James Marsden Reflects on His Reputation for Playing the Rom-Com 'Other Guy' (Exclusive)

The actor took a look back at some of his most memorable roles with ET.

James Marsden knows that you know him from something.

The actor recently sat down with ET to look back at his career, from early TV roles on shows like The Nanny and Ally McBeal to feature parts that made him a household name like Hairspray and Enchanted.

So, what parts does he get recognized for in public? Marsden told ET that fans will most often stop him on the street to talk about playing Cyclops in Bryan Singer's X-Men films, the rom-com 27 Dresses, and, of course, The Notebook

"I was sitting with Adam Shankman... meeting him for the role [in Hairspray] and were were at a cafe off Broadway, and I got a tap on my shoulder and Julia Roberts said, 'Hey I just didn't mean to interrupt, but I wanted to let you know that you were in my favorite movie of all time, which was The Notebook,'" he recalled. "I was like, drooling, and she left, and then Adam said, 'We were going to give you the role, but now that kind of sealed it.'"

"I think like in the '50s, '60s when people would say Casablanca is the most romantic movie, now a younger generation would, if you think of what's the most romantic movie that comes to mind, most people would say The Notebook," he continued. "So I feel very proud to be a part of it -- even if I am, you know, the other guy."

The "other guy," as Marsden describes it, did become something of a theme for the actor at one point in his career. After being jilted by Rachel McAdams in The Notebook, left in Andalasia by Amy Adams in Enchanted, and literally murdered by Famke Janssen in X-Men: The Last Stand, he made a "conscious decision" to seek out other types of roles.

"I never was consciously trying to do that," Marsden said of playing unlucky in love. "It looked like I was only doing that role, 'cause those are the ones that hit -- so I guess the public wanted to see me do the other guy."

Read on to see what Marsden had to say about some of his most memorable roles.

The Nanny


"The Nanny was my very first job ever, actually. I was well, boy, 19 years old and did not know what a good hairstyle was yet, evidently. I think we shot this on an old 1940s crank camera as well, it was that long ago... That was such a sweet moment, 'cause it was the first job I ever got hired professionally as a real actor. It was 1993 I think, and it began with two lines on the pilot episode and they brought me back for this episode where I was trying to take the daughter out on a date and Fran Drescher, the nanny, thought that I was actually hitting on her."


20th Century Fox

"This was the project that sort of catapulted me into, you know, people knowing who the hell I was around the world, first international big box office success. Got to fulfill a childhood dream of playing a superhero and [wearing the] leather suit and shoot laser beams out of my eyes. That kind of put me on the map in Hollywood. It was Hugh Jackman's show for sure, and obviously sent him into the stratosphere, but what a great family, what a great opportunity to tick a lot of boxes off there. Still, to this day, I think it's probably the thing I get noticed for the most."


New Line Cinema

"Hairspray was a blast. Maybe the most fun I have ever had on a movie, because we were all just there having a good time...  I was always trying to surprise people with my choices and do something that, you know, how do I get people to see other sides of me that they didn't necessarily see in like The Notebook or X-Men, and then Hairspray came along, and it was like, I got this.

It was John Travolta, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Chris Walken... we were just all there having a great time and there was a revolving door of like the vocal coach and the dance coach. It was like theater, musical theater, and I just remember that smile was plastered on my face even when we weren't filming."



"Rarely do I read something and just without a doubt go, 'I know exactly how to play this character.' [Enchanted] just came to me, and I went, 'You're not gonna find somebody else.' Usually I'm the opposite, I'm not that confident, but when I read the script I thought I know exactly who this character is, this classic Disney prince who just loves the sound of his own voice, loves being in love... [Working with] Alan Menken, one of the greats, an icon, just another great opportunity. Both those films, Hairspray and Enchanted, were shot in the same year, so it was a lot of singing and dancing that year.

I remember running into Ryan [Gosling] and Rachel [McAdams] back when they were dating right after [The Notebook]... we said hi and Ryan said, 'Did I see you on top of a bus in a prince suit and tights in Times Square?' I go, 'That was me! And I'll have your Oscar-winning projects,' and he goes, 'Are you kidding me? I would do that in a heartbeat!'"

27 Dresses

20th Century Fox

"Everyone asks what are you getting recognized for the most, and 27 Dresses is definitely one of those. I think the scene in the bar when we get on top of the bar and sing 'Benny and the Jets'... It was the last day of shooting, we shot 'til five in the morning, and it was kind of like we were having the wrap party for the last, most important scene of the movie... There's a real organic sense of fun to that scene, and Katie and I had a great time on that movie and we got to be really close friends.... Everyone was just really genuinely having a great time and the audience can tell. To this day, if I'm in a bar, it's always like, a tequila shot will get sent over and then 'Benny and the Jets.'"

Sex Drive

Summit Entertainment

"Sex Drive, also known as the movie that we can't watch or show to anyone nowadays or else we would all be cancelled. That was a kind of a coming-of-age movie, and I remember thinking to myself, 'Do I need to do a coming-of-age movie? I'm 34.' But there was a character in the movie that was very similar to an outrageous character that I remember growing up, in high school, there was guy who was really similar to this character and I used to sort of behind his back make fun of or do an impression of him. And I read the script and I thought, 'Oh my God this is [him]!' So it was an opportunity to go in and just have a great time.

Sean Anders directed it and he, just kind of to his credit, let me go. I was like, I want to bleach my hair, I want to pierce my ear, I want to pierce on the left, not on the right, I want to wear karate clothes. It was sort of a liberating thing of feeling like you were doing a project that no one was going to see, and because I thought that it was like, 'Who's gonna see this movie?' I'm just gonna go for it, and I went for it. And then Will Ferrell called me up going, 'Your role in Sex Drive was hilarious. Do you want to come be in Anchorman?' and I was like, sure. Sure." 

30 Rock


"This was an opportunity for me to step into a show that was obviously already established, incredible cast, the sharpest, funniest writing on television... It was so revered, it was so respected and I thought, 'How do I fit into this? Didn't Jon Hamm and Matt Damon just leave the show? Like, I am not sure I am at that level.' So I remember being nervous to get in here and find out what character am I playing. I remember Robert Carlock saying, 'You are just sort of a puppy dog, you know, Golden Retriever who is just in love with her and he is just kind of a nerd and sells hot dogs on the street,' and I was like, OK, I can do that.

I don't know if it worked or not and then Robert and Tina called me back and said, 'Hey, we want you back for another season,' I'm like, really? I did not anticipate that. And they said, 'Yeah, you guys are getting married,' and I went wow, OK, this is working... The writing is the star of that show, but yes, when you are staring at Tina wearing a Princess Leia wig and putting a grill in her mouth, it's like, how did I get here? What am I doing?"



"The caliber of people who are involved, the ambition of the show, went very, very, deep -- very intellectual, very heady and very complex... To be in the hands of Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy was a really special thing, and the cast was already assembled at the time, so I was kind of coming in late with Evan. Then it was just like Anthony Hopkins, and Ann Harris, and Thandiwe Newton -- you are in really good company. And to play this like, classic romantic cowboy and play that trope and turn it on its head, right? Like, she is supposed to be the damsel in distress and I am supposed to be the hotshot gunslinger and it turns out to be very much the opposite as the show progresses. I loved how the show flirted with those ideas... It's just another character I have never played before so it was like, sign me up."

Dead to Me


"This was something that came my way and I thought, 'This could be fun.' I know Liz [Feldman]'s work, she's a tremendous, tremendous writer, very, very funny, and working with Christina [Applegate] and Linda [Cardellini] was such a huge opportunity and a fun thing for me to do. I was only supposed to be on for the first season -- I was only supposed to play Steve, and then that was it. And the show became a big success and I got to be so close with Christina and Linda and Liz and I was like, 'I don't want this party to end, so is he really dead? What can we do?' I remember Liz kinda laughing and then she came back to me about a month later...she said, 'Hey I know you were joking, but you know, we're in love with you and you were so funny on the show like maybe we can bring you back.' I said, 'How?' She said, 'Twins.'

I was like, 'Can I pull that off? Is that a bit soapy? And she was like, 'Yeah it's soapy, but the show is soapy, we can kind of lean into it, and so then I was like, 'Oh boy, well, don't screw this up because you could just torpedo the entire show.' But the writing was so strong on that show, I always felt like I was in good hands... Liz Feldman, it's a testament to her, it's a testament to her writing crew -- I'll do whatever you ask me to do."

Sonic the Hedgehog

Paramount Pictures

"To be completely honest, I was like, 'Wait. I've already done a film where I acted opposite a CGI rodent. Twice, actually -- it was Enchanted with the chipmunk and then a movie called Hop with an Easter Bunny. I thought, 'If I do another one of these, it's game over for career James, because I'm only going to be acting opposite CGI creatures.' But I will say, Jeff Fowler, Neal Moritz, the crew on this, the writers, Ben Schwartz is brilliant as Sonic, and to work with Jim Carrey was like, such a dream, he's such an icon and a hero of mine... sharing scenework with him, it was just so much fun.

You don't ever want to assume something's going to be a hit, you just want it to be a nice surprise if it is, and that was the case with Sonic. Early on, we got into some sticky areas with the design of the character... We did the redesign and they were thrilled. They were thrilled that not only was it right, but they were listened to... And it came out, I remember going to the premiere and I had Jim Carrey sitting next to me and Ben Schwartz here to my left, and Tika [Sumpter] was right in front of us, and about 15 minutes into the movie we all looked at each other and we're like, 'This is actually really good!' So that was another blessing, you know? Lean into everything like it's gonna be a big hit, you might just sort of make that happen."

Jury Duty

Amazon FreeVee

"I think one of the reasons why the show is doing so well is because it's unlike anything we've ever seen before. The concept is very original, and I think there's an appetite out there for it. There was an appetite with me. I was like, this is really unique and challenging myself in a way that I've never challenged myself before... I'm finding myself stepping into more scary things recently, because I do think that's a healthy way, especially in the creative space. You've just gotta be able to take a swing, you gotta be brave enough to fall on your face, you've gotta be brave enough to be boring. I never want it to be easy. I always want it to keep me a little bit on edge and keep me challenging myself.

The improv element of that show was what was really appealing to me. I've never been more focused and more present than when I was sitting next to [Ronald] and it was just like, you just gotta be ready to go. I mean, again, that was me playing a character that was ... I was enjoying sending out entitled Hollywood, right?... I imagine it feels like what Larry David films on Curb which is, 'I want to be able to say this stuff in the day-to-day, but I can't, because I'll either get arrested or I would get punched or cancelled'.... Making fun of and lampooning your sort of cliche pompous, egocentric Hollywood actor that thinks they're doing the lord's work, that their job is the most important thing on earth? It's like, where do I sign?'"