Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Exploring Marsden: Rising Star James Marsden Talks about Skating with Drag Queens, His X-Men 3 Hopes, and Giving His All as a Sexually Conflicted Groom-to-Be in Heights

Magazine article The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)

Exploring Marsden: Rising Star James Marsden Talks about Skating with Drag Queens, His X-Men 3 Hopes, and Giving His All as a Sexually Conflicted Groom-to-Be in Heights

Article excerpt

James Marsden is holding on to a few secrets about his new film Heights: "I don't want to ruin the plot for people." But he's up-front about the gay thing. "Sometimes I'll read something where a straight actor [playing gay] will get defensive and go, 'No, no, no, it's acing. I'm straight and I want everyone to know I'm straight,'" explains the Oklahoma-born actor, who's best known for portraying the visor-wearing Cyclops in the smash X-Men films. "It's like, 'Come on, guys. Stop being pussies. Now you sound like you're not so secure with your sexuality. Now you sound like you're hiding something.'"

Heights is all about one of those guys who's hiding something. In this ensemble drama produced by Merchant Ivory and directed by first-timer Chris Terrio, Marsden plays Jonathan, a dashing and successful Manhattan attorney who's about to marry his live-in girlfriend, Isabel (Seabiscuit's Elizabeth Banks). What Isabel doesn't know is that Jonathan has a past love affair with one man and is hot and heavy with another even as they plan for their wedding.

Costarring Glenn Close and Jesse Bradford, it's a smart, fresh look at an age-old dilemma--the perfect date flick for gay men and their ex-girlfriends. Assuming they're still speaking.

And Marsden, coming off his nervy turn as a gay lothario accused of giving Scott Speedman HIV in the new-to-DVD indie The 24th Day, hits all the right notes as Jonathan. "I loved the tone of the script," says the actor, who also recently appeared in the hit tearjerker The Notebook. "I thought it really captured modern-day living in Manhattan and how nuanced relationships can be."

Tomorrow, Marsden--along with his wife of five years, Lisa, and their 4-year-old son, Jack--jets off to Australia to shoot a role in X-Men director Bryan Singer's highly anticipated Superman Returns. But today, he's in a New York state of mind.

"There's nothing like shooting a movie there," he says. "You feel like you're at the center of the universe."

In Heights your character's secret life is revealed when his photographer ex comes to town with a sexy exhibition of past lovers. Does that mean that there are nude shots of you we should look for on eBay?

[Laughs] No. Let me clarify. In one shot you see me from the waist up with my arm behind my head, and then on the opposite page is a full-fledged nude. That's not me. Although I should tell people it is, because the guy is gifted.

The movie really nailed New York's sort of artsy intelligentsia theater-world culture. Have you had much experience in that world?

Not at all. I had to get coached a bit on the Manhattan lifestyle. I thought I'd gotten rid of my Oklahoma accent completely, but the director, Chris Terrio, would go, "You're holding on to that r a little too long."

[Spoilers follow.--Ed. ]

For some gay men in Jonathan's situation, getting out of that last serious relationship with a woman is a lifesaving escape. It's like an enormous weight has been lifted.

For some people, it is like that. But for others, maybe it's not so black-and-white. That's what I chose to believe about Jonathan. I believe that he absolutely loves Isabel and that they probably have good sex, but there's an innate part of him that's attracted to men. That, to me, was more layered and interesting than Jonathan just dealing with having to tell her he's gay and then "Ah!" he's set free. It's more complex than that. There are so many variables, I believe, that affect one's sexuality. Was it Gore Vidal who said 'For everyone, there's a [different] degree of sexuality'? I respond to that. I think that that's true. For me, anyway.

Do you think if Isabel had forgiven Jonathan, he'd have stayed with her?

Possibly. At one point he says, "It's you I want. Let's forget about this and move on." I believe this is Jonathan not being strong enough to deal with it.

But instead Isabel has a great line--

"I don't care about what you want anymore. …

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