How Dragonball's James Marsters became Lord Piccolo

Contributed by
Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

James Marsters, who plays the evil Lord Piccolo in the upcoming Dragonball Evolution, told SCI FI Wire that the green makeup he wore took a lot longer to apply than the gnarly vampire foreheads he wore as Spike in Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

"We never told the producers on Buffy how long it really took," Marsters said in an exclusive interview. "The word on it was it took 40 minutes to an hour when, in fact, in a rush we could get it done in 20. The thing is, if you tell the producers you can do it in 20, then they ask for 20 every time, and it's always a rush."

By contrast, the work to turn Marsters into Lord Piccolo, the green demon from Namek, took four hours. "The Buffy look was one foam piece that looked kind of like a Robin mask that went around my face," Marsters said. "It wasn't that complex. Piccolo was 14 pieces, and half of the job was just the painting of it. It wasn't even laying down the pieces; it was really the artwork that comes afterwards."

Piccolo wants to use the mystical Dragonballs to take over the world, while Goku (Justin Chatwin) and his friends try to find the balls and keep them safe.

Marsters spoke with us this week in Beverly Hills, Calif. The following Q&A features edited excerpts of that interview. Dragonball Evolution opens Friday. (Spoilers ahead!)

What is so great about ruling the world that so many villains want to do it?

Marsters: Well, [Piccolo] wants to take revenge on the world. My character started in league with the mystics, and we were telling the story of humanity together for a long time. It came to a point where we came to a disagreement about how to move the human race to the next level. Instead of talking to me about it, they just locked me in jail for 2,000 years.

So my character gets out of prison and finds that he's now old and decrepit. He went in young and handsome and powerful. He comes out, he's an old man, and now he's angry that his youth has been robbed. Now I want to collect the seven Dragonballs so that the dragon Shenron comes forward and grants me the one wish, which I will wish for eternal youth. I will want to take over the Earth, but I'm going to destroy a large segment of it first. I want to destroy everything that the mystics were trying to build. I'm out after pure revenge.

So the survivors will serve you, but then what do you do, just hang out?

Marsters: [Laughs.] Or move on to the next planet. That's what the Saiyans do. That's what people don't realize about Goku. He comes from an evil race. These Saiyans are mean. They like to go to nice planets and wipe out all intelligent life and then sell the planet to the highest bidder. I think, to answer your question seriously, why do villains try to take control of their environment? I think it's because they're scared. They're sick of being hurt. They've been beaten themselves, and they've made the decision that "I am not going to let anyone hurt me ever again. If I have to kill a bunch of people to make sure that happens, fine." The world is harsh. ...

How did the makeup restrict your facial performance?

Marsters: It didn't, really, at all. I went to Juilliard in college, and we did mask work. What they talked about was "Don't try to act through the mask." There is nothing in between you and the audience, because now you are the mask. You are actually more effective once you have these features. So you learn to work with the mask and let the mask do your work for you, and the power of stillness, actually, so that people can just look at the mask and say, "Wow, what an interesting look."

So I didn't feel like I had to act through a bunch of foam or anything. The other thing is that we're using very pliable foams in Hollywood now. Back in Planet of the Apes, when it was a hollow latex, I'm sure that Roddy McDowall was very frustrated that he couldn't move his face more. Frankly, when I moved my face, it would move. When I raised my eyebrow, it raised. It was totally pliable. Also, a lot of Dragonball is stillness. A lot of it in style is a little heightened, a little goofier and not quite realistic. I also think a lot of Dragonball is really still and really simple. I think if you can go between those two gears, you're starting to find the ballpark. So a lot of it didn't need to have a lot of facial expression. A lot of it I was trying not to do a lot of stuff.

How did you come up with the voice?

Marsters: That was taken right out of the anime. I was trying to sound as much as possible like the anime. It was just a question of getting your voice down that low and still having some melody in it. When you're stamping it that far down, sometimes you can just get monotonous. So [I was] trying to get some melody in there too. ...

You say you're signed for three films. So we haven't seen the last of Piccolo?

Marsters: We're going to wait to see how this opens around the world. It's a business decision at this point. [If there is a sequel,] Piccolo is definitely coming back. That became very clear to me when there was a rewrite during filming, which is the final scene after the credits, and we know for sure that Piccolo is not dead and he's made a new friend.

So everyone should wait for the credits.

Marsters: Exactly. We see that Piccolo is very much alive. James [Wong] came up with that. He thought, "You know, I'm not killing Piccolo off." People that know the anime certainly know that, but for the people who don't know the anime, let's just make sure that we know.