The actor who came to fame as Spike on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" feels right at home at the annual pop culture freak out at the Morial Convention Center this weekend.
James Masters has had a career tailor-made for Wizard World Comic Cons. The cons are fundamentally tribal, and his acting career has landed him in a number of tribes. Most of the world got to know him as Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, so he’s part of the Buffy tribe. The Doctor Who tribe claim him because he appeared in the spin-off Torchwood. Animation fans know him for his voice acting work, and he’s even part of the fan fiction crew, as one corner of it writes stories that get Spike and Buffy or Spike and Angel together in ways creator Joss Whedon never imagined.
Recently, Marsters ticked the gamer box as well when he launched Vidiots, a documentary web series with Mark Devine. The two travel the world, meet interesting people and play video games.
“It’s about an idiot named James Marsters who travels the world and has a very exciting life, but he’d really just like to go back to the hotel room and play video games with his best friend, Mark,” he explains.
Marsters will appear at Wizard World Comic Con at the Morial Convention Center Saturday. Other guests this year include Back to the Future and Taxi’s Christopher Lloyd, The X-Files’ David Duchovny and Mitch Pileggi, The Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista, Michael Rooker and Sean Gunn, and Arrow’s Stephen Amell and David Ramsey to name a few. Marsters is a Comic Con vet, and first attended one in the 1970s dressed as Spock as a teenager in Oakland, California. “I was popular for the first time in my life,” he says. “I had the best phaser at the convention, which I built myself.”
His fans know his IMDB page better than he does, so Marsters takes cons seriously. The people are invested in him, so he tries to be present, and he has discovered over time that seeing the city at night and going to the convention center by day wore him out. Now when he visits a city for a comic con, he sees the con, the fans, and his hotel room. “I went to Barcelona. Saw nothing. Went to Florence. Saw nothing,” he says. When he’s the subject of a panel, there’s an element of performance to his time in front of the crowd that dates back to his theater days in the ‘80s and ’90s. “If you put an audience in front of me, I will try to put on a show.”
Not surprisingly, he is still known for Spike and gets lots of Spike questions, even though Angel—the Buffy spin-off he also appeared on—ended more than a decade ago in 2004. Marsters not so subtly reminds you that he has worked a lot since then including the romantic comedy P.S. I Love You, episodic television including Smallville (another tribe), animated series including Star Wars: The Clone Wars (another tribe) and sci-fi anthology shows. Appearances on Hawaii 5-0 were more rewarding than you might expect because, he says, the scripts for shows like that rarely waste time on character and instead focus on the crime and the pursuit of justice. “That hands a lot more power to the actor because the writing’s not defining the character,” he says. “You can define the character through action. I think that’s why they hire such good actors for procedurals. They need them.”
Still, he handles Buffy questions with grace because “I happen to be a fan of those two shows myself,” Marsters says. He liked the writing right away, and worked to make his performance as Spike so memorable that Whedon couldn’t dispose of the character within a few episodes as was originally planned. Spike became an anti-hero foil for Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy and got redemptive moments in the series finales of both Buffy and Angel.
“Buffy was my big number one album,” he says. “I’ll never run away from it.”
Even though most of his career has been in genre series, Marsters found that he needed more than super powers or otherworldly situations to get him interested in the show. He resisted appearing on Smallville because Superman’s invulnerability seemed to diminish the show’s dramatic possibilities. It wasn’t until one of the show’s creators, Alfred Gough, pointed out Superman’s youth in the series would make him vulnerable. “He’s a teenager,” Marsters remembers him saying. “He’s going to be vulnerable to everything a teenager’s vulnerable to—his family, his sex life, his teachers.” That sold him.
Marsters is excited about Vidiots, which at its core is a play on YouTube walkthrough videos. In them, good gamers show you how its done, often with bad jokes thrown in to make you feel worse about your inability to clear a level without help.
“They’re very good at video games, but they’re not that great at being funny,” Marsters says. “We’re horrible at video gaming, but we’re funny.” That footage is combined with travelogue footage from around the world inspired by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s series An Idiot Abroad. “We go out into the world and be clueless Americans abroad.”
Marsters likes gaming, but he didn’t start playing until his son was old enough to play with him 15 or so years ago. He’s almost proud that he usually plays games in Easy mode, primarily because he’s playing for fun. He also read somewhere that a man’s testosterone level drops after losses in games, so he resolved to lose less. “This isn’t healthy for my T-Count,” he jokes.
Because he’s a part of so many pop culture communities, Marsters is recognized and in demand for photos at comic cons to a degree that he recognizes isn’t healthy. “You can start to feel really good about yourself in that situation,” he says. But more than that, he like comic cons because of the fans themselves.
“They’re pretty intelligent, fairly funny, and don’t take themselves too seriously. In conventions, everyone’s beautiful, everyone’s safe, and you can be who you want to be. If you’re in a wheelchair and you want to be Princess Leia in a bikini, go for it. You’re beautiful.”
James Marsters’ panel takes place Saturday at 12:30 p.m.
Saturday night, Barry Bostwick will host a screening of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Last year, I talked to Bostwick about New York theater and his road to Rocky Horror.
Lou Ferrigno, star of the television series The Incredible Hulk, will pose for photos with fans all weekend. Two years ago, Ferrigno and I talked about shooting the show in the days before CGI.