James Marsden might be a little less recognizable as Quince in this week’s 2 Guns, what with his lovely locks all shorn off, but the part of the corrupt Naval commander helped him land a gig as commander-in-chief. While he was in New Orleans for the 2 Guns shoot, he bumped into Lee Daniels on the street, as the director was in town shooting The Butler (or rather Lee Daniels’s The Butler, as it’s called now). The chance meeting prompted Daniels to call the actor’s agent with a proposal, since he was on the hunt for a particularly key role: “I’m kind of thinking he should be my JFK! What’s his schedule like?” Being in the right place at the right time paid off, Marsden laughed when Vulture ran into him at the Cinema Society after-party for Prince Avalanche last night. He also told us what it took to fill Kennedy’s shoes and dispelled the Cyclops rumors for the next X-Men movie.
Since you were a last-minute add, how much time did you have to prep?
It was a week and a half, which is not a lot of time to go in and play John Kennedy. So I immersed myself in whatever book I could read, I listened to his speeches over and over again, because the first thing that popped up in my mind was, “Don’t screw up the accent!” So I had my sights set on that. And it wasn’t a long shoot — it was like a week — so I let that kind of be my guide. I knew some stuff about Kennedy, my father is a big Kennedy buff, so he helped fill me in as well. Definitely a crash course, but it was great …
Have you ever played a historical figure quite like that?
Not of that magnitude, and not someone who is so iconic that everyone has a clear image of what that person stood for and how he sounded. We all know who he is, what he looks like, what he sounds like, so you want to get that right. You’re dealing with history, and a very sensitive part of history, so I wanted to bring as much as I could to that.
You had a shaved head for 2 Guns. Did Lee know that? He might have been thrown by that for a second.
He might have. I actually remember walking up to him on the first day and he was like, “Oh? Fine! We’re wigging everybody in this movie.” And I had prosthetics. I had to wear plumpers in my cheeks, and they made my jawline a little bigger, and little prosthetics on the nose [touches bridge of nose], so he was cool. And I messed with the accent at home. I have a little home recording studio, so I recorded his speeches at home, and I sent them to Lee, “What do you think?” He sent to everybody, “Listen to Marsden do his thing!”
What kind of direction did Lee give?
Lee said, “We’ve seen the Kennedys be gallant and composed, and seen him be the smartest guy in the room. We’ve seen the movie stars and we know about the infidelity, but what have we not seen?” And he allowed Minka [Kelly] and I, with him and the writers as well, to explore: What would their arguments be like? The two of them in the bedroom in the White House, what would they be arguing about? What would that look like?
So this is a big month for you, with 2 Guns and The Butler coming out.
On the one hand, it’s exciting, but on the other hand, I won’t have any films out for a while. Well, Anchorman 2 in December, but you kind of want to spread them out.
And X-Men: Days of Future Past next year, or no? I mean, Cyclops was disintegrated, but if there’s time travel …
No, no X-Men, unfortunately. But who knows? If this next film really works, Bryan [Singer] has said he wants to fix a few things, so hopefully that’s one of them. It was great, to have a movie like that, the first two or three X-Men, and the studios in Hollywood work really hard to find a formula that’s successful, and you want to keep that intact, so …
Did you have a chance to see The Wolverine yet? Because Jean Grey, even though she’s dead, gets to have a lot of moments in it.
No, I haven’t seen it yet, just the trailer … but I hope that lays the ground for more. We’ll see. I always liked Cyclops, but they have a lot of characters that they have to parcel out, spend time with each one, make sure everyone feels like they’ve been given their due, introduce them appropriately, but you could do a spinoff of every one of those characters and give them so much depth to the story line.
What spinoffs would you like to see?
I’m old-school. I’d like to see the Magneto spinoff. I’d like to see Professor X. They bring such a weight and a gravitas, and I love those two guys.
I’d like to see a Kitty Pryde spinoff.
Who knows? It could happen. Maybe Joss Whedon is the guy to do that one.