Before landing the role of Buffy The Vampire Slayer's Spike, James Marsters had already made his way as an actor (and director, and producer) on stage.


James Speaks Up

My theater company started in Chicago as the Genesis Theater Company, actually. And I never got more criticism, more... bile, than when I tried to build something myself. It was interesting. All the critics who had been on my side as an actor, all of the rest of the theatrical community, had a negative reaction to me starting a new theater. My first show was absolutely panned, although it sold out and the audiences loved it, it was absolutely trashed in the press, and I learned a big lesson — when you extend yourself, don't be surprised when people take you down. That's just a human reaction. "Just who the hell does he think he is?" I had to overcome that. Duck down. Jesus. Eventually, it was like "Oh, screw the press. Just do it for yourself." (GenCon 2001)

Los Angeles is a pretty frustrating town to try to do theater in. My problem is it's hard to get people to watch it. It's just not a theater town. New Yorkers think of theater as part of their city and Los Angeles does not have that at all. I do want to produce again but I think I would have a very frustrating time doing that in L.A. I would do it in New York and Chicago. (Vulkon 2003)

...my favorite acting was just doing scene work from American Buffalo. That was amazing. Probably that was my best acting, the first time I actually did anything resembling good acting after like six years of doing waka, waka, waka. I did a play called Michelangelo. Robert Benedetti directed it and it was as good as the original play. We did Ionesco's Rhinoceros, and an original play called Larkrives. I had a good time. [College theater] was the best training I had. (The 11th Hour)

One of my favorite roles was the character of Todd (Kemp); he was a murderer in Mortal Risk. That was an overly brutal but well-written play. Life Was A Dream was one of my favorite ones to act, too. That's Calderón de la Barca. It's like a Spanish Shakespeare. [The 11th Hour]

I ran the New Mercury theater for four years. We performed in a church basement on Capitol Hill, but we were much better known when we were down in our own space in a loft in Pioneer Square. Directing is great, but it just burns you out. You also have to be a producer for a small theater, you end up being a janitor, the ticket taker, sweeping out the seats, painting the sets and all the stuff that you can't pay people to do. But directing was fun. (The 11th Hour)

In maybe my third play, The Me That Nobody Knows, I had a song and I was belting it out to this little audience in junior college in Modesto, and [got] that feeling of finding a way to let my light shine, and feeling like I found a home that night. I found a way that I could start to try to get at my best self.

I remember I was doing The Tempest in L.A. and a lot of the characters were barefoot. Mine weren't but my girlfriend's (Liz Stauber) were and so were a lot of other people and they broke glass on the stage. Somebody dropped something and there was real glass shattered all over the stage. The audience was uncomfortable, the actors were talking and nobody could figure out how to slyly get all that glass. I just said 'Guys, I'll take care of it.' And in my next entrance, I just stopped the play. I picked up the glass and then started my monologue picking up the glass and just got it out and everyone was just like "Thank God!" An older actor once told me a long time ago, if something goes wrong — admit it. You can't deny it. Five hundred people just saw it happen so the best thing you can do is go "Bang." (Vulkon 2003)

As for writing, I've kind of written all my life. I had theater companies in Chicago and Seattle and a lot of our plays were taken from other source material and put into a play or original material. At one point, we translated "La Vida es Sueño" which is Life is a Dream which is known as the Latin "Hamlet" written by Pedro Calderón de la Barca. I was so proud of us because we read all the translations and they all sucked. So we went back and retranslated it and discovered that a lot of liberties had been taken with that play and that maybe a lot of people didn't know a lot about that play. We did a really successful production of it and I'm really proud of that. (Vulkon 2003)

I would love to get back to Chicago. The thing I love most about Chicago is that it has no Second City mentality. They have Second City comedy. I went from Chicago to Seattle. And unfortunately, I kept hearing in the theatrical community, "Our show is as good as the Tapers. Our shows are as good as the ones in New York." In Chicago, man, we didn't CARE what they were doing in New York. Our shows were going to New York. We were teaching THEM how to act. That kind of pride creates a theater scene that feeds on itself. That can keep going strong for almost ever. It was heartbreaking to go to Seattle and think that was going to happen and watching it not happen. So if I ever go back to do theater other than New York or just because it's easy LA, it will be Chicago in a heartbeat. Chicago rocks. I was in Seattle, they'd be like, "James, not in our theater." Because I'd always do Chicago acting choices. Really like bold acting choices. When I did Macbeth I was one of the murderers and I just wanted to take a knife and we go in to kill MacDuff's wife. And she has a little baby. It was just a little basket. And so I said, "How about this." (Makes baby crying sounds that abruptly go silent as he pretends to lean over a basket) I thought that was a really cool little bit, and that was way over the top! It was "horrifying." (GenCon 2001)

Incorruptible was huge for me. Part of it was being aware I could do a six-hour play, but it also taught me the importance of ensemble acting. Never before or since was there such a strong sense of passing the ball around. (Chicago Tribune - 02/11/2000)

Perfect ManI don't have a big problem with being naked. I don't have any real need to be seen naked, but, you know, I made my professional debut naked, so that burned that right out of me. It was in The Tempest, can you believe that? At the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, directed by Bob Falls, who was the artistic director there. It's the biggest theatre in Chicago. I was strapped naked to a big metal hoop, naked, spread-eagled, like Da Vinci's Perfect Man. Because I was playing Ferdinand, who is the perfect man for Miranda to come in. Miranda's father shipwrecks a ship in part to bring this kid to meet his daughter, and so his image — Bob Falls is a visionary kind of director, and his image was Da Vinci, and he wanted Ferdinand to be seen like that right away. So, he's, like, seven feet tall, and he puts his arm around me and says, 'Kid, we're thinking about you being naked — how do you feel about that?' It's my first job, you know, what am I going to say? (SFX - June 2002)

Falls wheeled me out, strapped to a wheel like Da Vinci's man, and you could hear a sea of opera glasses clicking open to get a better look. (Suntimes.com)

I was doing Ionesco's Rhinoceros which has thirty different rhinoceros popping over all the time and I was, like, rhinoceros twenty-eight. The third act revolves around a brandy bottle and all the plot points go through the brandy bottle and they forgot to set the bottle. So Toby Anderson, a fabulous older actor in the lead, could not get off stage to get the bottle. There was no exit for him so there was no way to fix it. So, all the interns were gathered around the backstage just watching this fifty-five year old actor figure out how to tell the story off the cuff. Yeah, he came backstage and he exploded. He was just "F*** !" (Vulkon 2003)

Because [Method] acting basically... what the Method is... you develop a fantasy world that is as complete as possible so you can release into it and improvise in that world. I sustained that fantasy, like Season 6 (BtVS), way too long and it ate me alive. That's why I got so skinny. I was living in this state of hunger and I wanted to perpetuate that and it was not healthy, it was not fun. It got some really great acting — some really great scenes came out of that — but it was destabilizing to my life. So, yeah. Method acting... actors out there... Method for film, fine. Stage — fine. TV — it will kill you. (DragonCon - 2003)

Others talk about James

Actor Scott Lowell

James is a wonderful actor and had a hell of a load to carry in this play (Incorruptible). It was 6 hours long (6 acts performed over two performances) and he was on stage for most of it. I LOVED working with him and hope to do it again.

I got to play James' best friend, Camille Desmoulins, who he later (in the 5th act) feels has betrayed him and the Revolution so Robespierre has Camille beheaded. Nice guy. Because I was “dead” for the last act, the director had me come back as another character in the final act. I played a commoner who comes to arrest Robespierre and lead him to the guillotine. In the struggle of his arrest Robespierre is to be shot by a gun right under his jaw. We did the play in a small theatre (the now turned into a parking lot Hull House Theatre) in which the audience was very close. Too close to use blanks that would give the jolt and effect that we wanted for the moment. SO another actor hung out in the “attic”, peering down at the stage with a starter pistol. He was the one who made the actual shot. It was loud and jarring, but this way no one could be harmed. One night as we got to this climatic moment, I held the gun under James’ chin said whatever menacing words I had to say and mimed pulling the trigger as always. Only this time I heard a faint “click, click” coming from above the stage letting me know that the starter’s pistol was misfiring. The audience has waited close to 6 hours to see Robespierre die and if I don’t shoot him... well, everyone is going to be mighty disappointed. I looked James in the eye and with the silent communication that comes between actors who have worked closely with each other let him know what I was about to do. Very quickly and VERY loudly I yelled: “BANG!” and James dropped to the floor. Ah, the magic of theater.

Director David Zak (Chicago Tribune - 02/11/2000)

There was a hunger about James, a determination to really tackle ambitious projects, to not do the same old thing. And what was great about him was that he was equally comfortable in the basement of Cafe Voltaire as he was on the Goodman mainstage. As long as he was excited about the project, the space didn't matter.

Actor Andrew Horowitz

And on the James Marsters thing: I have a personal axe to grind. He’s an asshole. He was in Seattle when I was there and founded a small theater company called the “New Mercury Theatre”. He cast me in a production of Steven Berkoff’s “Kvetch”. Apart from being a crappy director with no sense of how to approach Berkoff’s work or how to work constructively with his actors, he was consistently rude and abusive to other members of the company (including his now-ex-wife). A glad-handing, back-slapping phony with a bad british accent. So I get a little worked up when I here people say he’s hot. He’s not.

Macbeth's Actor James Marsters and Family Headed For Bright Lights of L.A.

Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Joe Adcock


In the title role of 'Macbeth,' actor James Marsters mutters the famous lines, 'Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow creeps in this petty pace from day to day... ' That's all very well for a murderous medieval Scottish king. But not for Marsters. He's about to move into the fast lane.

Within days of the closing of the current Seattle Shakespeare Festival 'Macbeth,' Marsters heads for Los Angeles, where he hopes to 'make a living at this thing (acting).' Marsters and his wife, Liane Davidson, recently added a son, Sullivan, to their family. Suddenly making a living looms large.

Liane is a director. James acts, directs and designs lighting. The two of them established and ran the New Mercury, a small theater near the Kingdome, for a few years. As an actor, James proved to be especially good with addled, off-balance characters, as audiences at the Empty Space ('Scotland Road'), A Contemporary Theatre ('Voices in the Dark') and Tacoma Actors Guild ('A Doll House') can attest.

'James will be in L.A. a month before Sullivan and I arrive,' says Liane. 'I'm busy directing a Living Voices touring production, `The Right to Dream,' a civil rights piece.

'We're both from San Francisco. We've tried New York and Chicago and Seattle. We have a friend in L.A. who is a casting director. He's getting us agents. We're hoping to get work in television.'

Anyone who has met the Marsters/Davidson heir, Sullivan, might think in terms of an agent for him, too. He is what is technically known as a 'cutey pie.' Or perhaps 'sweety pie' is the correct phrase. Anyway, some kind of pie. I for one would be quick to purchase any product he was associated with on a TV commercial.

Macbeth laments that life is like 'a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage and then is heard no more.' But stay tuned. James and Liane's hour is not over yet.

The Why was presented in the Blank Theatre Company Young Playwrights Festival and then as a mainstage production. It starred, besides James, Noah Wyle, Steve Lipinsky and Antionette Spolar.

A fast-paced tragicomedy; one part modern satire, one part honest investigation. The central story concerns Robert, an American teenager guilty of murdering three of his classmates in what has come to be referred to as a school shooting. Spliced among the dramatic exchanges between Robert and his assigned social worker, a parade of fantastical stereotypes storms in and out, creating a dichotomy between moments of hilarity and sorrow. Confronted by disturbingly accurate exaggerations of the tabloid-like modern media, the audience is made to laugh, and then question that laughter.

[Playscripts, Inc.]