The fact that this article even exists is a huge spoiler, so it’s probably too late to warn you that it does contain spoilers. That said, if you haven’t seen Netflix’s Dead To Me Season 2, then stop reading, rush to Netflix, and binge away.
I’ll wait patiently for your return.
When James Marsden wrapped his Dead To Me Season 1 arc as Steve Wood, he sent showrunner Liz Feldman an email thanking her for the experience. Over the course of Season 1, he developed an addition to her mixture of dark comedy and nuanced observations on humanity. Plus, the bond with Christina Applegate, Linda Cardellini, and the remainder of the cast and crew quickly felt like a family connection. In the email to Feldman, he jokingly asked her how serious combined blunt force trauma to the head and drowning would be.
“I asked, ‘Is there any way this guy comes back? I sure would love to join the party again!’,” Marsden explained. “It was a love fest. We loved working with each other, and by the end of the shoot, I felt like I had new family and friends in my life.”
Feldman later returned the message with a phone call asking if Marsden were truly interested in returning. He responded affirmatively and, naturally, asked if it would be in flashbacks or something to that effect. Something that would allow a dead character to return to the main narrative. This wasn’t Santa Clarita Diet or The Walking Dead after all.
She returned with “What do you think about twins?”
And so, Ben Wood was born.
Both Marsden and Feldman knew twins was a classic soap opera trope, but Feldman explained that she was interested in leaning into that experience. Marsden, himself, shared little-to-no traits with smarmy hot shot Steve Wood. Twin brother Ben’s large-hearted personality would more closely mirror James Marsden’s actual demeanor. Her persuasion and Marsden’s faith in her abilities brought him running back to the project.
“It would have been a harder decision for me if Liz wasn’t the showrunner. I know she’s in there hand-picking every take in the editing room and picking your best performance,” Marsden remarked. “With Liz, you know she’s going to make you look good. She was this great creative safety net, so it was really a no-brainer for me.”
Marsden’s Season 2 performance as Ben Wood is a comic wonder. Despite a heart condition, Ben is an open-hearted, emotional, loving, and joyful human being. The performance is actually reminiscent of Marsden’s work on 2007’s Enchanted. Aside from costume and hair differences, Marsden develops a completely different physical style than Season 1’s Steve. He dials down the Steve-level charm and stands with shoulders hunched, a logical characteristic of a slightly more awkward, self-conscious character.
Actually, one of Marsden’s best Season 2 scenes involves very little dialogue at all. Instead, he communicates the joy of the scene entirely through body language. In Episode 6 “You Don’t Have To,” Ben invites himself to Jen’s (Applegate) son’s Christian choral group to which Ben once belonged – the Holy Harmonies. The looks on Marsden’s face as he rapturously reacts to the on-stage performance are comedy gold. He chalks that up to one thing: being perfectly comfortable making a fool of himself.
“The honest answer is… I’m not afraid to make a fool of myself. To jump off the edge. I think Enchanted was the first project that first taught me that people really like seeing an actor enjoy portraying a character and enjoy the performance,” Marsden enthused. “Ben has been steeped in regret and worried about his brother. When he gets there, he hears the music, and it brings him back to a happier place in his life. It’s the perfect scene to humiliate yourself and have a great time.”
But Ben’s character is not all sunny dispositions. Rather, Ben is an alcoholic, constantly avoiding temptations throughout the season. It’s not until the season finale where Ben, reeling from upsetting news, cracks and makes a huge, potentially life-changing, mistake. Marsden sees this as a compelling undertone to the character, bringing depth and complexity to what could be a one-note character.
In the final moments of Season 2, Ben makes a choice. Whether it’s conscious or not, he avoids facing responsibility for his actions. Only Season 3 will tell us how that works out. Until then, Marsden attributes Feldman’s fantastic writing and vision for the characters for the intriguing turn.
“Does Ben have the capacity, even under extreme intoxication, to make a really wrong choice? I think those are the themes that Liz hits on in the show that make it really interesting. It’s not the saints on this side and the devils over here. There’s a little bit of both to all the characters, and all the spectrum in between. Even the people who wake up every day with a conscious effort to do good for themselves and others, even those people have moments when they have the capacity to commit real atrocities. I just find the duality of that far more interesting. It’s much more of a mirror as to who we are as people. We all have darkness within us.”
Both seasons of Dead To Me are streaming now on Netflix.