James Marsden’s surprise Emmy nod took him from ‘wanting to throw up to pure elation’
We don’t have to feel sorry for “the other guy” from “The Notebook” any longer. James Marsden can now boast that he’s scored an Emmy nomination for playing himself!
The actor, known for his roles in “The Notebook,” the “X-Men” franchise, “Westworld” and “Dead to Me,” received some of the best reviews of his career earlier this year for playing a satirical version of himself in Amazon Freevee’s genre-bending sitcom “Jury Duty.”
The series revolves around an unsuspecting man, played by Ronald Gladden, who thinks he signed up to be in a documentary about jury duty. The gag? It’s all fake. Everyone except him is an actor, including meta-Marsden.
Marsden nabbed a nomination for supporting actor in a comedy series, joining fellow nominees Henry Winkler (“Barry”), Anthony Carrigan (“Barry’), Tyler James Williams (“Abbott Elementary”), Phil Dunster (“Ted Lasso”), Brett Goldstein (“Ted Lasso”), and Ebon Moss-Bachrach (“The Bear”).
Marsden’s nomination adds to the glory of the comedy’s impressive morning. The series also scooped up a nod for comedy series and writing for a comedy series, bringing the free, ad-based Amazon Freevee — as much an underdog as the series itself — its first major Emmy nominations.
The Times spoke with Marsden about who he first talked to Wednesday morning, helping to put Freevee on the map, and the surreal feeling of being nominated for playing himself.
Congratulations! Let’s start with the most obvious question. Where were you when you found out the big news?
I was sitting on my sofa deciding whether or not to put my phone on Do Not Disturb, debating whether or not I should keep my laptop open watching the nominations. I did decide at the moment to just watch, and I saw “White Lotus” get nominated and was like “Congrats, bud!” [to “Jury Duty” producer David Bernad, also a producer on “White Lotus”]. And he’s like “‘Jury Duty’ too!” I guess I had a delay? I hadn’t seen that yet. I was like, “Oh, s—, I think I have a delay here.” Then I had to just put him on pause [laughs]. I couldn’t bear to hear him say, “Aw, man, I’m sorry, dude. You should have got it.” So I was at home watching the nominations, [but] they didn’t show all of them.
No, they didn’t. You had to do the search through the list.
I discovered a new, higher octave. I screamed at the top of my lungs across the room. It was very exciting. I went from wanting to throw up to pure elation.
How long before you heard from Ronald?
He was my first phone call. I spoke to Christina [Applegate, his co-star in “Dead to Me”] to congratulate her right when they said her name. And then I called Ronald to share all the “Jury Duty” love with him, reminding him how big of a part he was and to make sure he had a smile plastered across his face.
He must have been excited.
He was thrilled, absolutely thrilled. And at the tail end of our quick conversation, Christina Applegate’s face popped up on my phone, calling me from Holland. We got to hug each other over the phone and congratulate each other.
You’ve given some great performances in your career, but your turn as James Marsden in “Jury Duty” is arguably one of your finest. Is it weird to be nominated for playing a heightened version of yourself? Or does it give you validation that you really made him a character?
I think there’s a bit of both there. “Weird” doesn’t even sum it up. It’s very, very surreal, to the degree where I can’t really get my head around [it]. We all know that this show is [a] really unusual, different, original, hybrid-type of show that no one’s really seen before. I’m used to going into shows with scripts and rehearsals and lighting and sets and “Action!” and “Cut!” This is completely different. But, yes, he was a separate human being, just with my name on his juror badge. That was great, to be able to set the stage with the real James Marsden for a bit and be a nice guy, and then let the character make its way to the end. And, of course, as we went along, the character takes over.
Well, no lie, I got my jury summons in the mail yesterday and one of my editors just told me he has to report for jury duty tomorrow, which had my colleague asking: Is this the biggest FYC campaign ever?
[Laughs] I wish I could say that was the case. I wish I could say it was just an FYC invite. That’s actually a pretty great idea.
You haven’t been called in lately?
No, no. I’m surprised that I haven’t because I know Ronald did right after the show. I wonder if this is going to disqualify a future jury visit.
Also worth mentioning is that this show, and these nominations, have really put Freevee on the map. This is a streaming platform that that few people had heard of and it really brought attention to it. Not an easy feat when there’s so much content and it’s hard to break through.
Freevee’s over the moon, and we all are for them. Another facet to this whole experience was a big question mark: Are people going to tune in to this platform to watch the show? And it’s ad-based. I think it’s a great thing to show. There’s evidence now that people aren’t as opposed to watching ad-based streaming as they thought. I feel proud to be part of the maiden voyage for this new platform. And, hopefully, there will be a lot more to come.
There’s this misconception that it’s all improv, but there’s a lot of crafting and anticipating what could happen next. The scripts were largely screen direction and circumstantial. How did that change how you prepared or interacted with the script?
I owe every line that I came up with on my own to those scripts. I wouldn’t have been able to go out there without an architecture or a plan and do what I did on this show. The writers are unsung heroes on this show. There was brilliantly written, very, very funny, seven episodes of circumstantial screen direction that had me howling with laughter. When I was reading them, just watching or reading events unfold, and then it just set off like it was a creative domino effect in my mind — of what I could say, what I could do. I wouldn’t have been able to lead as far as I did without that platform. And so it was a real marriage between all of us in the room and having to be nimble and adaptive to Ronald. But a real safety net was those scripts, having the comedic beats that were all written out to push.
How terrifying is it as an actor when you know you’re never gonna hear, “OK, cut! Let’s do this again.”
There’s a duality to that one. It’s terrifying because you’re kind of in a pressure cooker for five, six hours a day to make sure you keep the believability for Ronald, that this world is in fact real. And you kind of keep them on the line. And you’re tasked with: I’ve got to make this entertaining, make this funny. On one side, it’s terrifying because you don’t have the in-room, live support that you normally do from a director or whomever. You can’t say, “I screwed that up. Can I do that again?” But also, there’s a very liberating, fun part of that whole thing too, which is, it felt like theater. You’re on stage, you’re in control. You have one take.
So many of your acting peers are fans of the show. Margot Robbie recently mentioned she was a fan. Ryan Gosling, your former co-star on “The Notebook,” seemed to concerned for Ronald’s newfound fame. What’s been an interaction that surprised you?
Oh, my God. Questlove has given love from the beginning. And Darren Aronofsky was a huge one. He reached out and congratulated me on the show when it came out. If you asked me who would be the person you would think is least likely to reach out and say, “Hey, good job on that ‘Jury Duty’ show,” it’d probably be Darren Aronofsky.
Source: Los Angeles Times