James Marsden Talks to Tim Nasson about Hairspray

July 14, 2007

James Marsden Talks to Tim Nasson about Hairspray

He may look like the hottest gay boy on the current circuit, but you would be wrong, 100%, if you were to think the hunk-du-jour James Marsden was a homosexual.

The thirty-four year old (who looks ten years younger, on screen and in person), is a happily married (for seven years) father of two.

Remember James Marsden in theaters last summer? He dropped dead early in “X-Men” and also appeared in “Superman Returns.”

This summer, he switches gears and hairdos – as one of the costars in “Hairspray The Movie,” opposite John Travolta, who dons a wig, mumu, pumps and about 100 extra pounds. The movie is a hoot-and-hollah! But will it make money? “The Producers,” based on the most-ever Tony winning Broadway musical, was a bonafide box office flop what with its remake two years ago.

We’ll know soon. “Hairspray The Movie,” hits theaters Friday 20 July, and James Marsden is Corny Collins!

Wild About Movies: James. You were so perfect in this, it’s scary.

James Marsden: Oh, thank you. It’s frightening how easy it comes to me all the cheese. Well, I watched some old tapes of Dick Clark and then I just turned it up to eleven. No, I just thought the tone of the movie and the tone of the Broadway musical was obviously heightened and so I would always cite the example of Dick Clark mixed with a little Ryan Seacrest and then some extra cheese ladled on the top for good measure. No it was I guess a hybrid of those two with a little Johnny Carson.

I look back at the 50s and 60s and the radio announcers and the talk show hosts and the game show hosts and they had like these perfect smiles on their face because they felt it was their duty to lift the spirits of the American people and they tune into us every day and they work hard and they come home and they want to be entertained. So the purity of that, I loved it. And with such conviction to play that corniness I guess, there’s no better adjective I guess, or noun. So, I had fun doing it. It was nice to take the X-Men image and do a one-eighty.

Wild About Movies: Do you have a musical background?

James Marsden: I don’t. The last proper musical I’ve ever done was in high school. It’s always been a hobby of mine the singing…not so much the dancing, but the singing has been something that I’ve tinkered with and played with throughout my career and I was always a fan of the standards like Sinatra and the song writers like Rogers & Hart and Gershwin and all that. I would sing these songs because I enjoyed listening to them and I met Mark Shaiman 3 or 4 years ago and I knew that he was Harry Connick’s music arranger and I was a big fan of Harry Connick and sort of sang like him a little bit and I ran into a bar and I think I’d had a few martinis and said, “We’re going to work together someday.”

It’s just been peppered throughout my acting career so I sang on Ally McBeal doing Frank Sinatra tunes and I think Adam Shankman, [the director of “Hairspray”], saw that and the way he described it he says, “That’s it. That’s corny.” Is he critiquing me or I don’t know. But it was never anything that I aggressively pursued – the music stuff. But now I feel like the climate has changed a bit and we’re sort of being a little more friendly towards the musical revival.

Wild About Movies: Talk a little about Adam Shankman and working with him and seeing how he directs and choreographs?

James Marsden: You would be hard pressed to find somebody I think more fit for this job than Adam. I think everybody’s in their wheelhouse in this movie, but I think mostly it’s Adam from his experience with being a choreographer for so many years and now becoming a very successful film director. He was made to do this. It was astonishing to me the level of commitment he has to this movie, but also the work that he put into this movie. Every move that was in the movie was choreographed by Adam and every director’s choice was made by Adam and he did it with such poise and he had such a good time doing it that he really set the tone for everybody on the set.

I’ve never done a movie that was more fun to work on than this and I think it was because of Adam because you can see how much he enjoyed the process and felt like he was at home doing this and really he would always say, “Go big or go home,” you know? So we were like this isn’t the movie for subtle performances, so he really encouraged us to dig into these characters and go for it. Talking about a movie that’s, I think, all about courage. You have a cast that’s so courageous to transform themselves in many different ways. When I saw the movie, what appealed to me about it was seeing these legendary actors enjoy themselves so much. You can tell how much John and Chris and Michelle and Latifah and everybody just enjoying the hell out of the process, and I would attribute that to Adam because that’s the tone that he set on the movie and he’s really a phenomenal talent.

Wild About Movies: Was it easy to forget that John [Travolta] was underneath all that makeup and costume?

James Marsden: Yeah, it was. It was frightening at first. I wasn’t scared but when he came out, it was my brain didn’t know how to process it because I immediately summoned up images of him as Danny Zucko and his character in “Saturday Night Fever” and “Pulp Fiction” and now he’s a woman. But more remarkable than just the physical transformation was this internal transformation that happened. When he came out for the first time, it was during a table read through and he came out and everybody saw him and he was a woman. He was pretending to be a woman. It wasn’t John Travolta in drag. It was like he was Edna Turnblad and he just became this person. It was really pretty impressive and tremendously courageous and the conviction with which he plays the character. I just take my hat off to him and everybody really goes for it in this movie, but yeah, it was strange at first because you can see his eyes and you go those are John’s eyes but I don’t see anything else. Then they’d yell cut and he’d go, “How was that take?” and his voice would come back, but it was just strange.

Wild About Movies: He wasn’t ever out of costume? When he was voicing Edna there was never like John just being John voicing Edna? He was always in character?

James Marsden: Well, no. At the read through – it was the most bizarre read through, because normally at a read through everybody sits around a table – people from New Line, the producers, the cast, the singers, the dancers, everybody – and you read through the script for the entire movie. Every three minutes we were getting up, grabbing a live microphone and singing live while the dancers performed the numbers in the background.

So, at the read through John was not – “Oh there were two read throughs” – the first one was just for the cast and that’s when John came out in his makeup and he sat there for the read through and essentially he was basically Edna for the whole read through, and then the next day he was just John. But onset he would come out, if was in the prosthetics he was Edna, he was not John. But after some of the dancing that was so labor intensive moving around in that suit and everything, the lights were so hot that he would stop and it would be almost impossible for him to go on in the same character and be Edna, so he would have to come out and be John for a second. But it was pretty phenomenal what he did in heels, too.

Wild About Movies: What is your take on Nicole Blonsky?

James Marsden: I’m so impressed with everyone in this movie. I’m mostly impressed with Nikki. She was seventeen when she started, was scooping ice cream. It’s like a classic Cinderella story, you know. I was nervous acting with Michelle Pfeiffer, who before I was even an actor I was watching in films and with John who was an idol of mine growing up and I was nervous and I’d been doing it for fourteen years. She comes in and gets thrown into not only a cast with these people in it but she’s the emotional core of the movie. I mean, she is the protagonist in the movie and everyone follows suit. She was just tremendous sharing these scenes with Walken and them and not skipping a beat. She was completely calm and what I found interesting was how much inspiration John drew from Nikki and some of the veteran actors drew from the newness from her, her boldness, her courage and she’s just a remarkable talent. I think she’s going to be around. She’s made to do this. She is Nikki, I mean of course she is Nikki – that’s her real name, she is Tracy Turnblad. She’s a young actress who’s trying to succeed and follow her dreams and she has this very fresh clean slate approach, a very open mind to things, and she was just born to do it, you can tell.


James Marsden Talks to Tim Nasson about Hairspray Posters and Photos

  • Hairspray 2007 poster