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Q+A: James Marsden 'hopes to be funny' on '30 Rock'

January 6, 2012 |  8:00 am

James Marsden guest-stars on '30 Rock'
The midseason return of "30 Rock" kicks off Thursday, Jan. 12, and with another season comes another love interest for Tina Fey's quirky onscreen persona, Liz Lemon. 

Anyone else think she has more game — and probably as many losers — than Carrie Bradshaw? We've seen her fall for Dennis (Dean Winters of "Oz," "Rescue Me"), the beeper-selling dude who called Liz "dummy; there was Floyd ("SNL's" Jason Sudeikis), the "flower guy" who moves to Cleveland; Drew (played by "Mad Men's" dapper Jon Hamm), the doctor completely oblivious of his good looks; and the pilot with the unfortunate name, Carol Burnett (played by Matt Damon). And that's just naming a few. (An honorary mention should go to her imaginary boyfriend, Astronaut Mike Dexter.)

This season, Liz fancies a guy who hawks meat on the street. And the show has enlisted James Marsden, known for his roles on "X-Men" and "The Notebook," to be that guy. Marsden will appear in a six-episode arc as a laid-back hot dog vendor. Show Tracker spoke to the actor on playing in the TV pond, what we can expect from his "30 Rock" stint and his playing a game that has proved troublesome for "30 Rock" stars in the past: Words With Friends.

You guest-starred on "Modern Family" last year.  Now "30 Rock." And we all remember you on "Ally McBeal" -- or at least, I do.  Would you ever consider a more permanent TV presence down the line?  All the cool film actors are doing it.

It’s definitely something I’m thinking about more and more these days, frankly, because it feels like there’s just as much good work on TV as there is in film, if not more. And there are more great outlets. I don’t know. It just depends if I would find the right fit. I’ve never considered myself someone who would never consider it.  If it’s a great role, a great script, has a great show runner — absolutely, I would. It’d be nice to stay in L.A. and be around my kids more often. There are a lot of upsides to doing it. I’d be open to it.

What can you tell us about your role on “30 Rock”?

The guy I play, Chriss, is a pretty laid-back guy. And this season Liz is trying to — I mean, she’s typically the over-thinker, the over-analyzer — and I think she’s trying to have someone in her life who has a positive effect in the other direction. He sort of forces her to chill a little bit. In the end, it may be a good thing for her.  It might not be. We don’t really know yet. I don’t know yet, to be honest. It’s such a great show and the writing is so unique. It was just such a cool opportunity not to pass up. I’m essentially coming in after [Matt] Damon. I tend to gravitate towards characters with a little bit of crazy in them. I mean, on “Modern Family” I had a princess castle in the backyard.  And when I read this role, I thought it’d be fun.

It sounds fun. You play a hot dog vendor, right?

Yes. His aspiration at the moment is to have a gourmet hot dog truck. And Liz loves her hot dogs.

Did it give you a whole new appreciation for the men who sell hot dogs on the streets of New York?

I still don’t know if I know how to do all they can do. It’s not easy.

But  Chriss having that sort of job is what makes it so great. He’s extremely enthusiastic about life. He’s so free-spirited.  He’s one of these guys who has a very strong character and Alec’s character [Jack] doesn’t really approve. He goes toe-to-toe with Alec [Baldwin]. Chriss doesn’t back down.  He’s very passionate and he’s well-intentioned.

Tina Fey with James MarsdenAs a love interest for Liz, you follow, in addition to Damon, Hamm. Was that nerve-wracking?

Definitely. It’s not only that it’s those guys — it’s that they were so hilarious. But it’s more exciting than anything else. I hope to be as funny.

And your character spells his name with two "s" — that’s got to give him an edge.

I hope so.

Since he’s so easygoing, is Chriss the type of guy who would watch “27 Dresses” with Liz or “The Notebook”?

That is the best question ever. I thought they were in the same category.

Definitely not. “27 Dresses” is a romantic comedy that you watch while painting your nails. “The Notebook” is a tear-jerker you watch in the dark.

Wow. I did not know that. I’d probably say “The Notebook,” to be honest. We have Valentine’s Day coming up — I don’t want to give anything away, but Chriss — with two "s" — is someone who really enjoys that holiday, as you'll see on the show.

Did all this time guest-starring on the show make you good enough chums with Baldwin that he now plays Words With Friends with you? I hear he likes that game.

I haven’t been back to New York to film since that all happened. Ironically, though, I do have a pretty intense game going with Tina. She’s kind of wiping the floor with me at the moment. And it’s still our first game, which has been going on for, like, a month. At least if I get beat I can say, "hey, I got beat by someone who won the Mark Twain Award."  Who can claim that?

What’s been your best word so far?

Geez, it’s probably something embarrassing like "fork." I’d have to go back and check. But I bet it’s "fork."

Sad. Well, I guess we should end on a happy note: your next project is the raunchy comedy “Bachelorette.” With Will Ferrell behind it, it must be fun.

I just saw it last night with the cast. It’s really exciting. It’s pretty R-rated. It’s going to be compared to “Bridesmaids,” of course, not only because of the title, but because of the content — it’s really hard R-rated. But it’s a completely different movie. The movie was never intended to be a rip-off of “Bridesmaids.”  It was a play on Broadway. I’m realizing that I’m saying all this and you haven’t even drawn the comparison yet! We’re just so ready for people to make that comparison, I guess.

But it was a party to make. The whole thing takes place the night before a wedding. There’s three locations. We’re at Scores strip club a lot. It was pretty crazy. It’s weird having lunch at Scores in the middle of the day.

And what’s your character like?

I play a guy named Trevor, he’s a guy who’s just a delicious [jerk]. He’s not the greatest guy in the world. He graduated magna cum laude; prep school dude.  In the script, it describes him as “has definitely slept with hookers.” He’s the best man on the groom’s side and is in charge of making sure everyone has a good time before the wedding.  He’s very suave. He’s very cocky. But he’s very charming. Think Vince Vaughn in “Swingers.” It’s fun to play a character who is so unabashedly dirty. We’re not trying to win over hearts with this guy. It’s great knowing that’s not the intention.

It’s fun keeping people on their toes. I think people think of me as the sweet guy who never gets the girl. It’s fun to stir things up.

Maybe you should really up the ante and do a guest stint on “Sons of Anarchy” or something.

I’m game. I want to run all over the place. Maybe a role on “Breaking Bad” — that would be awesome.

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-- Yvonne Villarreal

twitter.com/villarrealy

Photos, from top: James Marsden as Chriss, Liz Lemon's new love interest, in a scene from "30 Rock."  Tina Fey with James Marsden. Credit: NBC

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