Raising the Stakes In January Joss Whedon and Sarah Michelle Gellar met the press to discuss the future of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And Xposé was there… By Caroline May.
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Xposé #31

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HOW would you define Buffy the Vampire Slayer? Is it a supernatural thriller with a healthy dose of teenage angst? Or a romance infused with some breathless action sequences? Perhaps it's even a comedy, given weight by some brilliantly realistic characterizations.

Actually, Buffy is all of these things and more. It's one of the few shows on television that you simply cannot define in simple terms, because its creator, executive producer (and sometimes writer and director) Joss Whedon flips effortlessly between moods and style.

One thing is for sure: whatever Buffy is doing at any given time, it remains one of the brightest, freshest and most watchable shows on television.

"I had not intended to stay with Buffy as long as I did," admits Whedon, speaking recently to the press in Pasadena. "I fell in love with it. I never worked better with actors, I never had more of my vision realized. And at the same time this was happening Alien Resurrection came out. So TV really became the place for me!" he laughs.

For those who aren't in the know, here's a quick potted history: Whedon originally wrote the movie Buffy the Vampire Slayer, starring Kirsty Swanson, which was released in 1992. It was not a hit. In 1996 he was approached by producer Gail Berman, who saw the potential for a lively series for young adults. Whedon grasped the opportunity, and created the show that has become a massive cult hit that promises to rival The X-Files. With Buffy now in its third season, there is already talk of a movie version - and the spin off series, Angel, begins shooting in a few months' time.

"I can't leave," admits Whedon. "And I do want to do movies and I am working on a few projects. There's always too much and you're always trying to set up the next thing. But I can't help myself."

In Buffy, Whedon has created a whole family of characters that the audience can enjoy, admire and, above all, believe in. There's the angst-ridden Buffy herself (Sarah Michelle Gellar), forced to grow up quickly by her status as The Chosen One, yet still trying to hang on to semblance of a normal life. Then there's her friends: the studious Willow (Alyson Hannigan), nerdish Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and the bitchy Cordelia (Charisma Carpenter). Buffy has an English mentor, the librarian Giles (Anthony Stewart Head) and a vampire boyfriend Angel (David Boreanaz), while the werewolf Oz (Seth Green) joins the self-proclaimed 'Scooby gang' in season two, and a second slayer, Faith (Eliza Dushku), comes on the scene in season three.

For three years Whedon and his team of writers have succeeded in writing credible individuals, capturing the essence of growing up, and even the speech indiosynchrasies of teenagers.

"People always ask, 'How do you speak the way teenagers speak?'" admits Whedon. "You know, when I wrote the movie I was, for a little while, teaching in High School and I listened to the kids very carefully. What are they saying? What can I use? Everything they said was from Heathers, so I couldn't use any of it!

"I realized you can't listen to teens and then try and incorporate it, because by the time it goes on the air they'll have stopped saying it. I have a certain way of writing and the characters speak in a sort of strange way, and I tend to make up words when I can't think of the real one. Then eventually, if the show is working, that will start being incorporated in the language - people will start talking like that. But it's really just about keeping it fresh."

Buffy is certainly a show that is constantly re-inventing itself - whether it's the annual turnover of chief villain (season one's focus was The Master, season two centered on Spike and Drusilla, season three introduces us to Mr Trick), or the developing relationships between Buffy and her friends. The changes have allowed the show to experiment and evolve, to the point where Buffy has established itself as the WB's most popular series.

"The WB were very supportive," recalls Sarah Michelle Gellar of the show's growth. "[While] we were first finding our show, the WB was first finding the network. The WB's rating can't compete with the big three, and if we had our ratings on one of the big three networks we would have been cancelled after the third episode. I think third season, our show is finally coming into its own, and that's the wonderful thing about working for the WB - the support and the sort of growing together."

Caroline May

Continued in Xposé #31

Image © Paramount