James Marsters at Slayer ItaCon
by Marco Donati
by Marco Donati
From August 2 to 4, fans from all over Italy and Europe gathered at Demidoff County Resort Hotel, just outside of Florence, for the first Italian convention of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, Slayer ItaCon. Among the guests, there was the ex-vampire James Marsters, who portrayed the unforgettable Captain John Hart in Torchwood. I've been a fan of the Buffyverse since childhood, and the venue was close enough to where I live that I didn't need to book a room at the hotel, so it was already a great opportunity for me. When James Marsters' attendance at Slayer ItaCon was announced as his only public appearance in Europe for this year, I knew I couldn't miss such a chance to meet for the first time one of my favourite Torchwood actors. So I ordered my pass, autographs, and photo-ops, and prepared for three exciting days of fun!
On Friday afternoon, I took the shuttle bus from Florence train station to the hotel, I collected my pass and extras when I reached the venue, and I bought two pictures I wanted to get signed the following day at the merchandising desk. The only activities in my schedule for the day were the opening ceremony and the Q&A panel with all the guests, so I started queuing to get inside the Conference Room. Since the front rows were reserved to holders of the more expensive passes and I had the cheapest pass, I was basically at the bottom of the line, but I still managed to get a place in the fourth row of seats.
First, a compilation of videos from various TV shows the guests had appeared on were shown to the audience. For James Marsters, they showed a couple of clips from Buffy and the Supernatural episode he guest starred on. Then, the guests were formally introduced and appeared on stage through a side door. James was the last guest to enter the room. He greeted the staff of the con, thanked his fans for coming, and particularly addressed attendees who had had a long journey to get to the con, like fans from Russia and America. He joked about how good-looking Italians are, and he said that he was slightly frustrated not to be the pretties in the room as he usually is. Then the guests took their sits and the Q&A panel started.
All Guests Q&A Panel
On the second day of the convention, individual panels for each guest were planned. However, on Friday evening the guests (Nicholas Brendon, J. August Richards, Mark Lutz, and James Marsters) sat together after the Opening Ceremony for the first Q&A session of the weekend. The four actors kept joking with each other and laughing for the entire time, and it was a really funny and interesting panel. First thing James said, "I accept all kind of questions, please try to embarrass me, no one ever has succeeded in embarrassing me yet". Apparently, this is what he always says at the beginning of his panels. Although he added that he might not answer extremely weird questions, he still encourages them because it's fun to hear what fans' crazy minds are capable of.
The first question James was asked was about drinking on screen. A fan from Denmark asked what was the blood-like liquid he had to drink on Buffy, and he said it was a kind of strawberry juice so rich in sugar that a doctor had to be on set during his scenes in order to avoid anaphylactic shock and passing out, as experienced by the stunt guy who tried to drink several glasses of the juice. Still, that wasn't the hardest time he had with liquids on TV shows.
James recalled the scene in Torchwood series 2 premiere "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang", when he as John Hart was supposed to drink a whole bottle of vodka in order to allow John Barrowman's gag about rehab to work. After the first 14 bottles of water he drank for the scene, he went to the bathroom and threw up, only to return on set to drink more water immediately after. He laughed that his wife, who was visiting him on set at the time, considers his job the most disgusting in the world. But James explained that he prefers to risk and be sick than just pretending drinking, especially when the character is supposed to be extremely thirsty or hungry for blood, because it wouldn't look believable on screen if the actor faked. Nicholas Brendon joked that real actors drink real vodka when filming, though.
On a more serious note, James commented on the spreading of reality shows on television. He said that reality television's popularity is fictional shows' laziness' fault. "Fiction should be more entertaining than reality", he said, and if people prefer to watch reality shows it's because fictional shows are not making their job, due to poor writing and repetitiveness. However, he appeared convinced that in the end fictional shows will overcome reality television, if networks start to give more credit to original ideas and inspired writers.
Saturday was a busy day, since I had on my schedule two photo-ops, an autograph session and two panels to attend. So, I took the shuttle bus in the morning and reached the hotel early. The photo with James was the first of my photo-ops. Attendees had been divided into different groups depending on the type of pass, but the queue outside the Photo-Op Room was still very long, so I joined it as soon as possible, and I had the chance to chat with other fans while waiting. Anyway, everything run smoothly, and when it was my turn I had a few seconds to ask James if he was enjoying the convention and to thank him for coming to Florence, before he picked a nice pose and the photo was taken.
About a quarter of hour later, I joined the much shorter queue for the group photo with all the guests. In a few minutes, I entered the room, greeted them and shook their hands, and posed for my last photo.
James Marsters Solo Q&A Panel
After lunch, there was the individual panel with James Marsters. Again, VIP pass holders had early access to the Conference Room and I had to queue with the last group of people. This time I wasn't very lucky though, and I got a seat pretty far from the stage, but still the panel was incredibly entertaining and inspirational. Lots of topics were covered, from anecdotes from the set of Buffy to James' songs.
He was asked what he considers his biggest achievement in life apart from his family, and he answered that the theatre company he founded in Chicago and Seattle is one of the things he's most proud of, mainly because his company was the first to gain permission from Dr. Seuss' wife to perform the Lorax after the author's death. Also, he said that "everybody is beautiful enough to be stared at": since it's not normally polite to stare at people, basically people pay to stare at actors on stage, and James said that one of the risks of his job is the impulse to impress the staring people, overdoing, instead of be yourself and true to what you're doing. He added that everyone is beautiful as they are, but he works in a business that try to force others to feel imperfect and incomplete (especially through ads), even if the perfection it promotes is unreal and unreachable, and James said he has seen many good-looking actresses going insane over their appearances and many actors leading a dreadful life only to look glamorous.
When he was asked about his relationship with his fans, he explained that he's a fan too: he has always loved Star Trek, he even attended the first Star Trek convention ever wearing pointed ears, the typical blue uniform, and hand-made wood phaser, and he adores Leonard Nimoy to the point he can't properly talk to him even if they've met and know each other. So he said he understands the fans, and he thinks conventions are great, because they are a great way for like-minded people to get together offline and share amazing experiences, on a level that's only comparable to church. Finally, a fan asked him if he would change something about his life, and he said he wouldn't even consider it, since he tries to live without regrets, just always going for it, and the ups and downs he experienced made his life interesting.
At the end of the panel, James was asked by the hosts to sign the banner of the convention, and then he posed in front of the audience for a picture.
Immediately after the end of the panel, I rushed to get to James' signing. I got signed and personalised the two pictures I bought the day before, and I had a few minutes to chat with James. I had the chance to tell him how much I love Torchwood and Buffy and his performance in both tv shows. Also, I asked him a question I didn't have the time to ask at the panel, about his British accent. I asked him if he got some proper training with a dialect coach in order to learn how to fake a British accent for Spike and Captain John Hart, and he told me that his British accent was already good without training. He only had minor problems with the pronunciation of certain words like "bullets", and his colleague Anthony Stewart Head (Giles in Buffy) offered his help. However, he thinks that in the early Buffy episodes his accent wasn't perfect, though over time he mastered it to the point many English fans thought he really was British!
Unfortunately James couldn't attend on Sunday, but overall Slayer ItaCon was a fantastic event, with a very warm and intimate atmosphere that larger events like Comic Con lacks. The guests interacted with all attendees, every fan was able to spend quality time with the actors and get to know them better, and I met some brilliant Buffy and Torchwood fans from all over the world. I will remember this convention fondly for a very long time! James was always extremely nice and open with his fans, and I'm really looking forward to seeing him at future events soon!