James Marsters knows what he likes, and he knows what people like to see him in. From Buffy to Angel to Smallville to Torchwood, he's made legendary appearances on some of the greatest science-fiction and fantasy shows of the past decade, and he's about to start yet another. Marsters will tackle the role of religious fanatic Barnabas, the man behind the Caprica bombings for a multi-episode run on Syfy's new series Caprica. Never ones to turn down talking to Spike, we sat in on a conference call to ask him about his character, whether he'll return to Torchwood or the Buffyverse, and what he thinks of all these new vampires running around.
How do you see Barnabas? Is he a terrorist or a criminal? What is he?
Marsters: No man, he's a revolutionary. I mean, how I see him is how he seems himself. It's a complex question. I'll answer as an actor who's making the guy. You know, you could say that George Washington was a terrorist. He was using different battle techniques. I mean, if you compare the English who were just coming at them in formation, standing people up in open fields and just marching forward, and he was just hiding in the bushes and shooting... I mean, that's a little bit like, you know, the new tactics that we're facing in Afghanistan and Iraq. There is a difference, the terrorist is trying to instill terror in a civilian population, and they're definitely expanding the battlefield to civilian populations and that is also something scary. But in my mind, in Barnabas's mind he is trying to save the world. He's trying to give the world a new religion that will give guidance to people. He recognizes that some people -- not all, but some people really do need a superman to tell them, "You will not pee in the pool and if you do I will kick you out." They need a god and they need the 10 Commandments. They need "Thou shall do this" and "Don't do that" and "You'll burn if you don't" and "You'll go to heaven if you do" and they need a daddy figure. And without that, you really face what Rome faced, which is people giving into sensual desire to the point that the whole society wrecks. That one's true. You know, the Roman society -- it's the same religion that they have on Caprica, which is, you know, a multi-deity mythology. And in Rome, all the Roman mythology had nothing to do with what you should do or what you should try to become -- it was just trying to explain human psychology. The gods behaved in very human ways, and it was really just exploring why we are the way we are but that doesn't give guidance. And you can argue that that's exactly what you should do, but Barnabas sees it differently, because he's going into these V-Clubs and he's seeing best friends shoot each other down for fun.
How does it feel playing such a devout religious character after playing so many anti-religious characters throughout your career?
Marsters: I love anybody who has convictions enough to make mistakes, because only people who make mistakes get into enough trouble to be called drama, I think. I'm playing the character, so I feel like I understand why he's doing what he's doing. He's living in a time which is coming apart at the seams, just like the Roman Empire did. And in his world people are committing human sacrifice and mass executions and mass orgies, friends are shooting each other in the head for fun. And, you know, in Rome it was called the Coliseum, and on Caprica it's called the V-Club. But it has the same psychological effect on people. And he's seeing society rip apart and he sees that the religion is not being helpful in spearing people towards moral behavior and so he wants to have a religion with one god that's going to tell people exactly what to do and exactly what the punishment is if you don't do it and what the reward is if you do. That's a very comforting thought, and he's willing to try to start revolution to make that happen. He's willing to hurt people.
Clarice sort of talks about the dirty work that you character does for the church, and I'm wondering what sort of form that'll take. And how much does your character knows about Zoe's involvement.
Marsters: I don't do a whole lot of work for the church. I'm kind of trying to take my little wing of the church over. So I'm kind of at odds with Clarice. Every revolution has a lot of different factions and people -- that have different ideas about how to achieve the revolution. And Clarice and I see things a little differently. I don't know a whole lot about Zoe. I probably know anything that Lacy has told Kion about Zoe, if that helps. I'm being a little bit opaque about it, I'm not supposed to reveal too much... I play a man who wants to change the world and is willing to break however many eggs he needs to to achieve that.
Does he have any sort of personal relationships with anyone? What is he driven by? Is it just his convictions, or is there some other more human side we'll see?
Marsters: He does have relationships, but he uses everyone around him for his goal. There are a lot of people around in the world that had the same frustrations and concerns he does, so he just needs to find them and gather them into a unified force. His goal is motivated by the fact that he lost his father to this. He used to respect his father a lot, but his father has become addicted to these V-Clubs, and he found him in there doing things that he doesn't even want to remember. So it's very personal, you know, it comes from a personal place but it has become a very large thing in his mind. He's going to save the whole world.
Would Barnabas act exactly the same if he was living in our world?
Marsters: Oh yes, man, he'd be spiking trees, he'd be blowing up hydroelectric dams, you know, he'd be the one getting arrested outside the WTO conferences. Oh man, if he could get inside the World Trade Organization? Oh no, oh no. [Jesus took] a whip to the dudes in the temples just because the Romans were doing dual use in his temple. Can you imagine what [Barnabas] would do to the World Trade Organization if he had a gun? Yes, Barnabas would probably take a look to the temple, yes.
How has the reunion been with former Buffy writer/producer Jane Espenson?
Marsters: You know, I haven't seen Jane -- my reunion was on the telephone. She's making a universe man, she's winding up Caprica, and she's very busy. And unfortunately I am, too. There's like a week that we were talking about getting together, and then I got ripped into rehearsals and then I had to leave for London. But you know what, that is exactly like it was on Buffy. You know, we communicated through the scripts. I like to say that we tried to make love to each other through the scripts and through the dailies, because I tried to take everything that Jane gave me and then just add my own layer to it so it would be just a little better than she was imagining. I'm just glad that she enjoyed working with me on Buffy, because she fought to get me on Caprica, and I'm just very lucky to be working with them, frankly. They're insane. They come up with wild ideas and then they just change their minds, say "No, that sucks, let's do something else, let's think of it in five minutes and go" -- and they do, and it works, and it's fabulous. It's like being at the circus.
Was it hard to convince you to come on the show?
Marsters: Hell, no. I follow writers. In my little mind, I cast my own group of writers around Hollywood, the ones that, if I was forming a production company, I will call and try to get together. And if any of those people call me and they're writing for something, I'll come there. And Jane is on the top of that list, so she had called me for a different role on Caprica and I was auditioning just five, six times for that role and they finally said, "No you're really not right for that," and Jane's like, "No, get him on the show," and so they thought of another role which I think is a lot more exciting, actually. I like playing a monotheistic terrorist, it's great.
You can't say what role you auditioned for?
Marsters: Oh I don't want to go there.
Was it Clarice?
Marsters: Yes. It was Lacy. I should have gotten that role, I mean, Magda is fabulous but I would have just given...
Did you watch any episodes of Battlestar or even the beginning episodes of Caprica in preparation for the role?
Marsters: I had seen some of Battlestar, everyone has. I hadn't watched all of it, but I've seen good chunks of it. But I really had to try to forget that, because we were doing a prequel, and it was really important that nobody understands how serious it's about to get. You know, we're still in the time when we think that the fight with the girlfriend is the most important thing that week. I did watch the Caprica pilot, and I have to say within the first ten minutes I got so shocked and horrified -- not because there was that much gore on the screen, but just the ideas that were presented were so hard for me to watch, being a parent myself; I turned it off and just stared at it for about 30 seconds, and then I went, "That is incredible. As soon as I grow the balls, I've got to finish watching that." It was fabulous, I loved it and it terrified me, which I think is gold.
How many episodes are you going to be on Caprica?
Marsters: I think I've filmed five so far, and then there's a bit of a hiatus and I'm hoping -- they were hinting that they wanted to keep the option open of having me back. They want me to be excited -- if they want me back, they want me to be excited. And they've left the door open for doing that, and I hope that they do.
Have you talked to Russell Davies about coming back on Torchwood in the fourth season?
Marsters: No, but he knows I'm his bitch. I'll come wherever he'll call. I've told him, if he has work anywhere at anything, five lines or the lead, whatever he needs, I'll come.
Do you think there's ever going to be a possibility of you reprising the role of Spike?
Marsters: You know, when Joss came to me and asked me about that, the writer of Angel was coming down and I told him what I tell every great writer which is, "I'll follow you to hell, I'll follow you to heaven, just give me a call, I'll do one line for you, I'll do ten. Sure, I'll do Spike for you." And it's now been seven years. I'm aging, Spike's not supposed to, and I don't want to do some lame line like, "Oh, he's drinking pig's blood right now so he's aging slowly," or some stupid thing like that. But I look in the mirror and, you know, I've got to say, if I'm rested, I look okay with the proper lighting. But as the years go, I get more and more nervous about that so, you know, I'm thinking, "Well, let's just do a screen test and see if we can light this character so we can actually say, 'Look, I haven't aged.'" If we could hold that, that'd be cool.
What do you think about all the new vampires out there? True Blood, Twilight, Vampire Diaries...
Marsters: Oh, I like them, man. They got my niece to read, you know, she wasn't reading a lot and she hit Twilight and she just ate them up and read them like 5-10 times, and now she's onto other vampire romances, and she reads like a novel a day now. So go, Stephanie Meyer. I think in general, it follows the tracks of Interview with a Vampire. Anne Rice really doesn't explore vampires as hideous monsters of the night, they're ancient creatures with a heart. And they want to be loved and they want connections just like we do. And a lot of the rougher edges of the more traditional vampire story have been kind of softened or taken away. And that's a refreshing new look. But that was not what Joss was going for with Buffy the Vampire Slayer. He really wanted the vampires to be ugly when they were vampires and then very quickly dead. He was talked into the character of Angel by David Greenwalt, who is his writing partner. And he fought it. I don't think he was too excited about it, but he allowed David to do it. And then the character just took off through the clouds, you know. And I think that he always remembered that he was only going to allow one Angel-like character on the show, that all the other vampires were going to remain in some way hideous.
James Marsters' first episode of Caprica airs tonight at 9/8C on Syfy.
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