He could well become the best-looking character actor of his generation, and for James Marsden, that would be just fine.
Slotted as leading-man material since he entered the business in the early '90s, Marsden has landed his fair share of meaty parts, from Cyclops in the X-Men franchise and Prince Edward in Enchanted, to a recent stand as one of the central characters in Red Machine, an action movie featuring a killer grizzly bear that recently wrapped shooting in Vancouver.
He says he enjoyed all the heavy thespian lifting, but can't say too much about the movie that also stars Billy Bob Thornton, Thomas Jane, Piper Perabo, Adam Beach and Sott Glenn.
"It's an action-adventure movie very much in the spirit of The Grey, with Liam Neeson," he says of the film directed by David Hackl (Saw V). "It was fun. I like Vancouver. I've been there, like, five or six times. I had a house in Kitsilano when I was shooting X2. . . . Well, I rented the house, I didn't own it."
Marsden makes his home in Los Angeles these days, but it's his career that he's finally starting to own.
After experiencing the ups and downs of the leading-man roller-coaster, Marsden says he realized he was just as happy playing smaller character roles, and that mental shift has given him a new sense of freedom - and purpose - in just about everything he does.
"I'm the kind of person who likes to do all kinds of stuff. I'm not interested in doing just one thing," he says.
"I think it's been important for me to explore my strengths as an actor, because, when I entered this business, I think people looked at me and said, 'Here's a young, good-looking guy; he should play the romantic lead,'" he says.
"So I played the jock. I played those parts, and it was a good thing, but over time - as I've gotten older - I realize I have a lot more fun as an actor when I'm doing other things," he says.
Marsden points to roles such as the Prince in Enchanted and Fred O'Hare, the accidental Easter Bunny from Hop, as prime examples of a good time.
"The more character-driven the role, the better," he says, "and different kinds of roles. I did Hop right after Straw Dogs. They were two extremes, but it was good for me. Hop let me be a little subversive, but you have to believe it, and you have to play these parts seriously, otherwise, they don't really work," he says.
"One of the things Amy (Adams, his co-star in Enchanted)) and I discussed at the beginning was how sincere we had to be. I think that's why Enchanted works so well," he says. "If I look at the work in Hairspray or Enchanted, I'm having a good time, and I think it comes across in the work. The reactions to both of those performances were very positive."
Marsden says the skills he exhibits on both sides of the coin are the same. It's all acting. What's really changing is the way he sees himself.
"So much of it is self-perception," he says. "You begin to recognize your strengths and your weaknesses, and I think the only time where I really struggle is when it's not fun. No one wants to see you having a bad time, especially in comedy."
So far, he doesn't have to worry. Marsden has been racking up positive buzz as a talented comic actor after his turn in Enchanted, as well as his recent stint on 30 Rock as Criss Chros, the vegan-wiener-stand owner and Liz Lemon's boyfriend.
"I grew up with Saturday Night Live," says Marsden, who was thrilled to work with SNL veteran Tina Fey. "For the longest time, that's all I ever wanted to do, be on SNL. Before I even made a decision to be an actor, I was a mimic. I did voices and characters . . ."
Marsden drifts off into a bit of a reverie. And the phone goes dead, just as I ask him if he was the "class clown."
A bad question? No, just a bad connection.
"I was the class clown," says the man who had fantasies of being the next Eddie Murphy or Phil Hartmann. "I loved the idea of being silly for a living . . . and 20 years later, it's finally manifesting itself."
In the end, Marsden says he's letting his career grow organically, and not worrying about what he should be doing, the parts he should be getting, or the career path he could be paving with compromises.
"I want to feel like I've earned it, no matter what it is. I'm not comfortable when things are too easy," he says.
By the same token, he's not eager to sweat over the existential questions, either. "I don't carry a lot of darkness in me," he says. "I think, as long as you're aware of feeling disoriented and disconnected, which happens to everyone, you're going to be OK. Having the awareness is key."
Marsden says his two sons, as well as his passion for hobbies - of all kinds - help him stay grounded in a world where your value is assigned according to box office.
"I'm a bit obsessive about my hobbies," he admits. "Right now, I'm into triathlons - totally obsessed about that now. Before that, I spent four months learning the art of making the perfect espresso," he says. "I'm not joking. I love learning new things. . . . It's about staying alive in the world. I want to keep reaching. And now that I'm older, I can see with more clarity, which really helps, because you can see what you are reaching for."
Hop is available on DVD now. Red Machine is currently slated for a 2013 release.