Xander the Great
Buffy the Vampire Slayer Official Magazine
By Paul Simpson & Ruth Thomas
During the hiatus between Buffy‘s fifth and sixth seasons, Buffy Magazine caught up with the one and only Nicholas Brendon, a.k.a. king of the quips and Snoopy Dance expert Xander Harris, for an exclusive chat about what the future holds for Buffy, Xander and Nick…
Nicholas Brendon has been very busy since he finished playing Xander Harris in the fifth season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in mid-April. “We’ve been traveling for five weeks, all throughout Europe,” says the actor of he and his then-fiance, Tressa. “I did a trip for the US Air Force, and we hit about eight or nine different Air Force bases in Turkey, Germany, Italy and England. I entertained the kids, talked and signed autographs. That was very emotional and fantastic.
“Then we took a three-and-a-half pre-honeymoon,” he continues. “London was the last stop. We were gone for five weeks, so we’re kind of tired. I don’t know what that feels like. I’ve never been tired before! Our vacation was to Venice, Rome, Monte Carlo, Nice, St. Tropez, Gay Paris, and then London for two days. Now the vacation’s over!”
Time, then, to ask Nick about his thoughts on life on the Buffy set. Recent seasons of the show have often seen Xander on the outside of the Scooby Gang — like Giles, he was no longer part of Buffy’s day-to-day life at college, although he was always willing to help in the fight against evil. During that time, his relationship with the former demon Anya has developed, with Xander proposing marriage just before the climactic battle with Glory in the Season Five finale.
“It’s been nice that that relationship has been natural,” says Nick. “At least Anya’s not a demon right now! It’s an honest relationship, but you have to remember, she’s a demon. It seems like a ‘real’ relationship in the sense that my character is the most real guy. He has no super powers. He’s the comedy guy. You need him around to make a joke or two when things get too emotional or scary.” He sits back, looking thoughtful. “It’s kind of ironic that the comedy guy has the most honest relationship, but I dig it. I’ve got a job still — that shows I must be doing something right!”
For a time, Xander was drifting on the tide, waiting to see what life would bring him, but in recent episodes, he’s become one of the most focused members of the group. Nick points out that it doesn’t prevent Joss Whedon and the writers from taking Xander off into a fantasy realm.
“They still can. The whole show is in a fantasy realm, so if you have too much fantasy, it’s a problem.” The fact is, his very ordinariness makes Xander stand out against the others. “I’ve never really wanted any super powers,” Nick agrees. “Xander has some traits that I would like to have as Nick — but I can’t share those with you right now! But it’s been nice that my character doesn’t have them, because it sets him apart. Everyone else has them. You’ve got a witch, a slayer, a vampire, another witch, and a watcher — and that’s a power. Being the Ripper is definitely a power. And then you’ve got the Key. So I’m the only person who isn’t a bundle of energy. I’m just an everyday Joe.”
Except, of course, when Count Dracula is in town. Nick instantly switches to his insect-devouring impersonation of Renfield that he created in the fifth-season opener, “Buffy vs. Dracula.” “Except for then, yes,” he mutters. “And then I got a bit weird.”
Despite being the “comedy guy,” Xander has also been the voice of wisdom in a number of episodes. “Wise-ass moments” Wise cracking?” Nick suggests, then turns serious again. “That’s just emotion. That’s just who the kid is. It doesn’t have anything to do with the comedy aspect of it. I would maybe like to delve into the emotional side of Xander a bit more, so he’s not just coming out with the one-liners. But it’s there, and we’ve seen it before. He gets pissed at people who get mean to his friends, and he gets scared of people who are stronger than him. He’s a sensitive soul who likes to crack jokes.
“I like both sides of him,” he adds. “The comedy is so much fun, because then you get to go home and watch it. I enjoy watching myself on the show. When I watch the comic moments with my friends, family and loved ones, and I’m making the room laugh, and they’re the people that know me best, I know I’m doing something right and I feel really proud. But I’ve also made them cry before. Not because of the show — I’ve done some pretty stupid things.”
It’s an unfortunate reality of television production that not everything that is filmed in the studio makes it into the final 42-minute cut of each Buffy episode. In the past, comic moments between Xander and Giles have fallen prey to this, and Nick confirms that there are times when he’s been waiting for a moment to appear on screen that hasn’t arrived.
“It’s never scenes,” he points out. “I’ll never have whole scenes cut, but there’ll be short moments missing. They always are, and depending on where the season arc is going, the directors have to know what scenes they can cut down. Usually they’re comical moments, but there have been a few real emotional moments where I’m watching it and think, ‘cool, his heart’s coming out — sit and watch …’ and all of a sudden, it’s not there. There have been two or three — maybe more than that, over the span of the show, maybe seven — where it’s been like, ‘Dammit — consult me first! I want to know about this!’ But I guess it’s not their job to consult me — to console me, maybe! That’s why I always make sure that every line has meaning, in case one of those good lines are cut. You never take a line for granted. you give it your best effort and you’ll be proud of it in the end.”
One of the most emotional episodes of Season Five was “The Body,” in which the Scooby Gang all tried to deal with Joyce’s death in their own way. “I’ve never lost anyone close to me before, so it was kind of weird,” Nick recalls. “It was good. The script was great, but the way that Joss is, I was waiting to see the finished piece. He had said that he wasn’t going to have a stitch of music in it, which I thought was really going to add to the hollowness and loneliness of it. The script read really, really well, and it was very emotional. I just wanted to know how he was going to shoot it.”
Joss Whedon’s self-directed scripts often have an in-built challenge, almost as if the creator is trying to push himself harder each time he directs an episode. Nick loves watching him overcome the obstacles. “It was the same thing with ‘Hush,’” he says. “You get this script where we’re not talking. You just watch Joss bring it all together. He never fails.”
Nick notes that one unexpected side-effect of “The Body” was to bound the cast and crew closer together. “The whole crew reads the new script while we’re working, especially when it’s one of Joss’, and he brought people together. It’s a very somber script, but people actually opened up. A lot of people who had lost somebody said that he had really nailed it.”
Nick is looking forward to getting back to work, although it will be interesting to see how much will change now that Buffy is being produced for UPN, rather than the WB. “I know that UPN went on record to say that they were going to give more money to the show to up the production value, which I do think is pretty fantastic already,” Nick says. “The producers get a lot out of their dollar on the show already. I was just talking to Joss about it, and they don’t have a Standards and Practice Board over at UPN, so he’s going to have more freedom to do what he wants. UPN are happy to have us, so it’s nice to be going some place and be well received. They’re treating us really well. They got us a really nice welcome package gift.”
There is a downside of the move for Nick, however, who admits that he’s “not very good at meeting people. I’m a bit nervous, because we’ve got new contacts at the networks, and I’ve got to build new relationships with them. I’m very withdrawn. I’m shy, so I’m nervous. But all I know is that we’re shooting at the same place. If we’d had to change location, then that would be hard, but we’re at the same place. We’ll just be watching it on a different station in L.A. As actors, we don’t have to deal with the network as much as Joss would, but we’ll still go down and meet them. And we’ll still be doing lots of photo shoots, which I love,” he adds sardonically.
Despite his shyness, Nick enjoys going on stage at conventions. “They seem to like me being there,” he says. “So that’s nice. I always get a nice round of applause. They’re all very courteous over in England. Sometimes in the States they can be a bit … American, whatever that means.”
Nick hasn’t had problems with fans unable to distinguish Xander Harris from Nick Brendon. “I have security remove [those] people immediately,” he jokes. “I’ve always just been me. When you go on stage in front of hundreds or thousands of people, you go into survival mode, and you just zone out. You’re answering questions and doing a shtick, basically. Whatever mode you’re in, it’s just amplified. But everyone’s been great, and with the popularity of the show increasing, there are just more people. America loves me. The world loves me… I’m going to run for President — I’m going to be in charge of everyone!”
With Buffy already halfway through its sixth year, Nick has one eye on the future. “After this is done, I would like to star in my own show,” he says. “Whether that’s with other people from this show, I don’t know. When I was first booked on Buffy, I wasn’t ready for that. It’s a lot of work. I’m contracted to this great show up to the end of Season Seven, and every day I’m learning. My preparation is getting ready for the next stage.”
For the time being, Nick is concentrating on acting, rather than looking at going behind the camera. “When you’re acting as much as I am, God thank you, you’re learning every time you’re on set. You just ask questions. I can direct actors, but there’s a lot of technical stuff, too.”
As to Xander Harris’ immediate future, Nick Brendon is more than happy to leave it in Joss Whedon’s capable hands. “His vision seems to have worked thus far,” he points out, “so it’s nice to stick with a winning line. When you don’t have to worry about something in life, and you are confident that it’s going to be taken care of, why think about it?”