”Buffy”’s Spike and Giles
Anthony Stewart Head and James Marsters are giggling like schoolboys on a sugar high. The two men, who make their living playing demon-watcher Giles and bloodsucker Spike on The WB’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer, are recounting the previous night’s revelry: ”I was so stimulated,” says Stewart Head. ”It took me hours to fall asleep.” Marsters chimes in: ”It was lovely. There were fairy lights in the garden.”
What’s this? Cryptic revelations of carefree debauchery? Not exactly. Turns out TV’s bitter adversaries were united in a celebration of (hold on to your tights) Shakespeare. Buffy creator Joss Whedon hosts semi-regular readings of the Bard with various cast members and writers; last night they performed A Midsummer Night’s Dream, with Head playing Oberon and Marsters as Demetrius. ”Tony and James are true theater geeks,” says Whedon. ”And I use the word geek advisedly.”
Brace yourself for more shockers: Despite Spike’s Johnny Rotten stylings, Marsters, 28, is not British, but a native Californian who, prior to Buffy, toured America’s regional theaters. And although Head’s accent is legit (London born and bred, his wife and two daughters continue to live there), unlike his tweedy, ascetic Giles, the 46-year-old actor honed his chops playing the stud next door on the English stage and, most famously, in Taster’s Choice commercials. ”They are both very immature and very unlike their characters” says Whedon fondly. ”The whole point of casting Tony was to have someone who wasn’t a stuffy grown-up. He brought the underbelly of Giles, the irreverent side. James just has that anarchic energy going on. He could have brought a dark, broody thing to playing a vampire, but he’s so goofy.”
As fans can attest, nothing in the Buffy universe is ever exactly what it seems, which is why there’s more than a little Spike in Giles, and vice versa (viewers recently learned that Spike’s alias, William the Bloody, stems not from his body count but from his 19th-century incarnation’s knack for bloody awful poetry). ”Spike is what Giles used to be and Giles is what Spike refused to be,” sums up Whedon.
Seated at an outdoor cafe in sunny Santa Monica, the two multilayered gents in question serve up some devilish charm, explaining why their sinfully underused characters are actually Buffy‘s secret weapons.
JAMES MARSTERS [Commenting on the state of the pizza he’s ordered] I said light cheese. The bastards don’t respect me. They don’t know my power.
ANTHONY STEWART HEAD Perhaps if you were on the show more, you’d get less cheese.
Aside from the recent sweeps Spike-athon, what’s the story with the extreme absence of both of you this season?
JM Speaking personally, they give me really cool s— to do, and I don’t have to work very hard. I come in, do an interesting scene in three hours, then it’s back to the beach and the sunblock.
ASH I was wondering how you filled your copious amounts of spare time.
JM Sleeping, you pathetic workhorse. Counting sheep and canoodling with multiple beauties. [Laughter] Seriously, though, the problem is we need a two-hour show. There are so many people who are regulars. Look at the opening credits — what are there, 10 of us now? — and everybody wants more pages.
Who’s the scariest cast member in real life?
JM Joss. You can’t get anything over on him. If you want to improvise, he’ll say, ”Fine, we’ll just keep the camera on the back of your head.”
ASH We’re very faithful to the scripts. I see a gag and I’ll try and play it, and Joss says, ”No, there’s a time and a place for a gag and this is not it.” We’ve had our run-ins, but invariably he’s right.
Joss says he’s all about giving viewers what they need rather than what they want. And this season has been full of twists some fans find unsettling, like Buffy‘s out-of-the-blue sister Dawn, and Spike’s emerging Buffy love. Everyone has theories as to the reasons behind these developments — can you offer any clues?
JM Whatever theories you may have, it will be a lot more interesting. Joss wants to stir you up. He wants viewers to go, ”What the f— is this?” Spike’s feelings for Buffy, his going a little soft — I don’t know if people are going to be able to accept it. A lot of people might not like my character anymore.
ASH Not true, absolutely not true. What James is worried about is that Spike isn’t cool. But when I was reading the script (for ”Fool for Love”), I was thinking, Ooh, James is not gonna be happy with this. And then as the episode progressed, Spike gets his cool (back).
JM There’s a part of Joss that doesn’t want to please everybody. I don’t think he’s comfortable unless someone is mildly offended. He wants characters to get under your skin. And the moment that they say they like a character because of one specific quality, he’ll go the opposite way. Nothing ever stays the same season to season. Nothing.
ASH Do you ever worry that Spike is too comic to be truly scary? I’m thinking about the shorts and Hawaiian shirt….
JM I don’t think dangerous is interesting to Joss, frankly. He can create a character that is that way, but it’s usually a setup — he’s exploring something much more human which has gotta be about fallibility and degradation, really. Spike was never meant to last. He was really just a boy-toy for (his vampire maker) Drusilla. But when Juliet Landau (Dru) couldn’t come back in season 4, Joss said, ”How about Spike without her?” It made me pathetic and more human.
ASH Which became instantly attractive to Joss.
JM Exactly. Joss is Jacobian in that way. He sees that human beings are lovable fools, that we all walk around with big hopes and stumble on banana peels all the time. And frankly, if Joss wants to make me a scary guy again, it’ll take him about 20 seconds to achieve it. Don’t worry, guys. Spike’s still Spike.
ASH One of the chief greatnesses of the show is that it can make you laugh — truly laugh with witty, sardonic humor — and in the next moment scare the living Jesus out of you.
What’s the worst part of playing your characters?
JM Keeping my hair dyed.
ASH Sweet’n Low is the secret — give the readers a beauty tip, James.
JM Four to seven packs in the bleaching solution will save your butt. [It alleviates the burning.]
ASH Makes you think twice about what you’re putting in your stomach. The worst part for me was disappointing America’s librarians. I spent time in a school library as background for Giles, and the librarian there said, ”At last! A voice to represent us!” Little did she know — in fact, little did I know — I would blow up my library.
And the best part?
ASH My own action figure (available this Christmas). I was sent the prototype and I have something like 12 points of articulation.
JM Sweet, man. You’ve got G.I. Joe manipulation?
ASH But there’s two breaks in the thighs, which is bizarre.
I was going to ask Tony how it feels to be the only grown-up in the Scooby Gang, but clearly ”grown-up” may be overstating things, so moving on: If either of you could change one thing about the show, what would it be?
JM More boy fun. I crossed over to Angel, and they get all the fun stuff. They get all the killing people — Angel gets to kill a lot of people. And I would like to see Giles commit murder — forced to totally compromise his integrity.
ASH I’d change how the show is marketed, make it truer to the conception. [The WB] believes it’s a teen show, but it was never written that way. It’s set in a teen environment because we can all identify with that, but it’s as much an adult show. It airs at 11 at night in Britain and has a huge audience. It’s the No. 1 show in Australia because they’ve targeted everyone. Marketing to such a small audience diminishes what Joss has achieved, frankly. He’s taken the medium and screwed around with it in ways a West Wing never would.
JM When Joss was told to tone down the violence on the show last season because of Columbine, I wondered how he would take it. He ended up doing a semipornographic episode (”Where the Wild Things Are”) where Buffy and Riley basically had sex the whole time. Joss is a bit of a rebel. Like, everyone kept telling him his dialogue was the best anyone’s heard. And so the man writes an episode with no dialogue (last season’s Emmy-nominated ”Hush”).
Any secrets you’d like to reveal?
ASH When Giles’ sordid past came up and they needed a picture of him in a band, they stuck a photo of my 17-year-old head onto the body of Sid Vicious.
JM When I read for Spike, I also did it with a Southern accent, which would have been sexy but not as dangerous. I’d have been staked if they’d gone with Southern; I’d be dead by now.
Do either of you have a finale fantasy?
JM Sunnydale gets sucked into hell.
ASH It’s kinda been there.
JM Okay then, she loses. Buffy loses the good fight. [Pause] Just kidding.