James Marsden is an acting chameleon. Horror, romantic comedies, musicals, dramas, superhero fare and raunchy romps... the Oklahoma native has done it all, along the way establishing a reputation as one of Hollywood's nicest guys. Now, Marsden is switching gears with a remake of 1971's psychological thriller, 'Straw Dogs,' which opens Friday. Not for the squeamish, the movie finds his character, David, forced to take extreme measures when he and his wife are brutally terrorized by locals. Marsden spoke exclusively with Moviefone about 'Straw Dogs,' remaking classic movies and getting aggressive on screen.
Hollywood enjoys dusting off old gems and giving them a fresh coat of paint. In your opinion, what constitutes a good remake?
Setting aside the fact you are doing a remake or not, you just have to set your sights on making a good film. If you make a good film, all is forgiven. It depends on the movie, I guess. If you are remaking Gone with the Wind, you have your work cut out for you. What's most important is the balance of familiarity from the original, some elements that are inherent in the original film that need to be there, but also putting a modern spin on it.
Once you signed on, was it intimidating to step into Dustin Hoffman's shoes?
That's where I hope the 40 years is going to be on my side. By that, I mean the time difference between the first film and this one. He's pitch-perfect in that movie. It's an acting miracle what he achieved.
Instead of worrying about that, I thought I would just do my thing. I watched the original a few times before and during the shoot to make sure I wasn't doing exactly what he did.
Did your director, Rod Lurie, echo those same sentiments or did he allow you to discover David on your own?
I think he allowed me to find the character on my own. There were hints of David being the villain or disrespectful to the locals, like walking out during the church sequence. Everybody is trying to find their value in this movie. David is trying to write a screenplay and fit in with these men who are very different than him. It exposes a part of him he may feel insecure about. The fact is he's not the alpha male and doesn't believe in that structure. There was less of David being a villain in this movie and more about living with this set of principles and dealing with conflict in a more mature, civilized way. I admire him for that, but it only goes so far before he is forced into a corner and has to fight back.
Touching on that, the film's poster talks about breaking points and you have a wife and kids in real life. In that respect, is it scary getting into David's mindset and contemplating what could potentially push you to your limit?
Yeah, being a parent is the thing that could push you there. Nobody wants to go there. There are few things in life that would push me to kill, but that's certainly one of them. To protect your family. I'm not a believer that an animal exists in me, but if need be, if they are in jeopardy or threatened, then certainly.
'Straw Dogs' features some controversial moments. Was it important to keep those intact or would the film still have the same impact if they were watered down?
I don't think you can make 'Straw Dogs' and not have those elements in place. That defines the movie. That said, there are strongly different views on some of the themes of the movie. In many ways, this is a kick-ass feminist movie. Our leading actress is not just viewed as a sexual object. She's fierce, intense and strong. If you are going to remake Straw Dogs, you have to have the balls to do it.
Did reuniting with your 'Superman Returns' co-star, Kate Bosworth, make it any easier to go to those dark places?
Yes, that was one of the reasons I reached out to her before they started casting
There's talk about sequels for several of your films -- 'Enchanted,' 'Hop,' 'X-Men' and 'Hairspray.' If one could actually come together, which would it be and why?
I would like to see an 'Enchanted' sequel. That is probably the most real and most talked-about. I've had the fortune of doing a few X-Men sequels. That said, I would welcome that as well. And Hairspray would just be a party and a blast.
'Straw Dogs' is in theaters on Sept. 16.
Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures.