But we talked to Michelle Trachtenberg before her ''Slayer'' character's secret was revealed

By Liane Bonin
Updated December 19, 2000 at 05:00 AM EST
Credit: Trachtenberg: David Giles/Camera Press/Retna

If you’re a ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer” fan, you know that Buffy’s ”sister,” Dawn, is no sis at all, and you’re waiting impatiently for the story to play out. But we talked to Michelle Trachtenberg before the new season began, and she revealed her ”Buffy” obsession — and how she and Sarah Michelle Gellar go WAY back. In light of EW critic Ken Tucker calling Trachtenberg ”the best kid actress in prime time” in our Best of 2000 issue, we present our September interview in its entirety…

Hi, Stakes!

Kids may remember Michelle Trachtenberg as the perky, pint size detective in 1996’s ”Harriet the Spy,” but little ones, take note: Her latest role is less about sleuthing than slaying. The young actress (who turns 15 next month) recently joined the cast of ”Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” As Dawn, a surrogate sister to the Buffster, she gets more than her fair share of teen angst when dark forces use her as a handy human loud speaker for their nasty thoughts. EW.com talked to the 10th grader about her new gig, her history with Sarah Michelle Gellar, and her ideas for a cool Halloween costume.

So tell us about this Dawn character. That whole channeling evil voices thing must suck when she’s at the mall.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you very much. [”Buffy” creator] Joss Whedon has me under lock and key. But I play an average 14 year old girl. I have my worries, I have my diary, I write all my thoughts in there. I have a relationship with Buffy that’s kind of sisterly. I have a little crush on Xander, I think Willow’s cool, and that’s pretty much all the information I can reveal. It’s not much, I know. I’m an interviewer’s dream, aren’t I?

Were you a ”Slayer” fan before you got the job?
I’m a HUGE fan. I’m a walking encyclopedia of ”Buffy.” I watched the show from day 1 because I worked with Sarah on ”All My Children” [Trachtenberg played Lily Benton Montgomery from 1994 to ’96, Gellar played vixenette Kendall Hart from 93 to 95.] I was always thinking of little story lines for myself so I could guest star, like I could avenge Jenny Callendar’s [Robia La Morte] death by being her niece or I could be Giles’ [Anthony Stewart Head] long lost daughter. I would think of crazy things.

Some fans are worried that adding a character your age is a sign that ”Buffy” is losing its edge. How do you respond to that?
We’re definitely not going for the ”cute kid” thing. Let me just say that over the years ”Buffy” has found its audience, and we don’t plan to stray from that audience now, period. And new characters always bring more flavor to a show. Tara [Willow’s love interest, played by Amber Benson] was introduced last year, for example. But trust me, you won’t be seeing any cute kid stuff.

Doug Petrie, who’s an executive story editor on ”Buffy,” also cowrote ”Harriet the Spy.” Did he put in a good word for you?
I didn’t even know Doug was working on ”Buffy” until I went to visit Sarah on the set a couple of weeks before I got the job. I was there, and she said, ”I have a surprise for you. Here’s Doug!” But I found out about the job from my managers and agents, and had a meeting with Joss before I got hired. Sarah was really supportive, though, which was a comforting feeling.

As the only real teenager on a show about teenagers, do you get a little more input than your cast mates?
I am the only person under the age of 20 on the set, that’s true. Joss always says, ”If we write something for you and you’re not comfortable saying a certain thing, great, just say so.” And we’ll talk about certain things and lines from those conversations will pop up in the script later. We all love ”Harry Potter” on the set, for example. Sarah and Joss introduced me to it. So there was a line about ”Harry Potter” a little while ago.

Is it tough being the only person on the set who still has to deal with midterms and homework?

Not at all. Everyone on the set, especially Sarah, is really fabulous about getting me my time in school and saying, ”Okay, what are you learning now? You have a geometry test to take? Then go, go!” They won’t let me talk to them if there is a possible opportunity for me to run to school between takes. So they’re very supportive.

Working on this show, you must have the inside track on Halloween costumes. Any ideas?
I visited the costume department and they’ve been giving me some suggestions. I’ve always wanted to be a Victorian lady. The big Halloween episode when Buffy turned Victorian — I LOVED that dress. So maybe I can borrow that. We’ll see.

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