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Vancouver Fan Expo: Interview with a vampire
For his long-running role as a bottle blonde bloodsucker on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, James Marsters regularly burnt his scalp to a crisp.
“A vampire’s hair wasn’t supposed to grow, so I couldn’t have any roots,” said the California-born, Juilliard-educated (and brown-haired) actor in a recent phone interview. “We had to re-bleach for every episode. It was incredibly painful.”
Marsters’ peroxide pain began in 1997, when the responsibilities of new fatherhood prompted the actor to leave his Seattle theatre company for the bright lights (and bigger paycheques) of Hollywood.
Within six months of his arrival, Marsters was a guest star on the aforementioned cult classic series, which followed the slaying adventures of the titular Buffy (portrayed by Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her ragtag crew of BFFs.
Marsters’ character was Spike, a snarling, swaggering vampire with a thick British accent and Billy Idol hair. “I was hired to do five episodes, and that’s all I thought I was going to do,” said Marsters in his natural (and far from British) American accent which fans can hear for themselves at this weekend’s Vancouver Fan Expo; fellow Buffy alum Juliet Landau (Drusilla) will also appear.
But Marsters wowed Buffy fans in those initial episodes, and by the time the fifth season rolled around, Buffy show-runner Joss Whedon had asked Marsters to join the cast full-time. “[Whedon] said, ‘we need someone to tell Buffy that she’s an idiot and we’re all about to die, do you want to do it?’ And I said, ‘uh, yeah,’” said Marsters, laughing. Once Buffy went off the air, Marsters carried his character over to its spin-off, Angel.
Though his hair remained the same until the very end (“I went on The Ryan Seacrest Show the day after Angel came down and he buzzed me down”), Spike transformed in other ways — from all-out villain to anti-hero boyfriend — during his time in Buffy’s orbit. Marsters professes to loving the evildoing of the early years most of all. “[When] you’re a hero, you have to feel guilty about things, you have to run around trying to save people, and you’re always frustrated and it’s, frankly, a lot of hard work,” said Marsters. “When you’re a villain, you just lurk in a corner and you just wait for the hero to run by sweating and panting and feeling guilty and you just jump out of the shadows, pop him in the face and go home. It’s brilliant.”
Buffy the Vampire Slayer isn’t the only cult classic television series to showcase Marsters as a cheeky anti-hero. On Torchwood, the critically acclaimed spin-off of Doctor Who, he guest-starred as Captain John Hart, time agent and ex-lover to John Barrowman’s protagonist Captain Jack Harkness. Their smoldering kiss thrilled many fans, including Marsters’ wife, Patricia. “[Producers] thought that I was going to be a little nervous about kissing a guy, but they didn’t know me very well,” said Marsters. “And I was so proud to be part of that show.” At conventions, fans often ask for details about the kiss, and Marsters is happy to oblige.
Marsters might understand the hearts and minds of convention-goers better than most other stars. When he was 13 years old, he attended one of the first Star Trek conventions ever organized. “I had a Spock tunic my sister helped me sew, and pointed ears that a make-up friend did, and for the first time in my life, I felt beautiful,” said Marsters, who admitted that he still gets flustered whenever he crosses paths with Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy. “I think in a convention, everyone is beautiful, everyone accepts each other, and it’s just a very happy experience.”