Hop's James Marsden on X-Men Sequels, Three Stooges, Nailed and Typecasting
A hyper-energized CG bunny voiced by Russell Brand may flit maniacally around James Marsden almost constantly in this week's live-action/animated Easter adventure Hop, but it's very much Marsden's moment to shine. As Fred, a 30-year-old loser still searching for direction, the Oklahoma-born actor plays straight man to Brand's rambunctious teenage rabbit in a PG-rated film filled with gleaming candy factories and Cute Overload-ready characters. He's come quite a long way, and deliberately so, from his role as a disturbed husband pushed to the brink of violence in the upcoming Straw Dogs remake.
Such a drastic change of pace was necessary for mental well-being, Marsden says, but Hop also marks a few key milestones in the actor's career: It's his biggest leading role to date and establishes him as an actor capable of broad, slapsticky, crowd-pleasing comedy. And after struggling against typecasting early in his career -- he pegs it around his X-Men days, interestingly enough -- Marsden's right where he wants to be, fast-accumulating a reputation for versatility to go with those pesky good looks.
The candid and jovial Marsden phoned Movieline to talk about cleansing the palate with Hop, battling narrow industry perceptions, the possibility of donning Cyclops' suit once more for future X-Men films, his heartbreak over David O. Russell's still-unfinished comedy Nailed, and how close he is to sealing the deal to play Larry in the Farrelly Brothers' Three Stooges film. And why exactly was 27 Dresses so important to him?
With Easter movies come Easter candies. Are you sick of it yet?
The craft service guys thought it would be fun to have a candy Easter theme every day, so it was tough to get a carrot or something. It was all just candy bars and jelly beans...
And now, thanks to Hop, we know where jelly beans come from. They're pooped out by the Easter Bunny.
Yeah! If I were a kid I would have loved it, but as an adult I'm like, "Where's the hummus?"
What kind of project were you looking for when Hop came along?
I had just finished Straw Dogs, which is Rod Lurie's remake of Sam Peckinpah's cult classic. Obviously the subject matter of that movie is a lot darker and challenging than something like this, so I thought it would be fun to do something for my kids. This came along and it took me away from the head space that Straw Dogs required. That said, it ended up being the hardest job I've ever done in my life.
Because you had to act opposite animated co-stars?
Yeah, mainly because of the technical stuff. I've worked on green screen sets before, but it's one thing to react to an explosion or something on the X-Men movies, and it's another thing to share a scene with a character who's not there. It's a whole other challenge, and it's a little crazy-making.
How much did you see Hop as an opportunity to show off your comedy chops, which we've been seeing more and more in recent films?
I have been having a good time doing more comedies lately. I've always felt more of a character actor; maybe that's why I have been responding to some of these comedic roles. I'm also feeling from the fans that they're enjoying seeing me do that as well, so that's definitely another reason I wanted to do Hop. Although he is the straight guy to Russell Brand's character, it gave me the opportunity to do a certain type of comedy. There was a lot of slapstick and physical comedy in the movie that'll hopefully make the kids laugh and the parents will like. But you know, there are many different specific kinds of comedy. This was one that, I asked myself every day, "What would my kids think was funny?"
Looking back on some of the roles in which you've shown your funny side, Enchanted was a breakthrough for you; even Death at a Funeral gave you the chance to do something... different. At some point did you make a conscious decision to pursue roles outside of the leading man route?
Well, like you said, early on in my career the roles that were coming to me were kind of... there wasn't a lot of depth to the roles. Like he's a good looking guy, a leading man -- but don't give him too much to say. [Laughs] It was those kinds of roles. And it was great to be working but it was also a bit frustrating because it felt like the roles that I was doing didn't reflect who I was or what I was capable of. I remember hearing from studio executives and casting agents, "We're not interested in James because he's not a comedic actor." That was after X-Men. So it's like you have to realize people sometimes don't view you as an actor, they view you as the characters that you play. And they forget that you're acting in those roles. So after X-Men just personally, I wanted to show people that I could do comedy. Bit by bit, audition after audition, I went in and slowly started changing people's minds about that. And I think it was Enchanted specifically, maybe even Hairspray, that helped change that perception of me, that I was just the guy with the red glasses. And now it's like, you're having to remind them that you can do the other stuff, too.
So you have to constantly switch gears.
Yeah. They only remember your last movie.
In Hop you share most of your scenes with Russell Brand's animated alter ego, but you also have a memorable exchange with Chelsea Handler. Was it hard to stay focused around her?
I really didn't know much about Chelsea before she came on. I knew she had a huge following and was pretty irreverent, but I didn't know what a great comedic actress she was. I thought she was sort of a personality, and she's actually a really gifted comedic actress. I also know that she's not very good at keeping it together during takes. That was a day that the entire crew was a little miffed at she and I because we kept busting up. She would be doing things that I can't really describe when the camera was on me, during my scene, just to try and f*** with me. [Laughs] So it was rough getting through the takes but she was a good time. We've since stayed pretty close -- or at least, I think we've stayed pretty close. She'll probably deny that we're friends.
And was working with the Hoff a similar experience?
The Hoff! I just watched in amazement at David Hasselhoff. Watched him do his thing. It was a whole show, you know?
You mentioned the slapstick-y nature of Hop, which brings to mind another project your name's been associated with. How far along are you in the casting stages for The Three Stooges?
I can't really comment on it. It is something that -- how do I put this? -- both sides of the production, my side and their side, are exploring the idea of me playing Larry. Right now I can't give you the specifics of it, but yeah, it would be fun. It would be a fun transformation. I don't think it would get any broader than that. I would need to go do a few plays after that, or a David Cronenberg movie.
What are your thoughts on the status of David O. Russell's Nailed, still in limbo?
I don't know... it's been so long since we shot that movie that I don't really think about it that often, because otherwise I just end up getting frustrated that we didn't get to finish it. David is one of my favorite directors out there, so getting the opportunity to work with him was really special for me. It was a brilliantly-written comedy and the role specifically for me was fantastic. So it's a little heartbreaking to talk about because we didn't get to finish it. The status, I can't even comment on that. They keep trying to finish it but I've learned not to wait for it. So I just kind of look at it as a personal journey for me and an experience to get to work with all those great actors.
This week we heard whispers that even more X-Men films are in the works. Do you hope to return to the franchise?
Yeah, I would love to! Honestly, people ask me more about that than anything and it's almost embarrassing how little I know about what's going on with X-Men: First Class. But I guess it's obviously a prequel and it takes place before our movies, so I'm excited to see it, and I'm excited they're making it. I think they're smart, they know they can make X-Men movies as long as they want. There are plenty of characters and plenty of backstories, so I'm happy that they're continuing the mythology. And I'm happy t
o have been a part of it at some point. But it would be great to get Hugh [Jackman] and Famke [Janssen] and Patrick [Stewart] and Ian [McKellan] and Halle [Berry] and everybody back together again to do another installment, our next chapter.
Did you share certain feelings about how Cyclops went out in X-Men: The Last Stand, or were you satisfied with his ending?
[Laughs] Well, the thing is I appreciate all the fans that have said that he didn't get his due, or whatever. But for me it's very difficult to look back on that experience with any sort of disappointment or regret. I feel really lucky to have been in those movies and feel very proud of what I do in those movies; it's difficult when you have however many -- 12, 15 -- new characters that you're trying to introduce to an audience in 90 to 120 minutes, to give everyone their due. That's one of the reasons you're seeing so many spin-offs, because every character could have a spin-off. You could have a Cyclops spin-off, you could have a Jean Grey spin-off -- there's an enormous wealth of backstory and character that you could make a franchise out of each of these characters. So in our X-Men they were always written from Wolverine's standpoint. He was the lead protagonist. But that could have easily been Storm's, or Beast's -- it just so happens that the ones I was a part of were very much focused on Wolverine, who was a very popular character in the comics. But I think there's a lot more story to Cyclops, there's a lot more depth that exists in the comics. But again, I'm also really realistic about the challenge of introducing and bringing all that depth to however many characters there are within the average running time of a movie.
On a semi-related note, I'm sure you've noted that certain prominent characters in your films have shared the common bond of always losing the girl to another guy. Why is that?
At some point, it did occur to me. You know, here's the thing: I mean, I wasn't playing that guy in every movie I was doing, but the movies that came out and were very popular and made lots of money and brought me a lot of notoriety happened to be the ones where I was playing that guy. [Laughs] So there are movies in between that maybe didn't get seen as much where I wasn't playing that guy. I wasn't consciously taking on these roles -- but it started to look like I was, that that's the role I was most comfortable with. So it was not by design. I basically just go by the role itself and who the director is and whatever. But at some point I did have to make some sort of statement, and I thought I handled that with 27 Dresses. One of the main reasons I wanted to do that was to get the girl, because I started to see that it was looking like I was becoming that guy. But I've made myself aware of that now, and when I read a script my agents know not to send it to me if it's a third wheel character.
Hop is in theaters this Friday.