James Marsden gave audiences a major case of whiplash when he arrived on the scene in Dead to Me Season 2. After portraying the sinister Steve Wood throughout the celebrated traumedy's first season, his arrival as the bouncy and beatific Ben Wood, Steve's "semi-identical" twin brother, was a jaw-dropper for Jen (Christina Applegate) and for fans.
To celebrate Dead to Me ranking as one of TV Guide's 100 Best Shows Right Now, we sat down with the scene-stealing actor to revisit some of the most memorable moments from the show and find out what it was like for him to switch gears for the second season. As it turns out, Marsden was somewhat relieved at the chance to break away from Steve and the horrible things he says — particularly after filming that harrowing confrontation between Steve and Jen in the Season 1 finale.
"As fun as it is to play sometimes and get really kind of nasty, I have to say all of these really foul vitriolic things. I don't enjoy it," Marsden told TV Guide. "That scene, I think I apologized after every cut. They would say, you know, 'End cut!' And I was like, 'Are you OK? I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry.' And [creator Liz Feldman] would just laugh every time. She's like, 'Oh my god, you don't have to apologize. We get it, you're not that guy.'"
When it came to his portrayal of Ben, though, there was a lot more room for levity. And it didn't take long for Ben to win over Jen or the couch crowd, thanks in part to the sincerity and humor Marsden imbued in the role right from his introduction in Season 2's "Where Have You Been."
"Liz and I talked about this scene obviously being important for many reasons, in that we want to get a feel, even out of the gate, that Ben is a stark contrast to Steve," Marsden said. "There's a dorkiness to the guy, there's a sensitivity to the guy. … You constantly see him kind of tripping over himself, and you can tell how uncomfortable he is in social situations. Steve would come in and immediately require everyone's focus and the spotlight, and if you didn't know his dark side, he could be very captivating and charming. Whereas Ben, you see it's a little more clunky. And it was fun to just do a 180 and dive into the dorkiness of Ben in this scene."
For Marsden, there's a "cringe element" to Ben that makes it so much more fun to play — and rewatch — when it comes to one Season 2 scene in particular. So check out the full video above for more of Marsden's behind-the-scenes insights into some other key Dead to Me moments.
Dead to Me is available to stream on Netflix.