James Marsden in the Spotlight at Savannah Film Fest

By Sean O’Connell
Hollywoodnews.com: James Marsden moved to Los Angeles when he was 19 to pursue a career in acting. He’s currently 38.

“So I just realized that I’ve been doing this for half of my life, exactly,” Marsden told me during a casual one-on-one Friday evening.

Those years spent honing his craft explain why organizers at the Savannah Film Festival chose Marsden as the recipient of this year’s Spotlight Award, which was handed to him on stage at Trustees Theater prior to the Director’s Choice screening. A montage of clips highlighting Marsden’s work emphasized his range: Stoic superhero in the “X-Men” trilogy; Easter Bunny guardian in “Hop;” exuberant dance-show host in “Hairspray,” and; henpecked husband pushed to the brink in “Straw Dogs.”

“You won’t find more polar opposites than that,” he says with a laugh. “I do think I have been afforded the opportunity to play in a number of different sandboxes.”

Marsden started acting professionally in 1993. He received ample amounts of support from family and friends. “In the luck department,” he tells me, “everything sort of lined up for me. I didn’t have to go and get an agent. My father knew somebody who was a casting director before I moved to L.A., so I had representation when I moved there. I had two parents who were extremely supportive of me. That’s really lucky. And then beyond that, you have to be prepared, have an ability, and perseverance. You just kind of have to get it, I guess.”

Marsden gets it. He has worked consistently since starting in 1993, balancing TV gigs with feature films. Yet the actor says he never really felt like he “belonged” to the professional acting community until recently.

“I’ve always believed that as soon as you get comfortable, you’re done,” he said. “I’ve come to terms with that a little bit as I’ve gotten older. I’ll tell myself, ‘OK. You’re going to find work. You’re going to be fine.’ But as an actor, you can go at any time. And that drives you, too, that one day you can wake up and they’ll say, ‘OK, we’re done with you. We’ve seen everything.’ And thinking of that is a nightmare. Realistically, I think I’ve gotten to a point where I can relax.”

Not too much, though. He has five films in the pipeline, including the recently wrapped “Robot and Frank” and the 2012 comedy “As Cool As I Am” with Claire Danes. But he’ll never get totally comfortable with who he is and what he can do, because to do so would be to give up, and that’s not in his DNA.

“Most of the time, people only remember your last film,” Marsden said. “Especially within the industry. It’s usually, ‘Well, what did he do last?’ So you can’t bank on things you did five or 10 years ago. There were years when I was auditioning, trying to convince people that I could do comedy. Then I got ‘Enchanted,’ ‘Hairspray’ and ‘Death at a Funeral,’ and I started to hear, ‘Well, we like him as a comedic actor, but we’re not sure he can do drama or action.’ And I’d say, ‘Well, I did “X-Men!” And they’d be like, ‘Oh yeah, right right right!’

“So it’s a constant education. You can’t play that game. You always have to do what’s right for you,” he concludes.

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