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James Marsden Takes On a ‘Reluctant Hero’ in Stephen King’s The Stand

The Westworld star talks the appeal of playing ordinary-guy Stu Redman and stepping into Stephen King’s world as a self-confessed Constant Reader.

by | December 15, 2020 | Comments

With twinkling eyes, dimples, and an earnest, Oklahoma-bred “aw shucks” demeanor, James Marsden has a knack for finding roles that frequently fall into one of two categories: Is he the sweet guy, and safe bet, for leading ladies like he was in HBO’s Westworld, NBC’s 30 Rock, the X-Men movies, or the rom-com 27 Dresses? Or is he the evil one with nefarious motives like in Hulu’s Mrs. America, Netflix’s Dead to Me, and – yes – maybe also, 27 Dresses?

These themes hit a crescendo with Marsden’s latest role in limited series, The Stand. Based on the popular Stephen King novel, the star-studded CBS All Access program focuses on the few survivors of flu-like pandemic that swiftly wiped out most of the world’s population. Will those remaining choose the path of good? Led by Whoopi Goldberg’s nurturing 108-year-old Mother Abagail, this flock sticks to their dwellings in Boulder, Colorado. Or will they decide to stand with Randall Flagg, Alexander Skarsgard’s alluring and intoxicating “Dark Man” who has staked his claim on the remains of Las Vegas?

So where does Marsden’s Stu Redman stand? Although the widower and ex-Marine actually had an encounter with a patient zero of the pandemic before it went airborne, he’s somehow mysteriously immune to the virus. He has the strength and smarts to escape a military-grade holding cell and fend for himself. But he also dreams of Mother Abagail calling him toward her compound – one of the few residents who actually has this honor and who is therefore one of the people made a leader of the survivors.


James Marsden in THE STAND

(Photo by Robert Falconer/CBS)

Before the pandemic hit, it did not seem like Stu was planning on setting up a moral code for him and others to live or die by. And yet, here he is.

The fact that Stu is “a simple guy who’s caught up in an apocalyptic crisis and trying to navigate his way through it” is exactly what interested Marsden.

“There were elements that I liked, in that he was this sort of reluctant hero; a very ordinary man and simple guy who doesn’t really talk much, but just listens more than he talks,” Marsden told Rotten Tomatoes while speaking via Zoom from his home in Austin, Texas. He happens to be dressed in a very Stu-like ensemble of a buttoned red-and-black plaid shirt and, as is the social contract many of us are making as a result of the current real-life health advisory, a slightly outgrown haircut.

Marsden added that, when his character does talk, “he doubles down on it and really has a sense of purpose behind it.”

Even though he played mutant Scott Summers/Cyclops in three X-Men movies, Marsden said he’s not really attracted to roles about “superheroes with superpowers,” rather he is interested in “heroes that emerge from these ordinary people,” because “I feel like we need to celebrate those kind of people more.”


Jovan Adepo and James Marsden in The Stand

(Photo by Robert Falconer/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

An avowed fan of King’s novels, Marsden also likes that The Stand is “your classic story of good versus evil” but also one that asks “what happens when we hit the reset button and we have to start over? What does that look like? And who do we become who we choose to be?”

It’s also a series in which Marsden plays a character stuck – albeit unknowingly – in a love triangle. This is also a frequent Marsden trope (see some of the titles listed above or this GQ profile on the matter).

In The Stand, the other two points of that equation belong to Frannie Goldsmith, Odessa Young’s survivor from Ogunquit, Maine who has also traveled to Boulder after sensing Mother Abagail, and Owen Teague’s Harold Lauder – the awkward teen-aged younger brother of a friend of Frannie’s. He has always pined for her, but he, frankly, doesn’t stand a chance.

Marsden laughed when we pointed this out, saying he never thought about it like this before and that “if I’m not in a love triangle, my career is gonna be over.” He promises that he doesn’t intentionally type-cast himself like this and that “thank God I don’t seek that stuff out.”


THE STAND 2020

(Photo by Robert Falconer/CBS ©2020 CBS Interactive, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

There’s also no avoiding the fact that this is a miniseries about the survivors of a pandemic that is airing during an actual pandemic. Marsden actually wrapped shooting The Stand on March 12 and remembers hurriedly packing his apartment in Vancouver, B.C., and rushing to the airport to get home before any shutdowns went into effect.

“I guess you could argue both sides; is it the right time for this or a wrong time for this?” Marsden said in regards to whether the streaming channel should have shelved the project at least for a few more months. He added that, “But, I think, at the end of the day, everyone’s supremely sensitive to the material and what story we’re telling here.”

This also brings up a larger, philosophical conversation: If The Stand is about the lucky few who were able to survive a sudden outbreak, how fortunate does Marsden feel that he gets to have a career like this and play this part? Or that he gets to be healthy right now?

“Stephen King doesn’t shy away from this idea of leaning into the idea of having questions that aren’t necessarily answered,” Marsden said. “That’s a testament to his bravery and his courage in his storytelling; this diminishes the idea if I were to provide a clear-cut answer to this.”


Odessa Young, Greg Kinnear, and James Marsden in The Stand

(Photo by Robert Falconer/CBS)

There were often questions on set of why these characters were put in these situations, he said, and it was decided that “let’s play it like we don’t know why, but we have to.”

As an actor, he said “I can look back and look at choices that I made, and risks that I took. But to be frank, when I started, there wasn’t there wasn’t any other option.”

Call it naivety or just youthful cockiness, he said, but “sometimes there are other forces at play.”

“I don’t want to get hocus pocus-y, but I like to believe that there are reasons behind things even if you can’t explain them,” Marsden said.

It’s just a matter of what side you stand on when you’re given these choices.

The Stand premieres on Thursday, December 17 on CBS All Access.


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