Sink Your Fangs into This Oral History of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'
Is there any 1990s TV show more beloved than Buffy the Vampire Slayer? During its six-year run, Joss Whedon's cultishly adored vampire dramedy mixed high-concept and horror-flecked camp with teenage drama and witticism-drenched banter in a way that still bears influence on pop culture high and low. This week sees the release of Edward Gross & Mark A. Altman's Slayers & Vampires: the Complete Uncensored, Unauthorized Oral History of Buffy and Angel, and we've got an excerpt to share focusing on how the show's iconic cast was assembled.
Joss Whedon (Creator/Executive Producer): Alyson Hannigan played the shy, bookish one, and what's great about her is that she is also someone you just respond to emotionally. Whether she's in jeopardy or being hurt, you're just completely open to her in the same way that you're open to Sarah. She is also sort of a temptress. She brought a real life to the character and made her very much a part of the group. If these four didn't have different perspectives on stuff, they were going to be boring.
Alyson Hannigan ("Willow Rosenberg"): I'm a fan of the genre, but such a wimp when I watch the movies, because I will basically jump into the lap of the person next to me. There was an episode, "Prophecy Girl," where there's this huge, enormous slimy monster attacking my leg. It's wrapped in a tentacle around my leg and is pulling me. They gooped it up with the slime stuff. It's really disgusting and really scary, and then they turn on these air things so they would flop around and they would make this hissing sound, so I was genuinely screaming to myself at that point. I watched the footage and my hands were up in my face, and it looked so fake. It was my natural reaction, but it looked really fake. Of course, only I noticed it, because I'm so critical, but I thought, What a dork.
Jose Molina (Writer, Firefly): I was probably a cross between Xander and Willow. I kind of wanted to be as funny as Xander, but I was more dorky and studious like Willow and you know, like Xander, Buffy was a dream girl. Who doesn't want to date her? But there is a moment in the season one finale where Xander does ask Buffy out, and Buffy is, like, "I don't know. We should just be friends." And then I think Willow asks him, "What are you going to do tonight?" And he just says, "I'm going to go home and listen to country music. The music of pain." As a guy who sat with a lot of sappy music and licked my own wounds in my time, I could definitely relate to that.
David Boreanaz ("Angel"): I wanted to be everything. I wanted to be the fire guy, I wanted to be the police guy, I wanted to be the cowboy, the Indian. I guess I didn't say I wanted to grow up and study the Shakespearean art of acting. I'm not good at that kind of stuff. I love people. I love experiences. I love going out. I love traveling. I love adventure, I love learning, and I love involving myself in things where I'm going to learn more about people and seeing people. I'm extremely voyeuristic; I like to look at things. I can go to parks and watch people and their personalities. I didn't study at the Royal Shakespearean Academy or whatever. I have a high respect for those people, but my method is trying to get down and dirty with it. I understand the level it takes in order to achieve the impossible dream, and for me, the dream is, "Be very simple." And that's very hard to do. It's very difficult. It takes a lot of work, a lot of effort. I just want to work hard and do what I'm doing.
David Greenwalt (Writer): That's a hard part to cast, a young really good-looking guy who maybe isn't a star yet, but probably could be one. I remember David came in, and in the scene he's supposed to be riding a motorcycle. He turned a chair upside down and kind of sat on it as if he was on a motorcycle. Gail Berman and Joss and I, particularly the women, really responded to David. Then, you know, I think it was about episode seven, somewhere around Christmas, where this first kiss between Buffy and Angel happened. I just said, "I'll just write the episode." I didn't know it was going to be that big a deal. It went on the air, and, you know, the rest is history.
Recalled casting director Marcia Schulman at the time, "The breakdown said the most gorgeous, mysterious, fantastic, the most incredible man on the face of the earth." I think I saw every guy in town. It was the day before shooting, and a friend of mine called me and said, "You know, there's this guy who lives on my street who walks his dog every day, and I don't know what he does, but he has all the things you're describing." And the minute he walked in the room, I wrote down on my notes: "This is the guy."
Boreanaz: I've always liked horror films. When I was a kid, Frankenstein, the original movie, scared the hell out of me. I've always been fascinated with the film Nosferatu, and when I saw the film the first time, it was eerie. You had no choice but to get into the genre when you were on the show, because you're surrounded by all these vampires, and it's amazing when you have all these extras in vampire makeup, or you're in the graveyard shooting, and you look around to see vampires hanging out. The show itself was really well written, and it just goes to show you that if you have the writing and the right chemistry between the cast, things really do work out for the best.
James Marsters ("Spike"): I like [David] so much. The man does not whine. He refuses to whine. One time I saw him break a two-by-four with his head. He was trying to get into Buffy's mom's house, because he saw me in there. He was supposed to try and get in, forgetting that he wasn't invited, so there was a force-field that kept him out. The way that we did that was to rig him with a steel cable out of his back so that when he got to a certain point, he'd be pulled back by a cable. Well it was one of those things—dusty floors, maybe. God knows what it was, but the cord was shorter than he expected and he got yanked off of his feet, back through the porch, and splintered a two-by-four in half. Not just a crack, he splintered it! The whole set hushes. They think David is going to the hospital, and we're shutting down for a week. But David pops up and says, "I'm fine. I'm fine."
The other story is that when I went over to Angel, he had just gotten rear-ended on the highway at high speed. They just took him to the hospital because they suspected whiplash, but the doctor says it wasn't and he should just be careful. He went back to set and he was strung up on chains and hung off the floor for 16 hours while we tortured him. The man would not complain. The one time I realized he was in pain was when he thought no one was looking at him. I saw his face go ashen. But he's like a stunt guy; he won't admit it.
Sarah Lemelman (Author, It's About Power: Buffy the Vampire Slayer's Stab at Establishing the Strength of Girls on American Television): The first real iteration of the sympathetic vampire came about with the publication of Anne Rice's Interview with the Vampire, in 1976. In it, Rice introduces Louis, a vampire who is repulsed by the joy his maker, Lestat, takes in killing and feeding on his victims. While Angel is not the first sympathetic vampire, his character certainly helped popularize this new conception of the vampire, as following the end of Buffy and Angel, both television and the movies saw a rise in this depiction of a vampire, which seems to have become a staple of the vampire genre.
In 2008, much to tween girls' delight, the vampire Edward Cullen was brought to life on the big screen, in Twilight. The same year also saw True Blood, a television program that showed the Southern gentleman—and vampire—Bill Compton. The following year, in 2009, television viewers were introduced to Stefan Salvatore of The Vampire Diaries. All three characters are essentially the same type of vampire, refusing to feed on humans and wanting to help, rather than hurt, humanity. Since then, there have been dozens of other less popular sympathetic vampire roles on television and the movies, as the fascination around this now prototypical vampire has grown immeasurably.
George Snyder (Personal Assistant to Joss Whedon): Angel was not designed as an ongoing character. What would you do with Buffy and Angel? If we froze them in time, if we had stayed in high school forever, maybe we could have kept it going. Anybody else would have been tempted to stay in high school and stay with that unrequited love. What is more boring than that? It's Sam and Diane from Cheers. No, you don't let them go to bed, and we all know that when Sam finally did get into bed with Diane, it was the end of an era. So your gut reaction is, "Let's just keep him a dark, mysterious, brooding guy who helps out Buffy." Joss said, "No, at some point you've got to go to the next step. Up the tension and go for the dark." What's the last thing you have happen? A slayer in love with a vampire! So you do it. But having done it, oh my God, now he's bad.
Of course the mail came in: "Turn him back, turn him back." Even the network came in with, "He gets cured next week, right?" Joss is, like, "Oh no, not next week. First of all, he's never going to be cured. Second of all, he's not going to turn back, and he has to go to hell." They said, "He's a very popular character, and we're a little concerned." But, again, it was the narrative driving the show. Then, of course, we did turn him back and he was redeemed. Then the question was, "Now what?" Of course that led to him being spun off into his own show.
Kelly A. Manners (Producer): David's a good friend of mine but an odd duck. As a matter of fact, I'll tell you a story about his show, Bones. My daughter went to work on it on season two, and she said the assistant directors don't even look at David Boreanaz when you go to set. I said, "Well, good, when you get called to set, I want you to run up to David and jump in his arms and when the ADs freak out, then you better whisper real quick you're my daughter." She said the assistant directors went crazy, but David loved it. He's a good guy. As with most actors as they got more and more famous, some of them change drastically. David's a good guy. He has a big heart. David did get his nose up in the air toward the end, but he was still a great guy. Let me put it this way: I got fired by Don Johnson. There were no Don Johnsons on set.
Raymond Stella (Director of Photography): I remember he was always kind of an asshole. I worked with him on Angel, too. He was kind of stuck up a little. Married a Playboy model, and he liked to play golf.
Greenwalt: I thought the way David handled his position on Buffy and his relationship with Sarah was really great and terrific and also very smart. He always treated her like she was the star of the show, and then he got his own show and, of course, did a lot of crossover stuff. I never saw him misbehave in anyway on any of my shows with him.
The producers couldn't have hoped for better casting when Sarah Michelle Gellar entered the process as Buffy. Already an acting veteran, having appeared in many television commercials, in 1980 Gellar moved over to the daytime soap opera Guiding Light, and guest-starred on William Tell; Love, Sidney; and Spenser: For Hire. In 1989, she co-hosted the syndicated teen show Girl Talk before costarring in the teen soap opera Swan's Crossing . A fairly big break came in the form of the TV movie A Woman Named Jackie, in which she played the young Jackie Bouvier. Small roles in several films were next, followed by Neil Simon's Broadway play Jake's Women. This was followed by a two-year stint on the soap opera All My Children, for which she was awarded an Emmy. As her tenure on the soap was coming to an end, Gellar went to the Buffy office to audition for the part of Cordelia and walked out with the lead.
Whedon: Sarah Michelle Gellar embodies Buffy extraordinarily, and she brings an intelligence and depth to the character that I certainly couldn't write. She is so incredibly sympathetic—she's somebody that you just love to watch—but she's also this extremely intelligent actress who thinks her way through everything. So she makes Buffy an emotionally very-connected character, which is huge. It's never, "Oh, look at her, she's a dork," even though she's kind of an eccentric. It's never, "Oh, laugh at her and her silly ways." You're completely sucked into her story, because Sarah is so gifted.