James Marsden Interview – HAIRSPRAY

     July 6, 2007



Over the next few days I’m going to be posting a ton of interviews for the upcoming movie “Hairspray.” Normally when you do a press junket there are only a few people participating as a cast is never that large. But that’s not the case for “Hairspray” as it’s almost a who’s who of Hollywood.


In the coming days I’ll be posting roundtable interviews with Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer, John Travolta, Amanda Bynes, Brittany Snow and a ton of other people. If you’ve been waiting for this movie you’ll like what’s about to be posted.



Since many of you might not be familiar with “Hairspray” here is the synopsis:



Tracy Turnblad, a big girl with big hair and an even bigger heart, has only one passion – dancing. Her dream is to appear on “The Corny Collins Show,” Baltimore’s hippest dance party on TV. Tracy (Nikki Blonsky) seems a natural fit for the show except for one not-so-little problem – she doesn’t fit in. Her plus-sized figure has always set her apart from the cool crowd, which she is reminded of by her loving but overly protective plus-sized mother, Edna (John Travolta). That doesn’t stop Tracy because if there is one thing that this girl knows, it’s that she was born to dance. As her father Wilbur (Christopher Walken) tells her, “Go for it! You’ve got to think big to be big.”



After wowing Corny Collins (James Marsden) at her high school dance, Tracy wins a spot on his show and becomes an instant on-air sensation, much to the chagrin of the show’s reigning princess, Amber Von Tussle (Brittany Snow), and her scheming mother, Velma (Michelle Pfeiffer), who runs television station WYZT. Even worse for Amber is the fact that it’s not just the audience who loves the new girl in town; Amber’s sweetheart, Link Larkin (Zac Efron), seems to be smitten with Tracy’s charms as well. This dance party gets personal as a bitter feud erupts between the girls as they compete for the coveted “Miss Teenage Hairspray” crown.



At school, however, a short stint in detention and raised-eyebrows caused by the budding relationship between her best friend Penny Pingleton (Amanda Bynes) and Seaweed (Elijah Kelley) opens Tracy’s eyes to a bigger issue than the latest dance craze or the coolest hairdo – racial inequality. Throwing caution to the wind, she leads a march with Motormouth Maybelle (Queen Latifah) to fight for integration and winds up with an arrest warrant instead. Tracy is on the lam now and goes underground – literally – to her best friend Penny’s basement.



Has Tracy’s luck finally run out? Will she miss the final dance-off against Amber and forfeit the title of “Miss Hairspray,” or will she sing and dance her way out of trouble again?



When big hair meets big dreams anything can happen – and does – in this high-energy comedy that proves you don’t have to fit in to win.



The interview below is with James Marsden – who you may know from the “X-Men” movies. And if you want to hear him do an imitation of Hugh Jackman, I would suggest listening to the interview which you can do by clicking here.



“Hairspray” opens on July 20th.





Question: You were so perfect in this it’s scary.



James Marsden: Oh, thank you. It’s frightening how easy it comes to me all the cheese. Well, I watched some old tapes of Dick Clark and then I just turned it up to 11. No, I just thought the tone of the movie and the tone of the Broadway musical was obviously heightened and so I would always sight the example of Dick Clark mixed with a little Ryan Seacrest and then some extra cheese ladled on the top for good measure. No it was I guess a hybrid of those two with a little Johnny Carson. I look back at the 50’s and 60’s and the radio announcers and the talk show hosts and the game show hosts and they had like these perfect smiles on their face because they felt it was their duty to lift the spirits of the American people and they tune into us every day and they work hard and they come home and they want to be entertained. So the purity of that—I loved it and with such conviction to play that corny-ness I guess, there’s no better adjective I guess or noun. So, I had fun doing it. It was nice to take the X-Men image and do a 180.


Do you have a musical background or was that because you…?



I don’t. The last proper musical I’d ever done was in high school. It’s always been a hobby of mine the singing…not so much the dancing, but the singing has been something that I’ve tinkered with and played with throughout my career and I was always a fan of the standards like Sinatra and the song writers like Rogers & Hart and Gershwin and all that. I would sing these songs because I enjoyed listening to them and I met Mark Shaiman 3 or 4 years ago and I knew that he was Harry Connick’s music arranger and I was a big fan of Harry Connick and sort of sang like him a little bit and I ran into a bar and I think I’d had a few martini’s and said we’re going to work together someday. It’s just been peppered throughout my acting career so I sang on Ally McBeal doing Frank Sinatra tunes and I think Adam Shankman the director of Hairspray saw that and the way he described it he says, that’s it that’s Corny. Is he critiquing me or I don’t know. But it was never anything that I aggressively pursued the music stuff. But now I feel like the climate has changed a bit and we’re sort of being a little more friendly towards the musical revival.



So you wouldn’t mind doing another one?



Oh, I’d love to do it. There’s something very terrifying about doing it live on Broadway and eventually I think I wouldn’t do it. Undoubtedly, I would enjoy it but something’s keeping me from diving into that right away.



We were just joking about Hugh Jackman sings and you… X-men the musical?



I’m sort of like his echo. Sort of following his path, it’s certainly worked for him. We joke about it all the time. There are more people in that cast that have actually very nice voices. Patrick Stewart has a beautiful singing voice, Halle can sing, Allen Cumming in the 2nd movie, so we really could have done it. I tell people that Hairspray is really it’s X-Men just instead of retractable claws and laser beams it’s mashed potato and the Twist for people who are different, the freaks and they sort of become the hero’s in the movie it’s the same thing.



Have you talked to Hugh Jackman at all since he’s such a Broadway guy himself since you’ve done this?



Oh, he was thrilled when he heard that I was doing this because we would sit in the makeup trailer during X-Men and we sing like…we have children that are the same age so we would sing like the theme song from Elmo and harmonize and Bear in the Big Blue House, you know. He was always like, mate you’ve got to do some sort of musical, mate, you’re dying to do it, obviously you’ve got to do it. You’ve got the chops. So, he was very nice. At one point he mentioned to me before he did Boy From Oz about seeing if I’d be interested in playing his lover or boyfriend in that and I don’t remember why that didn’t happen. I think it was because I was doing something or I don’t know what it was but I would love to do something with him actually. He’s just like the nicest man in the world.



He hasn’t talked to you about Viva Laughlin, his new TV series.



No he hasn’t. No. That got picked up right? No, I haven’t seen it.



Can you talk about Adam Shankman and working with him and seeing how he directs and choreographs?



You would be hard pressed to find somebody I think more fit for this job than Adam. I think everybody’s in their wheelhouse in this movie, but I think mostly its Adam from his experience with being a choreographer for so many years and now being a very successful film director this …he was made to do this. It was astonishing to me… the level of commitment he has to this movie but also the work he put into this movie. Every move that was in the movie was choreographed by Adam and every directors choice was made by Adam and he did it with such poise and he had such a good time doing it that he really set the tone for everybody on the set. I’ve never done a movie that was more fun to work on than this and I think it was because of Adam because you can see how much he enjoyed the process and felt like he was at home doing this and really he would say go big or go home, you know? So we were like this isn’t the movie for subtle performances, so he really encouraged us to dig into these characters and go for it. Talking about a movie that’s, I think, all about courage you have a cast that’s so courageous to transform themselves in many different ways and I think that’s what people, when I saw the movie, what appealed to me is seeing these legendary actors enjoy themselves so much. You can tell how much John and Chris and Michelle and Latifah and everybody just enjoying the hell out of the process and I would attribute that to Adam because that’s the tone he set on the movie and he’s really a phenomenal talent.



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Was it easy to forget that John was underneath all that makeup and costume?



Yeah, it was. It was frightening at first. I wasn’t scared but when he came out it was my brain didn’t know how to process it because I immediately summoned up images of him as Danny Zucko and his character in Saturday Night Fever and Pulp Fiction and now he’s a woman, but more remarkable than just the physical transformation was this internal transformation that happened. When he came out for the 1st time he was…it was during a table read through and he came out and everybody saw him and he was a woman. He was pretending to be a woman. It wasn’t John Travolta in drag, it was like he was Edna Turnblad and he just became this person. It was really pretty impressive and tremendously courageous and the conviction with which he plays the character. I just take my hat off to him and everybody really goes for it in this movie, but yeah, it was strange at first because you can see his eyes and you go those are John’s eyes but I don’t see anything else. Then they’d yell cut and he’d go how was that take and his voice would come back but it was just strange.



He wasn’t ever out of costume so when he was voicing Edna there was never like John just being John voicing Edna? He was always in character?



Well, no. At the read through—it was the most bizarre read through—because normally at a read through everybody sits around a table people from New Line, the producers, the cast, the singers, the dancers, everybody and you read through the script for the entire movie, well, this every 3 minutes we were getting up, grabbing a live microphone and singing live while the dancers performed the numbers in the background. So, at the read through John was not—oh there were 2 read throughs—the first one was just for the cast and that’s where John came out in his makeup and he sat there for the read-through and essentially he was basically Edna for the whole read-through, and then the next day he was just John. But on-set he would come out—if was in the prosthetics he was Edna, he was not John. But after some of the dancing that was so labor intensive moving around in that suit and everything, the lights were so hot that he would stop and it would be almost impossible for him to go on in the same character and be Edna so he would have to come out and be John for a second. But it was pretty phenomenal what he did in heels, too.



What about Nikki? She was just like scooping ice cream and she’s amazing?



I’m so impressed with everyone in this movie. I’m mostly impressed with Nikki. She was 17 when she started, was scooping ice cream. It’s like a classic Cinderella story, you know. I was nervous acting with Michelle Pfeiffer, who before I was even an actor watching in films and with John who was an idol of mine growing up and I was nervous and I’d been doing it for 14 years. She comes in and gets thrown into…not only a cast with these people in it but the emotional core of the movie. I mean, she is the protagonist in the movie and everyone follows suit. She was just tremendous sharing these scenes with Walken and them and not skipping a beat. She was completely calm and what I found interesting was how much inspiration John drew from Nikki and some of the veteran actors drew from the newness from her, her boldness, her courage and she’s just a remarkable talent. I think she’s going to be around. She’s made to do this. She is Nikki, I mean of course she is Nikki—that’s her real name, she is Tracy Turnblad. She’s a young actress who’s trying to succeed and follow her dreams and she has this very fresh clean slate approach. A very open mind to things and she was just born to do it, you can tell.






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