The Buffy icon enters the marvel Universe in Runaways
That vampire guy out of Buffy is back on TV in Marvel’s Runaways.
James Marsters has a knack for embodying cerebral baddies. From his spin on Professor Milton Fine, aka Brainiac, on Smallville to his punk vampire Spike on Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Angel, he has a penchant for leaving audiences just a little besotted with his no-good characters. So it’s no wonder that Runaways showrunners Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage lured him back into a TV series to play the brilliant yet darkly complicated engineer, Victor Stein.
In the Marvel comic book and the series, Stein is a fantastic inventor but painfully estranged from both his wife (Ever Carradine) and his son, Chase (Gregg Sulkin). Breakfasts are tense, expectations run high, and Stein clearly has issues with anger management. However, as always when Marsters gets his hands on a role, we find there’s more simmering beneath the seemingly menacing exterior... Like Buffy, Runaways is a series about the teen experience with a superhero metaphor driving it. As an adult actor in both, how did you connect to that?
A great privilege of being an actor is you get to think about the themes you are enacting. With Buffy it was, “Do you care and engage with the world, or have you given up?” When you are working on a show that is delving into that question constantly, it begs you to be honest with yourself. Runaways is having me examine, “Have I been the kind of parent that I thought I was? How have I failed?” Of course, it’s all regret for me now because my kids are in college. They tell me I did okay. Not perfect, but okay. [Laughs] Victor Stein has some serious smarts but he’s clearly flawed. What’s intriguing about playing that?
The thing that excites me about Victor is that he’s right. He’s a man trying to save the world by revolutionising energy production and transportation. He knows unless he succeeds in doing that the world is going to burn. It may not burn in his lifetime but it will start in his son’s lifetime and it will be in cinders by the time of any grandchildren. He sees himself as humanity’s hope in that way. He’s come to feel the ends justify the means and if he has to sacrifice his own morality, and flush his soul down the drain to save the world, so be it. There’s something strangely heroic in that. Both his wife and son have rejected him to a degree. Does he actually care?
I think he has great love for his son and his wife, so it hurts. But he’s also not someone who second-guesses himself much. I remember having a conversation with Josh [Schwartz] early on saying Victor is a lot like Macbeth. One of the things that keeps Macbeth watchable for the audience is that Macbeth takes a long time to decide to murder the king, but once he does he does not look back. Then the murders go on and on and he’s marching through a lake of blood. He’s not spending time regretting it. You were a hardcore theatre guy but TV is where you have focused a lot of your career. Why?
I think television in the last 20 years has come of its own. It’s really where adults are getting their entertainment more than the cinema. I remember telling Joss (Whedon), “If I had a choice between playing Hamlet and Spike, I would pick Spike.” Shakespeare was really good, probably better than Joss, but he only had three hours to explore his character. We had 22 episodes for seven years where [Joss] would just rip me open and put me back together. Spike had an incredible journey even Hamlet didn’t get. This year was the 20th anniversary for Buffy and you reunited with your former cast. What was that like?
The thing I was struck with as we were all taking our photographs and talking was the amount of gratitude that we all had to have been a part of it. The truth is that it was a very difficult show to film. We worked 12 to 20 hours a day. You get to a point of fatigue on that where you don’t really remember what you did. We’d play a game on Buffy of, “What did we shoot in the morning?” [Laughs] So it was really nice that we’re all rested. What a ride and at the end of the day we got to be part of something that mattered. Do you think it’s time for it to be, er, resurrected?
I think it would be fabulous if Joss Whedon rebooted Buffy. He’s the special sauce on the burger so if he is ever involved in the reboot, then it probably will be amazing. If he’s not involved, I would have no interest whatsoever. How would you feel about Spike being recast?
I would hope they find another unknown actor who has some experience acting but people aren’t so familiar with. That would be refreshing. And I would hope they also find another poor actor who needed the money and the food because they come in hungry and loaded for beer. [Laughs]
Runaways is on Hulu in the US. UK broadcast TBC.