On the Set: Dragonball Evolution
Interview with James Marsters

by Bamboo Dong, Apr 10th 2009

There are few alarming things like being confronted by a tall, pleather-clad man with a bulging green head. When James Marsters is in character as an angry, decrepit villain (even though he claims he's not a villain), it's probably best to stay out of his way.

This interview was a recorded, group interview with multiple news organizations. Credit for the questions is attributed in part to Comic Book Movies, Comics2Film, IESB, IGN, MovieWeb, SciFi.


You play the villain, Piccolo, in the film. Tell us what that was like for you to play the role?

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 Jim Wong, I understand why he cast me now. No, 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.

What is it like wearing all that make-up?

It's four hours in make-up, and that's only because Ed French, who is the artist applying the make-up, is a real steady hand, a really experienced make-up artist, and I think I a genius. He did a great job. The first test we had took sixteen hours and then we found Ed. Then it became four, so that tells you something about Ed. I do what he tells me, I try to sit still and not think about itching. It was wonderful. I really wanted the character to be hungry, old, decrepit and ugly.

I play a character that was in prison for two thousand years with no mirrors. I play a character who was beautiful, powerful, 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.

Is your girlfriend here in Durango?

Yeah, she is, but she's hiding. She doesn't like me in this make-up. It's working too well. 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 blue, too?

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.

Did they just put food coloring in there?

Well, 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.

You have to do a lot of physical stuff in this costume and make-up. What's that like?

I was in Wales when I found out I got cast in Dragon Ball Z. I just put away all the food, started working out like a maniac, and I haven't looked back. I think I'll be working out like a maniac for the next six to ten, maybe fifteen years, if I want to get out of this in one piece. The shoots are a little bit hard because, I mean, its Dragon Ball Z. You can't soft sell that stuff.

How restricting is this make-up and all the costuming, in terms of being able to do the physical stunts and action?

At first I thought the costume was really restrictive, but it stretches out and I find that it is a really well designed costume. Basic fighting, except for very high blocks, are totally in. There was a problem with the pants for the side kicks. We couldn't get the side kicks up, and the MC Hammer pants were a little too low. But they fixed that, and that was about the only problem. I think it's all really good and the make-up is what it is. It's comfortable for what it is. It's a thin make-up, but you feel like you have your head in a pillow the whole day.

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.

Were you a fan of the Dragon Ball anime?

I've seen every episode. Well, 98% of the episodes. Some of them are hard to find.

Was that before or after you were cast in the role?

Oh, before. 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.

Has he seen you in make-up and costume on set?

No. He's in school and Durango is a bit of a harsh place to try and talk his mother into. I think he'd be into it, but if I start trying to pull her to Durango, she's not going want to go to Wales next time I want him to visit.

Do you have to keep secrets about the film from him so he doesn't tell his friends?

Actually, I trust him with everything, and even though I tell the producers I won't tell anybody, if I tell nobody else, I'll tell Sullivan and he's never compromised. He's never leaked anything. He's maniacal about it, especially about Dragon Ball Z.

What do you want the fans to know about your role 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 Dragon Ball 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. Dragon Ball 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 gentle man 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 Dragon Ball Z is important. I think it's important not to shy away from that because Goku is fighting for the right reasons.

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, man. 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 one where no molecule on your body moves for two thousand years. Now I think that's kind of a harsh punishment, don't you? Who are these Mystics anyways? Are they really just? 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 do you get into the 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 is basically vermin to me! 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.”

You've said in the past that you thought “Dragon Ball” was very Shakespearean. Can you expand on that?

I think I was referring to, in a way, the characters. In Shakespeare, there are really no villains or heroes. There are just 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. I think that Dragon Ball 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 it 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 who do that. A lot of Asian art does it and so does Shakespeare.

Have you seen a lot of other anime?

You know, I've seen the classics, man. Who's the dude who did “Spirited Away” and “Castle in the Sky?” Miyazaki. I've seen all of his films. Yeah, I saw “Nausicaä,” I saw “Kiki's Delivery Service.” If I haven't seen everything he's done, then I'm happy, because there's another one that I haven't seen. But I think I've drowned that. I saw “Akira.” I saw “Ghost in the Shell.”

Now that they're making a Hollywood version of Akira, do you have any interest in working on that?

Jesus Christ, yes! Totally, are you kidding me? That would be fabulous, that would be fabulous. But that first, almost rape scene, I can never watch that. That one gets me.

Do you get to hang out with a lot of the other actors while you're on set?

Well, I haven't shot a whole lot. This is really my second day with Justin (Chatwin). We're just getting to know each other today. Justin's a great guy. I've just been shooting with the character Mai. So I'm up in the clouds blasting people and killing people. I haven't really been with the main cast. But Chow's cool, everybody's cool. Everyone seems real nice.

Do you have reservations about taking on too many bad guy roles? Are you worried about type casting?

Do I want to show my soft side? No. I like cool work, man. 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.

So it's more a matter of what you feel that you can do with the character, rather than what people might perceive it to be?

Yeah, exactly. I have no control over how people perceive it. I know what it feels like inside. And it feels fresh to me.


Thanks to Paul Christensen and Keith LaPointe for the transcript

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