20Q: James Marsden

By David Hochman Photography by Gavin Bond

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Q1

PLAYBOY: You’ve had a busy year, with parts on 30 Rock and in 2 Guns, Lee Daniels’ The Butler and now Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues. Are you allowed to pick favorites?

MARSDEN: X-Men fans may be let down, but Anchorman 2 is the first movie in my career I’ve wanted to see after I finished it. I tested for the role of Brian Fantana in the original and was bummed I didn’t get cast. In this one I play Will Ferrell’s nemesis, a rival anchor named Jack Lime. It’s 1980, at the start of the 24-hour-news era, and Ron Burgundy is moving from San Diego to New York. I’m an obsessed Anchorman fan.

Q2

PLAYBOY: Were you the quote-spouting movie nerd on set?

MARSDEN: Ha! “I’m in a glass case of emotion!” Love that one. What’s weird is, Steve Carell and Will would sit there and say, “Didn’t this happen in the original? Didn’t you say this?” They couldn’t remember their own movie. I kept thinking, How can they not know every line from one of the greatest comedies of our time?

Q3

PLAYBOY: How hard is it to keep a straight face when you’re staring across at Ron’s mustache?

MARSDEN: My primary thought was always, Do not fuck this up. After that, my goal was to get Will to bust up. Will’s so tough, man. He really holds it together. But we had this scene where he’s pleading with me, and I raised my voice with so much volume and conviction, the corner of his mouth started to curl up—just a little, but enough to feel like maybe I can hang with him now.

Q4

PLAYBOY: You grew up around Oklahoma City. Your father is a food scientist at Kansas State University and your mother works in the food service industry. Were you starstruck when you first got into the business?

MARSDEN: The first time I met a celebrity I was 16. We were on vacation in Hawaii, staying at the same hotel as Kirk Cameron’s family. He wasn’t there, but his sisters were. Candace was on Full House. They were flirty, and we hung out by the pool the whole trip. They invited me to Los Angeles, and I flew out to see a taping of Growing Pains and Full House.

Q5

PLAYBOY: Was that how you made your Hollywood connections?

MARSDEN: Not really, but I did meet the dialect coach from Growing Pains, who introduced me to Leonardo DiCaprio. Leo was on the show’s final season. A few years later, after I’d moved to L.A., I played two-on-two basketball at the Oakwood Apartments, and one day we needed a guy, so I called Leo to play. He said sure. It was just as his career was taking off. But that wasn’t my favorite celebrity encounter from those days.

Q6

PLAYBOY: What was better?

MARSDEN: There’s a place where you can ride horses under the Hollywood sign and then go to a Mexican restaurant. Everyone gets drunk on tequila and rides the horses back. Great idea, right? Anyway, Fabio was on the ride with us, and I remember thinking, This town is so fucking awesome.

Q7

PLAYBOY: Who were your heroes growing up?

MARSDEN: Han Solo and Indiana Jones. I was a big Harrison Ford fan.

Q8

PLAYBOY: Did you ever meet him?

MARSDEN: I did the last season of Ally McBeal, and it was right when Harrison was starting to date Calista Flockhart. I had become friends with her, and one night she said, “Come to dinner with me and Harrison.” I’m like, “Me, you and him?” It turned out to be a small group of us, thankfully, but I ended up as her wingman. We had dinner someplace in Brentwood and then went back to his house. He put music on and made everybody drinks. He was giggly and goofy around her but pretty aloof with the rest of us. I kept thinking we should leave the two of them alone, but Calista was like, “Don’t leave, don’t leave, don’t leave.” I’m making him sound like a rapist, but he was very hospitable. She was just really nervous. Anyway, we had more drinks, he played more music, and then at some point he gave me a look that said, “Okay, you’ve got to get the fuck out of here.”

Q9

PLAYBOY: A blogger once dubbed you “the most screwed-over man in the history of movies” because every woman ends up cheating on you. Jean Grey kisses Wolverine in the X-Men movies, Lois Lane is hot for Superman in Superman Returns, and on and on. What’s up with that?

MARSDEN: It’s not by design. I guess I just have a look that says “third wheel.” I have a long history of weird relationships onscreen. I once date-raped Mayim Bialik on a very special episode of Blossom.

Q10

PLAYBOY: How is your luck with women offscreen?

MARSDEN: Hit and miss. When I moved to L.A. the women were so aggressive and liberated it almost scared me. But I was also like, Bring it on. I dated for a bit, but then shortly after I turned 20 I met a woman and got married. Now I’m single with three kids. People try to set me up, but it feels strange to go on a date. I guess at some point I’ll just have to nut up.

Q11

PLAYBOY: Is there anything to the rumor that you’re the father of January Jones’s baby?

MARSDEN: There’s so much stupid talk out there. I think that came from somebody thinking we were both in X-Men so it must be true. Every time I see January, she’s like, “Hey, father of my baby.”

Q12

PLAYBOY: You and Halle Berry were recently spotted together on a plane to Montreal. Does this mean you’ll be back as Cyclops in X-Men: Days of Future Past?

MARSDEN: People get so excited about the convergence of the two casts and all the possibilities. But what it means is Halle and I were on a plane together, which has happened a few times, actually. The first time we flew together she was eating out of a huge bag from Burger King. I just sat there watching, thinking, I love you, Halle Berry.

Q13

PLAYBOY: What future would you like to see for Cyclops?

MARSDEN: Cyclops is a tricky character because his power is so weird. I mean, putting his finger to his ear? It’s not all that spectacular. There’s not a lot of action to that. I was able to do a minor fight scene in the second X-Men, which was cool. But fans still come up and say, “Cyclops kind of got shat on.” I agree. The character is a little bit of a stiff Boy Scout.

Q14

PLAYBOY: Did you get to keep the visor?

MARSDEN: They were nice enough to give me one. I think about wearing it every Halloween, but I’m too scared somebody will grab it and run away with it. It’s very delicate. Stan Lee also gave me something cool—an old Cyclops shampoo bottle that was a merchandising thing from the 1960s or 1970s.

Q15

PLAYBOY: What’s it like making chick flicks?

MARSDEN: What’s funny is guys coming up going, “Hey, man, you’re in my favorite movie of all time.” I’m thinking X-Men or whatever, and they’re like, “The Notebook. I was bawling at the end.” Like dude dudes, you know? Good for you, man! That’s great.

Q16

PLAYBOY: Was it awkward having sex in a bathroom with Kirsten Dunst in Bachelorette?

MARSDEN: People think, Oh my God, that must have been so great. I just find sex scenes uncomfortable. I’ve done scenes with women who were topless, and you’re hyperaware of not staring at their chests. You’re never thinking, Wow, this is really exciting. You just think, Wow, how can I reassure this actress I’m not a total perv?

Q17

PLAYBOY: You’ve made three movies with Frank Langella, who has been called Hollywood’s bitchiest man. True?

MARSDEN: I love Frank, but he has a dirty joke he tells over and over, and he’s going to hate me for sharing it: A guy walks into a patent office and says, “I’ve got an invention.” The clerk says, “What is it?” The guy says, “It’s an apple. Take a bite.” The clerk takes a bite and says, “It tastes like a banana.” “Turn it around,” the guy says. The clerk turns it around and takes another bite. “That tastes like a peach.” “Turn it around.” “It tastes like strawberries.” “It’s every fruit you can imagine in one fruit,” the guy says. The clerk goes, “This is ridiculous. People like their fruits with different flavors, different textures.” The guy’s upset because he worked so hard on it. The clerk leans over and whispers, “Can you make it taste like pussy?” The guy smiles and goes away. Six months later, he’s back with the apple. The clerk takes a bite and spits it out. “This tastes like shit!” he says. The guy says, “Turn it around.”

Sorry, Frank.

Q18

PLAYBOY: Any life lessons from playing Tina Fey’s dopey stay-at-home husband, Criss Chros, on 30 Rock?

MARSDEN: I just let her be the man in the relationship. Sometimes you have to let the woman be the guy, and Liz Lemon makes that easy.

Q19

PLAYBOY: What would you do if you didn’t have to work?

MARSDEN: Probably play fantasy football. It’s the most ridiculous waste of time ever invented. When I was growing up in Oklahoma, everybody was big into sports, but I couldn’t give two shits about it. I didn’t really have a football team; I did theater. Then two years ago my buddies needed an extra guy, and I wasn’t doing anything. I drafted a lineup and started winning. Now it’s like managing a small company. This year I’d like all running backs: Adrian Peterson, Doug Martin, Arian Foster, Marshawn Lynch. I sound like the biggest fucking loser in the world right now.

Q20

PLAYBOY: Your dad’s a well-known authority on meat safety. Would you care to share some public service tips?

MARSDEN: I would be more wary about eating undercooked burgers than eating an undercooked steak. With steak there’s bacteria on the outside but not on the inside. When you take that raw piece of meat and grind it up, bacteria move to the middle. Readers, if you get anything from this interview, it’s this: Order your burgers medium-well.


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