In 11 Questions, The A.V. Club asks interesting people 11 interesting questions—and then asks them to suggest one for our next interviewee. For The A.V. Club’s Buffy Week we devised a set of Buffy-themed queries to throw at the show’s cast members.
In a show full of slayers, witches, and vampires, Nicholas Brendon’s Xander was Buffy’s requisite skeptical human. He was both an audience surrogate and a joke machine. Of course, Xander ended up falling for a demon and eventually getting his own hero moment, so it’s not like he was ever totally removed from the action. The A.V. Club talked to Brendon about the surprisingly emotional legacy of his most famous character.
1. On average, how many times per week do you spend being recognized for, thinking of, or talking about Buffy?
Nicholas Brendon: It seems to be a lot. I think I’m maybe so accustomed to it that even when it’s happening, I don’t know that it’s happening. I know that “a lot” isn’t a number.
The A.V. Club: It doesn’t need to be an exact number.
NB: So my answer is the number “a lot.”
2. What’s your fondest memory of filming?
NB: There was a general feeling on set that was always wonderful. It just felt like it was some sort of blessed, ordained project. There were so many times I’d just be on set and in this place of wonder, saying, “Oh my god. I can’t believe I’m a part of this show.” It was like a dream. “Hey, I had a dream last night. I’m going to try and explain it to you.“ And you always say, “Don’t, don’t.” You can’t explain dreams. It was kind of like I was living in a dream and I would pinch myself and I wouldn’t wake up, so that meant that it was real.
There were so many wonderful moments on it. You cannot just pick one. I think probably, when I booked it, when I got the phone call on a Tuesday at about 10 a.m., that’s kind of where this whole journey started for me. Twenty years later, it’s really still going.
I couldn’t afford a cell phone so I got a “911” page from my manager, and I was actually heading out to Santa Monica. So I pulled over [and used] a pay phone. She was this lovely New York lady. She’s like, “Nicky, you got it.” I’m crying and she’s crying. I had been acting for about three months up until that point, so that’s kind of where it started, and I had a talk with my twin brother, and he’s like, “No matter what happens, your life has just changed.” I think we shot about seven or eight days later, so I had two days of just “oh my god” elation, and it’s like like, shit, I have to actually do this. I sure hope I know how to act.
AVC: What were those initial days of filming like?
NB: Well, I remember because when we shot the presentation there was a different Willow. So we essentially just shot a shorter version of the first pilot episode. This may have been the first day after it was picked up, I didn’t know how to read a call sheet, so I didn’t know I had scenes after lunch and I just freaked out. I’m like, “What?” I thought I was done. “You’re not going anywhere. You have six more pages of dialogue.” And I’m like, “Oh boy.” I think Joss and the producers were like, “Did we just make a mistake?”
There was no malice. The first 13 episodes it was still kind of finding itself. Not our best episodes, outside of “The Pack,” but that was my favorite time because we were all just new to this whole crazy thing.
3. What’s your personal favorite—and least favorite—Buffy episode?
NB: “Once More With Feeling” is my favorite. And then I think I recall doing a Xander episode called “Beer Bad.” I think that one. I don’t really recall the dialogue in it. I just remember people saying, “What’s the deal with ‘Beer Bad’?” And I’m like, “I don’t know.” Which now, mind you, looking where I’m at right now in my recovery, being an alcoholic, I wish I had known then that beer was bad. I was a late bloomer to this whole disease thing. I really should have taken that more to heart.
AVC: Do you appreciate “Once More With Feeling” because of the work you put into it onscreen or because of the actual experience of filming it?
NB: I think both. If I wasn’t a good singer or dancer, I wasn’t hired to be a good singer or dancer, so I actually relished that. Now mind you, my character was that guy that could look bad. Maybe Willow [Alyson Hannigan]—she decided really not to do much. James [Marsters] was stressed out about it, but the guy had a fucking rock ’n’ roll band. I don’t know why he was sensitive about it. He could clearly sing. And he was used to playing the cool part. So if I screwed up, I could just chalk it up to, “that’s Xander.” If I’m great, then I’m like, “that’s Nicky Brendon.”
4. If you could have played any other character on Buffy, who would it have been?
NB: I get that question a lot. Nobody. Okay, Buffy, and for reasons I won’t even tell you.
AVC: No way I can get that out of you?
NB: It’s just that everyone did such a great job. It was one of those shows that I just feel was perfectly cast. I wish I had a better answer for you.
AVC: We talked to Tom Lenk, and he said this is a question that gets asked a lot at conventions. And his response was that if you don’t say “Buffy,” people get upset in the room.
NB: Yeah, I get this question a lot and I’m like, “nobody.” I’m not just bullshitting. Everybody did an amazing job. I feel like if I were to say, “I wish I played that character,” then it kind of is a diss. Like that person didn’t do it properly; I’ll show you how to do it. But it’s not. Everyone was just great. I really love Spike’s character because Xander and Spike were kind of like an odd couple, like an Oscar and Felix situation, but Joss gave Spike the dark sense of humor too. And that wasn’t his intent. I think Spike was supposed to die. But Spike did get very popular.
5. Who is the most underrated character on the show?
NB: Xander. 100 percent. They don’t even make action figures of Xander. Oz has an action figure. I don’t have an action figure.
AVC: Wait, Oz has an action figure and Xander doesn’t?
NB: Well, I have an action figure, but then they made those [Funko Pops!]. I don’t have one of those. Xander was always kind of under-appreciated on the show and he was written that way and I always felt bad. I wasn’t the Spike or I wasn’t Angel, because I didn’t have any special powers, but without that sense of humor, I’m not sure what the show is. You needed someone playing Xander for that show to work. I just thought that character was under-appreciated because he wasn’t the one that was the romantic lead.
6. The sixth season is pretty controversial among fans. How do you feel about it?
NB: And that’s why I save the Earth. It was funny. I remember the show had aired that Tuesday prior, and I was just getting a Starbucks, and someone walked up to me and they said, “Thank you for saving the world.” And I’m like, “What the fuck are you talking about? Oh. Yeah, you’re welcome.” And I love Dark Willow. I love it because it’s also a great cosplay. There are some people that do amazing Dark Willows.
I had a tougher time with season seven. I think because I knew the show was coming to an end. We had all these Slayerettes there. Personally and selfishly I probably just wanted to end the show as we started the show just with the core. I didn’t want all these kind of—and nothing personal to the ladies that played the Slayerettes—it became too much.
7. When Dawn appeared in the fifth season, some fans were taken aback. How do you feel about her?
NB: Maybe Sarah [Michelle Gellar] knew. But I got to work season five and then there’s Michelle [Trachtenberg]. I wasn’t in the loop that they were adding a series regular. I love Michelle. But I’m not a part of that process.
AVC: So were you totally surprised, not just by the series regular, but the fact that Buffy was getting a sister?
NB: Yeah, and it was an alternative reality and things like that. I was trying to wrap my mind around that. I’m just not that smart. Sometimes as an actor you’re just kind of, “Is this the way it’s going to be?” And you’re like, “Alright, cool.” I accepted it on premise.
8. Who was the best Big Bad?
NB: I really enjoyed watching the mayor. I thought he was wonderful. I was not a fan when he turned into the giant snake. I just think Joss wanted Sarah to ride a giant snake. But I loved how [Harry Groener] played it. I just thought it was creepy and wonderful.
AVC: What did you not like about the giant snake?
NB: I thought it looked cheesy.
9. Angel or Spike?
NB: It’s a more interesting character, at least from my end. I never watched Angel. The character was always very dark and brooding. On Angel I’m sure his sense of humor came out because David [Boreanaz] is a very funny individual, and I never saw that. But with James I was just there for his whole character development and him getting his soul back.
10. What do you wish your character had done that you didn’t get to do?
NB: Maybe have sex with Buffy?
NB: I don’t know. Maybe Xander would have become a man. Maybe he would have found some super power in that.
AVC: Were you happy when the Anya romance came around?
NB: Yeah, that was a lot of fun. Joss did have a talk with Sarah and I because he was kind of contemplating the idea of Xander and Buffy ending up together at the end of season seven. He just said, “What do you guys think about that?” And we were both for it, but then that never came to fruition and I lost my eye.
AVC: And the idea behind that was just to couple them up in the final season?
NB: He was just thinking about the end of the show, and Xander and Buffy would be together. But Xander is essentially Joss, and Joss does not like his characters to fully be happy in love. At least on Buffy.
11. What lessons can Buffy still teach us in 2017?
NB: You can really find a lesson for anything that you’re looking for. It’s true. Joss really knew what he was doing. We can get into the cliché stock answer of women power, and you can probably write some sort of a paper on it. I’ve had so many people come up to me, whether they lost a parent, whether they were battling depression or had suicidal thoughts, they’ll find something in that show and watching that show will get them through that.
Bonus 12th Question from Adam Busch: What are the best and worst experiences that you had at conventions? How you feel about conventions?
NB: I love conventions. I love making actually contact with my fans because it’s just great. Something about actually making eye contact with people and then giving them the time to express how important the show was to them and how it got them through whatever in their life.
AVC: Have you ever had a best or worst experience at the conventions? Do you have any specific instances?
NB: Really a convention is going to work based around the promoter. I always have an amazing time. I’ve never had a bad experience at a convention with fans or with anybody like that. For me, there’s just so much love at conventions. If anything, it’s like having to come home from them, I kind of get a little down because I had such a great time. So yeah, I really have nothing. I haven’t had any crazy fans. I think because I was the everyday guy, so I get people who say, “Man, I was you in high school.” Or “Xander, you got me laid so much.” Things like that. I’ve not had a bad experience. And my bad experiences that I’ve had there have been when I’ve been left alone in my hotel room before I got sober. That was all legal shit, but that’s behind me.
AVC: Are there any wonderful moments that stand out to you?
NB: It’s more emotional for me because I am very open about my depression, so I meet a lot of people who are going through the same thing. I cry a lot at conventions because people are really opening up. I’ve opened that up for them. It just gets really emotional. So I’m a different type of person to where I engage in the conversation like that. I was in Salt Lake City last year and this guy came up. I had been there I think two years prior. He said, “My sister came and she saw you here two years ago, and she was just beaming and she loved you so much, and you really, really made her day.” I said, “Well, where it she?” And he’s like, “Oh, she killed herself last year.” He brought a picture of me with her. I had to excuse myself for little bit and go outside and finish my crying. And then I came back. It’s just different because I’m very open and engaging about that topic.