Enchanted : James Marsden Interview

The delightful new film, ENCHANTED, tells the story of a fairy tale maiden, Amy Adams, about to marry her dashing prince, James Marsden. Banished to contemporary New York by the evil Queen, (Susan Sarandon) she meets a charismatic but cynical divorce lawyer – Patrick Dempsey – hardly her ideal man. But sparks fly and she discovers that in modern day Manhattan, life and love are far more complicated (and interesting), although there is no guarantee of a happy ending. This unique twist on the classic Disney them, blends live action with traditional animation, to create a compelling romantic comedy that is full of music, drama, fantasy and real emotion.

“I play a man who is in love with being in love,” says James Marsden, who plays the handsome, swashbuckling and highly romantic Prince Edward, in the new Disney film ENCHANTED, directed by Kevin Lima. This is an unusual, modern, family film that turns the classic fairy tale theme on its head, while maintaining the old-fashioned Disney magic. In the fairy tale kingdom of Andalasia, Prince Edward is intent on finding a bride, so much so, that when he crosses paths with the beautiful Giselle (Amy Adams), he falls instantly and madly in love. Apparently the feeling is mutual and the couple decide to get married the very next day. Unfortunately - as in all the best Disney classics – true love does not run smooth. Prince Edward has an extremely wicked stepmother, Queen Narissa (Susan Sarandon), who fears that when Edward marries, she will lose her power and exalted position in Andalasia. The thought is unbearable and so she banishes Giselle to the very worst place she can imagine – modern day Manhattan. The innocent country maiden arrives in New York’s Times Square to discover that there are definitely no fairy tale endings – although life can be very exciting.

When his beautiful bride vanishes, Edward is beside himself with anguish and decides to follow her to New York (which he rapidly discovers is a very strange city, not at all to his liking) and much more difficult to navigate than his home, Andalasia, where everything is plain sailing. In New York he has to contend with all kinds of difficult problems, many of them, emotional, not to mention Queen Narissa’s insecure and duplicitous henchman, Nathaniel, (played by Timothy Spall) as well as a chipmunk with an attitude.

There are fantastic musical numbers in the film, plenty of action and romance - as well as broad physical comedy. Handsome and charismatic, James Marsden makes a perfect Prince Edward, singing, professing his love and bounding around the city, looking totally out of place, in huge puffy sleeves and breeches, searching for the love of his life. Marsden invests his character with endearing humor, energy and innocence that are immensely appealing.
“Jimmy is so good as the prince, playing this larger than life character, he does it beautifully,” says Kevin Lima. “Of course he is actually as handsome as a prince and he seems to be lit with an extraordinary inner light throughout the film. He was theatrical, but he did not play down to the character.”

ENCHANTED was written by Bill Kelly with songs by Alan Menken and Stephen Schwartz and a score by Menken.

James Marsden is a versatile actor who has starred in a wide range of films including the X-MEN movies, DISTURBING BEHAVIOR, SUPERMAN RETURNS, THE NOTEBOOK and HAIRSPRAY. He will be seen next year in the romantic comedy, 27 DRESSES.

The following interview with James Marsden was conducted in Los Angeles. The handsome actor was very friendly and with a self-deprecating sense of humor, as he sat down to talk about his portrayal of this classic Disney prince.

Q: How did you approach Edward?
“It was important to make sure that Edward did not come across as too arrogant because he is quite a conceited character. He is very loud - any thought that comes into his mind, needs to be declared or sung, he does not have a filter. I love that about him because he comes from a very simple world, things happen very easily for him at home and he is thrust into an environment where things are not that simple, they are very complex and he doesn’t like it. He is not as curious about this new world of New York as Giselle is. She is open to change; we see an evolution of her character. The prince on the other hand, dislikes New York, he thinks to himself: ‘this is disgusting, it smells and I want to get back home, because I have to get married.’ I love his black and white clarity.”

Q: How interesting was it to play Prince Edward and make him come alive without being too extreme?
“I always describe him as having an innocent narcissism about him. He is very confident, he is very full of himself, but in the most innocent way. He is naïve and a bit of a buffoon, but a loveable buffoon. In one scene in New York, Nathaniel, who is insecure, asks him: ‘Do you like yourself?’ And Edward replies: ‘sure what’s not to like?’ That is such a good line for Edward, he is not being vain, just honest and it was important not to play him as a guy who thinks: ‘I am the greatest thing in the world,’ I tried to deliver the line straight. He is saying: ‘honestly, yeah, I do like myself’. It was very clear to me, how to play him.”

Enchanted (2007)Q: What is the film all about – is there a theme do you think?
“I think what the movie sets out to achieve is the notion that true love can be unexpected and it will sometimes defy any preconceived ideas. So it seems to me that Patrick’s character, Robert, was trying to convince himself that he was in love with his girlfriend, Nancy (Idina Menzel). He thinks that she is the woman he really needs, the woman for him. Giselle and Nancy, and my character Prince Edward, are all learning that love can be unexpected and very different from what they imagined, or had planned. Robert learns that somebody he thinks is completely nuts at first glance, is wonderful. When he first meets Giselle, she is a strange woman in a wedding dress, but then he gets to know her and finds out who she really is. She learns from Robert what real relationships are all about. My character changes the least of any them throughout the film, (laughs); he doesn’t want to change, because everything is very clear to him. By the end of the movie though, a light bulb goes off and for once he puts somebody else before himself and learns how that feels. It sounds corny, but for him it is a big step and that is his evolution. I always describe the Prince as not necessarily being in love with Giselle, but being in love with being in love. He just wanted to be in love, he is a romantic and Giselle is the tangible, physical shape of his romantic ideal princess.”

Q: It must have been wonderful as a father of young children, making a Disney film?
”I did think it was a great opportunity to do a film my kids can see. My two year-old daughter is still too young for the film, but my six-year-old son has seen the movie and really liked it. He is now starting to enjoy seeing me on screen. Until now it was a strange concept for him. When small children watch a movie it is real to them. Even if you explain that it is pretend and a fake reality, to them it is reality. So my son thought to himself: ‘why is Dad on screen in puffy sleeves and tights, chasing a woman who is not mom? But he is getting old enough to understand that it is an illusion and of course we have explained all that to him.”

Q: How much research did you do on animated Disney films?
“Well I do watch a lot of Disney because of my kids – that is really the best preparation for doing a role like this, because you watch those films over and over and over again. As an adult it reminds you of your own childhood, for me at least it has been wonderful watching them again, because I grew up with all those classic Disney films and there is a magic to them, that Disney magic is so wonderful in many of those films, such as SNOW WHITE and CINDERELLA and SLEEPING BEAUTY and I think we have brought some of that magic into ENCHANTED. There was so much artistry in those films and I love revisiting them through the eyes of my son. It prepared me unbelievably well for this role. My character is a classic Prince Charming, but tonally he is very different from all the animated princes. Often, the old fashioned animated princes were charming but vapid, without a lot personality going on. I do like Prince Philip in SLEEPING BEAUTY, though, because he has personality.”

Q: How thrilling was it making this film?
“It was thrilling, but when I was standing on top of a bus in Times Square wearing puffy sleeves, I realized I was being immortalized on film and hoped that immortalization would be a good thing. By the way it was real New York, we were really there, filming in Times Square with real people. We were separated from tourists and New Yorkers and everyone in the crowd of course, but they were definitely in earshot and we got our fair share of hecklers.”

Q: What was it like wearing that outrageous costume?
“It was very uncomfortable, all our costumes were uncomfortable. But the costumes helped my performance. For me as an actor, it easier to play an extreme character like this with the costume and the sword and hair. Wearing the costume gets me into the personality of the character and 90 percent of my work is done once I put it on. The costume transforms you. But the novelty of wearing the costume wore off around Week 2, when I realized I had several more months wearing it, as we were moving into the hot humid days of July in New York and then it did become hard work. We were always having a good time making the film but it was definitely important to have a sense of humor while we were filming. It took ten or fifteen minutes just to get my costume on, I had to really manage my time – especially in terms of bathroom breaks. If you needed to get out of the costume, things would have to stop and shut down for twenty minutes - just to get the suit off.”

Q: What was it like working with the computer-generated chipmunk, Pip, who has a substantial role in the film?
“He was never on the set, he was always relaxing in his trailer! Seriously most of the time it just involved using my imagination, the trickiest part involved pretending to have a conversation with the chipmunk, who of course is not there while you are filming. I had to pause long enough to get the chipmunk’s reaction. It involves focusing on exactly the right spot with my eyes, to make it realistic and convincing, it is quite difficult and there were some times when Kevin the director would use a little stuffed chipmunk and he would bounce it around and I would have to focus and watch it. That was the least enjoyable part of the process for me, because you never know what it will look like and it feels so strange. But luckily there are a lot of artistic geniuses who made it look great in the end.”

Q: Did you do your own stunt in the very amusing scene in which you get run over by a cyclist in New York?
“Yes I did and the good story about that scene is that it was the last shot of the movie for me. The cyclists in the scene were stuntmen. There was a mat for me to fall on and the idea was that the cyclist would bump me and I would fake a bad fall and it would be funny. I said ‘can we just do one take where you really knock me hard so that it is convincing, so I can really react naturally?’, I thought it would be much funnier if he really hit me (not to get hurt of course) but just so that it was real. I joked that if I did get hurt, it would not matter because the movie was finished. It was done. So he really hit me hard, he whacked me and luckily I did not get hurt at all and I think it worked really well and was funny on screen. It looks like it hurts when you watch that scene – he actually grabbed me and yanked me on his way down and my voice squeaked. I love that scene. There is a perfect picture of a romantic prince and then we just squash it; that is what the movie really does, it juxtaposes that fantasy fairy tale world with the faster-paced more cynical and dirty New York.”

Q: What were Susan Sarandon, Patrick Dempsey and Amy Adams like to work with?
“Everybody had a very healthy sense of humor, which was important on this film. For a film that looks as though it would be very light and fun, it was actually really hard work, so when the camera was not rolling, it was crucial that we could all laugh at ourselves. We all got on well. Amy and I clicked; she can actually be dark and sarcastic and so much fun. I enjoyed working with Susan; she is such an amazing actress. There was one funny moment when we were both in costume and she was in her gown, which has pointy silver bits on the front that are like little daggers. I was yelling at her during the scene and I spun around and turned away from her and my sleeve caught hold of the spike and almost pulled her whole top off. That did not happen but we all laughed. It was surreal for me working with Susan Sarandon, although the first time she came on set she was dressed as the hag with the hunchback and scary face. We were doing a scene in the ballroom and she wandered on set in character and started waltzing with me and it was so odd. I said: ‘it’s going to be great to meet you properly without all the makeup’, because she was practically unrecognizable. She was great though, she is an icon and I was thrilled to be working with someone of her caliber and she is so normal and down to earth. It fascinates me when a star like her is so normal, she is just a mom. We talked about her kids.”

Q: It sounds like there was a great atmosphere?
“Everyone was great, no egos on the set and it was a really collaborative effort. I worked much harder on this film than on many of my others though.”

Q: What were the biggest challenges?
“There were dance lessons and singing lessons and sword play lessons, there was a lot to do, there were long days of shooting in the hot, New York summer, it was tougher than I thought it would be starting the project. I am not complaining because it was also fun – I had a great time and love the film.”

Q: Are you yourself cynical or an incurable romantic like the Prince?
“I am probably more of a cynic, I would call myself practical rather than cynical though. I just don’t subscribe to the idea that romanticism has to take the form of flower petals on the floor and boxes of chocolates. That is all lovely, but to me that is ‘by the book’ romance. My idea of being romantic is when I wake up in the morning with a screaming two year-old and let my wife sleep an extra few hours, or when I fill the car up with gas. I used to think the jewelry and flowers were what romance was all about, but really it should just come from your love for your partner. Very early on in my relationship with my wife, there was a lot of guitar playing, ballads and strawberries on the beach. So I suppose I am still a romantic, but I am cynical too, I am a hybrid.”

Q: Have you ever imagined yourself playing a Prince Charming like Edward, or actually being a kind of dashing prince-like figure in real life? You are so convincing in the role.
“No not at all, never because that would involve being charming first of all (he laughs) and having some success with the opposite sex and that is something I never had growing up.”

Q: Really – that is very hard to believe?
“it is true, I grew up in Oklahoma, I did always have the blue eyes, but I was pudgy until I was 13 or 14, then I got tall and skinny, but I grew up in an area where girls liked athletic football players and I was never that kind of guy. That was their version of Prince Charming and it was not until fairly recently that I became reasonably happy with my appearance and the way I am. I think it is all psychological, but I was never really comfortable with the way I looked and don’t see myself as handsome. I see myself more as Tim Spall’s character, (Nathaniel) the fumbling valet, who is insecure about himself.”

Q: What does Prince Charming mean to you as a concept?
“When I was younger I would try to mould myself into an image of what women wanted and now I am interested in being comfortable in my own skin. I think it is important to have confidence in who you are and embrace that, rather than trying to be someone else. Prince Charming is an idea – or an ideal - and it is different for everyone. My princess would be different from another guy’s princess.”

Q: You actually get the girl in your next film – 27 DRESSES - with Katherine Heigl?
“Yes for once, thank God. Except in that movie everyone will expect that I do not get her, because historically, that is what happens to all my characters, I have all the bad luck. In all my recent films X-MEN, THE NOTEBOOK and SUPERMAN RETURNS and ENCHANTED, I play nice guys, but ultimately the audience wants to see the leading lady with somebody else. So in that film, it was different and unusual for me, it was great and I finally do get the girl. Although I do not feel I am qualified for that, so I am more comfortable in this role! (laughs).”