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Close-Up: X-Men’s James Marsden
by Scott Holleran
James Marsden in X-Men: The Last Stand
June 2, 2006

He's eye-popping good guy Cyclops in the X-Men trilogy and he's played everyone from Ally McBeal's Sinatra crooning would-be lover to various roles in The Notebook, Heights and this summer's Superman Returns. Actor James Marsden, 32, sat down with Box Office Mojo and talked about X-Men director Bryan Singer, his fellow X-Men and why Bambi is one of his favorite movies.

Box Office Mojo: What is the X-Men fan going to get from this movie?

James Marsden: A climax that the first two are leading toward. Brett Ratner is taking what Bryan Singer did and he's honoring it and using it to create something of his own.

Box Office Mojo: What is the theme of the X-Men series?

James Marsden: Tolerance and embracing people for their differences—embracing yourself for your unique qualities that separate you from other individuals, regardless of what other people think. It's a nice lesson. It's a good theme, which is one of the reasons it's been a successful comic book as long as it has—I think everyone has felt like an outcast at some point. To turn the outcast into the hero is inspiring.

Box Office Mojo: Are you recognized as Cyclops?

James Marsden: Not really. I mean, it does happen. 90 percent of the time, I get, 'I know you from something…' but yesterday I was at McDonald's with my son and this guy was like, 'so, do you and Wolverine go at it in the third reel?' But I've had guys come up to me and say they liked me in The Notebook and, now, I am recognized more for that. Probably because you can see my eyes [in that movie].

Box Office Mojo: What do you say to X-Men fans who wish Cyclops was featured more prominently in the series?

James Marsden: That's very nice. The X-Men universe has 15 different characters in a mythology that dates back to 1963 and it's easy to get lost in the mix. I wasn't really into comic books but when I got the role, I called some friends who were into comics and asked, 'what do I need to know about this guy?' and everybody said, he's the guy, he's the leader. But it's not Cyclops's story. I do feel lucky to have been a part of these really great movies.

James Marsden in X2: X-Men United
Box Office Mojo: How did you approach playing Cyclops?

James Marsden: I immediately called my friends and stopped at comic book shops and asked which comics to read. They were always very helpful. I knew this character was an icon. I remember [X-Men] director Bryan Singer saying 'let the script be your guide' and he was helpful in bringing me into his vision of the X-Men universe. I just remember that the character was like a Boy Scout, very noble. I figured he was a guy who had his ducks in a row and had good posture. And the ensemble that Bryan put together was terrific. The cast would assemble at Ian McKellen's house for a barbecue and sing show tunes at the piano—we all wanted to be around each other. It was just a great group of fun, wonderful people.

Box Office Mojo: You're a singer, too. Any plans to star in a musical?

James Marsden: I am doing a Disney movie with the lovely Amy Adams called Enchanted, in which I play Prince Edward, this dashing storybook prince. I was recently over at Disney singing with Amy and [composer] Stephen Schwartz. [Composer] Alan Menken is writing the music. It's supposed to mimic the classic Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs or Sleeping Beauty style of animation. It's two-dimensional and live action. My mother is played by Susan Sarandon. I do sing and I enjoy it, but it's a hobby.

Box Office Mojo: Have you thought of acting on Broadway?

James Marsden: Sure, why not, though it absolutely terrifies me—which is why I should do it. In high school, I played Hugo Peabody—the geeky guy—in Bye Bye Birdie. I was like that, too—I wore clothes that didn't match, I didn't care what my hair looked like, and I would go home from school and catch turtles in the creek.

Box Office Mojo: What was it like to work with director Nick Cassavetes on The Notebook?

James Marsden: He was open to ideas. He encouraged me to try something completely different every time. He told me once that it was all about this giant safety net [for the actor]. His approach was that he'd go in there and flush this scene and these characters out and if he could get those two seconds or two minutes of raw discovery—then that's golden. I'd work with him again in a heartbeat.

James Marsden in Superman Returns
Box Office Mojo: In Superman Returns, do you play newspaper editor Perry White's nephew?

James Marsden: Yes, but I can't say more than that. With the Internet, the spread of information is instantaneous and opinions are immediately formed. There are a lot of plot points being spoiled and I don't like the proliferation of [spoilers]. It ruins the experience and you want a movie to be a new experience. Scavenging for details sours the experience. We're getting this barrage of unrelated facts.

Box Office Mojo: How was working with Kate Bosworth as Lois Lane?

James Marsden: Amazing—to have that much talent at that age—I think she's 23—and work with her was great. She has to carry a lot of emotional weight in the movie and she pulls it off.

Box Office Mojo: You also starred in a small movie by Back to the Future writer Bob Gale called Interstate 60—?

James Marsden: —because I loved the script. It really struck a chord with me. It was inventive, different and bold. I really wanted to be a part of it. After I read the script, I wrote him a letter saying I wanted to be a part of his movie. Reading his script was a joy.

Box Office Mojo: What happened to the movie Preacher?

James Marsden: They were going to make the movie and I guess the financing fell through or something. I'd love to play the role if it comes together. It's an interesting story with interesting characters. The preacher drinks whisky and has guns and there is a Wild West theme. It's very bold and it challenges religion—he's a different kind of preacher.

Box Office Mojo: Do you follow box office?

James Marsden: I do if I'm in the movie, of course, because it's interesting to see. I don't get hung up but you do get drawn into it and it is an important part of the business. God knows there's no formula.

James Marsden in The Notebook
Box Office Mojo: What are your favorite movies and what do you love about them?

James Marsden: Jaws. The Exorcist. I can't turn off The Godfather when it's on television. More recently, In America was very moving—wonderful movie—the acting is superb. I love Bambi. That movie is an exercise in restraint. The pauses—the time allowed for a moment to bring you in, instead of moments being thrown at you—it doesn't have to fill every empty space with a funny line or an explosion or with this drive to keep the attention. It's like: this is drawing me in. I watch these old films where the pace wasn't super-fast and there weren't 18 angles to cut away in order to see a car flipping over. There's a car wreck scene in Vanilla Sky—which I think was shot brilliantly—where the car careens off the edge, goes into a dry riverbed, and smashes into the wall. It's a straightforward, master wide-angle shot of a big car falling off a bridge, not spectacularly with flips and turns and hubcaps flying at the camera lens, smashing into a wall. It made me jump out of my seat, because it was like standing there watching a car hit a wall—for real—as opposed to jumping around to eight different points of view which you could never really perceive. I like filmmakers who use restraint and allow moments to breathe.

Box Office Mojo: What movies do you watch with your kids?

James Marsden: We love Pixar movies. My son loves Bambi. He loves deer. He gravitates to Toy Story, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo—even Shrek. Star Wars is a little early for him.

Box Office Mojo: What's the last theatrical movie you took your son to see?

James Marsden: The movie theater is a little too loud for him. It's a little too loud for me. He went to the premiere for Finding Nemo and he was probably too young for that—we left 10 or 15 minutes into it. We love the movie and we've watched it at home over and over but, in super sound or whatever, it becomes an assault for a three-year old.

Box Office Mojo: Who are some of your favorite movie heroes?

James Marsden: Cool Hand Luke. Paul Newman. He's not really a hero, I guess, but, in a way, he is. I like the average guy that just doesn't work in society. Indiana Jones. Jack Nicholson in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. Jimmy Stewart in It's a Wonderful Life. I wanted to be Han Solo—I wanted to be Luke Skywalker, too—but there was something about the roguish, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants guy and his wry sense of humor.

Box Office Mojo: What are some of your favorite recent performances?

James Marsden: Natalie Portman in Closer. Both Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger in Brokeback Mountain. On Bryan Singer's recommendation, I just saw Kenneth Branagh in [HBO's] Conspiracy and he was electrifying.

Box Office Mojo: What's the first movie you remember seeing in the theater?

James Marsden: Star Wars. I saw it like 15 times.

Box Office Mojo: Are you happy with your career?

James Marsden: Yes, because I have a life. I'm 32, I have two kids and a wife, and that's important to me. Obviously, I want to be working on things I'm inspired by but superstardom is not interesting to me. The only thing I like about [celebrity] is having the power to choose what I'm going to do. I'm not to that point yet—while I have some ability to carve out which scripts I want to go after—but I am doing work that I really believe in.

RELATED ARTICLES
• 5/30/06 - 'X-Men' Marvels with Memorial Record
• Review - X-Men: The Last Stand
• Review - The Notebook

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