By ANGELA DAWSON
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Actor James Marsden is calling from the driveway of his Los Angeles home because the cell phone reception inside his house is pretty lousy. Though it’s a scorching 100-degree day, Marsden assures he is “comfy” and not to worry.
Marsden, of course, is the ridiculously attractive model-turned-actor who co-starred with Amy Adams in the 2007 monster Disney hit “Enchanted,” in which he played the dreamy prince Edward. That same year, he also convincingly played a Dick Clark-inspired TV dance host in John Waters musical “Hairspray.” He was a worthy rival to Ryan Gosling for Rachel McAdams’ affections in the tearjerker “The Notebook.”
Fanboys (and girls) most likely will recognize him as laser-eyed mutant Cyclops (a.k.a. Scott Summers) in the boffo “X-Men” franchise.
Born and raised is Stillwater, Okla., Marsden knew from an early age he wanted to be an entertainer of some sort. While he was still in high school, he was recruited to co-host a local TV news program called “Good Morning, Oklahoma!”
“Every morning for one year during my junior year of high school I got up at 4:30 a.m. and drove to the news station and delivered the news and then went to school afterward,” he recalls.
A journalism major in college, he found himself more interested in frat parties than coursework, and he dropped out after only three semesters. With his startling electric blue eyes and perfectly chiseled bone structure, Marsden got into modeling and moved to L.A. to pursue acting. He landed his first TV role as the boyfriend of the oldest daughter on “The Nanny.” Other TV guest spots and recurring roles followed, including a stint on “Ally McBeal.”
Bryan Singer cast him in “X-Men” as the mutant Scott Summers/Cyclops, who has the unique ability to emit powerful energy blasts from his eyes. That 2000 worldwide hit put Marsden on the map. He has since reprised the role twice in subsequent “X-Men” installments, and may or may not have died in “X-Men: The Last Stand.” Rumors have run rampant on the Internet that he will appear in next year’s “X-Men: Days of Future Past.”
Having established himself as larger than life fantasy characters in big studio films, Marsden recently delved into more challenging roles in smaller independent films including the remake of “Straw Dogs” and the heartwarming “Robot & Frank,” released last year. He played Tina Fey’s boyfriend on the hit comedy “30 Rock.”
Though he and his wife, Lisa Linde divorced in 2011, Marsden remains an attentive father to their two school-age children, Jack Holden, and Mary James. The actor also has another child, William, born last December, from a relationship with model Rose Costa.
While Marsden is quiet about his private life, he says the prospect of turning 40 has made him think more about his duty as a parent and getting older.
“You become a servant,” he says of fatherhood, “and there’s something really nice in that. It’s no longer just about you; it’s about somebody else. It’s a very important journey into manhood there. I welcome all those changes.”
What he doesn’t welcome is the physical signs of aging.
“It hurts to go for a run sometimes,” he admits. “That’s the kind of thing that’s a blast to the ego and it burns you a little bit. You just have to tough it out and work a little harder and you can’t eat everything you want to eat.”
Marsden can be seen in the action drama “2 Guns,” in which he plays a dirty Naval officer who sets up a subordinate (played by Mark Wahlberg) to rob a bank containing the ill-gotten loot of a Mexican drug lord. Little does Wahlberg’s petty officer character realize, he and his partner (Denzel Washington as an undercover DEA agent also being set up by someone in his department), are pawns in a dangerous game played by corrupted colleagues in their respective agencies.
Marsden, plays a bespectacled evil genius, who has concocted the scheme that will land him millions of dollars while making Wahlberg’s and Washington’s characters the fall guys. At 5’10’’, he is fit and strong but not the beefy powerhouses that are Wahlberg and Washington.
“When I first read the script, my character (Quince) was written as a 50-year-old jarhead ex-commander in the military,” Marsden recalls. “I was like, ‘How is this coming to me?’ Putting on my producer hat, I wondered ‘Marsden?’ But Baltasar Kormakur, the director, was interested in going against the obvious type. He thought it would be interesting to have a guy who’s about Mark’s age and the two of us had attended the Naval Academy together. My just flew up the ranks, aced every test and Mark was more of the muscle guy. It took a while to get my head around it, to be honest. I was cast about two weeks before I started working so I had to put on some weight and hit the gym before I started tussling with the big boys.”
Marsden dukes it out with his two hotshot co-stars. Washington was intimidating, to be sure, but it was Wahlberg, who is built like a refrigerator, that really concerned him. The two get down and dirty in a fight sequence set in a garage. At one point, Wahlberg, whose character has been snacking on a cup of yogurt, is supposed to toss it at him and then push him into a metal shelf.
Marsden recalls the stuntman telling him, ‘When he throws you into the shelves, just bring your arms down on him and knock all the shelves down.’ He told him if he wasn’t comfortable doing that, a stuntman could step in. With his manhood at stake, Marsden recalls saying, “Oh no, I can do it.”
He told Wahlberg to take a swing at him and his co-star complied.
“Of course, Mark has done this a thousand times in other movies so he was probably thinking, ‘Oh no, one of these guys coming here trying to prove something,’’ recalls Marsden. “So he threw the yogurt in my face and my eyes were covered in yogurt so I couldn’t see anything. Then he swung the gun at me, and because I couldn’t see to move away, it popped me right in the eye.”
Marsden says the yogurt in the eye was much worse than getting clocked with a gun, but he soldiered through and finished the scene.
Slightly less hazardous for Marsden was working opposite Will Ferrell in the upcoming “Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues,” in which he plays an ‘80s-era network newsman. Marsden had auditioned for the original “Anchorman,” but lost out to comedian Paul Rudd, who plays field reporter Brian Fantana.
“It’s nice to have that come back around for me and be able to play this fun role opposite Will,” he says. “It was fun messing with the ‘80s outfits and the hairdos. I basically represent the nation’s top anchor. Will looks up to him and is intimidated by him at the same time. So we kind of square off.”
In the Oscar-bait historic drama “The Butler,” Marsden has a supporting role as John F. Kennedy. (The film centers around an African-American butler who served the commanders in chief behind the scenes at the White House for decades and witnessed the private goings on there.)
“Talk about a shot of adrenaline,” he exclaims about taking on an iconic public figure. “I’m glad it wasn’t a movie strictly about John F. Kennedy. I would have been a lot more nervous.”
He shot his part in the Lee Daniels film during a break on “2 Guns.” (Both were filmed in and around New Orleans.) Since his head was shaved for “2 Guns,” he to wore a wig to portray Kennedy. Finding a new way to play the president in a way that hadn’t been depicted by the likes of Bruce Greenwood, William Devane or Martin Sheen, was tricky.
“That was a daunting task but also a once in a lifetime opportunity,” he says. “There are only a handful of actors who can claim that they’ve played him, which is pretty special.”
Marsden says he is uncertain whether he will reprise his role as Cyclops in the “X-Men” franchise. His character was presumed dead at the end of “X-Men: The Last Stand.”
“It’s all rumor, unfortunately,” he says of speculation that he will appear in “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” due out next year. “I wish differently but Bryan (Singer) has said he wants to change stuff around and fix some stuff so we’ll see. If this one’s a success, maybe (I’ll be in) the next one. We’ll see.”
In the meantime, Marsden is coming to grips with the reality of hitting a personal milestone on September 18.
“Just in this last year, I’ve started to feel my body break down,” he confides. “They talk about 40 for a reason. Physically, things hurt a little more. You think, mentally, you can do the same stuff, and for the most part you can. But your joints hurt a little more and you’re a little slower and you wonder, ‘When did this all start to happen?’ I remind myself, technically, I’m still in my 30s. Then, when I’m 40, I can say, ‘I remember when I was 39. I was just a kid, man. I thought I knew it all.’”
“I guess when I’m 40, it won’t be a big deal because I already feel like I’m there,” he continues. “There’s something good about it too. There’s a nice feeling about it—that moment in your life where you realize your mortality. It’s scary and yet clarifying. You separate the shit in your life that doesn’t really matter and you give very little attention and certainly no stress towards it, and it’s a very liberating feeling, actually.”