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Recognized wherever he goes as bad-boy vampire Spike from ’90s TV hit, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, James Marsters never wanted to be a star. He had been performing in theater since high school before he got that role on Joss Whedon’s seminal show, and only auditioned because he was a new father and figured it was time to start making money.
Well, the kids are grown and lately, Marsters has returned to his first love — theater — playing Macbeth in a 2011 radio theater performance for L.A. Theater Works. This weekend he’ll be returning for a four-day engagement, running through June 15, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, based on the novella by Arthur Conan Doyle.
Marsters will be joined by Seamus Dever (Castle), Sarah Drew (Grey’s Anatomy), Geoffrey Arend (Body of Proof), Wilson Bethel (Heart of Dixie), Christopher Neame, Darren Richardson, Moira Quirk and Henri Lubatti for the Los Angeles premiere of the play under the direction of Michael Hackett at the James Bridges Theatre at UCLA. And if you can’t make it, fret not. The best moments will be culled from each to make a single recording suitable for broadcast in over 80 markets in the U.S. including the KPFK station in Los Angeles.
“We just stand in front of the mic but what that does is it allows the audience to meet us halfway and use their imaginations and experience the play in some way more fully than you would if we had done a full staging,” Marsters told The Hollywood Reporter about playing Baskerville. “In fact, sometimes I wonder why we work so hard in theater and film to create all these images cause the audience seems to enjoy it almost more without them.”
Marsters went on to discuss the possibility of returning to Buffy, as well as Joss Whedon’s own comical take on Hamlet.
How does performing into the microphone effect your rapport with the other cast members?
You’re very much locked in with the other actors. You’re standing right next to them but you’re communicating through sound almost as if you’re all in prison and you’re talking to each other and you can’t see each other but you become friends. The art of theater is hanging words in the air. When you go to the theater you’re hearing word and experiencing ideas. Whereas when you see a film you’re seeing images and experiencing emotions. There’s a mixture in both of them but primarily that’s the difference.
What is it about theater that keeps you coming back?
I love the idea that once the curtain goes up at the beginning of a play, it’s basically a two-hour magic act; every movement, every slight of hand has to go off without a hitch or the spell is blown and it doesn’t really work. I always think of the audience as my mark and I’m a con man. The good thing is my con is that I’m giving something. I’m giving love and hopefully some fun rather than taking away.
Do you still get a lot of Buffy fans at performances?
I loved having fans of the show in the audience, there always are. But I haven’t given them the option of thinking of me as Spike only. Anyone who’s come before knows that I shaved my blond hair the day after I stopped playing Spike. Ryan Seacrest buzzed my head on television and I haven’t looked back.
Joss Whedon released a version of Much Ado About Nothing made with friends at his Santa Monica home. Ever think of calling up your old boss?
It’s a very safe place, Joss’ house. He had started doing Shakespeare and included me in that and I guess maybe it started with me and other people and we just had a glorious time. He did Hamlet and it was fabulous. Joss just tried to make it funny. And I was reminded in some ways that Hamlet is like a standup comedian. That’s one of the ways that Shakespeare keeps it entertaining cause he knew he was going to have this one actor stand there and talk to the audience for long periods of time and one of the ways to do that is to make it funny. So seeing Joss as Hamlet was fabulous.
Would you ever consider returning to the role of Spike?
I told Joss a long time ago that if he wanted to film me doing Spike, he had seven years to do it because one of the coolest things about being a vampire is they don’t age. If we could find a way where we could still have the character not age while I’m playing it, whether that be make up effects or computer effects or have the character in his vampire makeup the whole time, but what I don’t want to do is have an aging Spike apologetically telling Buffy that he’s under some aging spell.