Happy 20th Birthday 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' (or 'How I crapped on Joss Whedon's S
Today, March 10th marks the 20 year anniversary of the now cult-famous hit 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer'. I'm not actually sure if something can be considered both 'cult-famous' and a 'hit' at the same time but if any show can it is 'Buffy'.
The little show that could started off rather quietly on the 'WB' but I knew there was something about it. While I had never seen it myself at the time there was that precious quantity of "buzz" about it around town. It was quietly becoming many in Hollywood's favorite little show with agents and managers often confiding "Oh, I LOVE this show!" They would get more excited about it than some bigger reads I would have for more established series. In a word, it was "hip".
Twenty years later it's hard to remember what a struggling upstart of a program it was now that its influence is so pervasive over the culture. From the still-going 'Supernatural' and 'Grimm' all the way to the explosion of the Marvel craze that Buffy's creator, Joss Whedon, would eventually navigate into 'The Avenger's' juggernauts. While 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' (BTVS) was never a ratings bonanza the show held on for seven seasons and became a cultural touchstone. All of this from a little B-movie he penned with the same name that by all accounts "got it wrong" in 1992 starring Kristy Swanson and Luke Perry.
20 years. Wow. To echo Joss' feelings about the matter, yeah, I feel old too. That said my memories of the experience were like it was yesterday because that time was engraved with such emotional resonance. It was my first "real" show aside from small roles and extra bits and I was, frankly, shocked I got the job. Not because my audition was bad. It wasn't. But if you recall the alternative title of this post then you might have some inkling things didn't all go according to Hoyle.
My first read for the show was rather fun but daunting. The auditions were held in Santa Monica where they shot most of the program. On the outside it was a rather non-descript lot with wire fences and a small security entrance. I think I walked past it 3 times before I realized it wasn't a paint factory. Once inside you would have to walk past graveyards and various set pieces couched against the outside walls of the soundstages. It was their little playground. I would always smile on the way in before reaching the audition room filled with an assortment of tremendously handsome fellows.
My first read I found I liked Joss immediately. I was a bit of a chatterbox in the room back then and found myself talking to him about all his projects from 'Toy Story' to 'Alien: Resurrection' and even the original 'Buffy' movie. I was too new to everything then to know you are not there to be a "fan with access". I just couldn't help myself. To his credit, Joss would engage with me about each project as the casting director's brow grew more knitted with my time suckage. Walking out, I figured that was a first and last, but what a great time I had.
While I wasn't surprised I didn't get the job, I was when I got another audition some time later. While the first audition was more of the "boyfriend" role (you know, look pretty and speak aloud to other person while standing on mark) this one was fun. My character Tom Warner was set up as an alternative to David Boreanaz's Angel after some relationship complications that only a vampire and slayer could have. Swooping in to that gap, Tom charmingly (I hope) gets Buffy to a party and then reveals his true, darker self in a dark, dungeon temple to a lizard god. Yes, vintage Buffy stuff.
Needless to say, I really wanted the part and prepared extensively. The true tell would be if I could switch from nice guy Tom convincingly to a demon-worshipping psychopath within a couple of pages. As always, when you want something the nerves get a bit wonky. Doing my walk-in past the humorous tombstone etchings, I signed in below aforementioned handsome fellows. I sat and kept to myself. No chatty Todd today. As each guy went in and it got closer to my time I felt the need to pee.
This often happens. Anytime just before doing something scary like opening night or, say, jumping off a cliff you suddenly find you just need to do x right beforehand then you can focus and relax. It's simply resistance and funny because even if you don't you will be halfway home before you remember that you forgot to pee. This can manifest in many incarnations from needing a cup of coffee or going over your audition sides just that ONE. MORE. TIME.
Hitting the bathroom I suddenly realized that #1 just wasn't going to cut it. My stomach dropped and I quickly decided that "holding on" wasn't a good dynamic for walking into a casting room. Sitting down, I immediately took note of the sign on the stall door that read "Please DO NOT clog the toilets! Our pipes back up easily. Thank you." While I hadn't planned on flushing anything "unnatural" down the pipes I did ponder just how much it would take for a bad result?
Just then the squeaky bathroom door opened and slammed shut and someone sat down in a stall right next to me. Finishing up, I didn't think too hard on pulling that little lever. I had done nothing wrong. I wasn't elaborate in my clean up. Not excessive in my tissue usage. Merely competent.
But then all Hellmouth broke loose.
Within seconds the basin began to fill to capacity. Nothing had gone down. Everything was coming back up. It was SO FAST. I began making "oh no, oh shit, omigods!" loudly to forewarn my stall neighbor. But it was the water slapping down on the floor that cued them into the emergent danger. Instantly I heard a "dude! dude! dude!" come from the other side. "I can't stop it!" I shouted and soon the reservoir began to come towards my own feet and his. Jumping back, I knocked the stall door open looking around for something, ANYTHING, I could do the prevent the evil flood. Then the other door opened as its passenger emerged seemingly unscathed. I began to apologize profusely with embarrassment and proclaim my innocence when a much calmer voice simply said, "Yeah, these do that." Looking up, of course, it was none other than Joss himself.
Heading out into the lobby, I began looking for someone to report the issue. I was flustered and angry that I had now literally flushed all hopes of ever being on the show. Yet, even then, I remember having a sense of just how funny it all was and that at the very least I'd have a story to tell.
When it was my time to read, I walked in head held high like going to an execution with dignity. Everyone was nice and greeted me politely. I then found Joss' face there and I just couldn't ignore it. I said, "Hello again, sir. I'm glad we all survived."
The room all turned to him confused on our prior relationship. Without missing a beat, Joss said "Yes, Todd and I shared a moment in the bathroom. I'll just leave it at that." That was when all tension fled my body and I knew I could do this.
Going through the read I found the nice guy bits easy as pie. But in the back of my mind I felt I needed something for the 2nd half. The turn. Something to "wipe" the bathroom encounter off the record and replace it with the character. In the final audition scene, I decided I would just "let it all go" and went for it. Focusing in on the reader, I viciously went after them with all the contempt I could muster. A way to relinquish all my regret and fear and just leave it all in the room if I was never to see them all again.
After my final moment, I heard nothing but silence. No one knew if there was more to read or what to say. It must have been all of 5 seconds but it felt like minutes passed. I stood there and all the doubts rushed back in again. "It was too much" and "why did I do that? Tell them I can take it down a bit!" Then, again, that reassuring voice from the back of the room.
"Well, I believe him!"
Joss had "bailed" me out again.
Everyone smiled and nodded and that graceful "Thank you, Todd" from the casting director let me know I was free.
I drove home smiling and flush and truly baffled by this strange town and the insanity of my lifestyle. When the call came that I was doing the show I kept this story to myself. I certainly never mentioned it to Joss on the set. No. Best these things left in the pipes of that magical little lot in Santa Monica.
Until now. Now that everything is coming back up again 20 years later.
Congratulations, Joss Whedon. And thank you for one of the best experiences of my life. The show, I mean. The show.
I'm sure you can afford a new pair of shoes.