Look Back on ‘Buffy’: Nicholas Brendan on His Reoccuring Xander Nightmare

Actor Nicholas Brendon in Buffy the Vampire Slayer. 20th Century Fox

Today is the 20th anniversary of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Joss Whedon’s acclaimed series about a former cheerleader who saved the world. A lot. Nicholas Brendon starred on the show as Xander Harris, the only member of the Scooby Gang that did not have any special powers, abilities, history as a vengeance demon, or was secretly a ball of light and energy implanted with false memories. Xander was the normal guy, but that didn’t stop him from getting 99 percent of the show’s best one-liners.

In honor of the anniversary, we called up Brendon to discuss the impact of the show’s hardest moments on his life.

It feels like time has flown by. 

It really has. It’s nuts. 

Were there any episodes during the filming that stuck out to you as harder to deal with?

The hardest one was “The Body.” Joss did such a great job with the script. I hadn’t lost a parent, but the people that had, it really touched a nerve with them in the way he took the sound out and there was no music, it was just one of those things. It was the dourest our set really was. That touched a chord. Really aside from that, we had some beats along the way, but losing somebody to something that wasn’t supernatural I thought was rather brilliant. 

That episode was during the year I was going from high school to college, and I missed that episode somehow. Since then, I’ve read that for a lot of people, it was the touchstone episode, and it was really considered a huge snub that it wasn’t nominated for an Emmy. But I never watched it because it just seemed too sad. Last week, I finally forced myself to sit and go all the way through it, and it turns out…yeah, I was right. It was too fucking hard. It was like being in someone else’s panic attack.

I did an episode of Private Practice where I raped one of the lead characters. Shonda (Rhimes) came up to me and said, “We are not going to have music in this episode, and I’m completely stealing from Joss Whedon and ‘The Body.'” The lack of something can definitely add to an emotion. That tunnel vision of what we pay attention to and don’t pay attention to. 

As an adult, it’s something we have to eventually come to terms with: one day my parents will die and that will be really hard. Did you know ahead of time you’d be losing Joyce that season?

We didn’t, but she did. In season 2 she told Joss, “Hey I’m moving to Italy,” and Joss was like “you are going to come back right?” So she knew ahead of time she was going to die. At least two years before. We weren’t privy until we got the script. 

Do you remember your reaction on seeing that script?

We were like “Huh?”

It’s not take-backable, like bringing back Buffy from the dead.

It’s 100 percent death. It was great because it was a show about monsters, but it was also a show about real life. This was a natural death and it couldn’t be undone.

It’s funny because of the two other tough episodes that come to mind, James Marsters brought up the rape episode and Danny Strong talked about the episode with a school shooter that predated Columbine and had to be pushed back when the tragedy occurred. 

That timing was odd. It was one of those things we didn’t talk about because it was so true to life. Columbine was such a tragedy. We knew we shot that episode and it was before Columbine. It was just like ‘woah.’ America was trying to wrap its head around that. It was one of the first times there was live coverage from the outside. There was a lot of trauma seeing what we saw, and we got the word that they were postponing that episode and we said absolutely. 

Buffy always had its finger on the pulse of these topics before we even knew how to talk about them; it’s like Joss just knew intrinsically how to tap into the cultural subconscious. Before it became this conversation topic about college campuses and the gray area of what constitutes rape and what’s consent, Buffy was delving into it.

I remember that very early on, (Joss) had touched on it in episode 6, “The Pack.” I tried to take advantage of Buffy when I was a hyena. When you’re not really involved in shooting the scene it’s different. When I did that for Private Practice that’s something that stuck with me because it’s very brutal. It’s hardest for the actors shooting it, emotionally-speaking. It’s a topic that needs to be discussed, but it’s not poignant for me because I wasn’t shooting it. With James (Marsters), it will be a lot more poignant because it’s a shitty thing to do. Even when you’re acting it you have to get into that mindset of ‘I’m doing this right now.’

Were there any moments that stood out for you during the final seasons as some of the things that still haunt your dreams?

I have a reoccurring dream that we are going for season 8 but I’m not invited. That was during my run of multiple arrests too, so I probably had some guilt there. In my dreams, I’m speaking on set and having security escort me out. Like “C’mon I’m Xander!” Some of it is also because I’m not good at saying goodbye. That last season, you are in a state of denial. I had booked a pilot for FOX, so I  was running to rehearse the sitcom on the last day of shooting Buffy I was in a rush. You can’t say goodbye if you’re acting like you’ve already left, which might have been what I was doing. 

I know you go to conventions and fandoms. What do you think of the legacy of being on Buffy is for you?

I have the same reaction that people have. I love hearing stories of how the show got them through difficult times in their life, and how it does not get old and they watch it over and over again. I know that there is a big uproar because Netflix isn’t carrying Buffy anymore after April 1st. It’s people’s show that they go to. If they need it, it’s a comfort. 

Maybe they are gonna try and get you to make new episodes, a la Gilmore Girls

Hey, I’m open!

Look Back on ‘Buffy’: Nicholas Brendan on His Reoccuring Xander Nightmare