Do we need a reminder of James Marsden’s greatness? Maybe, maybe not. For the last 20 years or so, he’s always been a well-liked actor. He’s respected for independent films, television, and major studio pictures, like Enchanted. Throughout his work, he’s consistent. No matter the quality of the movie or the show, Marsden is reliable. He’s more than reliable, though. Marsden’s greatest quality as an actor? Sincerity.
Look at two of Marsden’s fluffier movies, Hop and Sonic the Hedgehog. In both movies, he shares the screen with talking animated animals. Not an easy role. Besides the technical side, Marsden is the one who has to sell it and make those animated critters real. No matter what you think of the quality of those two kids movies, Marsden brings it. He comes across every bit as committed as he is when starring in a drama or comedy.
There’s always something sincere about Marsden. Looking at his work in those kids movies, plus his fantastic performance in Enchanted, there’s a total lack of irony in an age with too much irony. It’d be easy to smirk your way through movies like Sonic or Hop or act above it in some way, but Marsden never does. As a result, he brings so much legitimacy to a role and movie. How often do you watch a star in a kids movie and think, “He’s bringing it”? There’s no ironic detachment in any of Marsden’s performances. If things get silly, he commits. He’s always that guy on-screen, even if that guy has to talk to rambunctious animals.
Of course, Marsden has done far more than kids movies that illustrate his many talents, including Dead to Me. The Netflix series has given the actor one of his juiciest roles. Not only one role, but two roles. In a surprising twist, Marsden returns in season two as his season one character’s twin brother. He pulls it off. Rarely does the twin bit work, but Marsden and Dead to Me creator, Liz Feldman, make it a wonderful reveal. You’re happy to see Marsden back, for starters, but the twist perfectly suits the fun twisty-and-turn nature of the storytelling. It’s a hilarious reveal.
Marsden is a key supporting character in season one as a multilayered jerk. Marsden can carry a movie, but he’s also such a damn good supporting character. He’s never in a different movie as a supporting player. He can light scenes up without being the focus of them. Whoever the star is he’s supporting — in this case, Linda Cardellini and Christina Applegate — he clicks with them.
There are some actors you’re just happy to watch at work, and Marsden is one of those actors. He’s fantastic in Dead to Me season one, either subverting expectations or playing into them. Marsden, like the stars and creator of Dead to Me, knows how to craft an unpredictable character.
Maybe because Marsden has spent a large part of his career playing supporting roles, as he did in Westworld, that he’s also a team player. Gotta love a team player. When it was revealed to Marsden his character would die in the season one finale of Dead to Me shortly before shooting it, he thought it was a great idea. No complaints on his end. The actor knew it was best for the story.
Now, that’s an actor doing their job, but not all actors are as receptive to getting killed off a show. Marsden, however, put the show first, not himself. It’s just a testament to the actor he is off-screen as well. He’s a selfless performer, and it shows in both his star and supporting role. No matter what he’s doing, Marsden is genuine, which is why he’s such a compelling figure in cinema.
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