Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wizard Features That Never Were: James Marsters Up Close

First, a tangent: I have never been fond of doing phone interviews.

Ok, scratch that; I actually generally enjoy doing phone interviews once they get underway, but I get incredibly nervous for them. The primary reason for this is that I have (actual clinical diagnosed) anxiety disorder. I got diagnosed my freshman year of college after 18 or so years of not getting why I paced nervously before wrestling matches or freaked out on long car rides. I manage pretty well these days and most people I haven't told about my condition never suspect I have it (well there goes that). However, if you watch me carefully (and I don't encourage you to do so...weirdo...) or know me well, you can still catch little things.

My particular disorder is tied to my stomach and my digestive system. Put simply, my stomach gets upset a lot, and whenever I'm put in a position where I feel as though I may not have ready access to a bathroom, I start feeling like I have to go. Hence the fear of being cooped up in the car, the reason I need to sit near a bathroom on the train even when I don't need to go, and why I rarely enter an elevator on a full stomach.

Getting back to the point, it can also make phone interviews very nerve-wracking. The reason being, if I'm in the middle of an important call, I don't want to have to excuse myself to use the bathroom. If I'm speaking with a comic creator I barely know, I really don't want to. And if I'm speaking with a celebrity who only has a 15-minute window to talk, I really really don't want to.

However, despite all this, I have done--and enjoyed--many many interviews with comic types, actors and actresses, professional wrestlers, and other cool people. Some day I'll do a more navel-gazing entry about said cool people, but the inspirational message here is that hurdles can be overcome. Hey, I may not be working the red carpet at the Oscars or winning Nobel prizes, but I do pretty well for myself, and I do it despite sweating every time I need to take a taxi.

If you survived that pre-amble, let's get to the point.

One phone interview I did lobby hard for while at Wizard was an opportunity to speak with James Marsters back in 2005. I've been a huge Buffy the Vampire Slayer fan for years and without a doubt Marsters' Spike was a huge reason why. His ability to play a total badass yet turn on a dime to do self-deprecating humor or an impassioned love story was uncanny. I've seen very few actors truly mine all they can out of a character the weigh James Marsters did with Spike.

Anyhow, James was getting set to join the cast of Smallville as Brainiac, and being one of the few staffers who actually watched the show on a regular basis (Kiel was/is another), I had become more or less the default correspondent for when we did articles relating to it or conducted interviews with the folks involved (and say what you will about the show, which can often be pretty ridiculous, but it's good fun and the people involved worked their asses off and are good folks; during a legitimate nightmare phone interview where I was incredibly sick and even more paranoid than usual, Tom Welling was absurdly nice to me and pretty darn understanding considering I introduced myself with "If my voice trails off, it's because I had to puke").

As is generally the case with celeb interviews, James called me at a predetermined time as opposed to me calling him (another thing I hate about phoners: lack of control) and we got to chat for a good half hour, longer I believe than we were supposed to (it's always a good sign when you're interviewing an actor and their agent must intervene to remind them they have places to be). We ran through all my bullet point questions and he gave some good answers on what was coming up on the show, the standard Buffy stuff ("Five more years and I'm too old to play Spike, so if we're gonna do something with him, it better be before then"), etc. It was a nice moment of self-satisfaction for me when I got him to chuckle with "What surprises people most about you when they meet you: that you're not blond, not British, or not 25?"

(I believe the answer was "I haven't been 25 for a looooong time, dude," said in his full-on California surfer dude voice, then followed by "...but I always seemed to fool them" in the Spike accent, which I tried not to squeal like a 16-year old girl over).

He also talked about some stage work he was doing and I think even that he was gonna be in the last Star Wars movie but wasn't for some reason. I do remember my one embarassing moment (there's always at least one) was that I was telling him what a huge fan I was (first rule of interviewing celebrities: if you're a fan, you tell them after you're done with the bulk of the interview, that way they take you seriously on the front end and leave with a good impression) and mentioned that I even watched an episode of The Mountain he had appeared on and ended up getting kinda hooked on the show (I was living in a motel room with no friends at the time, having started working at Wizard only a few weeks earlier). At first, it seemed like he couldn't remember the gig I was referring to, so I tried to play it off as, "Oh yeah, it was a terrible show, you wouldn't remember," but then he did remember, and being a pro, seemed a bit offended that I was ridiculing a show where he now recalled he knew the people who worked on it. He also mentioned he had gotten to work with a "great young actor," and a bit humiliated at this point, I rolled my eyes on the other end of the line; that "great young actor" turned out to be Gossip Girl's Penn Badgley, whom I would definitely call myself a fan of these days.

Fortunately, the call didn't quite end on that note, and he was super cool and very grateful thanking me for taking the time and me promising to send him the interview once it saw print.

Which it never did.

I think we ended up pulling a few quotes and using them as a tiny sidebar in the Hollywood section, but the James Marsters Up Close kept sliding off the schedule, being among the lower priority features, from issue to issue to Mega Movie Special to issue until only like two things he said were still of any relevance.

So I ended up having a great chat with an actor I really dig who turned out to be as great a guy as I could have hoped for, and if I'm ever fortunate enough to speak with him again, I'll have to introduce myself as the douche who couldn't push his interview into an issue of Wizard.

I hate phone interviews.


Anonymous said...

Ahh great read!! Thanks for sharing :)

Brian W said...

Ben, I feel closer to you after reading that somehow. That was really interesting.

Ben Morse said...

Brian, I am in favor of anything that brings us closer together.

KP said...


Also: this was the year "Smallville" and I finally went our separate ways. I'd like to just say that it was conflicts with NBC comedies that did it, but that show's been on a slide and without Lex, I was out.

Ben Morse said...

Like I said, I love phoners once they get going, the anticipation just kills me, and that's a very me issue.

And I gotta tell you, dude, I think Smallville has gotten better this year. I miss Lex, but I certainly don't miss Kristen Kreuk, and the girl they brought in as the "new Lex" is very good. Lots more super hero stuff too.

Heidi said...

This was a great read and now I wish I could read the article that never saw print. I'm opposite of you though, I like phone interviews.