James Marsden on Raising Three Kids: “They’re Wonderfully Underwhelmed With What I Do”

Actor James Marsden has starred in a variety of movies and television, from superhero epics (X-Men) to drama (Lee Daniels’ The Butler) and comedies (30 Rock, the upcoming Anchorman 2). But chances are your family probably recognizes him from one of his many kids’ movies, including Hop, Cats and Dogs: The Revenge of Kitty Galore and my personal favorite, Enchanted.

We recently caught up with the 40-year-old star when he was hosting “SWAPtoberfest,” the launch party for Skylanders SWAP Force in Times Square. He told us all about making family movies, raising his three kids, and even showed off some of his video game skills.

How did you get involved with Skylanders?
My kids have always loved the games. My 12-year-old boy and my 8-year-old daughter will play together, so it’s good to find a game we can enjoy as a family.

Are you a big video game fan?
I have been off and on through my whole life. I have to watch myself because if I get into a game, I’m not very productive with other parts of my life. But I played a lot back in the ’80s, and now I usually will play with my kids.

You’ve been in several kids’ movies. Is that because of your own children?
Completely. I’m not that interested in staying in one type of genre, so I do like to diversify the work a bit. But I like that with kids’ films, I’m making something that my own can enjoy. I get to experience the movie with my kids.

Do your kids like watching your movies?
Films are very real to young kids, so they didn’t get the concept of seeing Dad on TV or on the movie screen. It was a little uncomfortable for them. Kids don’t want their parents to be anything but their parents. So I never introduced them to my films until they were old enough to grasp the concept of “Daddy’s playing pretend.” But they’re wonderfully underwhelmed with what I do. They think it’s cool, but they’re interested in movies I’m not in. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Would you encourage your children if any of them were interested in acting?
If their heart was into it, then I would encourage it no matter what. But I would probably make them wait until they were 18 to professionally get involved. Kids should be kids. You’re a kid for such a short period of your life, and you’re an adult for a large period. A lot of kids start in this business too soon, and they grow up too soon, in my opinion. So while they were young, I would encourage my kids to take acting classes, and to be in school drama, musicals and plays.

What’s your best parenting advice?
Consistency and boundaries. I know that sounds very discipline-oriented, but I think that kids need to know what to expect. Set very specific boundaries for them, and within those boundaries, they can do whatever they want and embrace their individuality and their spirit. They need very clear ideas of what’s right and wrong and when they bump against that boundary, it’s not a hard moment. You want them to know what to expect and try to create a consistent environment for them.

We’re not far from where you filmed the infamous bus stabbing scene in Enchanted.
They couldn’t close off Times Square, so we were doing it in front of tourists. It was the first time I thought, ‘This movie is either going to kill my career or it’s going to be really great.’ Luckily, it turned out to be really great. But it was an exceptional experience. Who else can say they’ve stabbed a bus in the middle of Times Square while wearing tights?

Image: James Marsden plays Skylanders with young fans, courtesy of Activision. 

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