On the Line with Jason Marsden

Simply put, Jason Marsden is a dynamic powerhouse in the worlds of acting and voice acting. The charisma he displays on the microphone and on set is second to none. Now he’s gotten on the road to Nashville, Tennessee where he hosts The Mars Variety Show. We had an engaging discussion about how he wants to get involved with music, being the voice of Max in A Goofy Movie, fun times from the set of Full House, the importance of voice acting in video games and much more.

So you recently attended the Pilgrimage Music & Cultural Festival in Franklin, Tennessee. What was that experience like for you?

It was the first music festival in Franklin, Tennessee. It went over two days. It was run by Kevin Griffin from Better Than Ezra. Two days of music and the headliners included Willie Nelson, Weezer, Steven Tyler, Cage the Elephant. Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear, they’re a mother/son duo from Kansas City, Missouri. I have to recommend you check them out, they’re amazing. Big Sam’s Funky Nation, they’re from New Orleans. They’re a big funk, soul, rock band with a little bit of metal infused here and there. St. Paul & The Broken Bones from Alabama. There were vendors and great food trucks. It was a good time. For a first time, they put on a heck of a show.

Who do you feel put on the best performance?

I was so moved by Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear. There’s also these kids in a band in Franklin called Down Boy. The kid must be twenty years old and he sounds like Jack White. It was ten o’clock in the morning and they didn’t care, they just shredded. I have video of it. As far as performance goes, these kids just killed.

You told me that you went to see ZZ Top about a month ago. That must’ve been something!

What a show! Some friends of mine are in a band called Goodbye June and they, along with Blackberry Smoke, opened for ZZ Top. Just to put it into perspective, Goodbye June and Blackberry Smoke comprise of five or six people in the band and not doing them a disservice, they were outstanding, but ZZ Top comes on stage, three guys…three guys, they get on stage and they commanded like nobody’s business. And it wasn’t just because of their longevity and experience, but something magical happens when they hit the stage. They owned it and they didn’t let us go until the very end.

What would you say is the best concert that you ever attended?

Man, oh man, maybe Jack White performing at Bonnaroo two years ago.

And what was your first concert?

First concert I ever went to was Billy Joel. I’ve seen him a few times since. He was at Bonnaroo this year, but I couldn’t go.

When you attend concerts, do you ever get approached by fans who recognize you from roles?

I do, yeah! Especially when I’m in the Southeast. People watch Step by Step a lot out here, so I get a lot of that.

A major role for you over the years has been providing the voice for Goofy’s son, Max. That all started with A Goofy Movie. How did you feel about that first gig as him? Also, how did you feel about the plot of the film? It really helped give Goofy’s character depth, far beyond the classic shorts.

At first, I was stoked. I can’t believe it’s been twenty years since we did it. I knew the, dare I say, franchise cause I watched Disney afternoon and Goof Troop was part of that. At the time, Max was voiced by a woman, the late Dana Hill. I only got to meet her a couple times. She was in European Vacation and did a lot of on-camera stuff. She also did a lot of voice-overs. Usually when they make a movie out of a TV show, there’s executives involved and they want to change it up a bit. They wanted a not as cartoony kind of voice, so they were casting real kids. I came in, I read a couple times, booked it and I was over the moon. It was my first animated feature and I also got to work with Bill Farmer, the voice of Goofy, who I’m a big fan of. I was a Disney nerd, I’ve had the bedsheets and everything. I’m surprised I got laid when I had so much Disney stuff in my house! I was surprised about how human they made Goofy and I didn’t really absorb it until watching the finished screening. I completely credit Kevin Lima, the director, and Bill Farmer for giving such a non-cartoony performance, a zany and cartoony character. There’s some really great moments. I love that it’s a road trip, that it’s a father-son thing, especially now that I’m a dad. That adds more emotional value to it for me. It’s one of those things that I’m just stupid proud to be part of. It’s not just A Goofy Movie, it’s a good movie! It’s a great story that has stood the test of time. We had a big thing at D23 with a big concert and a Q&A and a reunion. Every year, I watch A Christmas Story, so it’s cool that people pull out their Goofy Movie VHS or DVD every year and watch it with their families or their parents.

You must have been very flattered to see the live action remake of After Today.

(laughs) That was like eight or ten years ago when they did that. That’s when I really started to recognize that people really like this movie. People have held onto it, enough to put their blood, sweat and tears into something like that. So yeah, that felt good.

How did you feel about the music from Powerline?

It was great. At the time, Tevin Campbell was really popular. He was young and he had a great voice, a great sound for someone so young. He was compared to Michael Jackson. To have him in the movie was like, it was huge. I like all the songs in the film, but my girlfriend at the time, she wasn’t as enchanted with the movie as most people. She said the songs were kind of silly, but she thought the Powerline songs were great. (laughs)

You also have some great accomplishments in the field of live-action programming. I was originally introduced to you through your role on Full House. What did you take out of the experience?

It was so much fun. They just gave me that role, I didn’t have to audition. I think it was only supposed to be a couple of episodes. I remember actually walking by the producer who was talking to Candace Cameron and asking her “Hey, what do you think of Marsden? Should we bring him back for a couple more episodes as a love interest?” She approved and I just kind of walked into the tail end of that. Well that’s super cool! (laughs) As a result of that, I got to go to San Francisco and shoot on location and got to experience the zany antics of Bob Saget. I realized that he’s kind of a fucked up individual, just a weird sense of humor! He’s not the squeaky clean Friday night TGIF image that people think. (laughs) The whole experience was just grand. Again, to this day, people still point me out from that. I’m part of pop culture. I mean you can’t buy my t-shirt at Hot Topic, but people know who I am and I like that.

Do you have a story to share from the set of Full House?

So there’s an episode where DJ can’t decide between my character and Viper, played by David Lipper. In the episode, both he and I have to kiss her. We show up for work one afternoon and the mood is kinda somber. The producers take us aside, me and David. “Just want to let you know, Candace isn’t feeling well. She might have mono.” (laughs) Now I’m not sweatin’ it cause I had mono, so I’m good. But David was freaking out. He’s like “I don’t know what to do! Do I need to call my agent?” “No, no, no. It’s all good. We don’t even know what it is.” Turns out she didn’t have mono. We’re all good, none of us got effected. That’s a terrible story! (laughs) I got a better story for ya. They were shooting Batman Forever, the one where Jim Carrey plays The Riddler. And I’m a big Batman fan, so I would sneak over on the set any chance I got. So I snuck on the set and I saw Jim Carrey dressed as The Riddler and doing his thing. I went back to the set and I was telling everybody about seeing Tommy Lee Jones and Jim Carrey on the Batman set. Bob Saget’s like “You saw Jim?” “Yeah.” He’s like “Show me.” So we got up, went over to the stage and couldn’t find Jim anywhere. He’s in his trailer and Bob finds his trailer. We knock on the door, Jim opens up and invites us in his trailer. I get to hang out with Jim Carrey in his full Riddler outfit for like ten minutes while him and Bob talk about stand up and old times. That was a treat.

You’ve also been on Boy Meets World and I found it really interesting that they used your real first and last name for your character.

That part was written for me and I was working on something else at the time, so they cast another actor. At the last minute, they did a switcharoo and brought me in and I did a number of episodes. So there came to be an episode where Feeny had to refer to me by my last name, which he always does for all his students. The writers just came up and asked me if they could just use my last name because they thought it’d be kinda funny. So I agreed to go along with it. (laughs) So it’s kind of like an inside joke.

I watched the acting reel you have out there of your live-action roles. The roles were all over the place and ranged from being awkward and nerdy to being a condescending asshole. So I have to ask, which is your favorite personality trait to take on? What feels most comfortable?

(laughs) Oddly enough, it feels most comfortable to be the asshole. I’m five one, maybe a Napoleon complex, maybe I just behave like I’m bigger than other people and never realize how short I am until I see a photograph. I always have had this kind of swagger, this conference, this arrogance. Those are the kind of parts I always seem to get cast in. Those are the ones that come the easiest. I also like moody characters, villains, anything that can chew up the scenery. (laughs) That’s what I prefer. I don’t mind playing the sidekick though, the guy with a lot of attitude and a lot of opinions.

Do you feel you have ever gotten typecast because of your height?

Oh I know I’ve gotten typecast for my height. It was told to me point blank a few times. It was always frustrating because I always thought that I was bigger than the role. But this is at a time where there wasn’t as much diversity as there is now. I auditioned for a show to play the lead girl’s boyfriend and this was the first time it ever happened to me. I did the audition and the producer got up and escorted me outside, he’s like “Can I talk to you for a second?” “…Okay.” I thought I was in trouble. And he said “You are the best actor that’s come in today, but I can’t hire you.” “Why not?” “Man, you’re too short! She’s like five four and she’ll tower over you.” And I’m arguing with him, I’m like “Dude, my girlfriend is taller than me! This is real life!” And he’s like “I just can’t do it. There’s a certain aesthetic.” In a lot of auditions I go on, I’m brought in because of my height. They’re looking for that gimmick, that sight gag. Every so often, I’ll find a casting director who knows my work for my talent and not just my look. It’s always been a challenge, but it’s also worked for me in a way, you could say.

It seems as though you’ve been prioritizing voice acting over the past several years. Are you content with that or are you looking to get some more live-action roles?

I wouldn’t mind doing more live-action. I live in Nashville, Tennessee now, so it’s much easier to focus on voice-over here and I’m so entrenched in it. Voice-over’s a very small community and I’m lucky to be a part of it. I can audition from anywhere and when I book stuff, I still have to fly back to LA, depending on the project. There is an on-camera scene in the southeast, I just haven’t been here long enough to really pursue it. There’s other things I’m enchanted with out here, I like the music scene in Nashville and working with musicians, especially independent musicians. I put on a variety show, I do music videos, I shoot live performances, so I’m trying to maybe work that angle. But I’ll always act, that ego needs to be fed. (laughs)

You recently spoke out on Twitter against a controversy surrounding video game voice roles. What’s the story there?

For several years now, every time we have a negotiation with the producers in the gaming industry, and I haven’t been in these meetings, this is what I’ve heard from people who have been in negotiations on my side. They come in with a reasonable proposal and the producers just don’t wanna hear it, they have their agenda that they want to focus on. They don’t care what we have to say. And every year, they up the stakes and they become more intimidating because intimidation puts fear in actors. Most of us rely on this industry for stability. We’re professional gamblers and the magic carper ride could end at any time. I tend to want to stand up to these producers saying “Let’s have a conversation. Don’t be so omnipotent.” And one thing that really pissed me off is that they say, I’ve heard this, they said that they can do this with anybody. “Go ahead, keep pushing it, we’ll go non-union. Anyone can do your job.” And that upsets me. No, not anyone can do my job. Trust me. I’ve been to many voice-over workshops. Yes, there is some great talent in these workshops, I guarantee you not every one of them could last in a four hour video game session. It’s hard work. It’s not more of a role, it’s the process of it. A video game script is so much bigger than any feature film script because the universe is so vast. You have to handle lots of dialogue. And because they’re trying to save money, you have to be able to do lots of dialogue relatively quickly. Do one take if you can. A lot of these games are filled with drama, so you have to be a good actor. You can’t just have a good voice, you have to be able to perform it. There’s some games that require a lot of action, so you could spend a day just shouting. Just shouting dialogue. And what’s the big thing that happens in video games? You get killed, death rattles. So you spend a good hour doing “Okay, you’re getting punched in the face. Give me a small, medium and large punch. Now, you’re punching someone. Okay, now you’re getting stabbed. Now you’re getting electrocuted. Now you’re falling down a cliff. Now you’re falling down a small cliff. Now you’re getting hit in the head with a rock.” I challenge anybody off the street to do that and be able to save their voice and save the producer’s money and knock out a session like that. So it’s not just the role, it’s the process of it.

You brought up the variety show earlier, entitled Mars Variety Show, and I know that’s been a big deal for you. I’d love to learn more about that.

It’s one of my proudest things that I’ve done over here. For my birthday, I turned forty in January, I threw myself a variety show. I know a lot of musicians out here. A lot of great, talented folk. Nashville comedians and artists. I do like old school variety shows, I grew up watching The Carol Burnett Show and Tim Conway. I watch The Dean Martin Show and Hee Haw. And I did kind of a hybrid of that. The Mars Variety Show is live music, it’s burlesque, it’s comedy, it’s spoken word, it’s art. I call it a relentless evening of entertainment. If I host, I throw it to a musical act on stage, music act is done, lights out, stage lights up, stage right and there’s a skit. When that’s done, immediately lights out there, lights up on the other side of the stage. I use the entire venue. There’s no one place to sit, people have to crane their necks and turn around to stand up and look, it happens all over the venue. Each show has a theme. First one, I guess I would call Life because it was my birthday. For the second one, I did Death, kind of a celebration of. The third one was called Porch cause I’ve had a lot of really fun experiences here in the Southeast on people’s porch, the front porch in the middle of the night or the afternoon or dusk. They bring out their instruments and they play songs, a little pickin’ action. It’s just so enchanting that I turned the whole venue into one big, giant porch. (laughs) We had stories and we had music. For the next one coming up, the venue we’re using is unfortunately closing, so we’re gonna do one big performance and call it Blowout. It’s gonna feel like when you know your job is ending and you’re just like “I’m just gonna do whatever I want cause what are they gonna do, fire me?”

How has the reaction been from friends and family that have attended the shows?

A lot of real positive support. I think I’m doing something that’s actually lackluster compared to the entertainment I come from in LA, I’m just kind of throwing stuff together here. But the musicians and talent really appreciate it, they keep telling me that no one in Nashville does this, so that feels good. I’m giving artists a forum to perform and experiment and I’m giving the audience something different to experience. The feedback has been overwhelmingly positive, they keep me wanting to do it. It’s not that hard to put together and I love doing it. I go to live music all the time, I see someone like Down Boy and I’m like “Man, they’re outstanding. I would totally give them a forum to perform at. People need to see these guys.” I’m much better at promoting other people than myself.

So we both have something in common, we’ve been through the long hair phase. What inspired that?

(laughs) That started as laziness. My wife and I own a yoga studio in Burbank, California called Yoga Blend and I don’t know, maybe you could say it was my hippie phase. Maybe I was transitioning into voice-over and I didn’t have to worry about being on camera, so I didn’t have to maintain a certain look. I never grew my hair that long, so I wanted to experiment and see what that would look like.

What led to you cutting the long hair?

My wife was pregnant and her water broke about twenty two weeks early, so she was in the hospital hoping he’s gonna stay in. I realized we were gonna be there for a few months hoping he stays in and cooks. So then alright, I’m gonna be here for a while. “I don’t want to deal with this, I’m gonna go get it cut off.” That afternoon, got my hair cut off. That night, my son was born. (laughs) One pound, seven ounces.

What an experience! Before we wrap up, there’s one more thing I’d like to get your thoughts on. Being in the entertainment industry and going through all these auditions, how have you learned to handle rejection?

I don’t think I ever really handle it. I mean it still hurts, but maybe I just process it quicker than I used to. It also depends on the role. There’s certain things that I really dig where I’m like “Aw man, I really wanted that! Was it me? Could I have done something different?” I think I’ve just gotten older and more content with myself. I know that without a doubt, Alex, I’m really good at what I do and I don’t pull punches when I audition. I do the best that I can do and if I don’t get it, it means it’s not me. I’ve been on the other side were I’ve had to cast and I know it’s not personal, I’m looking for a certain aesthetic, a certain fit for the role that I’m looking for. And that’s just what the producers are looking for. So I remind myself of that and then I move on cause life’s too short.

In closing, what do you have up ahead for the rest of 2015 and into 2016?

I’m making a full transition into Nashville. I’m hoping to work here more. Here’s a voice-over scene here, we’re talking about if it’s possible to bring animation here. Why does it have to be in one place? There’s a lot of talent here, let’s try and do it here. I wanna make a movie here. I want to bring more of the industry to Nashville. I want to work with musicians. Being at the festival, I see a lot of photographers in the pit and they have the perfect landscape to get these great shots. I want to be part of that. I mean I know I can’t do everything at once, I have to pick just a couple things. I wouldn’t mind moving into focusing on musicians and doing music videos and shooting live stuff, promotional stuff for them. I want to put on live shows beyond The Mars Variety Show, “Mars Presents” where I’ll pick one band to be an opener and just put on concerts. I could be very happy doing that for the rest of my life. But there’ll always be acting, there’s great theatre out here in the film scene nearby. I’m gonna follow my highest excitement.

I’m excited to see where your future in Nashville takes you and the changes you can bring. I’d love to thank you so much for your time and a wonderful interview.

Thanks, man!

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