James Marsden knows a thing or two about being pegged as the bad-guy love interest. Hello, this is the guy who has spent the better part of the last 15 years being considered the "villain" in the modern-day romantic classic "The Notebook" with his portrayal as Lon, the non-Ryan Gosling war veteran and interim love interest to Rachel McAdam's Allie. It's a reputation he still challenges.
"There was nothing wrong with Lon in 'The Notebook,'" Marsden says matter-of-factly, with a layer of playfulness. "But for some reason, he's the bad guy. And it's like, wait, 1/8he's3/8 letting her actually go figure her stuff out. He's understanding! But some people think he's the bad guy." With his role in "Dead to Me," Marsden at least understands the animus. (Warning: spoilers ahead.)
The buzzed-about Netflix traumedy, released earlier this month, stars Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini in a story centered on the unlikely -- and darkly twisted -- friendship between two women. Judy (Cardellini) befriends Jen (Applegate) at a grief counseling group not long after the hit-and-run death of Jen's husband, Ted. Viewers soon learn that Judy was driving the car that killed Ted. And she's been covering it up at the urging of her smarmy, narcissistic, money-laundering ex-fiance Steve (Marsden), who was in the car with her when it happened.
Marsden, who will also be seen later this summer in Quentin Tarantino's tardy Cannes entry "Once Upon a Time in Hollywood," and this fall in "Sonic the Hedgehog," spoke with The Times about playing a jerk, mastering the art of the trampoline and his thoughts on death.
Q: You had quite the pivot -- going from filming "Sonic the Hedgehog" to "Dead to Me." What drew you to the role of Steve?
A: Yes, I'd just finished "Sonic" so I was exhausted. In that movie, it's you and nothing. Like it's Ben 1/8Schwartz3/8 creating the voice somewhere on a soundstage in L.A. and I'm with a green screen. So I was beat and they said there's this really cool Netflix project with Linda Cardellini and Christina 1/8Applegate3/8. I love them both, I'm friends with both of them. And was told Liz Feldman is writing and producing it and is the showrunner and here's what it's about and here's the script to the first episode.
I thought the tone of the show was fresh. It was a half-hour comedy but it was really heavy and dark, which is to me my favorite source of comedy. So it was all of those things. Working with some of my favorite people and doing something that felt original in a time where it's tough to get original content anymore.
Q: How much were you filled in on what Steve's trajectory would be?
A: I had one script and I had a phone conversation with Liz where she's like, "OK, he is kind of heavy and not a great guy ... he's got some issues in his life, got some problems and he likes to launder money and use his charm to get what he wants, and to create, what we realize later, was a nice giant house of cards. 1/8He3/8 manipulates the two women to pit them against each other to some degree."
What was appealing to me about the character though, was that there was a sense of douchebaggery that was kind of fun to play.