Dreamwatch, British TV and movie magazine.
Buffy Round Table II, May 2001 (#80), by Jenny Carillo.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is soon to mark it's 100th episode in what will be the most highly anticipated even in the show's history. In our latest "round table" conference, Dreamwatch's Jenny Carrillo discusses the evergreen series' past and future with Anthony Stewart Head (Rupert Giles), Alyson Hannigan (Willow), and creator/producer Joss Whedon, and what it has meant to be part of a cultural phenomenon.
Dreamwatch: Congratulations on your Emmy nomination for last season's "Hush." Did it feel like a validation, having been doing the show for four season?
Joss Whedon (JW): It was nice. I thought that "Hush" might be the one episode that people would notice. I knew it was not going to win. On this show we don't think about it because it is never going to Emmy bait, even though I think it is incredibly brilliant.
Do you think the show's title has anything to do with that?
JW: Well, the WB was worried about that when we first started. They said they loved everything but the title. I stuck to my guns and said the title had to say because [Buffy the Vampire Slayer] is what it is about. It has comedy, drama, action and horror in the title. The network was worried about alienating people. I believe that if the title alienates people then they probably should not watch anyway, but it's their loss.
Since you are with Warner Brothers you do not rely on ratings to keep going, so you could do this forever. Do you foresee the story ever getting stale or you getting bored?
JW: You know there is a certain amount of exhaustion after doing the show for five years. But at this point there is no one who is phoning it in, nobody is falling apart, nobody is just picking up a paycheck. Everybody is still excited about it. The writers are still excited every time we break a story, and as long as that is the case then we will have a show. We will never run out of stories. You can't, really. These characters are too interesting and life is too painful and strange.
Anthony Stewart Head (ASH): When I went back to England the first year and took a tape of the show with me and I showed my agent, she said, "Yes, it is very cool, but where can it go? I can't see it lasting more than a year." I said, "I think Joss has a few things up his sleeve but I'm not sure." Now, in its fifth year, the show constantly reinvents itself, and I think that's a testament to Joss' imagination. About halfway through the season he'll get excited about what he is going to do to all of us the next season. It is wonderful to work on a show that does not feel stale or anywhere near its end. While Joss has something to say, the show will always be very, very strong.
Alyson Hannigan (AH): And the more exhausted he becomes, the more original the stories become. So we all call him in the middle of the night and wake him up!
Do you read the whole script when you get it or just read your part for the week?
ASH: Every time I get a script it is like the first time--I just get blown away, sometimes more than others, but I always get excited by getting a new script in my hand. Sometimes it's because we know we are filming the next day and I can't wait to find out what we are filming.
You don't narrow it down to your part? ASH: Not really. I mean, the current script I'm looking through I see I'm on in it very much, but that's okay. Ultimately it's more about the fact that it's still exciting, I still get off on it.
What do you believe is the show's strength?
ASH: The writing.
JW: I think it is the writing, the characters. It is half of each. The characters have so much to offer, they are so engaging. People care so much what they are going through, and as long as we as writers know that the actors are up to anything, then they can change and they can grow. And as long as it doesn't get boring and we are keeping that fresh then, to me, that is the most important thing. I think that is what people really latch on to. Monsters they like but these characters they love, and it is the same way with the writers--we love all their voices. So it is a drama with some horns, some fangs.
How does it work? Is there one writer that comes up with the idea and everyone else writes about that one thing? JW: No, we all talk about an idea. I come up with a lot of them and just sort of put them out. We have a basic structure for the season. We knew here is where Angel has to go bad, there is where Oz has to leave...
JW: Well, it takes a few weeks to write, eight full days of about twelve to fourteen hours of shooting, and a few weeks to edit. Once the middle of the season comes, however, they start airing it faster than we can make them, hence I have written some in two days and I have also written shows we are already filming. I sort of hand them pages every day.
AH: We get a very detailed outline. Just no dialogue.
How do you draw the line between scary and absurd?
JW: Well, you know, we go overboard a little bit. We sort of veer drunkenly from one to the other. One week will be completely farcical and the next will be completely creepy and the next will be sappy and dramatic and sweet. As long as we do all of those things, we will never do too much of one.
What are you scared of?
ASH: I do not know what I am afraid of. I am scared of my imagination. My imagination is worse than anything that can actually happen.
AH: I guess I am not really scared of death. I am more scared of the pain that leads up to death. That is my biggest fear, probably. That and spiders. Spiders that don't have trainers, that is. When they are on the set they are fine. They are fuzzy and cute. But when they are in my house, I just want them to leave!
Does anything spooky or funny ever happen to you on the set?
JW: There is not a lot of funny, spooky stuff. There is mostly having to work really hard.
AH: I scare Tony pretty much every day...
ASH: Every day!
AH: ...because our trailers are lined up next to each other and my window faces his door to enter the trailer...
ASH: I made the mistake of telling her that my daughter, Daisy, likes to make me jump...
ASH: ...so every time he walks by, he can't see in but I can see out and I just scream his name really loud and he always gets a startle! Then he started getting used to me screaming his name so I just started screaming. It was really very amusing for me.
ASH: Yes, it keeps Alyson very happy...
ASH: I think I am keeping him young!
ASH: Yeah, my heart is basically like leather now because it has gotten though, thanks to her!
AH: If you ever read that he dies of a heart attack on the set, it is probably my fault.
Anthony, how many children to you have?
ASH: I have two daughters. They are very beautiful. Alyson has spent some time with us at our home so she knows what I miss.
JW: I miss it too.
AH: Amazing. I don't know how he comes here.
JW: I would not do this crappy show if I had his beautiful family!
Do you all spend time together when you are not working?
ASH: We do, but Sarah (Michelle Gellar) does not always have a lot of time to spend. I mean, she works more than any of us on the show, so when she had free time sometimes she comes out with us, but not a lot.
AH: I always think of us like brothers and sisters. You know, sometimes you are really close to one person and then you get tired so you move on to another person, but it's not like you don't love that person. You just don't want to play with them anymore. Alexis Denisof [Wesley on Angel] would not date me while we were working together, so once he moved shows we began to see each other.
Joss, do the actors often come to you with their own ideas for episodes?
JW: Everybody wants to kill things, die, be evil, come back, be a vampire. That idea has come from every cast member.
ASH: I have pitched a couple of ideas and Joss, ever-so-sweetly, smiled and went, "No, no." But he did tell me why on both occasions, and on both occasions I could see his point. What is more interesting is the fact that you find your character developing in ways that strangely parallel your own life. If you are going through something or are insecure about something, suddenly your character develops all sorts of insecurities, and you think to yourself how strange it is that art imitates life.
JW: Well, a lot of it has to do with the fact that I spend most of my time with these guys, and some of their real life works its way into the script. I mean, not just how they think and speak, but in the way they develop, the ways they are manic. The conversations usually are not so much about plot as they are about characterization. They work on an emotional, sub-textual level.
What about the rumours of having Britney Spears on Buffy?
JW: It is possible. She and I are really good friends and there have been some talks. There was interest expressed, and I have an episode in mind that she would be good for. We have to work around her schedule, but even if she drops out the story still works. It is still a Buffy story and somebody else can fill in. I hear rumours about all sorts of people wanting to do the show and they're not true. This is a real one, but it's just a question of scheduling.
Do you believe in evil and hell?
ASH: Definitely. There's black and white; there's good and bad. As far as evil and hell is concerned, I actually believe in reincarnation, and I think hell is basically when you have had a bad time here on Earth.
AH: Yeah, I definitely believe in evil. Not quite as vividly as on the show, but I have always maintained the philosophy that I will never say that evil does not exist, because I don't need some creature trying to prove me wrong!
ASH: The show hasn't changed my attitude, although in the time I've been doing it, things have happened in my life to sort of reaffirm and reassure me. I met a good friend, who is psychic, who's told me all sorts of very interesting things. That was reaffirming, and as you go through life and experience it and open yourself to it and allow changes, it makes an interesting learning experience rather than blocking yourself off and saying, "No I don't believe in this." That is the way I am. You don't go anywhere you don't learn anything, and life just becomes treading water.
So you are more open-minded now?
ASH: I definitely believe in an afterlife--I've got a spirit in my house and all sorts of stuff going on!
Are you kidding?
ASH: No, she's a little girl. Bangs about a bit when she gets a little unsettled and makes quite a lot of noise.
AH: Are you sure it's not one of your little girls?
ASH: No, because we've had a couple of friends who have seen her, and one of my daughters has seen her. We think she's late Victorian. The house is in the west of England and the front part was built in 1813. We don't worry too much because she's a gentle spirit.
AH: That's so scary. I love that story. I conveniently forgot it when I was staying there at the house with Anthony and his family!
Alyson, can you top that one?
AH: No, I'm afraid I can't... Well, there is this huge cemetery in Sepulveda and Wilshire [Boulevard in Los Angeles] and for some reason I've always been spooked by that cemetery and I was taught to turn your radio off when you pass by. I never really did for others, but I did it for this cemetery. One time I was with my boyfriend and two other people and we were [running] late, and right there at a stoplight he had turned off the radio out of respect for me, but he turned it on again briefly just to see the clock and it wouldn't go on. We all heard the click but it didn't work. Then we drove past and turned it back on and it was fine. That's my little girl story!"
[end of article]
Sidebar: Alyson Hannigan
Sidebar: Anthony Stewart Head
Sidebar: Joss Whedon
More Dreamwatch articles: p. 1 / p. 3 / p. 4
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