James Marsden: the other guy makes his move
After a run of playing jilted boyfriends in tights – and X-Men – James Marsden is on a roll, with turns in 2 Men, Endangered and as John F Kennedy in the Oscar-tipped The Butler
Regular visitors to Planet Cinema might be forgiven for squinting a little during the frolicsome summer confection 2 Guns. Who is that untrustworthy Naval Intelligence Officer running around after Mark Wahlberg and Denzel Washington? Can it really be James Marsden, the chiselled sometime X-Man, beneath that sneer and buzz-cut?
“It wasn’t just the haircut,” laughs Marsden. “It was an opportunity to do something different. And any role in a movie with Mark and Denzel is a welcome gig.”
It’s hardly the first time that Marsden has affected a tonal about-turn. It’s not even his first villainous role. “Although sometimes I’ve been a villain in movies that nobody has actually seen,” he says wryly.
From the get-go, the 39-year-old has been defined by casting curveballs: he was a corny crooner in Hairspray, a severely tested husband in Straw Dogs, an unwitting drugtaker in Death at a Funeral, a witting drug-peddler in Bachelorette and the primary caregiver to Russell Brand’s Easter Bunny in Hop.
“I don’t see myself as being tethered to any one thing,” says Marsden. “It’s always about the role for me. I don’t know what I’m doing next. I like change. I like mixing things up.”
For all his best efforts, however, he has unwittingly carved out a niche as the Other Guy. Maybe it’s the clean-cut looks or the blade-like cheekbones, but, for a time, Marsden seemed doomed to keep losing the girl onscreen. To date, he has been cuckolded by not one, but two, superheroes – in the X-Men series and in Superman Returns. He lost out, romantically speaking, to Ryan Gosling in The Notebook and again to Patrick Dempsey in Enchanted.
“I know. I know,” he says. “It did look for a while like I was the Other Guy. There were films in between when I wasn’t that guy, but they didn’t seem to be so popular. So it looked like I went from Other Guy role to Other Guy role. I became aware of it and I remember thinking: okay, I’m enjoying myself but this is starting to look pathological. And what does it say about me that this is my common denominator? Even in X-Men it was like: wow, I get to be a superhero. It’s my childhood dream come true. Oh, but my girlfriend is into Wolverine.”
“That’s why I was really glad to get 27 Dresses. It broke the run. Just to not be some guy in tights serenading a woman when she’s not interested.”
When he isn’t the “Other Guy”, more often than not, he’s “The Guy”. The star of cheerleading bitch-frenzy Sugar and Spice and Tiny Fey’s primary love interest in 30 Rock has never shied away from girlier projects.