doesn’t know how much he wants to say in The Advocate
about his new film Heights—“I don’t want
to ruin the plot for people”--but he does know what
he doesn’t want to say. “Sometimes, I’ll
read something were a straight actor (who is playing a gay
character) will get defensive and go, “No, no, no, it’s
acting. I’m straight and I want everyone to know I’m
straight’,” explains the Oklahoma-born actor who
is best known for portraying the visor-wearing Cyclops in
the smash X-Men films. “I just don’t want (the
article) to have that tone.”
a little sick of that tone ourselves,” I remark.
he says with a chuckle. “It’s like, ‘Come
on guys. Stop being pussies. Now, you sound like you’re
not so secure with your so-called sexuality. Now, you sound
like you’re hiding something.”
is something Marsden does extremely well throughout most of
Heights. In this day-in-the-life ensemble drama from first-time
feature director Chris Terrio and producers Ismael Merchant
and James Ivory, Marsden plays Jonathan, a dashing and successful
Manhattan attorney who is about to marry his live-in girlfriend
Isabel, played by Seabisquit’s Elizabeth Banks. What
Isabel doesn’t know is that Jonathan has had at least
one love affair with a man in the past and is hot and heavy
with another even as they plan for their wedding. Though the
ensemble film has a number of involving characters and subplots—the
pitch perfect cast also includes Glenn Close, Jesse Bradford,
Isabella Rossellini and Rufus Wainright in his film debut—it’s
Jonathan and Isabel’s story that forms the heart of
the film. It’s rare to see such a well-observed and
up-to-the-minute portrait of a woman dealing with a man who
wants to be heterosexual and just isn’t. Heights could
be the perfect date movie for gay men and their ex-girlfriends,
assuming their still speaking.
coming off his nervy turn as a gay lothario who may or may
have not given Scott Speedman AIDS in the just-out-on-DVD
indie The 24th Day, hits all the right notes as Jonathan.
“I loved the tone of the script,” says the actor,
whose last film was the hit tearjerker The Notebook. “I
thought it really captured modern day living in Manhattan
and how nuanced relationships can be.”
Marsden—along with his wife of five years, Lisa, and
their 4 year-old son Jack--jet off to Australia to shoot a
role in X-Men director Bryan Singer’s highly anticipated
Superman Returns. But today, he’s in a New York state
of mind. “There’s nothing like shooting a movie
in Manhattan,” he says. “You feel like you’re
at the center of the universe.”
ADVOCATE: In Heights, you character’s secret life with
men is revealed when his photographer ex comes to town with
a sexy exhibition featuring all his past lovers. Does that
mean that there are nude collectible shots of you out there
that we should look for on E-bay?
Let me clarify. In one shot, you see me from the waist up
with my arm behind my head and then on the opposite page is
a full-fledged nude. That’s not me. Although, I should
tell people it is because the guy is gifted.
think the movie really nailed that sort of artsy intelligentsia
theater-world culture. Have you had much experience in that
Not at all.
I had to get coached a bit on the Manhattan lifestyle. I thought
I had gotten rid of my Oklahoma accent completely, but the
director, Chris Terrio, would go, “You’re holding
onto that R a little too long. Flip over it and it becomes
a little more Manhattan.”
also thought Glenn Close was great in the movie as Isabel’s
theater diva mother, a little full of herself but also vulnerable.
Did you get to interact much?
we didn’t get to do stuff together but she’s great,
isn’t she? There’s an interesting scene she has
with Isabel where she brings me up and Isabel says, “I
don’t want to talk about it.” Her mother’s
like, “Why don’t you ever want to talk about him?
This is the man you’re getting married to.” I
think Isabel has good instincts and she’s starting to
realize something is not right.
some gay men in Jonathan’s situation, getting out of
that last serious relationship with a woman--as difficult
as it is for all involved--is a kind of life-saving escape.
Once the dust settles, it’s like an enormous weight
has been lifted.
For some people,
it is like that. It’s ‘I have no sexual attraction
to this woman. I want to be with men but I can’t deal
with injuring this other person and with the repercussions
of coming out.’ But for others, maybe it’s not
so black and white. That’s what I chose to believe about
Jonathan. I believe that he absolutely loves Isabel and that
they probably have good sex, but there’s an innate part
of him that’s attracted to men. He doesn’t know
what it is or where it comes from, but it’s very real
to him and he can’t deny it. That, to me, was more layered
and interesting than Jonathan just dealing with having to
tell her he’s gay and then ‘Ah!’ he’s
set free. I don’t believe that after he comes clean
that everything is okay and kosher with him. I think it’s
more complex than that. There are so many variables, I believe,
that affect one’s sexuality. Was it Gore Vidal who said
everyone for everyone there’s a degree of sexuality?
I respond to that. I think that that’s true. For me,
you think if Isabel had forgiven Jonathan he would have stayed
At one point, he says, “It’s you I want. Let’s
forget about this and move on.” I believe this is Jonathan
not being not strong enough to deal with it. If she said,
“Okay, let’s get through this,” he might
have gone forward and probably kept the façade going
and the relationship with a man on the side.
instead she has that great line on the stairwell.
care about what you want anymore.” She’s been
dealing with what everyone else wants instead of listening
to what she wants and she finally stands up for herself. But
that doesn’t mean she doesn’t care about what
Jonathan is going through. Nor does it negate the fact that
it hurts her.
of the times I’ve seen this situation dramatized it’s
been from the man’s point of view and sometimes it’s
done quite cavalierly, like ‘I ditched the bitch and
made the switch. Whew!’ I appreciated how Heights gave
the Isabel’s heartbreak its due without being sappy.
I agree. It
felt real, like a real relationship. I can imagine how a woman
in that situation would feel destroyed and very insecure about
their own sexuality because, “He chose a man over me.”
I have a friend who just turned 40 and he hadn’t told
his mother he’s gay until recently. I asked him why
and he said, “It’s kind of an unspoken truth.
I feel like if I tell her that it’ll just destroy her.”
Though it’s different with a mother-son relationship
(than a romantic relationship), I would imagine most women
in either situation would think they did something wrong because
the person is completely rejecting their gender. His mother
raised him and now he’s rejecting that sex.
scene on the rooftop where Isabel catches Jonathan kissing
another man--how did you approach that moment?
had this kiss scene, the other actor and I had a talk and
said, “The worst thing we could do is to do it 50 percent,
so lets just fucking do it and be in the moment and be these
guys.” Did I get off on it? No, but you know what? If
I kiss a girl in a movie, I don’t really get off on
that either because you’ve got ten thousand people and
a camera pointing at you and you’re worried about what
your next line is.
singer Rufus Wainright appears in Heights as another of your
photographer ex’s conquests. Did you get to interact
No, and it
really made me sad because while we were shooting this movie,
his music was all I listened to. (Director) Chris (Terrio)
promises me for the premiere of Heights we’ll get together
and have a drink and maybe do a duet or something.
showed that you have a fine singing voice when you appeared
on Ally McBeal. Have you ever thought of pulling a Hugh Jackman
and doing a Broadway musical?
Hugh was interested in me being his boyfriend in The Boy From
some scheduling thing or something, I forget. Or maybe I didn’t
think he was completely serious. Anyway, I recently saw that
he’s got this production deal at Disney to produce three
movie musicals so I e-mailed him and said, “I see you’re
doing some musicals...” He replied, “Yeah, now
our career objective is to get you into one.” I do love
you a big drama geek in high school or were you more of a
I was in between.
I got into drama because I thought it would be an easy A and
then I started enjoying it. I had friends who were in drama
and friends who were on the football team. While they went
to football practice, I would go to play rehearsal.
anyone ever assume you were gay because you liked theater?
No, not really.
We had a really good performing arts program in our school.
A lot of money was put into it so it was difficult to outcast
those people. I was a skinny, tiny kid until my junior and
senior year. Then I started to fill out a bit and the girls
started going, ‘Hmm,’ and the cool guys started
seeing the girls going, ‘Hmm,’ so they adopted
me in their group. It was like, “Here’s a guy
who sings and dances and stuff, and it’s okay, he can
were born and raised in Oklahoma. What do the folks back home
think of you playing gay roles?
I was a little
concerned about how my grandparents or my mother would react,
knowing I had to kiss a guy or whatever, but they get it.
They realize that you’re an actor and you play different
characters. Actually, my father was with me when Heights premiered
at Sundance and he was so cool about it.
are tough times for gay people in places like Oklahoma. Do
you notice harsher attitudes towards gays and lesbians when
you go home to visit compared to L.A.?
really get a feel for it when I’m home, mostly because
I don’t ever leave the house. I just stay with my family.
I don’t want to bash Oklahoma but sadly that kind of
lifestyle is not very accepted there. Gay people are there
but they keep a low profile. Or maybe there really aren’t
any there because they’ve all moved to Los Angeles.
you first moved to Los Angeles, did you experience culture
I first moved to Hollywood, a very good friend who’s
gay helped me get acclimated. We went to this event at a roller
rink and there was cross-dressers running around and to be
honest, I was a little uncomfortable because it was something
I had never seen before. And my friend said, “I just
like to think of it as different colors.” He kind of
set that idea in my head and I said, “You know what?
You’re right.” One thing I pride myself in is
I’m really good at seeing everything from other people’s
eyes. I don’t know where I got it, but I’ve always
been just like, ‘If it’s not hurting me, then
great, whatever.’ I don’t expect you to be like
me and hopefully you don’t expect me to be like you.
I wish more people could be like that. When you hear about
these homophobic people who feel so threatened by somebody’s
sexuality, to the degree that our president wants to amend
the constitution? I mean, are you kidding me? Are you fucking
kidding me? Are you really threatened by somebody’s
sexuality that you would put that much energy into doing something
like that? It seems ludicrous to me. We should all take a
deep breath and relax and just let everybody do their thing.
an attractive guy in show business I’m sure you’ve
had your share of guys hitting on you. Is it different that
when women do it?
Guys can be
more aggressive but it hasn’t really been a problem.
I remember a couple of weeks after the roller rink party,
my friend and I went to (the West Hollywood gay bar) the Abbey.
This guy came up and kind of offered his hand and he had his
business card hidden in his hand, you know, like ‘Call
me.’ I just thought, ‘Eww,’ but I’d
like to think that if a girl came up to me and did that it
would be just as cheesy.
you played another gay urbanite in the psychological thriller
The 24th Day. Do these roles offer you a chance to show your
stuff in a way that big budget Hollywood movies don’t?
I think if you’re serious about this business and want
to have a long career, you have to be open and willing to
explore other personalities. That’s what it’s
about. You’re an actor. I’ve been lucky enough
to keep getting steady work, and I’ve done some really
cool big action movies and they’re great to be a part
of because the whole world sees them. On the other hand, it
creates an appetite to, you know, put on a new suit.
lose the Cyclops mask and show your eyes for a change.
And show your
eyes and try something different. I don’t want to be
one of those actors that say, “I don’t get jobs
because I’m pretty and I want to prove that I’m
an actor.” That kind of bothers me, but most actors
want to act and dig deep and challenge themselves. Playing
Cyclops in X-Men was a challenge in a whole different way.
Then I was lucky enough to finish X-Men 2 and go right something
totally different with The Notebook.
can make me cry just thinking about it.
I almost cry
every time I see it. (Laughs) Some people think it’s
hokey, but I think its nice to see those types of classic
love stories still being made.
addition to Heights, you’ll soon been seen in Alibi
which stars your former X-Men cohort, Rebecca Romijn. I assume
she’s not naked and blue in this movie.
great to work with her again and not have her blue. Although
it’s always good to have her naked. It’s a fun
movie. Steve Coogan plays a guy who thinks that all men cheat
or have the capacity to cheat, so he creates a very elaborate
alibi service for people who want to cheat on their boyfriends,
girlfriends, husbands, wives, and whatnot. I play this rich
kid who’s a pompous arrogant jerk and then when things
start to get bad, all his true wimpiness gets exposed. Then
I’ve got 10th and Wolf with Giovanni Ribisi and Val
Kilmer and Dennis Hopper. It’s about these kids whose
fathers were some of the last dying Philadelphia mob and they
have to choose whether to carry on that legacy or just drop
it and do something different.
now you’re off to Australia to shoot Superman Returns
for X-Men director Bryan Singer.
playing Lois Lane’s fiancé. It’s basically
The Notebook all over again. (Laughs) No, actually it’s
very different. It’s very, very cool.
you going to be suiting up again as Cyclops in X-Men 3?
very complicated. I want nothing more than to be a part of
X-Men 3, especially since they’re probably going into
the Dark Phoenix saga which would include my character a lot
but the schedule might conflict with Superman. I hope it all
works out. I told them I’d do it for free.
your favorite X-Men collectible?
ask my son. He plays with my action figure. He tortures it
and throws it onto the roof of my house, into the pool.
you see much of an overlap of X-Men and 24th Day fans?
kind of two different markets. Although I was in the Phoenix
airport and the guy making my drink at Starbucks goes, “James
Marsden, right?” I go, “Yeah.” And he goes,
“X-Men, 24th Day.” I went, ‘That’s
eclectic grouping,’ and he goes, ‘Well, I could
have gone with Sugar and Spice, and Disturbing Behavior.”
I was like “Jesus, okay.”
have a funny feeling that guy might someday read this interview.
knew all my movies but he just wanted to hit the extremes.
It’s not very often that that happens.