but I think you might be a little disappointed.’ He said, ‘No, no. Just send us your, like, badass high school senior photo.’ I said, ‘I don’t have one really. You know, I had a bad haircut.’ And he said, ‘Just send ’em!’ So I sent it to him and he e-mailed me back and said, ‘Actually, this could be a problem.’
Are they going to use them in the movie, anyway?
No. I sent them a few modeling photos I did when I first moved to LA, which they’re using as if they were high school photos.
Like, you on a motorcycle?
When I moved to LA, I had somebody go, ‘Alright. Fix your hair. Wear this.’ Like, changed my look a little bit. I kind of came into myself a little better when I moved to LA. But Jack, and his photos of him when he was in high school, he was fucking cool. He looked like Emile Hirsch or a young De Niro, or something. It was hard to find a photo of him looking nerdy. He grew up in LA and he was kind of cool—really cool actually!
So you were miscast?
Yeah! Art was not imitating life in that regard.