Exclusive: James Marsden on Death at a Funeral

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James Marsden has proven to be quite the versatile actor with his roles in films such as the “X-Men” franchise, Enchanted and Sex Drive, but get ready to see the actor like you’ve never seen him before. In Screen Gem’s comedy Death at a Funeral, Marsden is on an acid trip throughout the entire movie when his character mistakenly takes the hallucinogenic drug thinking its valium.

The former Versace model stars in the ensemble cast, which also includes Chris Rock, Martin Lawrence, Luke Wilson, Danny Glover and Zoe Saldana. In the film, a remake of the British comedy of the same name, Marsden plays Oscar, a junior high teacher who attends a funeral with his fiancée Elaine (Saldana), but this family gathering turns into mayhem when shocking secrets are revealed.

ComingSoon.net talked exclusively with Marsden about his latest role and if he’ll ever do another “X-Men” film or a sequel to Enchanted.

ComingSoon.net: Your character is one of the best parts of the film. Did you know you had the best role when you read the script?
James Marsden: When I read the script I thought selfishly this was the best character in the movie. That might come off as really bold or arrogant but to me this guy is involuntarily on an acid trip at a predominately black funeral. You’ve got to really work hard to screw that up. I was on the plane reading the script and I was laughing at what he had to endure and go through. The woman sitting next to me is going, “Stop laughing. Nothing is that funny. What are you laughing at?” I didn’t know that the British film had been made already so I was getting really excited that this was just an original idea and a great farce. Then I saw the British film – the original which was really well executed and Alan Tudyk who played my role in that film was perfect. So that was really my work that was cut out for me. How do you improve upon or just do your own thing when he knocked it out of the park.

CS: Did you stick to the script or did you improv at all?
Marsden: There was this delicate balance of going in prepared to do the script and what was written, but keeping your mind obtuse enough to be open to anything this character might be experiencing. We’d do a couple [takes] as scripted and then Neil [LaBute] would say, “Have fun. What can you come up with?” I said please just have a dial. Turn me up to nine, or seven. I’m just going to go for it and give you whatever comes and lose my mind. Some of it will work and some of it will be terrible. In the editing room you can really cut together 20 different performances so use it like a dash of salt here and there. Let’s not go in and select just the greatest hits. So it was cool and he was really great to let me come in the editing room. If it just became this goofy actor doing goofy s*it – this actor who thought he was so funny doing this wacky stuff the audience is going to be like whatever. It’s better when I know you’re not in on the joke. To me, it’s better if you really feel like you’re witnessing this person going through this and having to endure this. There are moments where we have him just sitting there with just a blank look on his face staring at the woman’s dress next to him and not having him do anything silly. The script was obviously great, but yeah there was some improv.

CS: You’re on this acid trip throughout the entire movie. It’s not just one or two scenes, so was it hard you for to keep up that frame of mind?
Marsden: Yes, especially when you’re not really high. When you’re making a film, it’s a very technical process. You do things over and over again and you have to hit your marks and your light and all that stuff. Within that is your sort of playground to create whatever you’re going to create. What I realized and what Zoe [Saldana] keeps reminding me is that I was on acid for two months. I got to the point where because I was afforded a certain amount of creative license to have fun with it from take to take, I realized how unfair that was to the other actors who had to follow me around and be ready for me to do whatever the hell I was going to do and not know necessarily what I was going to do. Before every take I would apologize to Zoe and say, “I’m sorry would it be okay if I did this?” Zoe at some point said, “Jimmy stop it. You’re on acid. You’re on a trip. Lose you mind – do your thing. I will be there to react to whatever the hell you decide to do and honestly it kind of keeps me on my toes to not know.” So thank God for her because this role is only effective and only as good as the person playing opposite the role. What she superbly did is anchor all the ridiculousness that I’m doing in a world of reality like this is really happening? If she starts acting wacky and goofy too, then it doesn’t really work. I can’t give her enough credit for that.

CS: There are so many comedic actors in this film, so did you like that you had to really step up your game to match their level?
Marsden: Yeah. You don’t want to be the sore thumb sticking out, like “why is he in this movie?” Everybody else is in this one movie that’s really funny and he’s in this other movie that isn’t funny at all. So yes, I was very aware of the company I was in. My confidence came from reminding myself of the experience I had when I read the script and the blueprint for your performance was in the script. I always thought I had the best role in the movie so I reminded myself of that. The worst thing you can do is do it half way so I went for it. In many ways because Oscar is in a hallucinogenic trip through the whole movie really it almost felt like I was sort of in my own movie that was separate from Chris [Rock], Martin [Lawrence], Danny [Glover] and Tracy [Morgan's] movie. It was weird. It wasn’t separate subplots. These guys are comic icons and you don’t want to be the person who sucks.

CS: The scene when you’re off the roof, were you really naked in front of all of those people?
Marsden: Yes! I remember Luke Wilson coming up to me going, “Marsden, why didn’t you get a closed set man? There’s 500 people here starring at your ass. Why didn’t you ask for a closed set?” Why the hell didn’t I ask for a closed set? I was just too dumb. There’s a couple of shots where it’s the stunt guy. When you see him doing a stunt it’s the stunt guy and you can tell because he looks like Arnold Schwarzenegger. I always thought I don’t have a problem doing nudity. I feel more comfortable doing it in a comedy than something that’s to be taken seriously. I don’t know why that is. I would probably still do “Brokeback Mountain” but it would be harder and more difficult and more uncomfortable than me running around naked on a roof in “Death at a Funeral.” There’s something about asking the audience to take you seriously in your nudity as opposed to look at me run around naked. Isn’t that funny? So it was easier for me to do that.

CS: Well that’s an interesting take on doing that scene.
Marsden: I kept reminding myself of the situation. You’re at a predominately black funeral on the roof. You’re the only white guy here pretty much and you’re running around naked on top of a roof. Just that alone is funny.

CS: Is there a chance of another “Enchanted” movie happening?
Marsden: There is a chance. I haven’t seen a script or anything. I get my information from your web site. You guys would be surprised to know how little we actors know about these projects. There’s been a couple of announcements in the trades about “Enchanted 2″ happening or something that Disney wants to do but there’s been nothing concrete or specific that’s comes my way so it would not be wise of me to say what it’s going to entail or when it’s going to happen.

CS: But you’d be up for doing another film?
Marsden: Oh yeah, totally. We’ve got to do it pretty quickly because Amy [Adams] and I – me more than Amy, part of the fun is that you’re play this iconic perfect prince and 40 is right around the corner for me. If it doesn’t happen in the next couple of years you don’t want to have this graying prince, so let’s go.

CS: Any word on you returning for “X-Men: First Class”?
Marsden: I would not think twice about being part of any incarnation of the “X-Men” films. Another one I know nothing about but we got to be very close on those movies. It was a family and a formula that really worked. That would really excite me and please me to go back to that. You just have to cross your fingers and hope that it comes together. You want nothing more as an actor to be doing work that people love and the couple of “X-Men” movies that I was lucky to be a part of were examples of films that worked on so many different levels. It’s so rare to be a part of something like that.

CS: Have you seen the final cut of “Straw Dogs”?
Marsden: No. They haven’t locked picture yet. I don’t know when they’re supposed to, but I’m waiting to see the final cut.

CS: I was wondering how it compares to the original in terms of violence and action?
Marsden: Well all I know is the experience and version of the script that we shot. You don’t remake “Straw Dogs” and leave out that element of violence. What Rod [Lurie] was masterful at was very carefully weaving that into the story but making it obviously not gratuitous. It was very purposeful so in his hands it will be something very effective and not just about making a violent film.

Death at a Funeral opens in theaters on Friday, April 16.

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