The students of Sunnydale High’s class of 1999 have gathered at the Cinerama Dome for their eight-year high school reunion. A demon is here. So is a vampire, a werewolf, one of the witches, an ex-cheerleader, the geeky class clown and of course, the slayer herself, Buffy Summers. Cast members from the dearly departed TV series Buffy the Vampire Slayer are doing what they do best, which is to sit around and talk during a panel discussion hosted by the Paley Center for Media.
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Sarah Michelle Gellar: Still Buff after all these years.
“I’m gonna go with fun,” says series creator Joss Whedon when someone asks what filming the Buffy musical episode was like.
“You guys are remembering this differently,” says James Marsters, who played Spike, the tormented vampire in love with Buffy. “It was total terror from the cast.”
As with all classic high school reunions, people go partly for voyeuristic reasons. We want to see who got fat, who married, whose life ended up in shambles and which downtrodden nerd grew up to be Bill Gates. Is the sexy blond bad-boy vampire who threw bottles of blood against walls still bad and blond? Not at all. Marsters is now puppy sweet with a shock of curly brown hair.
We step into the old familiar dynamics. Once more, Michelle Trachtenberg morphs into Dawn, the 14-year-old kid sister who can’t get any attention. And in the minds of the fans, it’s hard to tell where Buffy begins and actress Sarah Michelle Gellar ends. Buffy, Gellar says, was her hero as well.
And yet there are differences. Seth Green, who was sullen and dry as the proverbial martini as werewolf Oz, not only went from Austin Powers and Family Guy to his own Robot Chicken, but in real life he is gregarious and funny as hell. Charisma Carpenter as petulant popular girl Cordelia, who can talk bitchy circles around lesser mortals, is reticent in person. Sitting onstage under bright lights in a white boobalicious dress, she is stunningly beautiful and ill at ease. Amber Benson, so shy as Tara, makes the bawdiest joke of the night. Alyson Hannigan, who played her lover Willow, couldn’t make it. “And it’s Tara, by the way,” says Benson, “not Tah-ra. Although the Brits say it this way.”
“You should hear how they say aluminum,” says Green.
“Yeah. They say foil.”
“Joss would take us for a walk and say, ‘You’re fired . . . just kidding!,” recalls Carpenter.
“He did that to me too!,” says writer Marti Noxon.
“He did that to me too,” says Green, “but it took.”
Fan loyalty, in Gellar’s opinion, more than made up for any awards the show could have won. Whedon concurs: “I mean, who puts Buffy the Vampire Slayer on the WB and says, ‘Ah, I’m gettin’ Emmys’?”
“We all knew The West Wing would win,” says Marsters. “We’d shout it every time the envelope was opened.”
“Are you a ’40s detective?” Nicholas Brendon says to Emma Caulfield, noting her black fedora. She played demon Anya, girlfriend to Brendon’s goofy human Xander. This cast is camaraderie defined.
Buffy gave us much to love. The show constantly broke the rules and did things nobody else had ever done. A musical. An episode where nobody is allowed to speak. An episode with speaking only and absolutely no background sound. A kiss between two lesbian witches.
There’s serious talk and small talk, most of it the sort that happens late at night after the high school reunion proper has wound down and the smartest, funniest folks have gathered, kicked off their shoes and started polishing off the rest of the champagne. Favorite movies are discussed. Marsters’ is Apocalypse Now, Gellar’s is South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, Caulfield’s is Silence of the Lambs, and Green likes Raising Arizona.
“How about you?” he asks Benson, “what do you like? Do you like movies? I like that dress. Wanna get out of here?”
Green says he misses arriving at his trailer every morning to find that David Boreanaz had pooped in it. “Left something in there for you, buddy,” Boreanaz would say. Whedon misses directing Gellar. Gellar misses the family, the cast and the crew. Being there when a crew member’s child won a karate contest, for instance. Trachtenberg misses sneaking into Gellar’s trailer to pet her shoes.
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True stories of the present time: Gellar and Caulfield both just got back from charity work in Africa. Trachtenberg is going to be on Gossip Girl. Benson is writing books now; she sold a series of chick-lit fantasy novels to Penguin. Other people make it up as they go along. Green says he and Carpenter are producing a series of cardio-stripping/-fighting/-fitness videos.
“A series of nervous breakdowns have driven me out of the business altogether,” jokes producer David Greenwalt, who shakes his head ruefully.
Before the autograph seekers make their inevitable push onto the stage, when bodies roil en masse as if kneaded by a giant invisible hand, a golden mood comes upon us — writers, actors and audience members alike. How great it was back then, we think, slaying vamps and thwarting the end of the world. And how much we’d like to go back.