David Boreanaz reflects on Buffy: 'I was in the right spot at the right time'
As David Boreanaz says goodbye to Bones — it wraps its 12-season run on March 28 at 9 p.m. on Fox — he looks back to the series that came before, reminiscing about his time on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, the spin-off in which he starred.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Twenty years ago, you were cast in your breakout role as the vampire Angel on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Did you ever imagine you’d be here now?
DAVID BOREANAZ: It was all timing, really. [Angel] initially had an arc of 6 out of the 12 episodes. He was somebody who could be recurring and a love interest to Buffy [Sarah Michelle Gellar]. It happened so quickly, but in order for things to happen quickly when you recognize them, you have to be ready; when it hits, it’s quick. When Buffy hit, I was in the right spot at the right time, but I had been struggling for years just to get in the door. I couldn’t even do a commercial, like a gum commercial without freaking out. You have to go through the pain to get to the other end, and then once you get to the top, you’re not down — you gotta climb other mountains. It’s not like “Hey, let’s pack it in.”
So I walked in, met with [casting director Marcia Shulman], read for the piece, then went back. When I met Marcia, we just connected. She is such a beautiful lady, someone who was in my camp. We talked a lot about the East Coast and New York restaurants and then got into this character, finally. Then, I went in the room and read for [executive producer Gail Berman], [creator Joss Whedon], and [co-executive producer at the time] David Greenwalt. They were kind of pressed against the hour to cast this character because I would have been shooting, I think, the next day. The day after they cast me, I remember being thrown into this world of complete chaos. The breakdown of this character [described him] like, “He’s a prizefighter, like Joe Louis; you can hit him, but he’s always going to come back.” At the time, I didn’t think much of the fact that he was a vampire. But I loved the fact that you can knock him down but you know he’s going to come back up.
What do you remember about your first day on Buffy?
They fitted me in this velvet suit — I’ll never forget it. I waited and waited to shoot, and when I went to meet Sarah, she was in the middle of some sort of fight sequence. I was like, “Okay, that was a quick meeting.” It went slow and fast because she was working and I remember being outside, doing makeup tests, getting fitted, and the next day being on set and having to do this sequence where I meet her for the first time and she literally jumps off of a rail bar and takes me down and asks who I am, which we shot around 4 a.m. It was crazy, and when it was time to do the scene it was like, “Okay, we gotta get the shot.” It wasn’t like we had time to rehearse it really.
The sequence went so fast and I was not thinking. I think that helped calm me down and get into what this character is really all about, so that was kind of the first take on it. I went home thinking, “What just happened?” All of the insecurities came out: Did I mess it up? Did I do something wrong? But the response to the dailies was great. I was just having a blast. It went so fast, so the casting process turned into a quick, first day of shooting that ended up like a madhouse for me. I embraced it and went along with the ride.
Did you always want to be an actor and work in entertainment, or was there a moment on Buffy, or otherwise, when you knew it was it for you?
Yeah. I studied, I was in theater, I was doing commercials, I was in classes. I had to take some techniques. I was so raw. I didn’t know what the hell I was doing, so for me it was always on. I was enamored by Broadway shows as a kid growing up. I remember seeing Yul Brynner from The King and I in Philadelphia. I was always into theater, and did that on top of playing sports. It was always something that I really wanted to do. Obviously, I moved out and had to find that work and do theater — be in the right place at the right time. It’s been a fantastic journey and I’m still climbing. There’s no [point] where I say “Yeah, okay, that’s it.” No, I love it. I have a desire to do more and show more, which is the exciting part.
What is your biggest takeaway from Buffy? Was there a piece of advice or something else you picked up while working on the show that you carried with you through the years that’s been useful in the projects that followed?
Technically, eyelines, finding your light. I was good at finding my light and recognizing it. When you have a lot of stunts, you can be pressed against time, so you have to be square on your mark, instinctually and technically hone your skills on that. You have to be able to peripherally see things, work that muscle. For me, it’s finding light and never blocking your way. If you can’t see the lens, the lens doesn’t see you. It’s real simple. I’ve taken that, I’ve used it, and it’s amazing when I direct how I see that now more so. It’s, “Why are you not playing toward your lens?” We’re not in theater space, you don’t have a fourth wall…you have to make it work and find the lens. That’s what your job is to do, so I became very friendly with the lens.
Then there was the spin-off, Angel. How did you make it your own?
It was extremely transitionally interesting for me. It was an opportunity to take this character into an adult-oriented show, which was unlike the Buffy-verse, and more or less toward the lost souls in the city. I never really think about the challenges. I know I respond better when there’s more on my plate and the pressure’s high, so I instinctively take that on.
I remember the casting process: We tried to surround the character with good people who could carry the show and tell the story. Charisma [Carpenter, who played Cordelia] was great and then Glenn Quinn [who played Doyle] was strong and fantastic. He became a very close friend of mine, so at that transition it was an instant bond to somebody who I identified with, who I loved being around, made it easy for me, and heightened the work because of his pure talent and joy of working. That process took a while, because [it] was like, “How do we find this Doyle character?” Quinn came in with the Irish accent and nailed it, bam. Joss was excited, [as was] David Greenwalt.
As that progressed, the story progressed and the friendship became amazingly strong to a point where when we’d work on set, we just knew where each other were going to be, we had fun. The unfortunate circumstances of his plight and his choice took him into a different direction for which I was very oblivious to, but that was something that will always remain with me. I miss the guy, even to this day — just a remarkable human being and it’s sad the way it happened. (Quinn died in 2002 of an accidental drug overdose.)
I remember shooting this presentation for The WB on top of this huge skyscraper downtown. They built a ledge and wired me off. I had this huge monologue and I was walking across the edge of this building that was way high. I was strapped down and the winds were high, and then we got a crane up top. Sixty-five percent of the footage was all out of focus and we hired this DP that was supposed to be amazing and it just was crap, so they cut something together for the presentation. That was really how it started.
When we got into the show itself, [then WB president/co-president of programming] Susanne Daniels was like, “This is not the show you pitched me.” We had to shut down for two weeks in order to find the…writing of it and that was interesting. There were pitfalls and challenges that we overcame, and that first year was tough. There was a lot going on that helped me stretch the character more and more…rather than [simply being] this guy who appeared out of the shadows who had a heavy brow. I laugh at some of the scenes when I see them now, but it really was a Romeo and Juliet moment for [Angel and Buffy]. To split them was sad, but we had some crossovers.
With Buffy and Angel on simultaneously, how did those crossover episodes come together?
It was hard because we were doing two types of shows and there were different schedules. We got through it. I’m [still] amazed at the energy. George Lucas visited our set and spent a day with us; he was a fan of the show. I remember eating lunch with him. He was amazed at how we got a shot using greenscreen and wirework in eight days. It was like we were shooting a movie every week. What you did back then you couldn’t do today. [We shot] huge jumps in the middle of the night, a lot of sequences like that. It was dangerous. That’s what made the show thrive — that energy, that edge.
The first time you ever directed was in 2004, for an episode of Angel. What made you step behind the camera?
I always wanted to direct. I wouldn’t just leave set [when I wrapped my scenes]; I’d stay and learn. It’s so important for actors to realize that they have an opportunity. Why would you leave the circus ring if you want to get into other things? You can’t take things for granted. You have to constantly keep learning and pushing yourself, which I did, and then I got the break to do that. Kelly Manners was the producer at the time, and he said, “Absolutely, David can direct.” It was a phenomenal experience.
I remember having knee surgery and literally directing with 50 percent of my knee gone…so it was a challenge, but I loved it — loved it, loved it, loved it, loved it. What I loved about directing was to be able to switch from one section to the other. To have the ability to direct and act at the same time was so much fun. I was able to compartmentalize and bring it to a whole different level and it was relatable to me because of the acting, being able to talk to the actors and know where they’re coming from and to grow that aspect, to bring those experiences to life. From that standpoint alone, it was really big with me.
For more on Boreanaz, check back to EW.com as the Bones series finale approaches.