Also Credited As:Jimmy Marsden, James Paul Marsden
|James Paul Marsden on September 18, 1973 in Stillwater, Oklahoma, USA|
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Born on Sept. 18, 1973 in Stillwater, OK, Marsden grew up desiring the career and charisma of Tom Cruise, thanks to repeated viewings of "Top Gun" (1986) and "Days of Thunder" (1990). Thankfully for Marsden, he already had the clean-cut, All-American good looks. His father, a meat and poultry inspector, and his mother, a nutritionist, divorced when he was just nine years old. After graduating Putnam City North High School, Marsden studied broadcast journalism at Oklahoma State University, but quit after only a year and a half. He opted instead to move to Los Angeles and become an actor, but realized that he had no contacts. His dad, however, happened to know a casting director, who in turn knew a manager willing to consider an unknown from Oklahoma. Within two months of his arrival in 1992, he was cast in an episode of the CBS sitcom "The Nanny" (1993-2000) and was eventually called back for a second appearance. Alternately billed as Jimmy or James, he also appeared in episodes of "Saved By the Bell" (NBC, 1988-2000), "Party of Five" (Fox, 1994-2000) and "Blossom" (NBC, 1990-95).
Marsden also began appearing in TV movies, debuting in the based-on-fact drama "In the Line of Duty: Ambush at Waco" (NBC, 1993). He was the unpleasant oldest son of Robert Hays and Joanna Kerns in the family comedy "No Dessert Dad, Until You Mow the Lawn" (Disney Channel, 1994), before playing Doc Barker, son to Ma Barker (Theresa Russell), in the Depression-era criminal biopic "Public Enemies" (HBO, 1996). Other roles included a high school valedictorian who abducts Jill Eikenberry in "Gone in a Heartbeat" (CBS, 1996), and a young man in a mental institution who brings life to a troubled woman in "On the Edge of Innocence" (NBC, 1997). The following year, the young actor attracted considerable attention alongside up-and comers Katie Holmes and Nick Stahl in the teen-angst/sci-fi thriller "Disturbing Behavior" (1998). Two years later, the increasingly busy Marsden was seen in a trio of different genre movies: "Gossip" (2000), a twisting tale of how a frivolous rumor started by college students blossoms into a deadly mistake; "Sugar and Spice" (2000), a dark comedy about good cheerleaders gone bad; and his most memorable movie up to that point, "X-Men" (2000).
In Bryan Singer's highly anticipated film adaptation of the popular comic book series, Marsden was cast as Cyclops, a crime-fighting mutant forced to wear a high-tech visor to protect people from the destructive energy beams emitted from his eyes. Marsden's stern, über-Boy Scout portrayal of the well-meaning team leader made him the perfect foil to Hugh Jackman's brooding Wolverine - romantic rival for the love of powerful telekinetic Jean Grey (Famke Janssen). The love triangle's chemistry worked to even greater effect in the superior sequel - once again directed by Singer - "X2: X-Men United" (2003), though Marsden might have benefited from more onscreen time, since he had become a fan favorite. His grief at suffering the supposed loss of his girlfriend, Jean Grey - who sacrifices her life to save her fellow mutant friends - was palpable to audience members and lent real gravitas to this particular installment.
In between "X-Men" films, Marsden spent the 2001-02 season on the hit comedy-drama "Ally McBeal" (Fox, 1997-2002), playing attorney Glenn Foy, followed by a stint as John Wilkes Booth in the initially overlooked Ben Stiller comedy "Zoolander" (2001). After "X2," he had a delightful turn in the sentimental film, "The Notebook" (2004), despite playing what would become his stock in trade - a near thankless role as rich, dashing and handsome romantic rivals for the affections of the female lead - in this case, Rachel McAdams. Though the story set up Ryan Gosling as her true love, Marsden's likeable soldier made audiences genuinely wonder which man she would choose. He then appeared in the weighty romantic drama "Heights" (2005), in which he played a lawyer whose fiancée (Elizabeth Banks) has second thoughts about their pending marriage, forcing herself and others around her to make life decisions in the course of one night.
Marsden next revived Cyclops for the third installment of the series, "X-Men: The Last Stand" (2006), this time directed by Brett Ratner. In what was touted as the final film of the franchise, the mutants faced a peculiar choice after a cure for their mutations is found - retain their uniqueness and remain isolated from society or give up their strange powers and become human. Unfortunately for both Marsden and Cyclops fans alike, the actor was relegated to only a few scenes and was killed off not even 20 minutes into the film. Luckily, the loyal "X-Men" helmer, Bryan Singer, took Marsden with him when he was picked to direct one of the most anticipated films of the decade - "Superman Returns" (2006). Cast as, yet again, the (leading) Man of Steel's romantic nemesis, Marsden was a perfect fit as the fiancée of Lois Lane (Kate Bosworth), who has moved on after Superman left Earth for several years. Now that Lois is about to marry - and has a son to boot - Superman is left wondering if she has truly moved on with Marsden.
In a thankful departure from superheroes and the unlucky "other man," Marsden joined the ensemble cast of "Hairspray" (2007), the adaptation of the Broadway musical - itself an adaptation of John Waters' 1988 film. Marsden played the titular host of "The Corny Collins Show," a popular Baltimore teen dance show that becomes a hotbed for racial integration, thanks to the pluckiness of an overweight high school student (Nicole Blonsky). As enjoyable as his performance was in "Hairspray," it was Marsden's hilarious turn as the vapid, clueless Prince Edward in the romantic comedy fairytale "Enchanted" (2007) that gave audiences and critics their first inkling as to the breadth of his true range. Opposite star Amy Adams, the versatile actor impressed audiences as the buffoonish "prince charming" in Disney's exceptionally clever self-parodying of its own princess genre. More the fault of lackluster material than his performance, Marsden failed to build on the momentum when he took part in the forgettable romantic comedy "27 Dresses" (2008), starring Katherine Heigl.
Marsden continued to show off his comedic chops when he delivered a wonderfully manic performance as the overcompensating macho brother of the virginal Ian (Josh Zuckerman) in the aptly-named teen comedy romp, "Sex Drive" (2008). Although the uproarious turn earned Marsden a modicum of notice from critics, the film as a whole met with mixed reviews and did only moderate business at theaters. Poised for a star-making lead role in his next film, the head-scratching oddity that was idiosyncratic writer-director Richard Kelley's "The Box" (2009) placed Marsden no closer to his goal. Co-starring Cameron Diaz and based on the short story "Button, Button," by Richard Matheson and adapted from an episode of "The Twilight Zone" (CBS, 1985-89), the stylish but muddled thriller landed in theaters with a resounding thud. Marsden pushed forward with a supporting role in the Neil LaBute-directed dysfunctional family comedy "Death at a Funeral" (2010) and lent his voice to the fantasy-comedy sequel "Cats & Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore" (2010), as Diggs, a canine secret agent. A brief guest appearance on the hit comedy series "Modern Family" (ABC, 2009- ) in 2011 showed once again how truly funny Marsden could be when given the right material. That same year, he played the human component to the Easter-themed, live action-CG animation hybrid "Hop" (2011), and then took on the unenviable task of trying to fill Dustin Hoffman's shoes in the remake of director Sam Peckinpah's controversial thriller "Straw Dogs" (2011), this time helmed by Rod Lurie and featuring his "Superman" co-star Kate Bosworth.
By Bryce Coleman