James was born in Stillwater, Oklahoma. His father is a professor of animal studies and industry at Kansas State University. His parents divorced when he was nine years old. Marsden has two sisters, Jennifer, 28 and Elizabeth, 16 and two brothers, Jeff, and Robert, 32. He attended Putnam City North High School, in Oklahoma City. Marsden attended Oklahoma State University.
Marsden got his first job on the pilot episode of The Nanny as Eddie, Margaret Sheffield’s boyfriend. He then went on to star in the Canadian television series Boogies Diner, which aired for one season. With the end of that series, he guest starred on other television shows such as Saved by the Bell and Party of Five. He later starred in the ABC show Second Noah. He lost out to Edward Norton for a role in Primal Fear (1996) and turned down the lead role in 54 (1998), which later went to Ryan Phillippe. He then went on to star in Disturbing Behavior starring opposite Katie Holmes and Gossip opposite Kate Hudson.
Marsden then played Cyclops in the X-Men films. His X-Men character Cyclops’ lessened screen time in the third film is because of scheduling conflicts with his prior commitment to Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns, in which he plays Lois Lane’s love interest, Richard White. He also appeared in the television series Ally McBeal, as one of the main cast members during the first half of season 5, where he also showcased his singing abilities (episodes 501-503,506-508) . Marsden later played Lon Hammond Jr. in the romantic movie The Notebook, which was based on a Nicholas Sparks novel of the same name. The Alibi was released in 2006, but only in Europe as of late. An American release date is still to be determined.
In 2007, Marsden played Corny Collins in the film adaptation of the Broadway musical based on the 1988 John Waters movie Hairspray alongside Michelle Pfeiffer, Zac Efron, Nikki Blonsky, Amanda Bynes, Queen Latifah and John Travolta. There he also made his musical debut by singing two of the film’s songs The Nicest Kids In Town and (It’s) Hairspray. Both Hairspray and the film’s soundtrack were critically-acclaimed. His next role was in the Disney hybrid animated/live action film Enchanted, playing Prince Edward with co-stars Amy Adams, Susan Sarandon and Patrick Dempsey.
Following his successes in 2007’s Hairspray and Enchanted, Marsden played the male lead in the 2008 romantic comedy 27 Dresses opposite star Katherine Heigl, which scored well in the U.S. box office.
Marsden has been married to Lisa Linde (Days of our Lives) since July 22, 2000. They have a son, Jack Holden (born February 1, 2001) and a daughter, Mary James (born August 10, 2005). Lisa is the daughter of the legendary country music songwriter Dennis Linde.