James Marsters is best known for his performances on television, playing iconic villains like Spike on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "Angel" and Brainiac on "Smallville." But now the actor is taking his villainous act to the big screen as Lord Piccolo in "Dragonball Evolution," a live-action adaptation of the popular manga and anime series created by Akira Toriyama.
The film, which opens in theatres April 10, follows the story of Goku, played by Justin Chatwin ("War of the Worlds"), who must use his martial arts skills to collect all the dragonballs on Earth in order to stop Lord Piccolo, a prison escapee seeking revenge on those who imprisoned him. Along with Master Roshi (Chow Yun-Fat, "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon") and Bulma (Emmy Rossum, "The Day After Tomorrow"), Goku must learn the secrets of his past and tame the beast within him in order to save mankind.
CBR News visited the set of "Dragonball Evolution" in Mexico last year and sat down with Marsters to talk about the film, playing a villain, his love for comics and his passion for the original "Dragonball" series.
CBR: You play Piccolo, the villain of "Dragonball Evolution." What was it like for you playing this role?
James Marsters: Yes I do. I get to make trouble for Goku. When I first got cast, I thought I was not right for Piccolo, but I got to give it to the director, Jim Wong. I understand why he cast me now. Now I feel like there's not another human being that could do the role. I thought I was Yamcha, who was a shorter character that comes in later. But I lost weight and Jim's going to sell me tall so everything's going to be good.
Your character in the movie is over two-thousand-years-old.
I play a character that was in prison for two thousand years with no mirrors. I play a character who was beautiful, powerful and sexy and he gets put into prison. The prison has no mirrors, he's in prison for two-thousand-years, he breaks out, looks into a mirror and he's old and decrepit. He hates the sheriff who put him into prison and he wants to kill the sheriff, the sheriff's family and kill the whole town that the sheriff was trying to protect. That's where Piccolo is, except the whole town in this instance is the Earth. But for that to work for me, I had to look in the mirror and think of myself as ugly and decrepit. I wanted make-up that my girlfriend would not want to kiss. Which I got and which is really frustrating. But the transformation will happen later in this series of movies and the character will become quite beautiful I think. But that's not now, yet. In the cartoon, the guy's got an old stick, he looks like a hunched over decrepit old man. But it's just a lure to get Goku in closer and slaughter him.
Is your tongue actually blue?
That was my idea, man. We went through all sorts of dyes. I hate it when there's pink on the sides of the mouth, lining of the eye or tongue. So I tried to take that out. Ed is one of the people who did Danny DeVito's make-up in "Batman Returns" for the Penguin. So he did the make-up for that. They were looking for stuff to use. I don't know what he puts in there but it works.
Were you a fan of the "Dragonball" anime series or comics?
I've seen every episode. Well, 98% of the episodes. Some of them are hard to find. I've been a fan for five years. I've got a son who will kill me, even if he has to grow up first, he will kill me if I get this wrong.
What do you want the fans to know about this film that they might not expect?
I want them to know that the cast, the crew, the writers and everyone understand that this is important. A lot of us are "Dragonball Z" fans. Just speaking personally, I'm a fan because it helped me raise my son to understand his aggression and his anger is not a bad thing. It's like a dragon that you have to ride. You can't kill your own dragon. You can't chop off your own balls. At the same time, you can't let your dragon run you around the world out of control. "Dragonball" helps to teach your boys that being a real man is being kind of a goofy man sometimes, being a mellow man, being a kind man, being a gentleman and that has nothing to do with being weak.
Goku is a great role model because he's basically a karate bum, like the stunt guys. They're cracking jokes, they have no need to strut and prove themselves as men but if they need to, they're triple times deadly. That is a good role model and it's helped me explain to my son how to become a man. So at the core, for me, that's why it's important. I think that's why the unapologetic violence of "Dragonball Z" is important. I think it's important not to shy away from that because Goku is fighting for the right reasons.
How is Piccolo different than other villains that you've played in the past?
Piccolo is totally asexual, so that's a huge difference right off the top. Piccolo, as far as I can tell, has no sense of humor, which is another big difference. I don't think I want Piccolo to have much of a sense of humor. I don't think he's a very humorous person at all. I think of solitude when I think Piccolo.
Is it important for you to humanize your character or do you embrace the idea of being a super-villain?
No. I'm playing this guy as a prison guy. He's spent a long time in prison and he meets this little pup that thinks he's going to stop him from getting his dragonballs. You got to be kidding me? He thinks he wants a fistfight? I've been in prison for two thousand years; I'm going to pants you bro.
So this isn't a guy who thinks he's a villain?
NO HE'S NOT A VILLAIN! Piccolo was working with the Mystics. He was thinking that he was doing the job. He did one thing that the Mystics didn't agree with and instead of talking about it, they threw him in jail. And it wasn't just like a nice jail; it was like where no molecule on your body moves for two thousand years. Now I think that's kind of harsh punishment, don't you? Who are these Mystics anyways? Are they really justified? Screw them! Have they run the Earth so damn well anyways? So I don't think that Piccolo's evil, he's just really mad.
When you play a character like this, do you try to really get into the character's mindset? Do you become Piccolo?
Yeah. Someone said, "How you doing, funny face?" I said, "Don't you talk to me like that. When I'm a Demon God, I don't take it well." I kind of felt bad about it later that night but I was in character. I'm enough of a method actor where I don't want to hear any jokes or stuff like that because EVERYBODY HERE RIGHT NOW TO ME IS VERMON. I'm sorry but it's true. Somebody said, "Do you want to do an interview in character?" I was like, "I don't know how that's going to go?"
Do you have reservations about taking on too many bad guy roles? Are you worried about typecasting?
Do I want to show my soft side? No. I like cool work. I suppose it would be best to show radically different sides of myself all the time but I feel like this is another really good role in a very interesting project. And I don't really feel like I'm re-doing Spike. Spike was very sexual, first of all. He was very funny. They're both kind of loners but it stops there. Spike was never interested in just blowing up the Earth. Piccolo would like to kill everyone. I have no control over how people perceive it. I know what it feels like inside and it feels fresh to me.
You've said in the past that you thought "Dragonball" was very Shakespearian. Can you expand on that?
In Shakespeare, there are really no villains or heroes, there'd just be people behaving in a villainous manner or a heroic manner. And it depends on which chapter of their life you happen to climb in on as to where they fit in the story. And I think that "Dragonball" has the same kind of universe where people start really evil and get redeemed in a fairly realistic way. Not like they're all butter and cookies all of the sudden. But they do switch sides and they do realize certain things. I think that that takes it away from white hats and black hats stapled on characters, I think that's less interesting. I think, from what I've seen in anime that certainly seems to be true a lot. I think it's more interesting and I can't really think of a lot of Western writers besides Shakespeare that do that. All of Asian art does it and so does Shakespeare.
Are you a comics fan yourself?
Yeah, I am. I actually wrote a comic book for Dark Horse. A Spike and Dru comic book, but they changed it with the artwork from a romance to a gothic, twisted thing. I had to tell Juliet Landau why she was portrayed like this. IT'S A ROMANCE OKAY. IF THEY WOULD HAD JUST DONE IT THE WAY I TOLD THEM TO DO IT, IT WOULD HAVE BEEN REALLY GREAT. But in a romance, all the guys have to do is want the woman and have to want to be the guy. And all the girls reading it have to want the guy and want to be the woman. That's how romance works, there are no questions on this one. It takes the fuel out of it if you make the woman a ghoul. Plus, I was embarrassed in front of the lovely Juliet Landau for God's sake. I'm supposed to take care of her.
But yeah, I love comic books. I had boxes of them when I was growing up and I got back into them later on with Frank Miller's "Daredevil" series. Then I just read everything that Frank Miller ever wrote. Then I got into, who did "Batman: Year One?" Mazzucchelli? I got into him for a while. "Swamp Thing" circa mid-late '90s. Was that Alan Moore? That was awesome stuff. And "New Mutants," I remember liking a lot. I don't know that I read that much now just because I have to read so many scripts. But graphic novels compared to movies are cheap, three bucks!
Finally, would you be interested in going back to work on "Smallville" if they asked you?
If they keep treating me like a real prince like they do, they're so nice to me, why not? And all the actors are real nice.
"Dragonball Evolution" opens Friday, April 10.