Art imitating life is feeling very real for James Marsden right now.
The actor is currently in Vancouver shooting “The Stand,” the upcoming CBS All Access adaptation of the Stephen King horror novel of the same name about a virus that decimates the world and kills almost all of mankind.
Filming during the coronavirus outbreak is, quite simply, eerie. “There are scenes in the beginning of ‘The Stand’ where as soon as you see someone who looks normal sneeze or cough into their arm, everyone’s eyes in the room darts towards them,” Marsden tells me on Thursday’s episode of “The Big Ticket,” Variety and iHeart’s weekly podcast. “I see that in public now, and everyone kind of takes a few steps away from the person. It’s crazy. We’re in full panic mode right now.”
Because they’re still in production, “The Stand” won’t be premiering in the near future. “Obviously, no one would ever want to capitalize on something as horrible as this, but it certainly makes it relevant,” Marsden says. “I just don’t think about it and just keep chugging away.”
Marsden has been doing a lot of chugging away lately. Not only does he co-star in Paramount’s box office hit “Sonic the Hedgehog” (yes, he’s hoping for a sequel), but he’ll next be seen with Cate Blanchett in “Mrs. America,” Hulu’s limited series about late right-wing activist Phyllis Schlafly’s fight to defeat the Equal Rights Amendment in the 1970s. Marsden plays fellow conservative, Republican congressman Phil Crane. “I’ve never been more prepared in my life, to be honest with you,” he says about acting opposite Blanchett. For the first time in his 25-year career, he sought the help of an acting coach. His and Blanchett’s first days on set included filming some of their most intense scenes together.
“Yeah, I chewed my nails off that day,” Marsden recalled. “But ultimately, it worked out. It was a lot of fun, and it’s another reminder of how much working with a talented actress of Cate’s caliber can bring out so much more in you.”
While Marsden didn’t reach out to Crane’s friends or family, he didn’t have to go too far to gain some insight on the late politician. The actor’s own father knew him from his days as a microbiologist with the Food and Drug Administration in Washington D.C. “They would have these hot dog cookouts on Saturdays, and they would invite a lot of politicians,” Marsden said. “I told him I was playing Phil Crane, and he goes, ‘I knew Phil Crane.’ I was like, ‘You’re kidding me. That’s crazy.’ He goes, ‘Yeah, I had several conversations with him many, many times. Very nice guy, very charming.’”
Marsden is also hoping that “Disenchanted,” the sequel to “Enchanted,” finally gets off the ground. Adam Shankman is set to direct, although a script and new music haven’t been confirmed. Marsden starred as Prince Edward in the 2007 fantasy rom-com musical. “I hope we get to do it,” he said, before adding with a laugh. “Pretty soon I’m not going to be agile and young enough to be jumping around on top of buses [and] swinging swords.”
With this year’s 20th anniversary of “X-Men,” I asked Marsden to reminisce a bit about playing Cyclops. He recalled his auditions (he had several callbacks) for the role. “I remember … wearing a tight-fitting tee shirt,” he said. “And I remember going into the bathroom before the auditions every time and locking the door and putting paper towels down on the floor and doing as many pushups as I could and doing arm-curls in the mirror, just to kind of get a pump on.”
Is Marsden coming back to “Dead to Me”? He acknowledges that paparazzi have snapped photos of him on set, but he plays coy when asked about his return. What did he say? Find out by listening to the full interview below.
You can also listen to “The Big Ticket” on iHeartRadio or wherever you find your favorite podcasts.