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Buffy Behind The Scenes

Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, 6/18/02

I met James Marsters tonight. Ok, it's not as if we were introduced. It was more one   of those he's on stage, affably squatting down to greet people, and I'm right there in front of him making with the smiles... and he's making with the big blue eye contact and the smiles, and just as we're about to, you know, really bonding ...some cruel handler type grabs him and reminds him about "that thing"  he has to do. He looks as if he's sincerely heartbroken that he can't talk stay there and talk to me and all his other adoring fans all night long. He  apologizes, and rises gracefully, and off he goes... sigh.

stagethb.jpg (13639 bytes) The empty stage, with the cast's name plates (click)

A very kind friend invited me to go along this evening to the Buffy Behind the Scenes show for TV Academy  members. (I happened to be in LA this week for a funeral, so this came as an unexpected surprise during a difficult week). There was some confusion about the tickets, so we  really weren't at all sure we'd get in until just about 2 hours before show time. But not only did we get in, we also got excellent seats  in the first non-VIP row, about 20 feet from the stage.

So here, to the best of my recollection, is an account of the show.  (The quotes might not be exact, but I was taking detailed notes, and I'm trying to be as accurate as possible).

Joss is angling for an Emmy nomination, and tonight’s program was part of the   pre-Emmy nomination hype. It began with a video featuring highlights of  season 6, quick cuts of various scenes underscored with music that was obviously designed to be upbeat and amusing. For example, during several shots of scenes of Buffy’s death and return from the grave, we heard “Look on the bright side of life (death)” from Monty Python’s Life of Brian. We saw Buffy taking her famous dive in The Gift and the risen Buffy huddling against the walls in Bargaining, hiding from demons and her friends. We saw Xander and Anya in the Magic Box in their scene from the finale in which she tells him can’t kill him but hasn’t decided whether she really wants him dead. We saw Buffy and  Spike’s final scene from  Smashed, followed by the aftermath wake-up scene in Wrecked, with her line “When -- when did the building fall down?” (the audience laughed loudly). We saw the dramatic show-down between Buffy and Black Magic Willow from Two To Go.

The longest section  was from Once More With Feeling, where Buffy’s introductory song “Going Through The Motions” was the background music for a montage of scenes from  the musical, ending with Spike and Buffy’s passionate kiss. The audience cheered and  applauded loudly for the musical.

buffygrouptmb.jpg (18698 bytes) And here they are onstage, with a screen for folks who were seated farther back in the audience than we were. (click to enlarge)

And then the panel was introduced -- Joss, Marti, James, Aly, Nick, Michelle, along with Carey Meyer, the production designer, and Ray Stella, the director of photography.

James was on our end of the stage, maybe 20 feet away. He was wearing black pants (not jeans), a black western style shirt that looked vaguely familiar  and various pieces of silver jewelry (neck chain, bracelet, several rings, a  watch). His hair was gorgeous -- quite a bit of dark was showing through the blond. He is slender and generally smaller than he looks on TV, as is so often true of actors. The cheekbones were very chiseled this evening. 

Michelle, also small, looked lovely and more grown up than she looks on TV.  Nick did not appear as heavy as he has sometimes looked this year on TV; he's better   looking in person. Aly looked  particularly Willow-ish, in jeans and a peasant-style blouse with long loose sleeves. She is very pretty.  Her hair was reddish and a little longer than it was during the season -- about shoulder-length. Joss looked a bit dorky and Xander-ish in one of those Hawaiian-type shirts and baggy pants. Marti was very pregnant.

Alex Denisof was in the audience, a couple of rows in front of us.  He had arrived with his girlfriend, Aly.  Alex is hunky. A few of the others in the VIP section looked vaguely familiar -- perhaps they played bit parts on the show, or else they were family members. The  actress who played Cousin Carol in Hell’s Bells was standing directly in  front of us, chatting with a reporter. Someone who looked a lot like Nick  Brendan, and may have been his twin, was sitting in the first row.

The moderator was a reporter, Janet Weeks, from TV Guide. She proceeded to  ask a bunch of questions, many of which we’ve heard asked before. The only thing that was completely new to me and clearly a season seven spoiler was this tidbit -- Joss said that the first episode will feature the grand re-opening of Sunnydale High School, where Dawn will be starting up as a student (she’ll be the same age Buffy was during the first season). So that explains the  “back to high school” references we’ve heard about. I assume it means the Scooby gang will once again be in danger from the Hellmouth, which is, after all, under the high school.  Perhaps we'll see Buffy at the high school, in her in loco parentis for Dawn capacity?  Certainly in her Slayer capacity...

Aly commented that she would have been in big trouble ("I'd be dead") if she had leaked that particular piece of info about Sunnydale High reopening, but since Joss leaked it, it was ok.  The actors emphasized that they do not know what's going to happen in advance except in the broadest terms.

buffycast2tmb.jpg (19436 bytes) James, Michelle, Nick, and Aly, otherwise known as Spike, Dawn, Xander, and Willow. (click to enlarge)

The first topic of discussion was the musical and how they'd decided to do it.   Much joking ensued, setting the tone for the evening.  They were all sitting around drunk and decided to do a musical...helped along with James and his guitar (Marti's pregnancy was also blamed on getting drunk -- clearly a lot of joking going on!).   Michelle complimented Joss for his skill in understanding everybody's individual strengths -- she didn't think she could sing, but she loves dancing, so Joss let her dance in the musical.  Aly noted that she can't sing, so was getting laryngitis a lot.   Joss declared Emma Caulfield's talents to be the biggest surprise (he had known in advance that Tony Head, Amber Benson, and James had all done some singing before).

One of the big questions of the night was "What's going to happen to Spike now that he's got a soul?"  Naturally, the spoiler-unfriendly Joss confirmed very little.  He did appear to rubber-stamp Jane Espenson’s claim that Spike was going to Africa to get a soul, not to get the chip removed.

Janet said words to the effect of, "I was confused at the end of the last episode.   I thought Spike was going to get his chip out?"

To which Joss responded, "That's what you were supposed to think."  His tone  here was rather arch, as it often was that evening.  He added, continuing in a tone that might be described as a combination of sarcasm and self-deprecation, "this is a thing I have personally devised called a plot twist."   There was some joking about his patenting the idea of a plot twist, then he said, more seriously, "It (the plot  twist) will pay off.”

I thought that James seemed somewhat surprised by this interpretation.  He said later, in an interview, that he had been told to play the scene as if Spike were intent upon getting the chip out, which is certainly how it played on the screen.

To the usual question, “but is he going to be like Angel,” the answer was no.   James loudly asserted “No, no no!" when asked if there will be any cross overs with the Angel show). Joss agreed that Spike's story will not resemble Angel's, although he did say something to the  effect that some aspects may be like Angel, no, they’re not going to do the same thing again.

  James joking with his fellow cast members (click to enlarge)

Will our favorite vampire still be able to have sex? James pretended to be insulted by the question, but yes, it seems Spike will be able to make love without an Angel-like moment of perfect happiness problem.  Joss said he wants to challenge James, and promised that next year  will be “unlike anything James has ever had to do before.” James said it’s always challenging, and ‘If we’re not getting the shit scared out of us,” they know something’s wrong.

What seemed particularly significant to me was Joss's statement that Spike will in some ways be similar to Angel (remorse?), yet, his story will be very different.  Joss also insisted that JM will be doing something as an actor that is different from anything he's done on the show before. Hmmm...

James was asked about his sex scenes in season six. He laughed and said,  “yeah, I was in a sock and Sarah was fully clothed.” There was some joking exchanged about how cold it was and everyone else was dressed, but "there was poor James and his little sock,” to which James immediately  retorted, “my big sock!”

The actors were seated on one side of the moderator, and Joss, Marti, Carey and Ray were on the other side. The actors seemed to be very close -- good friends instead of professionals just tolerating one another.  Nick was particularly lively, cracking jokes and at times coming on so strong that Michelle teased, "he hasn't had his medication today."  The one-liners came so fast and furiously that I didn't catch them all.  (The sound system wasn't as good as it could have been, either).

At one point Nick, commenting on the many naked Spike scenes, gave us a good indication of how friendly he and James are (versus how hostile Xander and Spike are).  On the set of Gone, he said he was supposed to come into the crypt, see naked Spike doing his "push-ups" in bed (really making love with invisible Buffy) and say, "Spike?  What are you doing?"  Instead he blurted out, "Dude! What are you doing?" Nick had to remind himself, oops, that's Spike not James...

nick2tmb.jpg (17808 bytes) The Xan Man signing autographs

James was energetic and constantly moving around in his seat,  speaking up when it seemed appropriate, but not trying to dominate the discussion in any way.  The comments he made were thoughtful, intelligent, generous to the writers, producers, and crew, and generally insightful.  I noticed that he does the tongue swirl thing often when he  reacts or laughs -- apparently it’s not just a Spike thing. He’s naturally sexy!  But as others have noted, he seems less like his character than the others do. Nick seems a lot like Xander, and I was surprised at how much Aly seems like Willow (sweet Willow, that is, not Dark Magic Willow). She was not quite as vocal as some of the others, but when she spoke, she did so with that special charm that Willow, as a character, has always possessed. Aly has a quiet, feminine charisma that is very appealing.

Michelle struck me as much more self-possessed and mature than Dawn.  She was also quite articulate when she spoke up, and absolutely a sweetheart  afterwards while sighing autographs and posing for pictures.  For example, when one seemingly shy young man asked if he could take her picture, she smiled and said, "Not unless you pose here beside me."  The guy was thrilled.

In fact, of all the cast members, Michelle was the most surprising to me.  She comes across as poised, adult, and really quite lovely.  She also has a certain ineffable star quality about her -- I wouldn't be at all surprised if Joss and Marti are grooming her for Dawn the Vampire Slayer, in the event that UPN wants an 8th season and Sarah's moving on to other things.

michellealyjosstmb.jpg (24586 bytes) Michelle signing, with Aly and Joss beside her (click to enlarge)

Joss was asked about this season’s “dark turn.” He jokingly said, “Really?   First I’ve heard of it.” He also said, “Oops.”  However, both he and James defended the darkness of the season, noting that all the characters are changing as they grow older, and that people really do go through dark periods as they struggle to mature.  Joss, James, and Marti all spoke about moving away from metaphor this year, towards the more painful reality of life as it is actually lived.  The building falling down when Spike and Buffy first had sex was not supposed to symbolize the breaking down of emotional walls between them (as some of the more romantic among us had hoped when it happened) but Buffy's whole life falling apart. 

In regard to a question about the show possibly alienating its younger viewers, James said he thought it was good if they had attracted a slightly older audience with the season's more mature themes.

Joss acknowledged that they'd missed Tony Head in season 6, and the audience heartily agreed.  Joss said it was evident how much Giles had brought to the show when he made his dramatic entrance at the end of Two To Go.  He said he was going to try to have more Giles in season 7 -- let's hope so.

They’ve clearly been criticized for this season a great deal already, and Joss acknowledged that perhaps they had gone too far into the depressive stuff. Marti asserted that the Spike/Buffy relationship was driving the plot for much of the season, and she repeated that  it was supposed to be portrayed as destructive. She also said that perhaps they hadn't realized in advance how disturbed they were actually going to get. (No specific details were mentioned, like the attempted rape or the alley beating).

She noted that  they’d received a lot of mail expressing the desire for more of a romantic story (particularly for Buffy and Spike), but that this was not the story they had intended (or wanted) to tell.  The Angel/Buffy story was romantic, the Spike/Buffy story was meant to show a different side of sexual passion.  She did not say anything, one way or the other, to indicate whether a more  romantic love story would ever be told. Neither did Joss. (Some of us continue to hope!)  He emphasized again  that next year will move back to the original mission statement and explore the joys of female power. This statement was received with loud applause from  the audience.

Joss said that Buffy will not continue her job at Doublemeat Palace because they had actually lost advertisers over that -- the only issue, he claims, that they have ever lost advertisers over. Apparently it's not kosher to make fun of fast food in the good old USA ;)

jossnick2tmb.jpg (16993 bytes) Joss making a point to Nick

Other things I jotted down -- The actors had nothing but praise for Joss and the other writers.  Nick confessed that he had cried when reading his scene in the finale (with Joss’s edits, including the line about Willow and the crayons). Everyone on stage (and seemingly in the audience) agreed that the speech (from the end of Grave) was terrific.   Joss noted with sarcasm that he had seen an internet post which said WTTE “that stuff about the crayon really sucked.”  To put it mildly, Joss does not seem to be impressed with what’s said about the show on the ‘net.   Michelle joked at one point that “Dawn will probably steal the crayon.”

On the question of “can we redeem Willow” for killing Warren and trying to destroy the world, James said, “yeah sure we can," but they all seemed to agree that this won't be easy (unless, Joss joked, they can come up with one really great speech).  He said Willow will go through some major recriminations, but he doesn't intend to have her moping around all season. Aly was asked if she’d known how evil Willow was going to get. She said no, and was startled when she saw the final scripts. She said she realized something big was up when her make-up sessions were scheduled to take an hour longer than  usual, and Nick said the black hair was a strong hint;)  Aly pouted a bit to Joss: “How come I had to look all veiny?”

Joss urged a "how 'bout that Dark Willow?" cheer from the audience, who responded warmly.  He also praised the Geek trio for their work, and mentioned that he'd like to find a way to bring back Jonathan and Andrew.

The Tara death issue came up briefly, and Joss seemed a little bit defensive.   Apparently the plan to kill Tara in order to make Willow go dark was in the works for a long time.  They didn’t get into the lesbian cliche thing at all, but they emphasized that killing Tara with a gun was once again meant to show that this season was about real life -- brutal, mundane, and senseless, with nothing mystical and romantic about it. In real life, people that you love die. He also said he’d wanted to make a statement about guns, and that the reference in Flooded to  the gun in the bank robbery “these things are rarely useful,” (or WTTE) was meant to tie in with Warren’s violent act in Seeing Red.

Everyone in the cast seemed sincerely saddened by Tara's death, and they all said they would miss Amber Benson (as will I!), although there were hints that Tara might continue to make an occasional appearance on the show in some capacity.  "No one ever stays dead on Buffy." 

When Aly was complimented on her acting during Tara's death scene, she told us that the worst part of filming the scene at the end of Seeing Red was that the blood that was supposed to blossom on Willow's blouse did not spatter correctly, so they had to do the scene over and over  to get the blood right. They only had two shirts to use for the scene, so every time they didn't get it right, a shirt had to be washed and re-used (making it wet and uncomfortable).  By the time they finally got a good take, Aly said she was no longer worrying about her acting performance, but instead was asking, “was the blood good?”

Michelle, in particular, said that she would miss Amber, because she really loves working with her.  Michelle is hoping for more grown-up scenes next year -- she told Joss (more than once!) she wants to wear heels occasionally, instead of sneakers all the time ;).  Joss assured us that Dawn won’t be whining next year, and the audience clapped loudly.  Michelle commented that she hoped she wouldn’t keep getting hate mail about her character.

buffyjamesmichelle2tmb.jpg (26897 bytes) When Spike talks, Xander and Dawn listen

James said emphatically at one point, “I will NOT bleach my hair during the off season.” His hair looked yummy with the dark roots showing.

All the actors, and James in particular, praised the work of the director of photography and the production designer.  Aly waxed lyrical over the excellent use of lighting, particularly since the mostly female cast members tend to have long hair which is always getting in their faces and interfering with the lighting -- providing quite a challenge for the technical crew.  Michelle joked that Aly must want more lighting.   But Joss laughingly noted that they'd all look good no matter what the lighting was -- after all, he said, "I didn't hire trolls!"

James praised everyone on the set for working very hard, nothing that 12 hour shoots and weekend work are typical on BtVS.  He said the crew knows the show as Buffy the Weekend Slayer.

To the question, “are you spread too thin” with Firefly and all his other  projects, Joss claimed he’s not. He says he’s grown more focused over the years and will still be involved in Buffy in a major way next year.

And that’s pretty much it. It was pretty damn exciting to see so many members of the Buffy team together, and James seemed just as affable and friendly as everyone else always reports him to be. Unfortunately he left before anyone else...the rest of the gang, including Joss, hung around for quite a while chatting with audience members, posing for pics and signing autographs.

All in all, it was a fantastic evening, and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to attend.  And, after all this, I certainly hope they get an Emmy nomination for Once More With Feeling -- nothing could be more well-deserved.

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Joss and Nick

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Michelle, with Aly and Joss in background

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The beautiful James Marsters

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Alex Denisof

For more official pictures of the Buffy Behind The Scenes event, check out these from Wire Image.   They were taken outside the ATAS building when the Buffy actors and producers arrived for the show (we were already inside by then, although my fiance, who dropped me off for the show, ran into Joss outside).

My Parody of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, Joss-style

Buffy Script Parody

Other Buffy Stuff

All pictures by Linda R. Barlow; all rights reserved.