James Marsters says Spike's shocking past will finally be revealed

By Liane Bonin
Updated November 14, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST
Credit: Steve Granitz/Retna
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On Tuesday night’s crossover episodes of ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and ”Angel,” punk rock vampire Spike (James Marsters) will reveal that even the undead can have a few skeletons in the closet. Spike’s cheating gal pal Drusilla (Juliet Landau) is returning for sweeps, and Spike’s admirers may be stunned by his unusual past. But Spike isn’t the only one with secrets to reveal. The 31 year old Marsters, a Juilliard trained actor from Modesto, California, talked with EW.com about the groovy English accent he uses on the show, his goriest stunt, and why he’s through being cool.

So we finally find out how Spike became the vampire he is today. C’mon, give us a hint.
I can’t say much, but we’re going back in time, and there are things we’re going to learn about Spike that people may not be able to accept. On the other hand, I think there are some people who are going to like him for the first time. Joss [Whedon, the creator of ”Buffy” and ”Angel”] has found some really fertile ground for the character without changing him. How do you explain this fully evil character who was also a wonderful boyfriend and truly in love with his girl? And he’s very old, but he’s only ever loved one girl, so in many ways he’s immature and inexperienced. There’s a dichotomy there, and I think he’s mining that.

Speaking of girlfriends, will the lovely Drusilla be joining you?
She’s going to be on two or three episodes of ”Angel” and at least one episode of ”Buffy.” In [Tuesday’s] ”Angel” episode, Spike’s story is in the background but some important events will be examined from a different perspective. I can’t say much, but I will tell you that filming this story line was exhilarating and frightening beyond belief. We will see a good bit of ultraviolence. Joss has opened up a huge can of worms.

That accent of yours is pretty darn convincing. Are you sure you’re American?
I never get tired of fooling people. The acid test was when people in Britain thought I was British. But my accent has improved since I was first on the show. In the beginning, I had all the sounds right, but not the rhythm, which was too slow. I’m learning that the British flick off their sentences very quickly.

How did you become such a good faker?
Watching Monty Python as a kid — seriously. And my training at Julliard. And Anthony Head (Rupert Giles) has been really helpful. In real life, he sounds pretty much like Spike. The plummy accent he uses on the show is as fake as mine.

Was Spike always envisioned as a Brit punk rocker, or was that your doing?
Joss was casting around for a punk rock vampire, and I guess I came in with the best accent. But he also had me do a Southern accent, a New Orleans kind of thing, which I thought would have been more sexy. But I don’t think it’s quite as dangerous as the North London accent. It’s dangerous AND sexy.

Were you surprised when Spike became a regular on the show?
Spike was never really interesting to Joss except as an antagonist in the second season, and he didn’t really have a need for Spike beyond that. So when he wanted to have Dru and Spike back the next season as kind of a lark and Juliet wasn’t available, he decided to do an episode with just Spike being brokenhearted and drunk. And that was the point where Joss tells me the wheels started turning, that he discovered there was something more interesting in the character he wanted to explore.

Spike went from being the epitome of cool to losing his will to kill when government scientists put a microchip in his head. Do you miss the good ol’ bloodsucking days?
At first I wanted Joss to put all the engines of his imagination towards making me look cool. It was just ridiculous on my part. Ask any actor what he wants for his character, and he’ll tell you bagging babes and punching guys. But I’m finally waking up to the fact that something much more interesting is happening. I got exactly the opposite of what I wanted, but it’s exactly what I needed.

Hey, even if you don’t get to act cool, you’ve got great clothes, right?
I think I have the best jacket on TV. I would love to have a coat like it, but I can’t. Wearing it off the set would be like standing under a streetlight to see if anyone recognized me.

In the past, Spike has kicked a lot of butt. Have you ever been injured?
Yes, I’ve been hurt, and it was my own damn fault, too. [Once] I lit my hand on fire. But I let the burn go on way too long because I thought it would look cool. It was bubbled up all over, and it took about three months to heal. But no one on the set knew about it because it was my last day and I was too embarrassed to say anything. Besides, I didn’t want to tell anyone because they had trusted me with a very dangerous stunt and I blew it, and I want them to trust me with more stunts like that. I do more fighting than most actors, because I did my own stunts when I was doing theater. They once let me throw Buffy through a glass top table with a metal frame, and whenever I see that shot, I still think, Oh God, how wrong that could have gone, considering I could have brained her on the table frame.

How much of a drag is it to maintain that glorious bleach job?
You know, even though I let it change back to brown during hiatus, I have to say, if I was a civilian, I would wear it punk white anyway. It fits me as a person, frankly, not just in the role. It says that I’m not really normal, but in a wonderful way. But beyond playing Spike, if I want other roles, I have to try to look more like a normal human being.

So, how’s the Spike action figure coming along?
I think they’re sculpting it right now. They did a face scan of me, which was trippy because there were no tricks of light, so it’s a real representation of your face without cool lighting or makeup, no lies at all. It was brutal, but, hey, I like my face. It’s a good face.


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