James Marsden Interview – ENCHANTED

     November 18, 2007

I’m going to tell you something that might surprise you… I thought “Enchanted” was a really good movie. And based on the crowd reaction from when I saw it, I’m positive that Disney has a big hit on their hands.

For those that don’t know, the film is a mixture of live action and classic 2D animation… but it’s a lot more than that. It’s a classic Disney film in every sense of the word, and one that families will love.

The film features a princess, an evil step-mother, a prince, animals that can talk, original songs by composer Alan Menken and lyricist Stephen Schwartz, and a great cast that absolutely makes you believe what’s happening could be real.

And if you don’t know the story, “Enchanted” is about a few cartoon characters that get sent to the real world, but they don’t change the way they act or think. Amy Adams (who is the best part of the movie) plays a princess who meets the man of her dreams (James Marsden), but soon after the wicked step-mother (Susan Sarandon) sends her away so she can keep her throne. While in the real world Amy meets Patrick Dempsey… and that’s when it starts to get interesting. As I said, this is going to be a big hit for Disney, and families will eat it up this Thanksgiving.

So to help promote the movie I got to interview most of the cast, and the interview below is with James Marsden. During our roundtable interview he talks about what he has coming up (like “The Box,” “27 Dresses” and “The Sex Drive”) and what it was like making “Enchanted.” It’s a great interview and James has a lot to say.

As always, you can either read the transcript below or download the audio as an MP3 by clicking here.

Finally, if you missed the movie clips from “Enchanted” you can watch them here…and Matt already wrote a review and that’s here.

“Enchanted” opens this Wednesday at theaters everywhere.

Question: Between Hairspray and this….

James Marsden: I’ve found my calling? Got caught having too much fun with it. They’ve discovered who I really am. I had my own costume. That’s why I got cast.

When casting this, they wanted to make sure that the actor that got cast would be able to invest in the character. That was a priority whether he could sing or not. Was it easy for you to be that non-judgmental about the character?

James: It was easy for me. I don’t want to sound like it was effortless but, when I read the script, it was very clear to me who this character was and how he should be played. Bill Kelly did a great job of bringing these characters to life on the page. He wasn’t exactly like the princes from say ‘Snow White’ or ‘Cinderella’ because those princes weren’t really allowed to have much personality. He was always written larger than life, a healthy ego but it all came from a place of innocence and sincerity so that, I think, lets his narcissism off the hook.

We sense a little bit of the Disney bad guy…

James: Gaston, yeah. It was written that way but without being a villain. He was always well intentioned. That’s why when he says, ‘Thank you for taking care of my bride, peasants’, Gaston would say that and you would know that he was making a dig but Prince Edward was just genuine, a ditzy [laughs] genuine hero. I was not judgmental of the character. It sounded like a lot of fun and, to me, it just sort of clicked. I just felt I knew who he was and offered up to Kevin that singing was a hobby of mine and he indulged us and let us go in and practice the songs and, ultimately, we qualified to sing in the movie.

How helpful was it to do the animated part first?

James: Well, it was an interesting process. Before I started, I was asking lots of questions about movies that require actors to go in and do voice-overs for animation. I said ‘which one is first? How does it work?’ and Kevin reminded me that, when we went in and did the voice work which took like two hours, he said ‘you’re locking yourself into a certain degree of your character right now. So, this is the character’s voice. Let’s find that’. And, luckily, like I said Bill Kelly’s script was a great blueprint for this character. It just felt natural to declare everything that needed to be declared and sung. It was larger than life. But, then, even with that, once we got it up on its feet and got into costume and everything, we were allowed to have fun with the characters. A lot of the burden was taken off of me when I realized that, whatever I do on set, the animation department have the responsibility to match that because none of the animation was done before we started the live action shooting, just the voice over, the voice work. There were sketches of the characters. There was a still image of what the character would look like but that was it. Kevin did show us almost like a flip book. You know, those animation flip books of like the first twelve minutes, black and white, still images but it was never fully animated or fully alive. So, it was great. We actually were given a pretty good amount of creative license to do what we wanted to do within certain Disney perimeters and then the animators would go in and animate the characters.

Were you on top of that bus at all or trampled by the cyclists?

James: Well, I was on the bus for I think three or four days. I kept thinking, ‘I could be mortified and this could traumatize me for the rest of my life’, like in the nightmarish way or I could enjoy it and I just kept thinking, ‘whenever am I going to get to do this again?’ I can safely say that I don’t think anyone has ever done this before; in tights and puffy sleeves, stabbing a bus in the middle of Times Square. I’m the first [laughs].

When did you notice the ‘Superman Returns’ billboards?

James: As soon as I climbed up on top of the bus [laughter] and, at the time I didn’t know I was doing ‘Hairspray’. There was also a giant Broadway, ‘Hairspray’ billboard so someone was looking out for me, putting my resume in the background.

And the cyclists?

James: That was the last shot of the movie for me. That was my very last shot. Stuntmen, because they’re told to, are usually very delicate with actors and, the first couple of takes, the bicyclist would sort of bump me and I would have to fake a fall and on playback, we watched it back and it just wasn’t that funny. I said ‘just take me out!’ [laughter]. First of all, it’s funnier, second, if I get hurt, the movie is in the can so there’s not going to be any sort of insurance claims taken out. So he knocked the hell out of me but it’s funnier. My voice squeaks and he just knocks me down but there was a pad in front of me and, actually, the prince’s suit is pretty padded [he indicates the big puffy sleeves] built-in air bags.

Is doing this musical thing going to be permanent in your future?

James: Well, I don’t want to overstay my welcome in any genre. But, I really did enjoy these two films, ‘Enchanted’ and ‘Hairspray’. They were just completely different than anything I’ve ever done before and, like I said, singing has always been a hobby of mine and to be able to do it in an acting job was a lot of fun. Both of them were fun. I would do it again for sure. But, in the same breath, I would also say that, to me, creatively, it’s always more interesting to do something completely different which is why I’m doing this dark, psychological thriller starting in a couple of weeks.

What is it?

James: It’s a movie called ‘The Box’ that Richard Kelly is directing Cameron Diaz and I. We play a married couple. It’s based on a short story that was turned into a ‘Twilight Zone’ episode about a couple that receive this strange box from this very odd man with a button in the middle. You push the button and someone you don’t know will die but you get this certain sum of money. [note: Oddly guys, I have a list of all the Twilight Zone titles and this isn’t in it. This doesn’t include the very latest, very bad version that was hosted by Forrest Whitaker however]

What happens next once that is set up?

James: I’d be giving away the movie if I told you. You’ll just have to see. Richard is really great. Obviously, I just now got to know him but when I read the script the first time, there were more elements put into the script that existed outside that premise. I’ll get in trouble here. But, it works, trust me.

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Did he mention any kind of weirdness attached to it?

James: I can’t without giving things away, really. I start to think of descriptive things that happen in the movie that don’t seem very mainstream. A lot of it does but, to me, it’s a lot more intelligent than just your regular, mainstream genres but I guess you can call it a supernatural thriller.

Is it a two hander with just you and Cameron?

James: Cameron and I play the married couple that are basically put through this morality test. Frank Langella is playing the gentleman who presents us with the box.

Is it safe to say your part is less over the top than your last two movies?

James: Yes, I would say so. If ‘Enchanted’ and ‘Hairspray’ are like a nine, I would say this is probably around five or six-ish.

So have you heard when the next Superman movie might be happening?

James: No. I have no idea.

Frank Langella was told a start date.

James: I don’t know. They haven’t told me anything. I’ve learned not to even speculate about these movies. Everything changes and really, the actors are usually the last people to know. I go online to get my advice.

You’ve got this comedy coming up with Katherine Heigl. Can you talk about that?

James: Yeah, that’s about an eight [laughter] but I get the girl! It’s a romantic comedy with Katherine that I would liken to ‘When Harry Met Sally’. A girl is described as a compulsive bridesmaid. She’s obsessed with love and weddings and going to weddings. She’s been a bridesmaid 27 times and she keeps every one of her dresses. I play a journalist who has tried to get out of the commitments or vows section of the paper to get into the more legitimate newsroom so he writes these what most women think are these beautiful sections in the paper but he’s a very cynical guy and thinks it’s all crap. He just does it to make money. He meets this girl and discovers she’s this perpetual bridesmaid and thinks it’s very interesting so he’s planning this expose thing about her for it to be the article to put him into the real newsroom and, in the course of that, they sort of become friends. It’s a very complicated and very twisty plot. But, that’s sort of the premise of it.

What about dancing in this film. Were you up for that?

James: I was up for it. I wouldn’t say that I’m that comfortable doing all of the dancing. I’m more comfortable singing. The dancing in ‘Hairspray’ was the same thing. I didn’t have to do that much in ‘Hairspray’ or in this movie but we treated it as though I was going to have to do a lot of dancing so there were extensive rehearsals with John O’Connell, the choreographer who did ‘Moulin Rouge’ for ‘Enchanted’ so we had to learn the proper Viennese waltz and he’s Australian and he said [in Aussie accent] ‘James, the prince is gonna know heritage. He’s just gotta know how to do the perfect Viennese waltz. So, you have to be perfect’. So, I actually had more lessons than Patrick but, at the end of the movie, it’s Patrick and Amy doing the dancing. I love that man by the way. That’s why I can do this Australian…

You were talking to this Chipmunk that wasn’t there. Was that Kevin running around squeaking?

James: It was Kevin running around squeaking. First of all, a lot of times, there was nothing there so you were acting to nothing. When I grab him, you sort of have to imagine there’s something there. But, they also had a little stuffed chipmunk on the end of a stick.

Did you see a drawing of what it was going to look like?

James: Yeah, they would come to the set with a laptop computer and show us like a ten second test of the chipmunk and what he would look like so you’d think ‘okay’ and you would just call on that. But, it’s standing there acting to nothing. The prince doesn’t really understand what he’s saying most of the time anyway.

You sent a tape to the director to show you could sing. Why Sinatra and which songs?

James: They were Sinatra songs mainly because they were the only recordings I had, recordings of me singing those songs for ‘Ally McBeal’. So, David Kelly, I did like I think thirteen episodes of that show and he had me singing in the bar a lot so I was doing Dean Martin and Sinatra and I had the recordings on a disc and I just sent them to Kevin because it was the only thing I had that was recorded. What were the songs, ‘The Lady’s a Tramp’ and ‘I’ve Got the World on a String’ or something. I can’t remember. But, very different than this style of singing.

Would you say you are a romantic like your character or more practical?

James: Kind of hard to pick. I think I’m somewhere in between. I am pretty practical and I can be fairly cynical but I also like to think that I can be romantic [he laughs] because I’m disillusioned but I guess when I describe it, my romantic acts don’t take the form of rose petals on the floor and chocolates; all of those things that seem romance 101. My wife thinks I’m romantic if I get up with the crying baby and let her sleep in. Thank you ladies, that’s a good one. But, to me romance is thoughtful acts for someone you love. That would be filling her car up with gas or making her coffee. But, very early on in our relationship, there was lots of serenading on the beach and things like that but once you have kids… [laughter].

Anything planned after ‘The Box’ for you?

James: I’m scheduled to do another film after that called ‘The Sex Drive’ with Josh Zuckerman and it comes right after it. It’s another comedy but it’s in the vein of ‘Superbad’.

Are you the guy with the sex drive?

James: Well, my younger brother actually, has this online relationship with this girl and he misinterprets what she writes to him so he thinks she’s saying ‘if you drive to where I am, I’ll have sex with you’ and I play his older brother who is kind of a redneck, drives a classic car and makes fun of him. Remember ‘Weird Science’? Like Bill Paxton’s role, Chet. It’s something very different.

Another eight or nine?

James: Yeah, back up there where I’m comfortable.

Is the writer’s strike effecting that?

James: At the moment it’s not effecting that but we’re all going to be effected by it if it becomes a reality and, at the moment it looks like a reality. I just keep my fingers crossed. I’m not in on all these talks and negotiations and, hopefully it will be ironed out and everybody will be happy. [Note: everybody, I just got a call from a guild picket captain so it’s on as far as the guild is concerned unless the producers suddenly give us all the ancillary market money we deserve]

You’ve had an action figure before but have you seen your doll for this?

James: I haven’t seen the doll for this. I don’t know if they have one.

They do.

James: Oh, really? Okay. Well, having gone through that with the X-Men films, it was exciting when that happened and being on the side of Dr. Pepper cans, very surreal. Buy, honestly, I thought that was going to be the last of it. When am I going to get to do this again? I wish I could describe it. I’m just so honored and it’s very flattering. But, I’m always thinking ‘how am I going to top this?’ I’ve done the superhero and the iconic Disney character. I just feel really, really, lucky.

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