Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s ultimate bad boy reflects on his seven years working in Joss Whedon’s world, his desire for artistic freedom, and turning to fans to help fund his new movie.
Every now and then there is a pop culture moment so huge, it forces a semi-dormant fan base to roar back to life. The Buffyverse recently experienced one of these massive in-community controversies when former Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar was asked during a Reddit AMA if she was Team Angel or Team Spike.
Had the internet been as omnipresent when Buffy the Vampire Slayer originally aired (from 1997–2003), this question would have been asked and answered a zillion times over, so fans of Joss Whedon’s seminal series were glued to their computer screens as Gellar typed, in all caps, “ANGEL.”
Angel, played with a brooding intensity by David Boreanaz, was Buffy’s first love, but subsequent seasons paired The Slayer — somewhat controversially — with James Marsters’ Spike, an unapologetically bloodthirsty vampire whose redemption became a driving force in the show’s final years. The fandom had long been split over who was truly worthy of Buffy’s heart, but with five letters, Gellar let us all know where she stood.
“Well, I have to say, I really messed with her a lot, so perhaps there’s more to her choice than just what happened on the show,” Marsters told BuzzFeed during a recent interview. “I grew up as a subversive artist, and you have to be so polite to the lead on a film all the time — whether they’re nice or not — so something about that stuck in my craw and I would, sometimes, lovingly mess with her. It’s mean, but I couldn’t help myself. So, maybe I understand why she said that.”
Marsters also understands why, more than a decade after the series finale, he’s still approached on a near-daily basis about his role on the WB (and later UPN) series. “I didn’t write Buffy, I didn’t produce Buffy, I didn’t direct Buffy, so I’m not bragging when I say it was a really good show,” he stated. “I stood on tape and wore the hair and scowled in the correct manner, so I’m just glad to have been a part of it. But I always knew that even after the special effects got a little old-looking, generations would appreciate this. I remember telling Sarah that we may go on to lots of money later in our careers, but we would never touch the nerve of the world like we are today.”
Since Marsters’ role in the Whedonverse came to a close (following Buffy’s conclusion, he played Spike on the final season of spin-off Angel), the 51-year-old continued to release music with his band, Ghost of the Robot, while consistently working within the genre world, guest-starring on such shows as Smallville,Torchwood, Caprica, and Warehouse 13, and in the odd film.
The latest role added to Marsters’ résumé is that of Lord Tensley in Dragon Warriors, an all-CGI medieval comedy that is currently seeking post-production funding on Kickstarter. Although he’s dealt with CGI for the majority of his career, working against nothing but a green screen was an exciting new adventure.
“When we were doing Buffy, it took hours to get a 30-second shot of a vampire face morph,” recalled Marsters. “It was so low-tech. Like, I was lining up my eyeballs on a TV monitor so my face would be lined up on screen correctly. It was so old-school. And these days it’s a whole different world. You just put actors on a green-screen set now and let them have fun. What that does is free the actors up to tell the story and not worry about the technical stuff.”
The most important thing to Marsters at this juncture in his career is artistic freedom; in addition to the fan-funded film, Marsters’ band will independently release their new album, Bougeoir Faux Pas, later this year. “Without all the money looming, when you don’t have to go through a big corporate structure to tell your story, I feel more free as an artist,” he said. “That’s putting a lot more power into the hands of the storytellers as opposed to the businessmen. I have no problem with businessmen who want to do creative things, but this is really nice.”
Which isn’t to say Marsters is totally opposed to working within the system. He’s partnered with Dark Horse Comics to release Into The Light, a new Spike-centric comic book that he wrote. “It was interesting to me to explore what happens right after Spike gets his soul: He can’t steal, he can’t murder for food or shelter anymore, so how does he survive? I wanted to show him homeless and starving to death, with his clothes falling apart. It’s about how he starts to become a not evil character.”
Sadly, fans who are hoping this new installment might motivate a producer to bring the next chapter in Spike’s story to the screen will likely be disappointed, as Marsters has officially hung up his black duster. “I told Joss that he had seven years to shoot the character after Angel ended because Spike is not supposed to age, and I am,” he said with a chuckle. “Without massive special effects, that ship has probably sailed — and that’s fine with me.”