Best known for his iconic portrayal of the Vampire Spike from Buffy and its spin off Angel, Marsters has over the years managed to carve out a career for himself in sci fi and fantasy series often as villains and lovable rogues and outlaws.
He’s played everything from Vampires to Warlocks to time travelling super criminals to planet destroying androids and he’s done it all with unbelievable swagger and class.
In this article I am going to take a look at his most high profile genre roles. Recently I had the pleasure of meeting James at the MCM Comic Con in Glasgow.
He was easily one of the nicest and most chatty guests I’ve ever met at Comic Con and so its a great honour to look at the man’s greatest roles in this edition of Cult Actors.
Spike/Buffy the Vampire Slayer
James’s breakthrough role. Prior to landing the part of the bad boy, punk rock, platinum blonde Vampire, James had mostly worked on stage, though he had guest starred in a few small roles on tv such as Northern Exposure.
However it would be Spike that would launch him to international stardom. Ironically Spike was only intended to appear in a few episodes before being killed off but it was solely down to Marsters performance that Joss Whedon kept him around. It would also be a further guest performance from Marsters in Season 3 that convinced Whedon to upgrade him to a regular the following year.
In many ways Marsters performance as Spike is comparable to that of Jonathan Harris as Doctor Zachary Smith in Lost in Space and Paul Darrow as Avon in Blake’s 7 in that in all 3 cases, all actors were handed fairly bland, boring, dull characters who were either only meant to last for a short while or be minor characters. All 3 were also not exactly characters that would normally be thought of as the audience’s favourite. An evil, sadistic Vampire, a backstabbing, two faced liar, and a miserable pathetic coward who happily handed children to aliens to save his own neck.
Still in all 3 cases the actors were able to add so much more to those characters that they ended up becoming the most popular characters and subsequently stole the show.
There were many inspirations for the character of Spike such as the Vampire David from The Lost Boys played by Kiefer Sutherland. The Lost Boys was a massive influence on Buffy in general.
Whedon says however that his main inspiration for Spike and his lover Drusilla were Sid and Nancy. Marsters himself however said that he based the character on Sex Pistols front man John Lydon AKA Johnny Rotten instead. Marsters said in an interview
It was Whedon. I got cast because I loved the Sex Pistols and I knew what that was. But yeah, he was definitely a punk rock vampire. I don’t think he was Sid Vicious, though. I remember one thing I wanted to tell Joss was “I think I know the Sex Pistols better than you, I was Johnny Rotten. Coz this is Sid Vicious…have you seen the film (James goes into British impression of Sid) “Uh, girls like me coz I got a nice face and a good figure.” That was Sid. He’s totally drugged out and he doesn’t seem to have a whole lot of brain. But he’s really cute! Couldn’t play bass, couldn’t write music, but he’s really cute..and, if you threw a bottle at him, he’d laugh at you. So, yeah, whenever they said he was the Sid Vicious of vampires, I’m like NO! Johnny Lydon.
The true inspiration for Spike.
In real life James is from California, but he played the role of Spike with a cockney accent after auditioning with several different accents.
In Spike’s first appearance in the show School Hard, the third episode of season 2, he is established right away as being one of Buffy’s most dangerous enemies.
He is said to have already killed two slayers, (one of whom he made beg for her life) and he also actually bests Buffy in their first fight, with it being Buffy’s mother who saves her by hitting Spike with an axe from behind.
However what it was that really allowed Spike to make an instant impression on viewers was the fact that he was a somewhat more 3 dimensional villain than any in Buffy before.
The Master though an effective villain the previous season was aside from his father like love for Darla, nothing more than a brutal, savage monster who simply sought to destroy the world.
With Spike through his relationship with Drusilla whom he genuinely loved we saw a villain who at one minute could be even more brutal than the Master. Casually snapping the neck of a man he deemed too old to eat, but not to kill, yet at other moments he could be a genuine sweetheart to his girlfriend. Also interestingly enough Spike’s sole motivation in series 2 is to cure Drusilla rather than to try and burn the entire world down. Thus ironically as vicious and brutal as he is, he is almost a sympathetic villain in a way.
Spike also looked more human and modern than the Master too who had more demonic batlike features and he also would regularly throughout the first half of season 2 fight with Buffy and her friends head on, unlike the Master who was trapped in a sunken church throughout all of season 1 and thus was only able to face the Buffster at the very end of the season.
Spike from the very beginning was established as being something that was totally different not just to the Master but really all Vampires in Buffy at that point all of whom, (Angel the Vampire with a soul aside), had been portrayed as ugly, inhuman monsters living under the ground, shunning humanity.
This coupled with Marsters cocky, yet likable performance made the villain seem new and exciting to viewers and its not surprising that he ended up becoming a fan favourite.
Another great aspect to Spike’s character was his dry, sarcastic, gallows sense of humour. From when he first bursts on to the screen he makes jokes about getting stoned after he killed and drank a hippie at Woodstock and then there is his famous closing line as he murders the Anointed one, the Masters former second in command, which was something of a dig at the verbose, ritualistic Vampires from Season 1.
From now on there is going to be a lot less ritual and a little more fun around here”
Often the best villains can make us laugh even when doing horrible things like the Joker and again I think this aspect of Spike’s character helped to make him more popular. It was actually the characters sense of humour that convinced Joss Whedon to make him a regular in series 4, but more on that later.
I’d say my favourite appearance of Spike in season 2 was in Lie to Me where we saw Spike work with a former friend of Buffy who was dying of a brain tumour and wanted to become a Vampire simply to survive to lure her into a trap. I always liked this episode as it showed a more manipulative side to Spike. Up until now he appeared to be nothing more than just a glorified thug, but here we saw as more sly, cunning side to the villain. I also liked the scene where Spike corners a young girl who has developed a romantic, idealized view of Vampires. Where as before Spike often just relishes in the violence of the kill here he takes his time, scaring her before hand.
At the end of What’s My Line Part 2 Spike was supposed to be killed by Angel (whom he had captured in order to cure his lover Drusilla) but again the positive fan response to the character meant that he was simply crippled in a duel with Buffy instead.
For the rest of season 2 Spike would be in a wheelchair, though he along with Drusilla and later Angelus still commanded over the Vampires in Sunnydale, Spike naturally was more of a background villain from this point on in the season.
The character however was not simply forgotten about as we got to see an interesting dynamic develop between Angelus, Spike and Drusilla. To start with Spike is pleased to see his old mentor Angelus back, but gradually Angelus begins to resume his relationship with Drusilla.
I always liked the way Angelus was such a dickhead that no one liked him. The Master’s followers like Luke and Darla were genuinely loyal to him, whilst The Mayor at least had Faith, but with Angelus he is just such an unmitigated asshole even his fellow Vampires like Spike still hate his guts.
A favourite moment of mine is when Giles in revenge for what Angelus does to his lover Jenny Calender burns down the Vampire’s home and starts beating him with a flaming baseball bat and Spike actually stops Drusilla from intervening. I suppose we could consider that the first heroic thing Spike ever did, though it obviously wasn’t for altruistic reasons, more to watch a bastard he and everybody else hates get his head smashed in.
In the season finale Spike ends up forming an alliance with Buffy to take down Angelus who plans to suck the entire world into hell.
Spike teams up reluctantly with the Buffster because he wants Angel out of the picture and also because rather interestingly he also doesn’t want the world to end.
I always liked the way that Spike was a more down to earth villain in that actually he wouldn’t want the world to end anym ore than the heroes would because he actually quite likes the human world the way it is. He loves music like the Sex Pistols, football, tv shows like Passion and so naturally he doesn’t want all of that to go and be replaced by fire and brimestone and hundred foot tall Demons. Its a shallow reason for saving the earth, but just as good as any.
I think Spike’s alliance with Buffy demonstrates why he had more staying power as a character than some other villains as he wasn’t just a chaotic evil that wanted to tear the entire world to bits for the evulz. Thus it would be more believable that he might end up working with Buffy to take on a greater threat as opposed to say the Master or Adam.
Also again the fact that he puts his own relationship with Drusilla above the standard badguy plan to end the world again helps to reinforce the idea of the character being love’s bitch which will really become his defining charactetistic. The Master and Angelus are pure evil, they want to crush all of human society and destroy the world. Spike however is happy to give up a plan for world domination for a girl.
In season 3 Spike appears in just one episode called Lover’s Walk. This episode turns Spike into more of a comedy character. He has been dumped by Dru and shows up, drunken, pitiful, jilted and self pitying.
There are lots of great funny moments with Spike in this episode such as his petty jealously of Angel, burning his hand in the sun, and best of all his heart to heart with Joyce, Buffy’s mom. Its funny how Spike has never been a threat to Joyce with or without a chip or a soul (apart from in School Hard).
When he first approaches Joyce in Lovers Walk, you think that he is going to use her as a hostage against Buffy as Buffy hears him approaching on the phone and rushes home terrified. Its a hilarious twist when we find out he just went to her to whine about how hard his relationship with Dru was.
The idea of Spike being a big mummy’s boy would be expanded on in later episodes.
It was during the filming of this episode that Joss Whedon was convinced to make Spike a regular character. At that point it was known that Cordelia would be leaving Buffy to appear in Angel’s series. Joss said he needed a character who would insult and ridicule the other main characters to stop it from becoming too sappy. He felt Spike due to the way he interacted with Buffy and Angel in particular, being able to see through their bullshit about just being friends would make a good candidate for the role.
Thus once again you can see how the characters sense of humour was crucial as it was ultimately that, that convinced Joss that he would have potential as a regular. I must admit Spike was always my favourite growing up because I thought he was funny. James Marster’s dry delivery of lines such as this one to Giles, when Giles remarks that his whole life flashed before his eyes, “Life of a Watcher how did that go, cup of tea, cup of tea, cup of tea, almost got shagged, cup of tea” would always make me crack up.
I think the characters humorous qualities also helped to flesh him out more too at the same time. For instance we see a more vulnerable aspect to his personality during some of his funnier moments such as when he is baring his heart to Joyce and even in his jealousy of Angel.
In season 4 Spike initially returns as a villainous character hellbent on killing Buffy and acquiring the ring of amarra which will render any Vampire who wears it invulnerable.
Sadly this is not one of my favourite episodes, but Spike is brilliant in it at least.
Here he is given a new love interest in the shape of Harmony, an old, valley girl friend of Cordelia Chase who was turned into a Vampire.
If Spike and Dru were like a Vampire version of Sid and Nancy, then his relationship with Harmony is more comparable to the Joker and Harley Quinn in that we similarly have a sweet, somewhat bubbly, vapid blonde woman who absolutely adores the ruthless villain and even has a sickening nickname for him “blondie bear” yet he is absolutely vile to her. At one point he even stabs a stake through her heart and she only survives because she was wearing the ring of amarra.
Though Spike’s behaviour to her was reprehensible I have to say I did enjoy Spike and Harmony together only because the potential for comedy was greater with them than with he and Dru as Mercedes McNab who played Harmony was very funny too and Harmony was obviously a much lighter character than Drusilla.
Spike’s final showdown with Buffy in The Harsh Light of Day is also their best fight throughout the series. Its incredibly brutal and Spike is more vicious than ever throughout it the way he taunts her, though I love the way just when he thinks he’s won he says the wrong thing about Angel that pisses her off so much she beats the crap out of him in like 5 seconds.
The best thing I can say about The Harsh Light of Day is that it leads into the Angel episode In the Dark, when Buffy sends the ring to Angel in LA and Spike follows Oz who delivers it there. This is one of my favourite episodes of both series. I always loved Spike and Angel together and the scenes where Spike captures and tortures Angel are brilliant because they are so tense yet at certain points quite funny too. I’ll talk more about this episode later however when I explore Spike’s time on Angel.
I remember after The Harsh Light of Day and In the Dark aired hoping every week that Spike would be back on either show and being disappointed when his name didn’t come up among the guest stars at the start.
Fortunately I didn’t have to wait long as Spike popped up just a few episodes later in Wild at Heart where he was captured by the initiative, a secret underground organisation designed to track down monsters and demons and experiment on them.
Again this scene can be seen as an example of the great comedy potential with the character as its quite funny watching Spike declare from a distance that the big bad is back and how he is going to make Buffy pay only to be effortlessly overpowered and dragged away by the Initiative.
In the next episode Spike manages to escape from their clutches and very nearly kills Willow before he discovers that he can’t hurt anyone any more as the initiative when he was knocked out stuck a chip in his head that causes him pain whenever he tries to hurt someone.
Thus unable to hunt and kill Spike eventually is forced to seek the help of his former enemies who only agree to shelter him because they wish to find out more about the Initiative.
Later when Spike discovers that the chip does not prevent him from hurting Demons he becomes something of a less reluctant ally. He doesn’t care what side he is fighting on just so long as he can fight.
Despite this however Spike really remains a villain throughout series 4. He only does a few genuinely heroic things throughout the series such as helping Giles when he becomes a Demon which he only does when Giles pays him.
He also works with the main villain of the series Adam who promises to remove the chip from his head as long as he helps him break apart the Scoobies. Its quite interesting the way that here Spike in contrast to season 2 is actually helping to bring about the end of the world.
I don’t see this as a contradiction however as ultimately I think Spike’s main motivation in helping Buffy in season 2 was to get Dru away from Angel as later when he sees Buffy cornered by Angel seemingly with no way of surviving, he leaves her to die. If he really cared about saving the world he would have surely rushed in there and stopped Angel. Clearly it was of secondary importance to him as he had got what he really wanted IE Drusilla away from Angel.
Thus here Spike is willing to sacrifice the world to get what he wants, being a savage killer again.
I think Spike is at his best on season 4 of Buffy. I think they play to all of the strengths of the character this year. In his appearances as a villain, he is a brutal monster who is shown to be more than capable of besting Buffy in close combat and is also a lot more cunning than people give him credit for such as when he turns the Scoobies against each other by exploiting all of their insecurities and hang ups with each other.
At the same time when not a villain they play to the characters other great strength, his sense of humour. There are many funny moments between Spike and other characters such as Giles, Xander and Willow such as when he first approaches the Scoobies for help or when he can’t bite Willow and Willow who has recently split up with her boyfriend and thus is naturally feeling low and down thinks its because she is unattractive.
Willow : Maybe you’re trying too hard. Doesn’t this happen to every vampire?
Spike : Not to me, it doesn’t!
Willow : It’s me, isn’t it?
Spike : What are you talking about?
Willow : Well, you came looking for Buffy, then settled. I–I… You didn’t want to bite me. I just happened to be around.
Spike : Piffle!
Willow : I know I’m not the kind of girl vamps like to sink their teeth into. It’s always like, “ooh, you’re like a sister to me,” or, “oh, you’re such a good friend.”
Spike : Don’t be ridiculous. I’d bite you in a heartbeat.
Willow : Really?
Spike sits on her bed again.
Spike : Thought about it.
Willow : When?
Spike : Remember last year, you had on that… Fuzzy pink number with the lilac underneath?
Willow : I never would have guessed. You played the blood-lust kinda cool.
Spike : Mmm. I hate being obvious. All fang-y and “rrrr!” Takes the mystery out.
Willow : But if you could...
Spike : If I could, yeah.
Willow : You know, this doesn’t make you any less terrifying.
Spike : Don’t patronize me.
I always loved this scene as I think it showed you the type of people Spike and Willow really are.
Spike is kind of like Satan from South Park in that deep down he is a nice person, but he has to be evil because that’s his job. Satan in South Park is quite a nice, passive, sweet, sensitive guy, but he has to be evil simply because that’s the role he has in the universe.
Similarly Spike before he became a Vampire was a nice, nerdy, sensitive guy but obviously when he became a Vampire he naturally became a blood thirsty monster and so he feels inclined to kill Willow, but when he sees her hurting and feeling low he also tries to cheer her up and reassure her that she is attractive and any guy would be lucky to have her, because that’s just the type of guy he is underneath the whole being a Vampire thing.
Similarly Willow is also naturally nice and sensitive person so she ends up feeling sorry for him ironically when he is upset because he can’t kill her! Of course eventually she realises how utterly absurd the situation is and smashes a lamp over his head.
Finally I also liked Spike in series 4 the best because we also saw what a self server he was. Again that’s always been a large part of what makes the character so charismatic that he just does whatever the hell he wanted. It fitted his rebellious, punk rocker, Johnny Rotten style persona and Marsters cocky, confident swagger too.
In series 4 Spike is a chronic backstabber. I always loved it when he escapes from the Initiative and he casually tosses the Vampire who helped him get free into the Initiative’s clutches. It was such a low, dirty, cowardly thing to do, but again Spike still seems cool when he does it unlike say Doctor Smith from Lost in Space.
Then there is also his betrayal of the Scoobies to Adam and when that doesn’t work out his attempts to weasel back in with them when he saves them from a large bestial Demon.
A part of me wishes the character had remained this way for the rest of the show, but sadly as we know the next year Joss and the writers would attempt to make Spike a more genuinely heroic character by having him fall in love with Buffy.
As a child I hated this development. It was a shame watching my favourite character become such a pansy. Spike went from becoming the sarcastic, witty, self server to a lovestruck, sappy, emo pathetic sap who always got the shit kicked out of him.
The beatings and the torture he goes through definitely increase after he falls for Buffy.
Now that I am older I can appreciate certain things about the Buffy/Spike romance, and obviously like it or hate it was unquestionably one of the most successful storylines in the shows history with the viewers.
As James himself said what was interesting about it was that you were never quite sure how Spike’s love for Buffy was going to motivate him. On the one hand it could perhaps lead to him genuinely becoming a good person and he does do some heroic things throughout the season, yet at the same time because he is ultimately a Vampire and thus evil his love for Buffy also drives him to do some seriously twisted and creepy things too.
At various points in season 5 the viewers feelings change for Spike. At times he’s pitiful. The way he a Vampire has actually fallen in love with a Slayer! Someone he has spent the past 5 years trying to kill, who is basically his archnemesis. Its a hideously cruel irony for him.
At other times however he does things like taser Buffy, chain her up, and threaten to let Drusilla a dangerous Vampire loose and eat her!
Just when you are on the brink of feeling sorry for him or just when you think he is beyond redemption he manages to completely subvert the viewers expectations.
The greatest example of this is in the episode Intervention where at first Spike has never seemed more pathetic. He forces Warren to build a robot replica of Buffy to have sex with over and over again. The character has gone from seeming like a Johnny Rotten style, bad boy rebel who does whatever he wants to just a sad git with a blow up doll basically.
Then he ends up getting captured by Glory and her minions and is subject to horrific torture and ends up having never seemed more heroic and noble. Spike refuses to tell Glory who the key is, in reality Buffy’s sister Dawn in order to protect her from Glory a near unstoppable villain. Even when Glory is pulling his guts out with her finger, smashing him through a wall, cutting bits of his flesh off and threatening to slice his balls off, Spike still spits back in her face and refuses to break.
Once again just when the character has never seemed so sad and pathetic he ends the episode in the most heroic way possible and even earns a kiss from Buffy as a result of having almost been tortured to death to save Buffy.
Whilst Spike became more of a pansy from S5 on he definitely did become a more unpredictable character and its true that he was also given more screen time too. In series 4 the writers sometimes struggled in giving him a role as he was an outsider to the rest of the gang and therefore had no reason to help them. It would have been unfeasable for the Spike of season 4 to have skipped town with the Scoobies at the end of season 5, and obviously the Spike of season 4 would have told Glory the truth about Dawn in a heartbeat.
Spike’s love for Buffy helped him become an actual part of the Scooby Gang and thus take more of a central role in the series
Still having said that I do still have some problems with the Spuffy romance. To start with I think that Spike became a lot less funny when he fell for Buffy. There were still some funny moments with characters like Xander and Giles but by and large he is a more angsty character who tends to whinge on about love and his feelings when he used to get all the best lines.
Also I feel that by making Spike fall in love with Buffy they were kind of changing Spike into something he was not. I know that from the start Spike had always been a hopeless romantic, but making him Buffy’s love interest just seemed like they were turning him into another version of Angel.
Joss Whedon has always said that it was obvious that Spike was in love with Buffy since season 2, but he just didn’t realise it until season 5, but I am afraid I don’t agree.
There is NOTHING to suggest that Spike is in love with Buffy in seasons 2-4 apart from one tiny scene where Faith in Buffy’s body comes on to Spike. Even then though I never felt that that scene showed that Spike was in love with Buffy. I always felt that in that scene if anything Spike seemed uncomfortable and more surprised than anything else.
Still other than that one scene there is really nothing at all to suggest that Spike is secretely in love with her other than the school boy thing of Spike is only obsessed with killing her because he really wants to shag her.
Really I am sick of that school of thought nowadays that has to take over every fucking feud between a villain and a hero. The villain says he wants to kill the hero, but some fans think that he actually wants to shag the hero instead (as apparently that’s the only way that you can be obsessed with someone) and the creators then cave and rewrite the villain into being in love with the hero.
Ultimately Spike’s love for Buffy literally comes right out of nowhere at the start of season 5 and her feelings for him in season 6 literally come right out of nowhere too.
Really I think that Joss just wanted another Vampire love story when he realised pairing Buffy off with a normal guy like Riley didn’t work. Thus Spike went from being well Spike to Angel mark 2, and he even ended up getting a soul too!
Really for the last 3 series of Buffy, Spike becomes more and more like Angel and less like Spike until by season 7 he is almost a mini Angel, which is a shame as I liked him better when he was Spike.
Thus there were good and bad things about Spike’s infatuation with Buffy. On the one hand it did flesh the character out in some ways and make him much more unpredictable, but on the other it did change him into being in some ways a completely different character and it also limited the characters potential for comedy.
In season 6 Spike and Buffy enter into a twisted, sado masochistic relationship which eventually culminates in Spike trying to rape an injured Buffy.
This scene is without doubt the most controversial in the entire history of the show. James Marsters himself hated doing the scene and has gone on record as saying that he would never do another scene like it again.
“That was the hardest day of my life. I have turned roles down because they are rapists. It’s something I don’t even want to watch. If I even click on it on TV, I have to click it off or I’ll put my foot through the screen… What you see on that screen is just my terror at having to do that scene. There’s not really any acting going on and I haven’t watched the scene. I’ve seen little clips. You know, ‘previously on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.’ They show it sometimes and I’m always like, ‘Oh, God.’ … The writers are fabulous, but when I showed up on set that day I told them: ‘Sometimes you guys just don’t know what you do. You just do not know what you’re asking us…’ I’m proud of it artistically, but as a human being I never, never, never want to do a scene like that again and I will always refuse because I know what it does to me.”
I too have mixed feelings about this scene as obviously it is incredibly uncomfortable to watch, but at the same time I feel that it did do a good job of establishing that a soulless Spike is truly beyond redemption.
Up until now the writers had played around with the idea that maybe Spike could change as we would see him do heroic things, even just little moments where we saw how much he cared about Buffy’s little sister Dawn that suggested he had changed. Then they would do something that would make you think he hadn’t such as in Smashed where he believes his chip isn’t working and the first thing he does is try and rip the throat out of a young woman.
Still it was always left open as to whether or not Spike could change, but this scene just showed us once and for all that actually he hadn’t. At the end of the day he was an evil, ruthless Vampire who had no soul and thus in the end he would always be a monster. Even to Buffy the woman he loved more than anything he still tries to rape her, and what’s most disturbing about that scene is the way that Spike doesn’t even realise what he is doing. Hurting someone just comes so naturally to him, that when he starts to rape Buffy, to him its like putting onhis coat!
Thus this scene once and for all shows us that Spike can never be trusted and should always be viewed as a monster as no one not even Buffy is safe from him.
This of course then leads brilliantly into the last episode of the season where Spike wins his soul back in the Demon trials.
Once again Spike manages to surprise the viewers. Just when we think there is no hope for the character, that he has sunk as low as he possibly can and is a monster through and through he gains a soul which changes everything. Now he can feel guilt for what he has done, now there is a genuine ability to change and so once again our feelings to the character change in an instant.
Series 7 I think sadly was Spike’s weakest series. As I said I feel he was more Angel in this series than Spike. Just about every story arc he had this season had been done with Angel before, being a tormented Vampire with a soul who is driven mad by the guilt of his evil crimes, going evil again and then wanting to die to avoid going evil again, being haunted by the First Evil, being in love with Buffy, and even having to deal with a guy whose loved one he killed and who has now become a Vampire hunter, Holtz, Wood.
Added to that all traces of Spike’s trademark humour, his self interest, even his love of brawling are apart from a few instances all gone this year.
I remember reading an interview with Paul Darrow who played Avon on Blake’s 7 who was a similar character to Spike in that he was the sarcastic, ruthless anti hero where he said that after Blake, the shows more heroic character left, the writers tried to make Avon into a more straight forward good guy to replace him, but Darrow argued with them and fortunately they decided against it.
I think that’s what happened with Spike in the later years of Buffy in regards to them making him more like Angel sadly.
Of course that’s not to say that Spike didn’t have great moments in series 7. It was interesting watching he and Buffy develop a more caring and close relationship and in the end it was great watching Spike finally redeem himself and save the world.
Joss Whedon himself has said that he considers Spike to be his most well developed character as he went from being the lowest of the low, a perverted rapist to a champion saving the world and sacrificing himself. When Spike burns up saving the world it was a sad moment for me, even though I knew he was coming back on Angel the next year. It would have been unthinkable just a year earlier to have felt any kind of sadness when a character like Spike who tried to rape the woman he loved died, which is a testament to how much Spike changed from one season to the next.
Whilst I may not be the biggest fan of the Spike and Buffy relationship overall I can’t deny that Spike’s story arc from start to finish is fascinating to watch. He goes from a vicious, blood thirsty monster to a pitiful drunken sap, to a Eric Cartman, Dr Smith, Avon style character IE an utter self serving bastard that all of the other characters hate, yet the audience loves, to a lovesick, anti hero, to a creepy loathsome pervert, to a tormented, guilt ridden character, to finally a noble champion.
James it must be said absolutely excelled at capturing all the aspects of Spike’s character from his humour, to his love of violence, to his twisted obsession with Buffy, to his guilt when he had a soul, James exhibited an incredible versatility with this one character alone and really made him what he was.
Of course fortunately despite his death the character of Spike would live on even past Buffy when he later crossed over onto the spin off show Angel.
Spike appeared as a regular on only one season of Angel, though he also made a few guest appearances before hand.
Despite the fact that he was in less of Angel in some ways I actually preferred Spike on this show than on Buffy.
I have always loved Spike and Angel’s relationship with each other. David Boreanaz who plays Angel and James Marsters have excellent chemistry with each other, but the characters also have such a long and fascinating history to draw on too that stretches back over 100 years.
Spike first appeared in the third episode of the entire series, In the Dark, which is actually my favourite appearance of Spike as a villain.
This episode sees Spike with the aid of a sadistic, demented, child devouring Vampire capture Angel in order to torture him for the location of the ring.
I always loved everything about this episode. To start with Spike as always is hilarious right the way through it. Whether that’s him calling Buffy slutty the vampire slayer, going on about Angel’s caveman brow or after his ally betrays him and steals the ring his macho bullshit speech right before he walks under a patch of sunlight and his hair goes on fire!
However best of all is his speech mocking Angel from a rooftop after Angel saves a young girl from her abusive boyfriend.
The best thing about this scene is that its true! Watch the scene at the end of season 2 where Angel first saves Fred. It plays out like Spike’s little impression beat for beat the way she fawns over him and goes on about “handsome man saved me from the monsters” and the way he spends the next two episodes doing nothing but working up a lot of sexual tension with her.
At the same time I also feel Spike is more vicious here than he was on Buffy. On Buffy he was often only a physical threat to her, but in Angel its much more personal due to their history and what’s interesting is that during the torture session the one time he seems to really come close to actually hurting Angel is when he hurts him emotionally by letting him know that Buffy has moved on rather quickly.
Sadly it would be another almost 5 years before Spike and Angel would share the screen properly after this episode not counting the odd flashback. Spike would appear very fleetingly in the season 2 Angel episode Darla, though actually only one tiny scene was not just a reprise of scenes from the Buffy season 5 episode Fool for Love.
When Spike finally did become a regular on Angel season 5 I thought it really gave the show a tremendous boost and to be honest Season 5 would have to be my favourite series overall largely because of Spike’s inclusion.
Spike and Angel on screen is just dynamite for this whole season. You’d think that at this point because Spike was now another Vampire with a soul that he might threaten to undermine Angel, but instead he gave Angel arguably a better foil than ever before.
From a dramatic point of view there were some excellent moments between the two such as their final showdown in Destiny which is easily one of my favourite episodes of Angel. Then of course there are some absolutely excellent comedic moments too such as Angel and Spike’s tense argument about who would win in a fight between astronauts and cavemen, their petty dispute over who has saved the world more often and best of all when Angel is transformed into a Puppet by a spell and he tries to keep it a secret from everyone, but unfortunately Spike the last person he wants to see him like this walks in.
You can tell even when he is getting his ass kicked Spike is still loving this.
Spike I think was a better fit for Angel as when he was with Angel he got to be Spike again.
Despite having a soul and being in love with Buffy Spike is far more in line with his s2-4 incarnation in Angel s5. He is a funny, cocky, self serving anti hero. Obviously he isn’t evil, but basically he is the same type of character as he was before and I think that’s because when he is with Angel there is obviously a greater opportunity for comedy due to their adversarial relationship. With Buffy whilst Spike was obviously an effective villain, after he became chipped I think they didn’t really know what to do with him as he had no real relationship with Buffy or chemistry other than simply hating her, hence why they made him fall in love with her just to give him some kind of dynamic with the hero.
On Angel meanwhile he already had an established history and relationship with the main character and it was one that lent itself to comedy that the character was best at. Personally I wish that Spike had more time with Angel. Joss Whedon himself has said his biggest regret about Angel ending after its 5th season was that they didn’t get more of Spike and Angel together. James Marsters himself has said that he felt that he could do more on Angel than on Buffy due to the characters relationship with the titular hero.
Whilst I definitely prefer Spike on Angel I am glad that we got him as a regular on both shows however as it was interesting watching how he had a completely different dynamic with the two heroes.
On Buffy, Spike was a much more, romantic, tragic, tortured character as a result of his relationship with Buffy. He and Buffy are like Sid and Nancy a destructive, violent couple who are poison for each other, yet still drawn to one another regardless.
On Angel meanwhile he was a much more comical, lighter, at times even quite petty character as a result of his relationship with Angel. He and Angel are like two squabbling brothers, a Vampire version of Frasier and Niles. You have the taller, older one who has done everything first, getting a soul, saving the world, falling in love with Buffy, and the smaller, blonde one who is resentful and always trying to out do him.
As to which one you prefer I suppose at the end of the day it all depends on whether you prefer a tragic, destructive love story in which case you will obviously prefer Spike and Buffy.
Or if you prefer the funnier, brotherly rivalry then you’d probably prefer the Spike/Angel dynamic, which I did.
Its good that we had two such very different and strong dynamics.
I think Spike is comparable to Ares from the Xena/Hercules franchise. Its no secret that Joss Whedon was a big fan of Xena and drew inspiration from them. When you look at Ares he is really the same type of character as Spike. He is a cocky, arrogant, yet lovable rogue who switches between being a villain, a hero and an anti hero. On the show starring a female lead, Xena much like Spike he is a more romantic, conflicted character as he is hopelessly in love with Xena and regularly tries to win her over which much like Spike leads to him doing some admirable things such as giving up his godhood to save Xena’s daughter and some deplorable things such as threatening her daughter unless she gives him a child. Xena much like Buffy denies having feelings for him despite always being drawn to him at the same time. On the show with a male hero, Hercules meanwhile Ares is a much lighter, more comical character as his feud with the male hero is more petty and jealous.
Thus I think if we were to compare any character to Spike then it would be Ares more than any other.
At the end of Angel series 5 Spike is last shown charging into battle with Angel and the rest of the team. His ultimate fate is left open, but the canonical comic book continuations of both Angel and Buffy have shown that he and Angel survived and Spike has continued to aid both heroes.
After Angel ended there was talk of a DVD movie starring Spike, but sadly nothing came of this. Before he crossed over into Angel there was also talk of a spin off featuring Spike and Faith, but sadly nothing came of this either due to Eliza Dushku starring on the short lived Tru Calling instead.
I am glad in a way that Faith and Spike never happened as I did love Spike on Angel so much, but still at the same time Spike and Faith are my two favourite characters and as seen in season 7 the two did have good chemistry together. The scene of the two of them bonding was apparently done to see if they would work together in a series.
I wish they had done Spike and Faith after Angel season 5 as I think it could have been an excellent series but sadly on tv Not Fade Away proved to be the last outing for the Vampire, though fortunately the last episode of Angel was a truly classic episode and thus Spike at least finished on a high.
With Spike James created a truly iconic character. Again whilst credit must go to the writers for creating an interesting character it was ultimately James who every step of the way added to it in such a way that the writers kept him going, from being a minor villain who was supposed to be killed after 6 episodes to a recurring villain to a main cast member on two different series!
For Spike alone James would always have a special place in genre fans hearts. I remember saying to James that being Spike alone was amazing never mind Torchwood and Smallville and James jokingly said “well I guess I’m greedy“.
Milton Fine/ Brainiac/ Smallville
James was cast as the iconic Superman villain for the 5th season of Smallville.
At first glance Brainiac seemed like a similar character to Spike, another badass in a black long coat who enjoyed kicking the crap out of people.
However under the surface Brainiac is actually the complete opposite to Spike. He’s a completely cold, emotionless villain who ironically chastises Bizarro for falling in love. He also in contrast to Spike prefers to use manipulation and trick people rather than brute force. Though Spike could be crafty too, he generally preferred just to rush head first into violent confrontations. Also whilst a key aspect of Spike’s character was his wonderful sarcastic sense of humour, Brainiac in contrast is completely serious and dour.
Thus whilst it was in essence another charismatic villainous role, ultimately I feel that Brainiac was a totally different character to Spike.
Brainiac is the main antagonist throughout the 5th season of Smallville. He is an android/computer programme that was corrupted by Zod a Kryptonian super criminal before his imprisonment.
Brainiacs goal throughout season 5 is to free Zod from his imprisonment and help him take over the earth. Throughout the series he is shown to succeed in manipulating both Clark Kent and Lex Luthor, with Clark only surviving his first encounter with Brainiac thanks to the intervention of Chloe.
James excels at playing the icey, ruthless villain just as much as he did the vicious thug. His Brainiac does genuinely seem as though he is in control of every situation around him as he has absolutely no doubts and worries about his plans failing, nor does he ever show any fear of anyone around him either, even Clark. Of course this often proves to be his undoing, but still the character is often wiley enough to turn most situations around to be for his benefit.
Whilst Marsters role was originally intended to extend to season 6, sadly he was busy with other commitments and thus the character had to be abruptly killed off at the end of Season 5, though with his dying breath he manages to finally free Zod.
Fortunately the character would return in season 7, once again as the main antagonist. It was revealed that a small peace of him had survived and he is eventually able to regenerate from that.
However even then he is nowhere near as powerful as he once was and thus throughout the series he tries to murder Clark simply for his own survival. We also see a much more openly sadistic side to his personality in this season. Its underplayed but there are little moments that hint that he enjoys hurting people such as when he corners Chloe.
Ultimately Brainiac pushes Clark too far in Season 7 finale and he ends up literally tearing the villain to bits.
Brainiac would return in series 8, but he was not played by James as Brainiac ended up taking over Chloe Sullivan’s body and thus Brainiac was played Alison Mack instead, though James did still return as the voice of Brainiac before he takes over Chloe.
James would get a chance to return in the 10th and final series where it is revealed that after he was taken into the future by the Legion of Superheroes he was reprogrammed for good once again. A reformed Brainiac helps to put Clark back on the path to redemption as a thank you to Clark for saving him.
Thus whilst Brainiac may have been a very different type of villain to Spike, ultimately his story arc ended in a similar way with Brainiac finally redeeming himself and saving the main hero.
I quite liked the way that Brainiac’s story was brought full circle as he was originally created to be a force for good in the universe until Zod corrupted him and turned him into a monster. My only problem with this was that technically Brainiac’s story was finished before Clark becomes Superman!
This was always a problem with Smallville in general though. It really should have finished in season 5 as Smallville and then continue on as Superman the early years. The whole point of the show was that it showed us what happened before Clark became Superman, but by season 5 he was already beginning to do things that he does as Superman and by season 10 it was ridiculous that he hadn’t put on the suit.
Basically the Smallville universe Superman does everything except battle Lex that he is supposed to do before he actually becomes Superman!
Still that gripe aside overall I liked the Smallville Brainiac. I’d say he was the best villain in the entire series. Lex and Lionel were better characters overall, but I’d say that Brainiac was the best enemy to Clark in the show as he was the most menacing and had the most screen presence.
Captain John Hart/ Torchwood
James played this villainous character in 3 episodes of Torchwood throughout its second season.
This character was in many ways a rehash of Spike. He was a violent, sexy, sociopath who revels in violence and even speaks in the same cockney accent as Spike!
Still despite this he was lots of fun nonetheless. He served as more of a classical nemesis to Captain Jack which was something that was lacking from the first series, a really strong single enemy for the crew. The only recurring foe for the team who wasn’t a CGI monster was Bilis Manger who didn’t really have enough screen time to make an impact.
James swashbuckling, sex addicted, time travelling criminal certainly made a big impression on the team right away and he proved to be a very effective villain not just because of his violent unpredictable nature, but also his personal ties to Captain Jack as well.
In the final episode of season 2 it is revealed in a surprise twist that Hart is not the true villain of the piece as he is being forced into attacking the team by Jack Harkness’s evil brother Grey. Though John is still amoral as he ultimately ends up killing several people on Grey’s orders just to save his own skin (Grey had strapped a bomb to his arm) ultimately he does come back and help the Torchwood team once Grey lets him go and he is shown to express disgust over Grey burying Jack alive and even tries to stop him at a risk to his own life until Jack intervenes.
Its a shame that James didn’t get a chance to develop this character further as it would have been interesting to see where they would have gone with John who on the surface seemed like absolute evil, but who still clearly did still have some tiny form of a conscience at least.
Sadly however Hart did not appear in any further series of Torchwood. Both series 3 and 4 of Torchwood had very tight story arcs and there simply would have been no room for Hart’s character. Sadly after series 4 Torchwood took an indefinite hiatus, but still Marsters may one day reprise the character in one of the Big Finish Audios as he does have a real love for the role.
Though he was only in three episodes he still remains without doubt the most popular and iconic villain from the series.
Don Stark/ Supernatural
James guest starred in an episode of Season 7 of Supernatural opposite former Buffy actress Charisma Carpenter. They are two of a number of Buffy actors who have appeared in Supernatural as its creators were huge fans of Buffy.
Don Stark initially seems like just a normal guy whose wife played by Charisma Carpenter is an evil witch trying to kill someone Don had an affair with. Later in the episode it is revealed that in a great twist Don is a Warlock who is killing people too.
This episode has always been a favourite of mine as James and Charisma who have always had great comic timing are just so funny together. Really the episode despite its gruesome murders is more of a comedy episode and its quite cool the way that James and Charisma are just about the only two villains in the series that the Winchesters never beat.
Sam and Dean get their asses kicked and the only thing they are able to do to stop them from killing everyone is fix their marriage.
Victor Hesse/ Hawai 5-0
James played this villainous character throughout the first two seasons of Hawai 5-0.
Hesse was more of a standard villain, just evil through and through, but James was still excellent in the role and the character was a very effective villain in the early episodes of the series. Ruthless, determined, and vicious, but I think it was a shame that they killed him off in the first episode of the second series.
It seemed like they were setting him up to be a main villain and then he was just killed which was a bit of a waste of James, but still overall a great performance from James.
James has played Buzz Aldrin in the tv movie Moonshot The Flight of Apollo 11, he also played the serial killer Ted Bundy in the acclaimed mini series The Capture of the Green River Killer.
Among his other genre roles include guest appearances in series like Andromeda, Star Wars The Clone Wars animated series, Warehouse 13, The Witches of East End and Scooby Doo Mystery Incorporated. He also had a recurring role as Barnabas Greely in Caprica. James also played the main villain Lord Piccolo in Dragon Ball Evolution, though sadly the movie was a dismal failure.
He has also provided the voices for Mr Fantastic in the animated series The Super Hero Squad Show and Lex Luthor in the animated movie Superman Brainiac Attacks which was very well received.
James’s extensive career in genre series has led to him to be dubbed “the obvious go to guy for US cult television” by the media.
Aside from his acting career James is also an accomplished singer.songwriter. He has released two solo albums Civilised Man and Like a Waterfall and four albums with the band With Ghost of the Robot, Mad Brilliant, B-Sider, Murphy’s Law, and Bourgeois Faux Pas. He has also gone on many tours both solo and With Ghost of the Robot around the world too.
Thanks for reading.